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Exclusive: Sky may open new HD launch queue

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Sky may open new HD launch queue

Sky HD

Sky is studying the technical feasibility of opening a new electronic programme guide launch queue for high definition channels.

The satellite TV operator closed its launch queue - the mechanism by which channels secured a new slot on the Sky programme guide - on October 3, 2007 after it emerged that some older models of standard definition digiboxes had significant memory constraints. Sky told DS today that all of those channels in the queue at the point of closure and who wished to exercise their launch entitlement have been able to launch into the EPG, with the final channel in the list scheduled to launch later this month.

Subsequent to the closure of the launch queue, Sky formalised an EPG slot trading platform so that new channels could launch on the guide by acquiring positions from other broadcasters. A steady stream of broadcasters have used the system to launch despite the closure of the queue, and regardless of the outcome of the current technical trials it will remain the only way for new standard definition services to appear in the guide.

In order to work around the issue with older standard definition digiboxes, Sky is in the process of rolling out a software download that differentiates between those boxes and the HD ones, which have a far greater memory capacity. The software update, which is already present on many boxes, removes all listings data for HD services from the SD boxes, leaving behind only a channel number, name and an invitation to upgrade to receive HD channels. With the memory-constrained SD boxes no longer needing space for all HD listings, Sky hopes that it will be able to launch new high definition services in a queue system with minimal incremental impact on the standard definition boxes.

Technical trials to assess the feasibility of the plan are now underway, with the tests expected to reach completion in the third quarter of the year. If the testing confirms that SD boxes would be able to cope with the addition of new HD services, Sky will begin a formal consultation with broadcasters on the possibility of providing them with a way of launching new HD services in a launch queue instead of by trading EPG slots.

"We are always exploring new ways to bring more choice to channels and viewers alike through platform innovation," a Sky spokesperson told Digital Spy. " As a result of our platform investments we may be in a position to utilise the extra memory and processing capabilities of our Sky+HD boxes to open a dedicated HD channel launch list. We need to run some more tests, but should it be technically possible, we will conduct a full consultation with broadcasters."

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