Sky Upgrades TV Service to Fend Off Rivalry From Netflix, BT

  • New SkyQ set-top box available to U.K., Ireland users in 2016
  • Customers can record up to four shows at once with SkyQ box

Sky Plc, the pan-European TV broadcaster backed by Rupert Murdoch, unveiled a service called Sky Q that allows users to watch programs simultaneously from multiple devices, record up to four programs at once and eventually stream ultra high-definition shows.

The Sky Q package includes a set-top box, Wi-Fi hub and tablet app and lets users record, pause and watch at home and elsewhere, the company said Wednesday. It will be available to Sky’s 12 million customers in the U.K. and Ireland starting early next year and eventually Italy and Germany. Pricing wasn’t disclosed.

Cable and satellite TV companies including Sky are developing new technologies to retain viewers and lure new ones from online streaming services such as Netflix Inc. and Apple TV. Sky, in which Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Inc. owns a 39 percent stake, has boosted sales and profit as it’s added customers to on-demand and Web-based TV services. It’s also facing intensifying competition from the U.K.’s BT Group Plc, with which it competes for sports rights and viewers.

“Sky Q is a new way for consumers to watch TV content on their terms,” Chief Executive Officer Jeremy Darroch said at an event in London. “It’s a system of products that work together to create a whole new way of watching TV.”

Sky Q is set to be available on smartphones next year and the service will eventually include voice search, said Stephen van Rooyen, Sky’s chief marketing and digital officer. The Sky Q set-top box will feature Internet apps such as YouTube and Vevo and content from publishers such as Wired, Vogue and Vanity Fair. Users will be able to browse and create slide shows from their Facebook photos.

“TV in and out of the home is testament to our belief that you can have TV everywhere,” van Rooyen said.

Last year, Sky paid more than $10 billion to merge Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland with its U.K. business. The deal promoted Darroch to the top of a pan-European pay-TV empire with business in the U.K., Ireland, Austria, Germany and Italy, rivaling John Malone’s European cable powerhouse Liberty Global.

BT, the U.K.’s former phone monopoly, has outbid Sky for the rights to some of the biggest soccer matches and earlier this summer unveiled a live ultra high-definition sports channel called BT Sport Ultra HD.

DirecTV, Dish Network Corp. and Sony Corp. are also among companies that offer ultra high-definition boxes while Inc.’s Prime Instant Video, Netflix and YouTube offer streaming videos in ultra high-definition.