Like any self-respecting gadget enthusiast, when SkyQ arrived at my house last May I was excited to find out what new and exciting ways I’d be watching television, to find out how the platform would develop over the next few months and what excitement would arrive.
A few days after it was installed, I was pretty impressed. What Sky had done with SkyQ was take a ‘breaking change’ approach. Sometimes the compromises of modifying something which has been around for years, and which, remember, itself built on top of something even older, are just no longer worth it. They’d done good: a modern interface, and using fancy technology to make satellite more like analogue used to be: multiple feeds from a single cable.
Sky pitched the future was fluid viewing – moving from room to room, device to device – and on demand driven. It even had YouTube, and much to Tim’s annoyance that the TV Guide moved several more button presses further away than was comfortable. It supports Ultra HD, can do picture-in-picture and the ‘planner’ is now shared across boxes.
What Sky has actually done with SkyQ is built everything, from the ground up, with the same philosophy they’ve always had.
It was, to be frank, all of the things those of us who’d been paying attention wanted Sky+HD to be. But 18 months later, it still feels the same.
Sky Q is more about delivering the same thing, in a really slightly different way, and being able to charge more for it than about any future of television. It was about renting, not owning, the box, and about doing just enough that the people, who haven’t already, don’t stray to Netflix.
Some bits are amazing: the expansion of Watch From Start with on demand meaning tuning into a TV show 90% of the way through is no longer a problem, being able to download content to your phone or tablet and take it away is great, and knowing that no matter what box you sit down at you’ll still be able to watch that show you recorded is marvellous.
But: content discovery is still awful, on demand still insists on ‘downloading’ before it will play and the apps are so crippled with rights management that even they are clunky, awkward and frustrating to use.
And then there’s the experience: Sky use LoveDigital to work with ‘shared dish’ set ups, and Love Digital made my experience of getting set up unforgettable through sheer incompetence. Since then, they’ve been back to replace the equipment they fitted twice, and once more in between those two to add a booster that, it turned out, had made things worse.
I became bessie mates with Jodie-Ann in their Croydon call centre, and she was never anything but polite and friendly, but ‘fluid’ was not a description appropriate for the process I experienced.
LoveDigital irritated the landlords with their ‘sales pitch’ call to get permission to do the work, and managed to make normal terrestrial television unwatchable for the other seven flats in the building for about three weeks.
The first nine months were plagued with pulling out power cords after a box had gone unresponsive and deleting unwatchable recordings made so either by a box in the cupboard upstairs that wasn’t working, or software that had gone a bit glitch.
Sky Q isn’t the future of television. 18 months in, I’m convinved it was a life support machine for Sky’s existing business model being sold as a totally new one and launched months before it was ready.