The Guardian

London, January 3:

The satellite group BSkyB has patented new technology that allows television viewers to record favourite programmes without any advertisement breaks.

News that the pay-television company controlled by Rupert Murdoch could allow viewers to eliminate commercials will alarm rival broadcasters which derive most of their revenues from adverts, as well as the advertising industry itself.

Sky Plus, the satellite broadcaster’s current personal video recorder (PVR), allows users to skip through advertisements. However, even when played at 30 times normal speed, the commercials can still be seen by viewers.

Using technology licensed by the UK Patent Office last year, Sky could offer a service that allows viewers much greater control. One patent, filed in August 2000, allows viewers to “interrupt the recording of programmes so as not to record adverts, for example”. It could allow viewers to edit shows so that only favourite acts were recorded from music programmes. Unlike its main commercial rivals, Sky earns only 10 per cent of its revenues from advertising. The use of the new technology, likely to attract viewers of channels supported by advertisements, could increase Sky’s dominance of the pay-television market.

However, the company has repeatedly said it is committed to advertising and is working with the industry to develop ways of grabbing consumers’ attention through sponsorship deals, for example. A Sky spokesman said it had no plans to deploy the new technology. “If other people want to use the property, they can license it from us.” The broadcasting industry is talking to regulators about greater use of product placement, which is a growing feature of US television screens but outlawed here. The company hopes that a quarter of its expected 10 million subscribers will sign up to Sky Plus by 2010. The service at present has 400,000 subscribers. Forrester, a US research group, expects 41 per cent of the US population to own PVRs before the end of the decade, up from three per cent in 2003.