Comcast shifting more services to Sky streaming boxes

Comcast's Sky Stream offers British TV viewers access to Sky television and third-party services via the Internet.
Comcast’s Sky Stream offers British TV viewers access to Sky television and third-party services via the Internet. (Handout image, Graphic by The Desk)

Comcast will begin offering a streaming television package via its Sky subsidiary next month that will allow TV viewers to access most Sky channels and services over the Internet.

The package is part of a broader strategy at Sky that will see more of its British pay television business rooted in streaming products and services over its traditional satellite platform.

The Sky Stream service will cost around £26 a month (about $28 a month) and will include Sky’s core entertainment package as well as a courtesy Netflix subscription. Sports and movie channels will be available to purchase for separate monthly fees.

Sky Stream is also the name of a streaming TV device that resembles a slimmed-down Apple TV 4K or Roku Ultra. The device, which runs a modified version of Comcast’s X1 operating system called Sky Glass, offers access to several third-party apps, including Netflix, Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, Paramount Plus, Amazon Prime Video, Peacock and BBC iPlayer. The Sky Stream gadget will be available to buy at Sky retail locations and the Sky website in mid-October.

Customers who agree to purchase Sky Stream TV service for at least 18 months will get one Sky Stream box for free. Sky will give customers up to five more boxes for an extra £12 a month (about $15 a month) as part of a “Whole Home” package.

The launch of Sky Stream clearly indicates that Comcast sees streaming as the future of its television business in the United Kingdom, leading some to speculate that the company will soon move away from offerings its traditional satellite television service.

This week, a report in the Guardian included a quote from an unnamed Sky source that claimed it was a matter of “when, not if” Comcast ultimately decides to do away with its satellite service in favor of streaming. One media analyst said Comcast stands to save a considerable amount of money by switching its core business from satellite to streaming.

However, Comcast has said it will continue to support its Sky satellite business for the foreseeable future, and there is at least one indication to back this up: Earlier this year, Comcast extended its lease agreement with Luxembourgh company SES for transponder space on its Astra fleet of satellites through the end of 2028.

Comcast uses the SES Astra satellites for a number of products, including video uplink and downlink of its Sky-owned and third-party channels. The SES Astra 2 satellite carries Sky channels distributed to customers with the company’s receive-only satellite dishes.

“We have a strong, long-term partnership with SES and are pleased to extend that further with this agreement,” Patrick Behar, the chief business officer at Sky, said in a statement earlier this year. “Satellite delivery has been the foundation of our TV business, and it will continue to play an important role in our future.”

Still, Comcast is going all in on streaming as the future of its British-based business — and it says Sky Stream will help reach television viewers who may not have been able to erect a satellite dish on their homes or apartments in the past.

“Sky’s always reinvented the TV experience and offered the best content – but it’s not always been accessible to everyone,” Stephen van Rooyen, the chief executive of Comcast’s Sky business in the United Kingdom and Europe, said in a statement. “There couldn’t be a better time to launch our latest innovation using the Sky Glass Platform…Sky Stream has it all.”

In addition to the Sky Stream device, Comcast is also selling a smart television set called Sky Glass that has the Sky Glass Platform built right in. The ultra-high definition (UHD/4K) TV sets are not cheap: A standard 43-inch model costs £650 (about $725) and go up from there, but Sky customers have the ability to pay off their TVs on installment.