Sky Primes Channel for HD Upgrade

Here’s an early Christmas present for HD TV fans: Doctor Who, Downton Abbey and Top Gear could soon be screening here in 1080i.

Following its exclusive content deals with CBS Studios International and 20th Century Fox Television, Sky at last is preparing to upgrade its free-to-air channel, Prime, to HD.

“It’s been mooted for some time, and it is certainly our desire to have Prime HD at some stage next year,” Sky’s director of programming (movies, factual and general entertainment), Travis Dunbar, told ScreenScribe.tv.

Such a move is well overdue but one that Sky has resisted so long as Prime’s rated below 5% in peak-hour.

But now the channel has scored some of the best shows of any of the networks for 2014 — Downtown Abbey, Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, Modern Family, Sleepy Hollow, Boardwalk Empire, Top Gear — plus the best range of free-to-air sport, Sky’s clearly recognised the need to maximise their appeal with a standard of broadcast that befits their excellence.

However, don’t expect Homeland to join the line-up.

Sky announced its acquisition as part of its Fox deal that included shows for both Prime and its premium drama channel, SoHo.

At this stage it’s likely Homeland will be a SoHo exclusive.

“We will consider it for Prime,” Dunbar says.

“But with the acquisition of this recent Fox package, Prime staples like Downton AbbeyDoctor Who and Top Gear, an increased slate of Prime local production, including returning shows Shearing GangThe Crowd Goes Wild and 60 Minutes, all-new Keeping It Pure and two Prime dramas (Anzac Girls being one of them), plus an ever increasing slate from our CBS output deal, the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and regular free-to-air sports, there is far less need for ex-Sky properties on Prime.”

He also confirmed The Bridge wasn’t part of the Fox deal — although made by Fox for its US channel, FX, it’s distributed in this part of the world by Shine (Broadchurch).

Moreover, it’s been superseded by another acquisition.

“We bought the UK/France co-production, The Tunnel, a variation of the same concept/conceit,” Dunbar says, “which we humbly believe to be even better.”

Meanwhile, Sky’s new relationship with Fox could see it pick up Fox’s US adaptation of Broadchurch, Gracepoint, which starts shooting next month and stars David Tennant, Anna Gunn and Nick Nolte.

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28 Responses to “Sky Primes Channel for HD Upgrade”

  1. Wow, this is great news, I can’t wait! Thanks, Prime TV! This is truly an early Xmas gift! Please include Freeview HD viewers as well as those on the Sky platform.

  2. YAY…..that is wonderful news indeed, thanks Philip MERRY CHRISTMAS 🙂

  3. Awesome news. Hopefully Prime goes HD before they screen the new series of Doctor Who and True Blood and the first Season of Sleepy Hollow. These are the main shows that I would watch on Prime. Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones are shows that I will watch on Soho.

  4. Is there a better chance now of MediaWorks upgrading Four into HD with what’s happening with Prime? Just a thought 🙂

  5. It’s a lovely thought, Trevor, but that’s all it will be for the time being. HD isn’t high on MediaWorks’ priorities for Four. It has a lot of rebuilding work to do after the Fox fiasco and will be more focussed on providing a low-cost sister channel to 3, with the emphasis on same-week-as-the-States programming, rather than a fully-fledged HD network.

  6. Oh well, I do have nice thoughts … anyhow, I have decided to upgrade my Sky to include SoHo YAY 🙂

  7. Congratulations. You won’t be disappointed …

  8. Thanks, Philip … even though I’m not a fan I’m impressed by how good True Blood looks in HD on SoHo 🙂

  9. PS:The MediaWorks terrestrial multiplex also contains The Shopping Channel, Te Reo and Al Jazeera so no bandwidth at all for Four in HD. And sadly there never will be.

  10. Congratulations, Trevor. The vast majority of TV series that we watch are on SoHo. I couldn’t be without SoHo now

  11. Quite agree. Trevor. Compared to Prime’s SD broadcast, the difference in picture quality is like night and day. The series has long since stopped being appointment TV but the stellar HD helps to compensate for its increasingly desperate storylines.

  12. Me neither, Mark. And with the latest Fox content deal, it’s getting even harder to complain about Sky charging subscribers extra for it!

  13. Nice, but is this Sky only SAT feed or on DTT as well, and if on DTT I hope that they do real 5.1 sound like TV3 — not wishy-washy sound like TVNZ does …

  14. Let’s hope Sky doesn’t string this out like they did with the initial placement of Prime on Freeview and the long delay in getting the Prime epg on TiVo.
    Viewers have long memories …

  15. Yeah, me too. I hope Sky has learnt not to hold Prime back from the other half of NZ who don’t subscribe to it. If Sky had allowed Prime on Freeview when it was launched, then it could of been possibly channel 5 on Freeview instead of 10. Sometimes I wish Sky never owned the channel and had the Nine Network maintained faith when they owned it, could of made it a truly viable third network, but in saying that Prime has really come of age with all these new content agreements and long may it continue to grow.

