As of 21 March, Sky has finally opened up its Anytime+ on-demand service to all of its subscribers with HD receiver boxes. And frankly it's about ruddy time.
Prior to that red letter day, the Sky Anytime+ service, with its extensive catch up functionality, was only available to Sky TV subscribers who were signed up to Sky’s broadband package. Even back in 2010 when the Anytime service first launched this situation seemed blatantly unfair; why should one Sky subscriber be able to get this extensive value-added service FREE so long as they changed their broadband to Sky, while other Sky subscribers paying the same subscription fees but using other broadband platforms weren’t able to get it?
Sky’s suggestion was that it had to be this way so that they could have complete control over the delivery of the service in its formative period. But it’s also hard not to think that Anytime was being used as a rather grimy marketing ploy to try and ramp up subscribers to the Sky broadband service.
Whatever the truth of the matter, though, the ironic thing has been that the longer Sky stuck to its ‘Anytime+ for Sky broadband users only’ policy, the more it’s seemed to us as if the policy has been hurting Sky rather than helping it. For while Anytime+ was ahead of the game in on-demand TV terms, but it quickly had the wind taken out of its sails by the growth of on-demand TV services from other sources - especially Smart TV platforms and, of course, Virgin’s TiVo receiver for cable subscribers. And with Anytime+ such a closed shop, many people have instinctively turned to these rival options for their rapidly growing on-demand needs.
Sky has certainly offered innovation elsewhere since 2010, especially with its rather brilliant Sky Go service. But nonetheless, for at least the past year, Sky not giving the majority of its subscribers a ‘proper’ on-demand service on even its most recent 1TB Sky HD receiver has started to really hurt the platform’s appeal – as well as its reputation as a technology innovator.
The arrival of Sky Anytime to ALL Sky subscribers with a Sky HD receiver and ANY broadband contract is long overdue. But is the service as it stands today really worth networking your Sky receiver for?
First, it’s pleasing to discover that the process for ‘converting’ your HD receiver to Anytime isn’t at all difficult. A quick phone call to Sky or visit to Sky’s website is all it takes to register yourself for the service, and aside from that all you have to do is connect your receiver to your broadband router via an Ethernet port or optional (£60) Sky Wireless Connector.
If even the above procedures have you shaking in your boots, fear not: for £40 a Sky engineer can be sent out to set things up for you, using a wired connection.
Having followed the above procedures and rebooted our Sky HD receiver for good measure, we were rather surprised not to find the Anytime service being shouted about by anything on the Sky Planner menu. There’s just the same Anytime menu entry as before.
The change when you select the Anytime option, though, is immediately obvious. For in place of the simple text lists of programmes Sky had previously ‘sent’ to the old Anytime section of your box’s memory in the hope you might want to watch them, you’re now greeted by five flashly presented ‘showcase’ programmes, accompanied by swish HD stills from the content they contain. You can scroll across the ‘Showcase’ list, with just over 30 titles available in this initial section at the time of writing.
Some of the programmes in this showcase are actually already installed to hard disk as part of the traditional Anytime service. But many others are truly ‘on-demand’; which is to say they’re stored on Sky’s servers, and have to be downloaded to your receiver when you want to watch them.
It’s worth noting here that some of the programmes available in Anytime are in HD. But these programmes are only those that were already uploaded to your box as part of the normal Anytime service. On-demand content to be streamed to your box is only available in standard definition. More on this later.