Technology has changed the way we access, store and ultimately, own our entertainment – everything from our books and music, to our films and video content. With physical media consumption on a steady decline, the latest move from UK broadcaster Sky has reopened the pertinent debate about the consumer's ownership of content in today's digital age.
Sky last month announced details of its "Buy & Keep" service, part of its Sky Store, which enables Sky customers to purchase digital copies of hundreds of movies via their remote, from the comfort of their sofa. With Sky's 4.4M connected subscribers now able to download, as well as rent, movies for the first time, it's a move that certainly poses questions regarding digital storage. But Sky has reassured subscribers by introducing an archiving option to avoid clutter on the Sky+HD box, making "owned" and archived titles available for download as many times as a user wants.
Set for launch to non-Sky customers in the near future, the service also features a physical media component, allowing buyers to receive a DVD version of their digital purchases in the post. The library boasts titles including recent cinema hits "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "Mandela," and, according to Sky, will deliver movies just a few months after their cinematic release.
It's a move that pitches Sky against the likes of Amazon in the film rental and buying space, but such competitors are increasingly favouring online streaming over the physical DVD format. So why is Sky offering a DVD copy of purchases alongside digital downloads? Is it an insurance policy for subscribers with unreliable connections, or is Sky championing tangible media?
In all likelihood, it's neither. It's a smart move from a company that recognises that user experience is a key differentiator between today's competing entertainment services – and that user experience has a direct impact on the commercial success of a digital product.
Sky's move is about providing an experience characterised by choice. Offering physical media alongside digital downloads means offering the best of both worlds for those wanting to own, rather than simply stream. Undoubtedly, there will always be demand for physical goods – media included – and viewers will continue to want to watch their favourite movies time and time again. For these reasons, physical media represents another potential revenue stream that's well worth Sky tapping into.
The service is set for expansion to NOW TV, Roku and YouView boxes, and will next year offer tablet and smartphone owners the chance to watch digital purchases, whatever the device of their choosing.
The news comes as Sky increasingly strives to separate itself from its fellow commercial broadcasters with bold moves. Earlier this year brought the launch of its targeted advertising platform, Sky AdSmart, which is set to open up the TV advertising playing field to more brands and businesses, even at a local level. Time will tell whether the impact of Sky AdSmart, and the uptake of Sky's Buy & Keep service, will trigger copycat offerings from other UK broadcasters across the next 12 months.