  16. No bandwidth now available on Kordia mux to allow Prime to go HD on terrestrial.

  17. Hi Philip, the tv blog Throng is casting doubts on whether Sky will upgrade Prime to HD this year and claims that Sky always says it will upgrade Prime to HD but never does! Will Sky sctually play ball and upgrade Prime or is it just a case of building up expectation with no action?

  18. Thanks, Leo. I’ll try to get something definitive next week. In my dealings with Prime/Sky, it’s always been an emphatic “No” to upgrading Prime; Dunbar’s comments are the first official sign I’ve had that moves are afoot to make the switch. With its new programming deals (and the Winter Olympics and the Commonwealth Games as part of its 2014 arsenal), and TV3/4 vulnerable, you’d have thought this would have been Prime’s year to cement its major player prospects by distinguishing itself as an HD broadcaster rather than looking like SD minnows Four and Choice.

  19. Thanks Philip I look forward to reading the update on the HD changes and hope they are imminent. From your comments it appears that they are committed to making Prime HD.

  20. Certainly such a move is well overdue and there couldn’t be a better time to do it, Leo. But Dunbar’s comments allowed for plenty of wriggle room and Ross’ point about there not being enough bandwidth for Prime to go HD on DTT doesn’t bode well …

  21. Regarding Ross’ comment about no bandwidth on the Kordia mux, it seems that some bandwidth is getting freed up with an interesting announcement from TAB today that Trackside will be Sky only. What is interesting is that they (Sky/TAB) are offering a big subsidy to people that want to just subscribe to the Sky/free TV-only package for what is nearly the first year. It makes me wonder slightly if they are trying to get users of the Kordia mux to make room from Prime. Alternatively, Sky has a few allocations of good UHF bandwidth through the country (I think most or maybe all are used for DVB-T2 transmissions for Igloo), it’s entirely possible that Sky could create their own DVB-T mux in competition with Kordia/(can’t remember the name of the crowd that runs the 3rd MUX outside of the Kordia centers). I’d find either situation unsurprising if it did happen.

  22. Yeap, long overdue and with the grim comment by @Ross it looks as though Prime HD will be exclusive to Sky subscribers, a move which may help drive new subscriptions and mirror what has happened to some Freeview channels in Britain where HD versions are exclusively on Sky. I hope Sky keeps its word and I hold a small glimmer of hope that something will be done to get HD to all viewers.

  23. Another loss for Freeview even though I never watched Trackside, hopefully you are right that bandwidth can be freed up for Prime HD on Freeview or is channel 11 set to become Prime+1 and can The Shopping Channel just hand back there bandwidth since they no longer have actual presenters and are now just broadcasting infomercials 24/7.

  24. The Shopping Channel (at least off Waiatarua (Auckland)) is actually hosted off the Mediaworks mux. Of course if The Shopping Channel were to leave (and thanks for the note about how it’s now 24/7 Infomercials, I had wondered what happened to their EPG) then it’d free up a channel on that mux. That doesn’t mean it’s bad news for Prime though, both Al Jazeera and Te Reo are broadcast off the Mediaworks mux as well, the later is apparently run by Maori Television, they could hop over onto the Mediaworks mux if enough bandwidth was freed there.

    For some stats, from my tuner at home at around lunch time (based on a couple of samples after filtering for the channel)…
    Maori TV (Kordia): ~2.2Mbps
    Trackside (Kordia): ~2.0-2.3Mbps
    Prime (Kordia): ~2.9-3.0Mbps
    TVSN Shopping (Kordia): ~1.9-2.0Mbps
    YesShop (Kordia): ~2.2-2.7Mbps
    The Shopping Channel (MW): ~2.0-2.5Mbps

    For comparison, the HD channels…
    TV3 (MW): ~10Mbp/s
    TV One (TVNZ): ~10-14Mbp/s
    TV 2 (TVNZ): ~6Mbp/s (this seems wrong… especially considering they were apparently repeating Shortland Street in HD + DD5.1 at the time)

    So in summary, Trackside leaving seems to free up an extra 2-2.3Mbp/s (i.e. somewhere around the 5Mbp/s ballpark if you take into account Prime’s current usage), really for enough bandwidth they’d need to pray for some shopping channels (or something like Firstlight/TV33/etc) to drop.

    We can only hope though.

  25. Thanks Nigel for the insightful comment and yes I hope that at least more of the unwanted channels on Freeview disappear. I did read a report last year that Sky handed back some of its unused UHF spectrim to the crown and hopefully this will be used by Freeview to enable more HD channels and, of course, Prime HD. Time will tell.

  26. Its 2015 and we’re still waiting SKY!!

  27. Leo: Don’t hold your breath. Sky moves very slowly unless there’s a competitor on the horizon.

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