Broadcaster BSkyB is planning to launch a free-to-air satellite package offering 200 TV and radio channels and interactive services.
You'll need a satellite dish to pick up Sky's new package
The service, to be launched later this year, will compete with Freeview, the free-to-air digital terrestrial service backed by the BBC and BSkyB.
For a one-off payment of £150, it will include the BBC's digital services and Sky News as well as other free stations.
But unlike Freeview, a satellite dish will be needed to pick up the service.
BSkyB shares rose 2.6% to 628 pence after the announcement.
It was welcomed as the first strategy outline from new chief executive James Murdoch on how to increase customers.
BSkyB hopes that the absence of a subscription fee will lure new customers who may eventually switch to a pay-TV package when analogue TV is eventually phased out.
"The free-to-air satellite proposition offers an easy upgrade path for viewers who choose subsequently to add a pay-TV service to their viewing options," a spokesperson for BSkyB said.
SKY'S FREE-TO-AIR PACKAGE
115 TV channels
81 radio channels
13 interactive services
All BBC digital services
All other terrestrial channels
Others include the God Channel, the Wrestling Channel, the Horror Channel
Source: BSkyB and Reuters
BSkyB's free-to-air package will offer more channels than Freeview's several dozen channels, but at a cost of £150 against anywhere from £50 to £120 for a digital terrestrial set-top box.
Sky's £150 fee includes the satellite dish, set-top box and installation. The product must be bought directly from Sky while Freeview boxes are widely available in shops.
The UK's leading pay-TV provider also stressed that its subscription-free service would reach the 25% of mostly rural UK households that cannot receive digital terrestrial services.
Launched in 2002, Freeview has become the UK's number-two provider of digital TV services, with 3.5 million households equipped to receive the service, compared with Sky's seven million.
Top and bottom
BSkyB is also developing a package of channels for high-definition TV, which is being heavily promoted in the US as the next standard TV format.
Picture quality on the service is better, especially for sports and films, but, so far, the high cost of the new TV sets has deterred people in the US from buying them.
BSkyB gave no indication on how the new strategies would impact its revenue or profits, or how much the two projects would cost.
Commenting on the new developments, BSkyB's chief executive James Murdoch said: "These initiatives are another step in giving consumers a choice from Sky that suits their needs at the top and lower ends of the scale."
Meanwhile, Andy Duncan, director of marketing, communications and audiences at the BBC said: "This is good news for our viewers as it provides another route to all the BBC's digital services without subscription.
"This follows the BBC's own view that free-to-air digital satellite is an important missing piece in the jigsaw to achieving a fully digital Britain."
Will you be persuaded to switch by the new digital deals? Or do you refuse to pay for hundreds of channels you do not want?
I'm sure that there's no shortage of expats across Europe who welcome the possibility of not having fraudulently to pretend to be UK residents in order to watch British television.
So what's new then? After cancelling my Sky subscription last year, I continue to receive all the free to view channels at no cost via my "dish". This isn't a new service, just people in the marketing department at sky marketing something which they know has always been available had they taken the time to tell us.
I am an English man abroad. Not much choice for TV here! BUT free view at least offers channels worth watching. BSKYB offering hundreds of channels for free is nonsense. 10 quality choices would be better. Stick with freeview ladies and gentlemen.... at least the BBC is not trying to make a fortune out of us.
Richard Barkle, Jaffna, Sri Lanka
I don't see why this is all so very exciting. For those who have SKY already might be aware that it has always been possible to receive the non-subscription channels without paying the subscription charges. And furthermore a Freeview satellite SKY card was available on application from the BBC free of charge.
Suranjan Som, London, UK
I have Freeview (I used to have NTL) and would do anything rather than use a Murdoch system. It's good to see that Freeview have made a big dent in BSkyB's potential customer base leading to this "new" satellite service. If I were choosing again today I would still go with Freeview - I want to support it.
Phil Wade, Norwich, UK
Dishes on the sides of houses are put up by lazy installers. If you are insistent, they will put it where it is hidden, at least partly. You can't see mine from any angle, so don't be put off by the 'ugly dish' argument. However, I do agree that there will be little to watch other than the main channels, and that they will most likely start charging after a couple of years!
