I've been a Sky TV subscriber for a number of years. Like many Sky subscribers I joined Sky for live sports coverage, in my case this was the Formula 1.
I've had a MySky box since they were available and the ability to record content using a programme guide is truly magical when you are used to the old fashion start and end times of a VCR. Watching content when you want to (time shifting) rather than when it is broadcasted radically improves what you watch. You can watch what you want, when you want to.
I was excited to hear recently that Sky NZ were embarking on a large update to their set top boxes (including the MySky) as a response to the many new services (e.g. Lightbox, Neon, Netflix etc). I ordered a MySky wifi adapter from Sky to enable the new on-demand features. The adapter arrived and I eagerly opened and connected the device only to be disappointed that nothing changed. I called up Sky and they mentioned that I hadn't yet been upgraded. They needed to do a software update to my MySky box to enable the new features. As a software guy this seemed reasonable and so asked when my box would be updated. The staff member wasn't able to give a date, not even a month, or year! Really poor. A few weeks later my box was updated. Why were they not able to provide an estimate on when the update was going to happen?
Once I had the new software update I noticed a few issues. The software was very slow, selecting between screens/programmes etc was noticeably slower. So slow you sometimes press the button twice causing unforeseen issues, like deleting my daughters programme unintentionally. :( It was also generally the same as before. Where it was different it was generally worse, like the speed issue, and the inability to turn off the sound when you are in the program guide.
Looking around the net you can find many people complaining about this software update. The company has made some responses, see this NZHerald.co.nz article from January, It’s true that people will “get used-to” a disappointing service if they have no choice but is that what you really want to provide? The company has also indicated that they are making changes/improvements to the software to respond to some of the complaints.
I found the content on the on-demand service very limiting. Many of the programs require you to already subscribe to the Sky channel (e.g. Soho). I know this is a licensing issue but you need good content on a service and clearly Netflix has been able to resolve this problem (see below).
After hearing a lot of positive comments about Netflix I decided to try a free trial of the service in early March. From the very start the service was a delight, a word I never used with Sky. It is intuitive, fast, expansive, and interestingly innovative in some areas. It is what I want from a service. The only thing missing is Sport coverage and some TV shows which i suspect are licensed to other service or free to air channels. But the range is vast and the price is very good.
Netflix is available on a wide range of devices including laptops, phones, game consoles, and even smart TVs.
Sony Smart TV
I purchased a Sony “Smart TV" two years ago when my old TV stopped working. The “Smart” features were terrible, I tried a few options on several occasions only to be disappointed time and time again. It seemed yet again that a non software company couldn't delivery good software :(
With my new Netflix trial setup with profiles for each of the family (a feature not available on Sky) I decided to see if the Netflix application on the Sony TV was any good. I was pleasantly amazed, it was fantastic. It was fast, it had all our profiles from our Netflix account, it simply worked perfectly.
Companies embracing technology
I could talk more about our Sky and Netflix experience but there is a larger observation I'd like to make; how do some companies embrace technology and others don’t. Some of you may say that it is unfair to compare a software company like Netflix with a broadcast company like Sky but I don’t agree. Sky’s recent upgrade was in direct response to companies like Netflix. It’s great they have responded but its just not going to be enough. There are also other companies that don’t have software at the core that have embraced technology, one of my favourites is Air New Zealand.
Air New Zealand
At the core Air New Zealand is a transportation company, having to deal with complex issues relating to purchasing aircraft, flight economics and international sharing agreements etc. Airlines are notoriously hard to make consistently profitable over the long term. Air New Zealand has looked to technology to not only address direct issues (costs, competition) but as a way to improve customer service. From check-in kiosks, to website improvements, to mobile app enhancements they are constantly improving how they enhance all aspects of their business.
I want local companies like Sky TV to succeed, to drive competition. This is how we will continue to see advancements in the services we receive. It is also how we can develop world leading businesses and products that we can export. The challenge I have for Sky is to listen to their customers, see what competitors are offering and delivery a service that is simply BETTER. Not because they need to today but because this is how they will continue to be relevant in the years to come.
Note: I haven't yet tried out Lightbox or Neon and I don't work for Sky, Air New Zealand, or Netflix.