As the Herald reported today Sky TV will start offering internet downloads of some of its content from mid May through the company's website www.sky.co.nz.
A closer inspection of some of the technical attributes of the service suggests Sky is following the model TVNZ pursued with its TVNZ OnDemand service.
That is, the programmes will be downloadable as files playable in Windows Media Player (Windows XP and Vista)and will include Windows digital rights management software.
They won't be able to be played on Macs - currently there's no alternative for Sky users with Macs. The files will be viewable for 7 days on one computer, but Sky spokesman Tony O'Brien said Sky subscribers will be able to extend the viewing time of some programmes if they remain on the website.
The front-end of the digital storefront that will display the programmes for download has been built by a company called Entriq which built BSkyB's digital content platform in the UK.
Usual suspect Akamai is handling the content delivery to downloaders.
The deal is this: Sky subscribers choose to pay $5 on top of their monthly subscription in order to be able to download programmes that correspond to their existing monthly Sky subscription.
Sky will initially have 500 hours of content for download and add 120 hours each week drawn from Sky Movies 1 and 2, MGM and Rialto channels, delayed coverage of the Sky Sports channels, Sky Sports highlights and various other programmes. Sky Online would allow downloading of movies that had already appeared on Sky Movies One and Sky Movies 2.
If you are a TelstraClear or Vodafone broadband subscriber, the downloads won't eat into your broadband data cap.
"We're talking to Telecom as well," said O'Brien. Subscribers to ISPs other than Vodafone and TelstraClear will accrue data usage as they download, something that could work out to be quite significant if you're downloading several hours of programming a week.
O'Brien said Sky currently has no plans to offer high-definition downloads of programmes, despite the pay TV operator going live with HD broadcasts on selected channels from July.
Sky says the $5 charge is an "administration fee". It isn't looking to make serious pay-per-view revenue out of its download service, through that may change at a later stage when Sky moves to a live streaming model and increases the amount of content available.
Interestingly, Sky is introducing the download, Windows DRM model as other operators such as TVNZ scrap it and opt for a streaming-only option. Hackers were able to crack the DRM used with the TVNZ file downloads very quickly, so there's some risk Sky's content will be traded around the web as the protection system is effectively the same.
How good a deal is this for Sky subscribers? We'll have to wait and see how smoothly the service is delivered. If you're on MySky forget it, set the timer on your recorder. For everyone else, it may prove a decent option for catch-up TV.
But you'll need to look into the data usage. From memory, a half hour of standard-definition TV downloaded from TVNZ amounted to around 250MB. If you're not on Vodafone or TelstraClear you'll need a decent cap, say 10GB a month minimum for the average family.