British satellite broadcaster Sky is finally able to offer video on demand over broadband to subscribers with high-definition digital video recorders. The service will provide a range of premium programming, but not necessarily the opportunity to catch up on shows transmitted by terrestrial broadcasters, who are backing their own YouView platform. Having been highly critical of YouView in the past, Sky is not dismissing the possibility of providing programming through it in the future.

Sky Anytime+ has been some time in coming, and it is only now that a critical mass of millions of subscribers to both broadband and high-definition services from Sky will be able to benefit from the network port in the back of their boxes.

They will soon be able to connect it to their broadband network and for the first time receive video on demand services, going some way to matching what has so far been an advantage that cable has had over satellite. Although Sky has previously been able to broadcast and store shows on its digital video recorders as a push video-on-demand service, the use of broadband opens up access to a much larger library of programmes.

Once connected, Sky subscribers will be able to access over 600 movies, “box sets” of popular entertainment and drama serials, and other programming delivered on demand, depending on their package. As well as shows from Sky channels, the service will carry programming from third-party brands, like Disney and National Geographic, with the library continuing to build over the coming months.

However, consumers will not necessarily be able to catch up with previously transmitted programming from British broadcasters like the BBC, which has so far refused to unwrap its video-on-demand offering from its iPlayer packaging. For that they will currently need a network-connected television, disc player, games console, personal computer or a separate set-top box.

The Sky Anytime+ service will be an extension of the existing Sky+HD electronic programme guide. This already feels rather dated compared to many now available, but is at least functional and familiar to millions of families.

Sky Anytime+ is presented as part of the Sky EPG.

“Sky Anytime+ demonstrates the benefit of being able to use the best combination of distribution platforms in delivering what our customers want,” said deputy managing director of marketing, Stephen van Rooyen.

Sky Anytime+ is delivered by progressive download, which means a programmes is available to view before it has fully downloaded, generally ready to watch in less than a minute.

Initially Sky Anytime+ will only be available to Sky Broadband customers, of which there are now 2.8 million, with a Sky+ HD box, of which there are 3.1 million. Some 2.3 million customers now take a bundle of television, broadband and telephone services from Sky.

Now reaching 9.956 million households, with 96,000 net additions in the last quarter, Sky draws ever closer to its long-term target of ten million satellite subscribers by the end of 2010.

For the first time, the average annual revenue per user is over £500, boosted by broadband and telephone services. In the year to the end of June 2010, Sky received revenues of £5.9 and invested £1.9 billion in programming, providing an operating profit of £0.8 billion.

Jeremy Darroch, the chief executive of Sky said “our focus this quarter on home communications has been rewarded with our highest ever take-up of broadband, telephony and line rental, alongside further good growth in high definition”.

Sky remains critical of YouView and has expressed its views to the communications regulator Ofcom, which has brushed aside complaints that the proposed platform is anticompetitive.

“Ofcom made its decision and we will move on,” said the Sky chief executive, hinting at the possibility that Sky could yet make programming available on the platform. “I think generally when you look at what we are doing at Sky we are broadening out our content business. We always look at new distribution opportunities. We’ll look at it but it’s too early to say to what extent we’ll participate.”

While YouView may represent a threat to Sky, the satellite broadcaster already faces competition from free television in the form of Freeview and Freesat and yet continues to grow steadily. In the current economic climate there is no sign that consumers are any less prepared to pay for premium programming, packaged as part of a service. The real issue will be whether those that pay for television, which are now over half the homes in Britain, will also be able to access free-to-air programmes on demand as part of their package.

The Sky Anytime+ service is being rolled out to all Sky+HD boxes from 26 October 2010. The majority of Sky high-definition boxes will be able to receive the service by the end of 2010, with the remaining boxes to follow in a phased roll out through the first part of 2011.