Sky celebrates its 20th birthday

Satellite broadcaster still pushing tech boundaries

Sky the 800 pound gorilla in UK satellite TV

Sky is celebrating its 20th birthday – with the satellite broadcaster looking back on a period that established it as one of Britain's most innovative television companies.

Sky launched back in February 5 1989 with just four channels, but competition with then rival British Satellite Broadcasting was beginning to tell on both companies until the two merged in November 1990, creating British Sky Broadcasting (and killing the infamous Squarial in the process).

However, perhaps more pivotal in the broadcaster's success was the decision to bid for, and win, the rights to screen live Premiership football when the re-branded English top-flight launched in 1992.

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Before this, the value of live sport had perhaps been underestimated, but Sky's injection of US-style occasion to the games boosted the sport's television profile and catapulted the entire satellite platform to a new level.

In more than 17 years since, Sky has established itself as one of the key providers of television from other nations, with The Simpsons making its debut on Sky One in 1990 and the likes of X-Files, Lost, 24, Battlestar Galactica and Futurama all finding a home as well.

A great innovator

In technology terms, Sky has quickly displayed its ability to bring cutting edge tech to the world of television in its 20 years.

A move from analogue to digital satellite aided the likes of interactive or red button television – allowing multi-screen sports, multiple commentaries and interactive news.

In 2001, taking its cue from the likes of TiVo, Sky launched its sublime Sky+ box, bringing the PVR into the UK public's consciousness with a piece of kit that was ahead of its time.

Keen to be seen as an innovator, Sky also became the first nationwide HD television provider, and remain the biggest advocates of the technology with Sky+HD now closing in on 600,000 subscribers.

Indeed, early in 2009 Sky showed off its new vision of future television, with 3D broadcasts being displayed to the world's media.

Content is king

With Sky now in over 9 million homes, it is now pushing to be seen as more than just a satellite platform, with the mantra 'content is king' still echoing around the Osterley headquarters from the time when Rupert Murdoch's son James was in charge.

This has prompted a move into providing broadband internet, launching the Sky Player and building on the fantastic success of the website – which evolved from rehashing other news agencies' stories to becoming one of the primary sources for sports news on the internet, and one of the most popular to boot.

Sky has not escaped untouched by controversy in its 20 year life; many have criticised the fact that the likes of England's cricket and football teams are not always available on domestic television because of Sky's rights-buying power, and the company's link with Murdoch's News Corp. is always liable to bring criticism.

Indeed, a row over the cost of carrying its channels on cable with Virgin Media took close to two years to settle and managed to generate a mass of negative headlines for both companies.

But, in terms of innovation, reinvigorating sports (and making the Premiership the richest league in football) and creating hype around both its own productions and those that it buys in, it has been 20 years of success.

20 years of Sky's technology

· The first download service from a UK broadcaster, 2006
· Sky News offers the first interactive news service, 2000
· Sky Sports shows world's first interactive football, 1999
· The first package of mobile TV channels from a UK broadcaster, 2005
· The first automatic standby for set-top boxes, 2007
· The first live football match streamed online, 1999
· The UK's first nationwide HD TV service, 2006
· The UK's first digital TV service, 1998
· Sky+ is the first integrated set-top box and digital video recorder, 2001
· The first remote record facility, 2006
· The first truly unlimited broadband service, 2008
· The first accessible remote control for disabled viewers, 2006
· December 2008 first UK broadcaster to deliver a 3D TV experience to a domestic TV