Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Pimp my portable media lifestyle

A Palladium Club mega-value reader points out concerns that cable players are not moving fast enough in the nascent market for content portability in the US, and I think we could safely say the same for Europe. The NTL/Telewest newco has what looks to be a credible challenger to Sky+ in the pipeline, but the Sky+ HD box will have an Ethernet port, and Sky has long talked about the potential role of portable media devices in its services. Indeed, the company has already made some first steps in this direction with the Gnome - okay, it ain't pretty and it's not truly portable, but it attempts to extend the range of ways people use the platform, so it's an important indication of how they're thinking. I think it's safe to assume that something more impressive may be in the works for the HD launch next year. So, as it stands, I would expect Sky to emerge as the UK's "winner" in this area, if that's a meaningful word to use in this sector (winner defined as a company which manages to avoid going ex-growth in customer numbers). I once again have to stress that my gut feeling is that the development of the "folk PVR" will ultimately be more significant - here's the set-top box, middleware, user guide, EPG, portable media player.

More interesting, in my view, will be the way the company manages the transition to broadband ISP (if in fact this comes to pass), and what services evolve out of such a move. Easynet's retail arm had only 21k customers at the end of August, so it doesn't bring much in terms of critical mass, though its wholesale business boasts OneTel as a customer. Precisely what Sky would do as a provider of wholesale connectivity is still something of a mystery to me, but I suppose it opens up a lot of preferred content deals with wholesale customers like OneTel (perhaps akin to the Sky by wire from HomeChoice), while it works on developing its own retail customer base. Certainly £1bn is a big warchest, and my personal speculation is still that the acquisition trail will next lead to Pipex. Pipex, number five in the DSL market following yesterday's acquisition of Freedom 2 Surf, is only looking to unbundle 60 exchanges currently, versus 350 on the drawing board for Easynet, so capex should be more efficient if the two programs were combined. More significantly, as I've stressed about Pipex many times previously, the wireless wild card makes it all the more interesting, potentially allowing Sky to evolve into a multi-technology (DTH, DSL, portable/mobile) delivery platform for more than just "native" Sky content - plus voice.

No comments: