Almost one year after it was officially announced (and a bit longer after it was unofficially announced), Sky and TVNZ's joint venture Igloo has finally got its googly-eyed mascots to deliver its set-top boxes into the wild. And it's also launched its brand campaign, via Sugar&Partners.
Igloo general manager Chaz Savage is understandably excited that the service has finally launched and while he wasn't keen to talk about numbers this early on, he says "all indications are positive", with quite a few sales already.
The original intention was to launch in the first quarter of this year, and this was then put back to June (not helping matters was the fact that it received some attention from the Commerce Commission, which sided with Sky and TVNZ's view that the service was adding choice for consumers) and he says the major reason behind the delay of what has been a "very big undertaking" was that they were a bit too aggressive with their timings.
Unlike MySky or many of the other set-top boxes available in New Zealand, he says Igloo was made from scratch rather than bought off the shelf, and the vendor it chose to build it took "a bit longer to crack the egg" than expected.
On the plus side, he says this unexpected delay has allowed it to become more familiar with the product and better prepare the business for the launch, so "there is a silver lining".
At the launch event last December, there were questions about whether MediaWorks would play nice. Savage says some media attention at the time made it out to be a bigger deal than it really was and MediaWorks has agreed to provide its EPG data.
"We always thought they'd come onboard," he says. "And common sense prevailed."
Sky chief executive John Fellet said at the launch that MediaWorks will have the rights to any downloads of its content on the Igloo website and will be paid for them, but it misses out on any subscription revenue.
UPDATE: Savage says as a media buyer, "if there was ever a time when Sky or Igloo wanted to purchase content from Mediaworks, this would be possible (but unlikely). However, there is currently no MediaWorks content within the streaming portal."
The product was developed as a result of a six-month market research project indicating the 50-ish percent of the population not already part of a pay-per-view package wanted something in between standard free-to-air offering and the full bells and whistles solutions that often come with long term contracts and high costs. The joint venture between Sky (51 percent) and TVNZ (49 percent) is "New Zealand’s first prepay TV option with no installation costs, and no long term contracts or termination fees". Once you have an Igloo box set up to your TV, you have all the terrestrial free-to-air channels, plus the option of opting in and out of prepaid extras.
There are three ‘extras’ to choose from over and above the free-to-air channels. The first is an Igloo 30 day channel pack, featuring 11 additional channels from Food TV to National Geographic Channel, UKTV to Kidzone24 and Comedy Central. The second is the ability to stream more than 1,000 movies and TV episodes through broadband. And there is also Front Row, a pay-per-view sports channel (prices range from $14.95 for the HRV cup to $39.95 for the fight for life). It's a pretty attractive offer. And, with research showing that no matter how many channels you have, 15 is about the average number that viewers watch, it seems about right.
The content will be in HD where available, movies are between $4.99 and $6.99 and TV episodes are $1.99 (which is identical to iSKY), and there will be no downloading or hard drive functionality, just live pause and streaming ondemand via broadband, although many have suggested this 'Sky-lite' package may be used as a way to upsell users to full sky and recording functionality.
Savage says when iSky launched three years ago all the talk from consumers was around data caps, but plans at that time were two, three or four GB. Now those same plans are between 20GB and 50GB so that issue has been lessened considerably and, with the increasing popularity of and familiarity with catch-up services, it seems like a good time to be launching such a service. Orcon and Slingshot have uncapped the service, as has Woosh, but while he would love Telecom and Vodafone (which now includes TelstraClear) to join the party, they have decided not to (he says one of the first questions on Facebook this morning was directed at TelstraClear, asking whether they would uncap Igloo content, so if there's some more consumer heat, he says that might change).
"My team has worked extremely hard and we’re excited to be giving New Zealand a new way to watch TV," Savage said in a release. "It’s affordable, flexible, and most importantly exactly what Kiwis have been asking for… it’s TV Your Way. This is an entertainment option that Kiwis have never seen before, and one which we feel literally has a place in most Kiwi homes. It’s a privilege for all of us at Igloo to be launching a product and a brand which we feel will revolutionise the TV landscape in New Zealand."
While the aggressive timing didn't pan out, Savage is remaining aggressive on expectations for sales, sticking by the goal of getting 50,000 customers in its first year of operation (that equates to around $10 million of one-off revenue from sales of the set-top box and it hopes to get $15 million in subscriptions).
The boxes are now available for purchase for $199 from its website igloo.co.nz, call centre and retail partners Harvey Norman, Noel Leeming, Bond & Bond and Norman Ross stores.