Satellite broadcaster BSkyB is planning to offer some of its most popular subscription channels online as a standalone service through its Sky Player platform. Users in the United Kingdom and Ireland will be able to watch a package of channels from Sky on their Windows or Mac computer without having to sign up to the satellite service.

Mike Darcey, the chief operating officer of Sky outlined the plans at a media conference in London.

“We want to make it easy for customers to enjoy great TV on their terms,” he said. “Sky Player already gives more flexibility to Sky TV customers and soon we will offer some of the most popular pay TV channels through a standalone subscription to a secure online platform.”

“While the laptop won’t replace the TV experience for most people, we’re creating more choices to allow customers to choose the option that suits their lifestyle,” he added.

The standalone service will be available in the coming months, offering access to some Sky channels and a selection of channels from other broadcasters. An online electronic programme guide will also be available. Users will be able to choose from a number of online subscription packages, while existing Sky television subscribers will still be able to access on-demand programming in line with their channel package. Full details of the channel line-up, pricing and launch date have yet to be announced.

Sky previously shelved its Picnic plans to offer some of its subscription services on terrestrial channels, following regulatory delays. Now it seems the plan is to offer them online to extend its reach beyond its current subscription base over broadband, which it seems does not require regulatory approval.

Although Sky Player is available to anyone with a broadband connection, Sky has an economic advantage over other operators in running its own network. Sky has removed the fair usage policy from its top tier broadband offering, making it the only truly unlimited broadband package in thr country.

With 1.8 million broadband subscribers, representing one in five of its satellite homes, Sky is already a leading broadband service provider. Sky is currently negotiating over the possible acquisition of Tiscali, which would make it the third biggest broadband provider in the country, after BT and Virgin Media.

Sky has not acknowledged any plans to offer a full internet protocol television service to its broadband subscribers, although Tiscali is the only true IPTV service provider in the country, following its acquisition of the HomeChoice service from Video Networks.

The Sky Player was first launched in January 2006 as Sky by broadband and subsequently renamed to Sky Anytime. Originally a download service, it later added streaming, including some live channels. It is the largest legal movie download service in Europe. Initially it was offered to existing subscribers to Sky television packages, but some programming is now also available to non-subscribers on a rental or retail basis. Sky says it has hundreds of thousands of registered users.

The Sky Player platform also powers a separate service allowing users to download movies and selected programmes to their Sony PSP. This is offered as a separate standalone service and does not require a Sky subscription.

Tie me Kangaroo down, sport
With regard to Kangaroo, the proposed joint venture between the BBC, ITV, and Channel 4, the Sky executive said “It’s not clear to me it needs to be done with the three of them together.”

The proposals are currently subject to a review by the Competition Commission. “As a group they are collectively able to set conditions for supply for a very significant proportion for their archive materials themselves. it’s not clear what is gained by coming together,” he said.

The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 may be able to offer a wealth of archive and catch-up material, but Sky can offer premium programming, including movies and sport, and extend its pay-television operation online, building on its established reputation for service and using its existing customer relationship management operation to up sell and cross sell its services.

While the Kangaroo project is tied down with red tape, it seems that Sky is characteristically pushing forward.