If you click on a link and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. Read our editorial policy.

Reaching for the Sky

Jerry Johnson and Adrian Pilkington reveal the thinking behind the newly-announced Xbox 360/Sky link-up

Microsoft and BSkyB have just announced that they are partnering to bring live and on-demand TV and movie content from the UK multi-channel broadcaster onto the Xbox 360 platform.

The service, set to launch this Autumn, will require users to subscribe to Sky, and although specific package details won't be announced until nearer the time, here the general manager for Xbox Live in EMEA, Jerry Johnson, and director of third party channels at Sky, Adrian Pilkington, explain a bit more about the reasoning behind the deal.

GamesIndustry.biz Xbox users in the UK have been clamouring for something that's a broad equivalent of the Netflix service in the US - would you say this deal with Sky is that equivalent, or does it go one step further?
Jerry Johnson

It's a ground-breaking thing that we're doing over here with Sky - it's a tremendous parnership for both of us. The ability to bring not only video and movies on-demand but the breadth of content that Sky provides - lifestyle, news, kids, documentaries and general broadcast-type content - is unmatched... not just here in the UK, but as far as console experiences go, nobody else is doing this, and no other country is doing this on the Xbox.

So we're leading in the UK by bring both that video on-demand and live streaming content, interactive sports... they're all things we'll be doing first over here in the UK.

GamesIndustry.biz The demo content shown at the launch event here is in HD, but the product that launches will be streaming - so will that level of picture quality depend on the individual user's broadband connection speed?
Jerry Johnson

Right now we're using the SkyPlayer, and if you look at that it really sets the benchmark in terms of expectations. Right now we're saying it's going to be standard definition broadcast-to-DVD type quality.

Yes, some of the demo is in in high def, but that's mainly because we were putting it up on larger screens to present well. But we're always going to be evaluating how we continue to grow and give users choice on the type of content they get - not just the type of content, but the breadth.

GamesIndustry.biz Why choose Microsoft and Xbox for this partnership?
Adrian Pilkington

I'd say that the brands are very similar, the approach is very similar. Obviously Xbox has a huge installed base, and a huge connected installed base. Also, it gives us a great opportunity to push the SkyPlayer and present our content in a very attractive way - and then add additional features, such as interactivity, more information, and it's really exciting for us.

GamesIndustry.biz The SkyPlayer has now launched on the PC and Mac platforms, and the programme guide is being upgraded on Sky boxes now - did that influence the look-and-feel of the Xbox-based Sky content?
Adrian Pilkington

No, I don't think so. The thing you have to realise is that you're using a game controller rather than a TV remote, and Xbox users are used to using certain templates, and in certain ways. I think we want to have a balance between retaining the SkyPlayer brand and maintaining the user interface and consistency that Xbox users have with their current console.

I think the really interesting thing about the demo is that it fits extremely well - it's very intuitive and a great way to navigate, search and look for content, so we've got to be happy with that.

GamesIndustry.biz How long has this deal been in the works?
Jerry Johnson

The partnership has been underway for well over a year now - it's probably about 18 months that we've been working together. My background is in working for the team back in Redmond on the global product.

When we shipped the updated interface in November it gave us an opportunity - it wasn't just an interface update, it was an architectural update on the back-end that allowed us to start doing things in a more modular way. It allows us to do more distributed development targeted at markets.

So from a technical perspective we've been working on this since before NXE shipped in November - it isn't just something that just all-of-a-sudden happened. We've now got a dedicated team made up of Europeans that have been hired in working on this project in London together with the SkyPlayer team.

GamesIndustry.biz So did this project actually influence the design of the NXE?
Jerry Johnson

I think there are a lot of similarities between the things that we wanted to do. I would say yes, there are aspects of this that have influenced both of them. If you take a look at the way the interface looks now, it's very much Xbox. But if you start to look at the EPG, the fonts, it is distinctively Sky.

There are aspects of this Sky application now that you won't see anywhere else, you won't see them in other types of applications. It's the way you bleed together the things that are familiar about the platform you're on with the way that you consume that content that actually creates a pleasing and great user interface, and user experience.

More Features

Latest Articles