Phil, Newark, UK
I currently have the normal terrestrial service, but I'm interested in this deal. There seems to be much resistance to the dishes, but they don't look as bad as ordinary aerials, and there is usually lots of other utility type clutter on houses, such as overhead phone cables and meter reading boxes.
Simon Thomas, Ebchester, Co Durham
Terrestrial Digital needs a good signal - unavailable here even though we have line of sight to the transmitter mast. No Cable in rural villages. Planners don't like dishes, especially in conservation areas. So goodbye to terrestrial analogue TV, means goodbye to TV and goodbye to Tessa!
Frank Page, Long Sutton, Hampshire
I would much prefer to pay just for the channels we view, since most of the others are absolute drivel, including terrestrial TV channels, which have dumbed down to an alarming extent. Does this new technology intend to lead to a purely pay per view service? If so, I would back it.
G Ellis, London, UK
Seeing as how there is very little to watch on terrestrial TV now you kind of get out of the habit of watching it, my social/sports life has really picked up. Think I might use the end of terrestrial as an end to my TV watching days. It's amazing how many life hours you get back!!
Chris B., Nottingham, U.K.
I have an Integrated Digital TV, which when I bought in Dec 99, was linked to ON-Digital which became ITV Digital. I bought an integrated digital TV as there was no need for a set top box as the card was inserted into the side of the TV. With this new service will I need a set top box/Satellite or will I just need the card to put in the side of the TV?
Gavin Moulton, Waltham Abbey, Essex
For as long as you need an ugly monstrosity stuck to your house to receive these channels, I shall leave them where they belong - with those who moan about paying £2 a week for the TV licence but always manage to find 4 times that for the 'magic' of satellite.
Why can't the BBC develop their own Satellite Freeview service? I am sure ITV, Ch4 & Ch.5 would all be interested in a deal that doesn't give Sky yet another foot in the market. People like me could then get the full benefits of our license fee from someone who isn't going to ram adverts down our throat every 10 or so minutes, it would also give Sky some competition in their own market place. This has go to be good for the end user.
George, A place that cannot get Freeview
Sorry but those Murdoch's aren't getting any of my money!
Andrew M, Walsall, UK
What would tempt me more is a combination of the TiVo/SkyPlus options and the option of only paying for what you watch. I would not go for a monthly payment package on a digital deal because I would watch so little of it. Lets give people the choice to watch what they want, when they want and not pay for the rest - then I'll be putting my money where my eyes are!
MJ, London, UK
Competition is a healthy thing so I'm glad SKY are getting involved, therefore they will be fighting against each other to offer a better service.
Free things are always good. Especially for the fact that as a Sky subscriber, I still tend to watch the BBC (even BBC FOUR has good programs!), Channel 4 and Paramount. So, really I'm better off with the proposed free package.
Christopher Tsangari, Wood Green
I don't see what is new about this package. There has always been the option to buy a package from Sky without a subscription and watch the free to air channels. I've had such a system for well over four years now. It offers all of the BBC TV and radio channels together with some others, such as Sky news, without having to use the doubtful Freeview technology.
Richard Hardy, Dorset
I had SKY for a year and it was a waste of money, all those channels and nothing to watch. Who's to say this fee to air stuff will be any different? The only thing people really end up watching is music TV.
Kristopher Skillings, Sunderland
Even though I am an existing Sky subscriber, I think that this will be a very valuable addition for the viewing public. Although we get many channels that are hardly watched, they are always there.
Antony Forst, Stoke on Trent UK
I remember well buying my first Amstrad satellite receiver in 1989. It cost £199 and I put up the dish myself. I bought it on the high street and paid NO fees. As the channel choice grew - SKY decided to introduce subscription and of course later move to digital. I now have both FREEVIEW and SKY and welcome the choice - but as a commercial operator, I can't believe that their end game is to get people linked up to satellite, and then introduce fees later. They'll probably try and tempt viewers to pay for special events etc. Just call me suspicious!!
Gerry Jackson, Lancashire
So apart from the cost, how is this different to buying their existing set-up where you can already choose to pay the full installation cost up front and then nothing after that? This option already gives you all of the non-subscription channels that BSkyB transmit? Is it just a re-packaged marketing gimmick?
