As if it were planned in advance, Sky decided to launch a new streaming device for the German market just as IDC published a report showing a 26.8% year on year growth in sales of digital media adapters during the second quarter of this year.
Strangely, voice functionality wasn’t mentioned once in the release of the new Sky Ticket Stick, which initially sent alarm bells ringing here at Faultline Online Reporter, deducing that Sky had missed a great opportunity to disrupt the German market and was backtracking on voice projects. That was until we discovered an unboxing video showing an identical Roku remote control to the one deployed by Sky in the UK and Italy, microphone and all.
So why isn’t Sky Deutschland shouting about voice search given the popularity of the feature and its commitment to the technology elsewhere? The absence of voice functionality from the announcement looks to us to be a case of putting on its trousers one leg at a time, and voice support already exists in Germany on Sky Q, and perhaps this is a work in progress to take it over to the new Roku device – so possibly a software update in the near future.
Germany is now Sky’s third territory to receive a Roku-powered HDMI device, strengthening its position as Europe’s most aggressive operator in OTT video and again reminding the industry it isn’t scared to challenge the streaming trailblazers, even in the hardware space and even if it means gnawing off its own satellite pay TV arm.
The Sky Ticket Stick is Sky Deutschland’s version of the WiFi-connected Now TV streaming adapter launched in the UK and Italy earlier this year, the cheapest on the market (with voice remote control) at just under £14.99 ($20) in the UK without content packages, undercutting Amazon’s Fire TV and Google’s Chromecast devices by some distance.
The difference in Germany is that the Sky Ticket Stick will cost a bit more at €29.99 ($35) as a result of coming preloaded with a content package of choice. All for the same price tag, users can choose from getting entertainment content via Sky Ticket for three months (normally €10 a month), or access to the Cinema Ticket for two months (normally €15 a month), or one month use of the Supersport Ticket (normally €30 a month) – meaning the device itself is essentially free.
The real value will therefore not come directly from hardware sales but from winning new subscribers to its premium sports package, which includes essential Bundesliga soccer rights, and the other packages mentioned – all available to buy through contract-free monthly tickets.
With content from German public broadcasters remaining popular in the country, it was essential for Sky Deutschland to include catch-up apps from ARD and ZDF on the Sky Ticket Stick, as well as YouTube and more, to properly compete with Amazon and Google. Of course, Sky’s streaming adapter environment is not as open with access to Netflix and other OTT services seemingly not included, yet Sky took us all by surprise when it integrated Netflix into its pay TV set tops earlier this year, so that too may be coming, but offering it with Netflix brings Sky no real advantage – the prize for upgrading to a Sky set top then, is in fact the addition of Netflix among other things.
Pending takeover by either Comcast or Disney is perhaps what is keeping such integrations at bay – uncertainty of its future strategy. Disney has tried and failed at streaming hardware before and if it wins out at Sky we see it simply cramming these Sky streaming sticks full of Disney content to bulk up existing offers. That said, the Sky Ticket app is not available on Fire TV devices and many smart TVs in Germany, according to local technology site Golem.de – and we envisage the walled garden approach worsening in this sector.
Andrew Ferrone, VP of Pay TV at Roku said, “We launched the first product with Streaming Stick form factor in 2012, which quickly became popular with consumers. The stick form factor is ideal for anyone who values the aesthetics of the living room because it’s plugged into the back of the TV. It is easy to transport, whether at home or on the road.”
Amazon has quite a lead in this market, shipping almost 5 million units globally in the second quarter, according to research from IDC, followed by Chromecast with 3.7 million shipments in the same period, while Roku shipped 2.8 million units. The vast majority of Roku’s shipments are in the US so the streaming adapters at Sky will account for a tiny portion of this total, but for Sky, tightly combining a variety of content packages from high to low with streaming hardware has given it a powerful weapon with which to expand.