In front of a packed theatre of delegates at Bafta, Piccadilly, Sky customer group managing director Brian Sullivan asked his audience to stand and then sit down if they didn't have access to an HD service in their homes. Only 10 people were left standing, prompting Sullivan to ask: 'If we don't have these services in our homes how can we claim to be one of the main proponents of it?' The problem it seems is connecting homes to HD services with HD boxes.
At least Sky is way ahead of the game, according to Sullivan. With 184,000 HD customers less than a year after its launch last March, Sky's HD service has exceeded the satellite group's expectations. One reason, said Sullivan, was that consumers were now much more willing to replace their old TV sets. 'By 2010 we predicted that there would be 10 million HD TV sets in the UK. We now expect to hit 10 million in two and a half years' time.'
Sky has already boosted its HD services by adding a second HD sports channel and, according to Sullivan, sport has been by far and away the most popular genre - making up half of Sky's viewing figures in HD. 'It offers viewers a huge leap in the viewing experience,' he said. The other big benefactor has been smaller channels with Artsworld experiencing a 70% increase in viewing since its migration to HD.
Elsewhere in the schedules, Sky One's Christmas drama Hogfatherwas also a big success. 'It was one of our most successful shows ever and a leading light in terms of what HD can do,' he declared, adding 'Shows like this will get much more support from us.'
The likelihood of more HD commissioning at Sky has been boosted by research which showed that Hogfatherhad a 15% higher viewing share in HD homes and Sky's new on-demand channel service, Sky Anytime, is set to exploit this trend. The service, set to launch on TV in March, is open to Sky+ and Sky HD viewers and will offer 35 hours of programming a week. While content will be in both HD and SD, those with HD boxes will have access exclusively to HD material. 'The hope is that viewers will find new HD programmes they might not have watched before that they will be able to programme into Sky+.'
If HD is a big opportunity for Sky, it also offers plenty of opportunities for producers. Artsworld channel manager John Cassy, who despite running a largely acquisition-driven channel, admitted that there was such a shortage of HD arts programming that he's now on the hunt for original commissions. 'Accessible, returnable half-hour series are ideally what we're looking for. Shows like National Trust's National Treasureshave done very well for us,' he said, speaking at a conference session on HD commissioning.
Richard Melman, channel director at the History Channel/ Biography Channel, added 'Artefacts, illuminated manuscripts and scenic dramas' showed up very well in HD.
High definition: the facts