Brian Robinson, Ilford, Essex
I live in a fair sized town but cannot get Freeview. I believe it was partly funded by licence money - which I have to pay but don't get a discount for lack of Freeview. I therefore welcome an alternative and will probably go for it.
Richard Old, Worthing West Sussex
I use NTL at home and Freeview in a static caravan. The Freeview gives a much improved picture quality, however if you want to have the better channels you still have to subscribe monthly i.e. for the discovery channel... the rest of the channels are not worth watching unless you like auctions and holiday programs. I think it will be another scam by Sky as you will not get away from paying monthly.
Steve, Rochdale, lancs
I don't see Sky making much of an impact on the Freeview market, as Freeview boxes are much cheaper and can be installed by your granny. However, the high-definition (HDTV) service is interesting, although the TVs themselves are unlikely to be affordable in the near future. HDTV picture quality is stunning, and in comparison makes normal TV look very grainy and unrealistic.
Jon, Leeds, UK
This will be a fantastic option. Currently with Sky it takes very bad weather conditions to cause disruption in the service, compared to the Freeview which changes with the wind direction. I would definitely switch to the free Sky package, as I find that Sky just keep raising their package prices year on year and repeat more and more the same programmes and the quality of the programmes is rapidly dropping. What we really need for Pay TV to be good value is Sky need to have some competition.
Kev, Swindon, UK
Sky Digital is vastly superior to both NTL and Freeview - the platform is very intuitive and obviously well thought-out. A free version will allow everyone to benefit from this. And for those who call the Minidish ugly - is a standard aerial not uglier?
Chris, Lincoln, Lincolnshire
For as long as you have to put an ugly dish on the side of your house, I'll leave satellite TV alone. Cable is not much better given your pavement ends up looking like it has an attack of moles. I have a Freeview box but other than the first five channels, BBC3 and CBeebies for the young'un there's not much worth watching. However the picture quality is so much better with digital - and with a personal video recorder, the viewing experience is enhanced. I have no doubt BSkyB's output will no doubt be the same uninspiring dross it churns out on its existing service.
I chose Freeview over Sky because of no monthly subscription (I already pay the government licence fee and reject the pay-TV concept!). However the quality of reception is still patchy, strange when the technology is supposed to be so good. I might be persuaded to switch to the Sky no-subscription service, but only if the reception quality is consistently high.
Mark, Beccles, UK
This is definitely a good move for BSkyB as subscription charges are probably the most off putting part of digital television. However, as most of the channels are poor at best, I'd say Freeview is still the way to go. Personally, I'm staying with NTL as their package that includes broadband internet access is so much better.
Chris Rogers, Lisburn, Northern Ireland
I think this is a great idea. I live in quite an urban area but the Freeview signal is still not good so I would be very interested in this new service.
Matt Austen, UK
Standard Sky tactic, offer something for free, try and gain a monopoly position, and then exploit it. Just wait and see if I am proved right!
John C, Bath, England
I have had Sky for a number of years and a couple of years ago, I decided to cut my package right down to the minimum to avoid paying for channels I didn't think I watched, including the movies which were repeated time and time again. After a couple of months, however, I realised that although I may not have watched each channel every day, I missed the variety and choice offered by the service. Now I am back to paying the £42 per month fee and moaning about it!!
Sonia, Luton, UK
Could this backfire on BSkyB in that customers whom currently subscribe to pay to view TV cancel their subscriptions and only watch the free view channels? I would say it's a big gamble.
I enjoy the services provided by Freeview, especially, as a flat dweller, the satellite dishes required to serve all of the residents would look like a forest. However, I am concerned that the move to switch off analogue in favour of digital means that we will have no choice in the future but to pay for subscription services if Freeview fails. Is this the plan so that the TV licence can be scrapped?
Dave T, Rochford, UK
I would be interested if I believed that the channels would stay free, which I don't. The way these deals seem to work is to get people interested and then remove some of the channels and add them to a new tier of pay per view channels. I simply don't trust them on past experience.
Adam, Oldham, UK
The reason many folk have welcomed Freeview into their homes is that it does not entail having an unsightly 'dustbin lid' nailed to the side of their property. BSkyB's proposed 'free to air' service will not be able to overcome consumer resistance in that particular area of personal taste!
Simon W. Ladd, Enfield, UK