Tag Archives: terms & conditions

BSkyB’s Sky Player: subs forced to opt out of targeted advertising and accept cookies

Only a few weeks after I blogged about the content restrictions Sky Player imposes in an online environment (relative to the satellite one), Sky has now emailed every Sky Player user a new set of terms and conditions.

The most significant change relates to targeted advertising. The Sky email states: “In future, the advertising you see on Sky Player may be better tailored to your interests. The new system, which is called Sky AdSmart, uses customer information to replace some general adverts with ones which we believe to be more relevant to viewers’ potential preferences and interests.”

(Sky AdSmart can be thought of as an Internet-based precursor to targeted ad-substitution on Sky’s satellite PVR platform, due to begin in the first half of 2011.)

Accordingly, the new Ts & Cs s state that Sky will use ‘cookies’ for the purpose of “serving behavioural and tailored advertising on Sky online services and websites and selected third party websites, [...] which means you may receive advertisements which are more relevant to you.”

There is an opt-out, of course: users can go to their personal profile and tick a box to say they do not wish to receive this kind of targeted advertising – but the default position is that unless they do so, they will get it: this is not an opt-in system. Ticking the box effectively disables the ‘session cookie’ as well as what Sky calls the ‘Audience Science cookie’.

However, for those who wish to disable all of their cookies (Sky lists six different types including the two above), this will completely disable the Sky Player service. The new Ts &Cs state that “The Service cannot operate if you set your browser to reject all cookies.”

It is not immediately obvious why this should be so, because Sky Player doesn’t rely on these cookies to identify the subscriber or the device as legitimate: in the Ts & Cs, Sky says that users must consent to information being collected about them through the service, which includes the Microsoft Windows Product Key of the registered device, its IP address, and “information derived from the hardware configuration of [the device].” This is of course in addition to the requirement to login and enter a password to use Sky Player. Other authentication information is also presumably being passed back and forth by the Windows DRM system Sky Player uses.

I have to say I find both the ‘opt-out’ and ‘cookie acceptance’ policies surprisingly heavy-handed. But perhaps that is the intention – to test consumer reaction to such policies in the online environment before they finally determine how to soften them for the satellite domain.

The new Ts & Cs also tighten another screw, incidentally: it was definitely my impression that previously, you were allowed to watch Sky Player content on different registered devices at the same time – as long as it wasn’t the same content. The updated version now says you can’t watch any content on two registered devices at the same time. If you boot up a second registered device, you’ll simply stop receiving the content you were watching on the first one.

I can think of good practical reasons for doing that: quality is likely to be reduced on both streams unless the household has at least 4-5Megs available downstream. But isn’t that a matter for the user?

Sky Player extends to Fetch TV and Windows 7, but restricts premium content rights

With Sky Player in the news over its deal with FetchTV, as well as with the Windows 7 Media Center, I thought I’d take another look at the platform. I had installed it on my PC when the product was originally launched, but was rather worried at the instability it seemed to introduce, and subsequently removed it.

I was particularly interested in how my rights to view Sky content via DTH would be replicated online. For background, I am a Sky HD subscriber, with my old Sky+ PVR consigned to the bedroom as part of Sky’s Multiroom deal. In other words, the entirety of my Sky package can be viewed and recorded on either my living-room or my bedroom TV (barring HD programmes, of course), with the same content potentially viewable simultaneously on both.

Just as with the BBC’s iPlayer, you don’t need to download software to watch programming – you can watch it through your browser. However, the download experience, which uses secure peer-to-peer software from Kontiki, should offer better quality playback, depending on the quality of your broadband connection.

Anyway, this is how it works. When you first install the software, Sky registers that PC by default as your main one. You are in fact allowed to install the software on up to four different devices (although Sky is somewhat ambiguous on this point: both in the licence and at one place in the Sky Player website, it says you can only install the software on one device, which is clearly wrong).

‘Device’ includes ‘X Box Player’, but let’s assume here we are talking about PCs. Defining one PC as your main one means that PC has more rights than the others: for instance, you can only watch Sky Movies and Sky One programmes on that computer. Moreover, you can only change the range of registered devices (and that includes changing which one is designated as the main one) once every 30 days.

This is the first major way in which rights are more restricted in an online environment than the satellite TV one, since Sky Multiroom in principle allows you to watch exactly the same content on one STB as another – viz. that content you’ve paid your subscription you to watch.

The second way in which rights are more restricted is that Sky Player does not allow you to view the same content simultaneously on two devices – even if we’re talking about non-Sky Movies and non-Sky One programming. Multiroom doesn’t stop this happening.

The third way is that it restricts the storage time of the programme. For instance, I can, say, keep a copy of Stargate Universe on my two Sky+ PVRs (HD and SD) for as long as I wish to. On Sky Player, it’s currently restricted to six days.

These features underline a general trend in digital media: once you move out of a traditional broadcast or physical media environment, you’re usually allowed to do less with the content you’ve paid for than you were before.

This is particularly relevant in the Sky Player example, since the platform also allows non-Sky subscribers to sign up and pay to watch Sky programming – without a satellite subscription, for roughly similar costs. Presumably, this is the model about to be extended to Windows 7 Media Center and Fetch TV boxes.

So although users have the extra benefits of being able to watch catch-up and on-demand TV, in terms of what you can do with the content, it’s an inferior experience. Such restrictions could be viewed, perhaps, as a way of encouraging consumers to trial the service online before upgrading to satellite. It’s also worth pointing out you can’t get HD quality online.

What’s really interesting about Sky Player, though, is that all these sophisticated controls are being applied to premium content using software-based security protection, without the need for a smartcard. Those with long memories will recall that Sky’s online service had to be temporarily suspended back in 2006 after the Microsoft DRM system it uses was compromised – something which has never happened to the smartcard-based NDS VideoGuard system used on Sky’s satellite platform.

But in a way, the fact that the online service bounced back so quickly proves the point: a two-way always-on environment in which content security software can be dynamically upgraded (or even completely replaced) over broadband in the event of a breach doesn’t require a hardware-based conditional access solution.

Indeed, as Farncombe – the company which hosts this blog – argued in a recent White Paper, hybridisation of broadcast platforms and the Internet suggests the traditional pay-TV industry will gradually move towards software-based solutions for this reason. These can offer a higher level of security than hardware-based ones if properly configured.

More on this topic on Monday, when Farncombe will release a second White Paper on Conditional Access.