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Sky's mobile movies move leaves Apple, Amazon gasping

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It has been five years since Apple unveiled its TV tuner – and it increasingly looks like Cupertino missed the boat.

Sky this week added on-demand movies to its Sky Go service, which means anyone already on the platform can view shows from the couch on a mobile or a tablet. Sky’s 11 live linear channels are also available for mobile streaming, which is over Wi-Fi only for now, with 3G streaming being added next year. Sky doesn’t care what device you use – so long as you pay your sub. You don’t need a satellite dish or a TV, basic sign-up costs £20 per month.

This ought to put some of the recent hype about Amazon and Apple, which comes almost entirely from technology correspondents, into perspective. Both want to make money from couch consumption, but neither of them produces the stuff people want to watch. Traditionally entertainment industry has been vertically integrated – from Thorn EMI to Philips – and still is today. Let’s see how they go about it.

Amazon is a retailer that takes a small margin on a high turnover of consumer goods. It has begun making its own devices. Apple started with devices and moved into retail, taking a smaller margin, but since its hardware is highly desirable, and commands a high margin, that doesn’t really matter. Neither Apple nor Amazon create their own content, so when they license it, they don’t have any particular market clout. (With newspapers, magazines and books you can see Apple and Amazon trying to drive up their margins, but these moves are meeting fierce resistance).

Everyone has overlooked the established intermediaries – companies who already have large audiences and paying subscribers, of which Sky is the largest here. In some cases they also make their own content, in the traditional fashion. What Sky has done is make the hardware as invisible as possible. Where it couldn’t do this, it played along nicely with whatever hardware people want to use: laptops, phones or tablets. The piece of hardware was not something to be fetishized, but is simply a means to an end.

Bearing in mind that Sky has the happiest customers, you wonder what the fuss was ever about. So long as your no-name phone, tablet or PC can play the stuff you want to watch, and the EPG works, why would you care? ®

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