BrightBlue adds new hue to BSkyB

Feb 26, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Energis Interactive will take its consumer portal, BrightBlue, to British Sky Broadcasting’s 4-million-plus subscriber homes this spring, providing them increased access to shops, banking, travel, betting and recruitment via interactive TV, the Internet and mobile phones.
What’s more, BrightBlue will do this going head-to-head against Open-the interactive venture owned by BSkyB (81 percent) and British Telecom (19 percent).
“We think it’s fine that anyone can come on the electronic program guide-BrightBlue will have access to the same subscribers as Open,” said Ricardo Tejada, the latter company’s director of corporate communications. “If it’s good for [the TV] industry, it’s good for Open, as we believe
t-commerce will expand significantly.”
The United Kingdom’s Competition Act of 1998, as interpreted by the industry watchdog Office of Telecommunications, prohibits practices that would prevent, restrict or distort competition in the United Kingdom.
“The crucial thing about digital satellite compared to any other platform like cable or digital terrestrial is that anyone who wants to broadcast a channel on digital satellite can-and without reference to Sky,” said a Sky executive who preferred to remain anonymous.
BrightBlue vs. Open
Sky, on the other hand, was an obvious choice for Energis.
“We chose Sky because they are a volume platform and by far the most successful,” said Mike Hughes, technical director at Energis Interactive. “Ninety-eight percent of their set-top boxes are return path-enabled.”
In the United Kingdom, interactive TV is still a novelty. In the third quarter of 2000, according to the BARB survey, about 4 million to 5 million of the United Kingdom’s 24 million households (and 55 percent of those homes with children) now subscribe to multichannel video services. About 1.1 million homes were using Open about seven times a month, spending 17 minutes per visit. Two-thirds of digital satellite subscribers used Open, making over 30 million individual connections. About 1.3 million have e-mail accounts, and their online connections resulted in 655,000 retail orders. Open will soon be adding six new content providers to its current 37 interactive retail, betting and banking clients. By June 2001, all of Sky’s analog subscribers will switch over to digital.
Energis has set a target for itself of 7 million homes by 2003, Chief Executive Mike Grabiner said.
Dovetailing the increasingly impressive subscriber base is growing sponsorship interest. Since Open started 15 months ago, it has increased its retail partners tenfold to between 80 and 90, Mr. Tejada said.
Tim Harris, managing director of Energis Interactive, did point out that getting Energis on Sky’s platform as an independent entity took longer than usual. Sky typically has part ownership in ITV services such as Open, QVC, PlayJam and SkyText. Energis wanted to still “own” its customers.
“With Open, you can purchase online, but there is no feedback to confirm they have even got the order,” said a customer who is still waiting for his purchases to be delivered. The customer also noted that Open services do not actually let subscribers book a vacation directly from their TVs. There is also a limited range of what products they can look at.
“BrightBlue is a much richer integration experience for the consumer,” Mr. Harris said. “The `persistent shopping basket’ can be described as a virtual shopping trolley [shopping cart] where you can buy services or goods on TV, stop and save the transaction. You can [later] get back into the site via your cellphone and, by giving your user name and password, you can top up the trolley [finish ordering] and complete the transaction.”
Energis promised “live call transfer” from day one as well as personalized services keyed to buying preferences, features not offered by BrightBlue’s competitors. A live call-transfer system directs incoming customer phone calls to whichever part of the store is most pertinent to an order or complaint.
Future considerations
“The ITV market is projected to be worth ‘4 billion within three years,” Mr. Harris predicted, “split between transactional commerce [for instance, watching a music video and buying the CD] and commerce through channels [i.e., virtual shopping malls].”
The technology behind BrightBlue, known as middleware, has been proved in many industry call centers. It is key to providing a single fulfillment and billing system. Companies that become content partners will have to buy BrightBlue’s technology for their back offices.
“Many of the well-known High Street names are currently negotiating [to go interactive] with us, and we expect an announcement in the coming weeks,” Mr. Harris said. “High Street” refers to the main street in a town or city where the key shops are found.
Ultimately, Energis plans to offer its products and services across the Internet; WAP (wireless application protocol); EPOC, an operating system designed specifically for mobile computing devices; and cable platforms using the same interface.
“This would offer content providers the freedom to deliver the services and goods in the way they want, using the same software,” Mr. Harris said. “It would mean that a consumer might view a hotel, see videos of the resort and the facilities, then check availability, book flights, call the tour operator, change the details and get a phone text message confirming the transaction.”
BrightBlue’s branding logo and colors will be confirmed in March-but it doesn’t take much to imagine the color.