Media: All about ... Sky's reinvention of Sky Active

Sky wants to attract a wider range of interactive clients.

Rather improbably, Sky Active is flirting with the wild side of dance music counterculture. Well, wildish anyway - we are talking about the Chemical Brothers, after all. Sky Active and the Brothers' label, Virgin, have linked up to promote Push the Button, the band's latest album, parts of which are "deliriously odd", according to reviews.

Sky Active, it has to be said, is not a natural home to thunderous backbeats, acid-house synthesisers, hip-hop samples and textures borrowed from late-60s psychedelia. On the other hand, it is in the process of reinventing itself.

It's something of a paradox that, though interactive advertising has been a huge success, Sky Active is one of the more neglected Sky brands.

Sky Active is, after all, the interactive domain you are directed to when you hit on the red icon on an interactive commercial.

The successor to Open TV, Sky Active is the virtual shopping mall where you find not just extended commercials, but a whole spectrum of electronic retail initiatives plus games and gambling. Until recently, there was relatively little care lavished on the Sky Active portal - which was unfortunate, because for many entering the domain via the interactive button on their remotes, this is both a shop window and a virtual entrance lobby.

That began to change back in December. It had a similar visual look to Teletext - the revamp made it look like another form of TV with more video-based content. It also boasted more of a magazine feel.

The Chemical Brothers initiative takes that on a stage. Their content zone is flagged on the front page and when you select it, you go to a page where you can listen to a number of tracks - although visually, it's still pretty static.

Sky believes this will become an increasingly popular way for advertisers to drive traffic to their microsites. And it hopes it will find favour with a wide range of advertising categories.

Ian Shepherd, Sky Active's managing director, says: "We expect one of this year's defining trends in interactive advertising will be a move for more brands to take advantage of interactive sponsorships and content creation."

1Sky's interactive domain launched in 1999 as a virtual shopping mall offering home banking and shopping. Results were patchy and when Open's original joint venture partners (BT, HSBC and Matsushita) dropped out, Sky took control and eventually rebranded it as Sky Active in 2001.

2Retail was key to the Sky Active proposition but this side of the service continued to struggle commercially and, in 2002, both Woolworths and Argos closed their Sky Active shops.

3Sky Interactive, the division created to run the company's interactive services, including websites, was restructured in 2003 to cross-sell its products to consumers and advertisers. It is run by Rob Leach, Sky's head of interactive services, and Shepherd.

4Sky Active's focus began to shift to interactive TV ads by 2003 - ads in live mainstream TV with a red icon that enabled viewers to leave the broadcast stream and access additional commercial content stored in microsites in the Sky Active domain.

5The first interactive ad in the UK aired on 28 March 2000. The brand was Chicken Tonight. Take-up thereafter was slow until the end of 2003, when other mainstream broadcasters started actively selling interactive TV ads. There were 179 such campaigns during 2004, including Sky's 500th such campaign, a slot for the Territorial Army, which aired in September 2004.

6Viewers became increasingly comfortable with interactivity, largely through accessing extra programming content - for instance, news on demand or the ability to select different cameras on Sky Sports. The BBC has also been a pioneer in developing extra content and information areas.

7Services available on Sky Active include games zones, e-mail and text messaging and gambling, as well as retail and interactive advertising content. Gambling continues to be the most profitable of all these activities.

8Sky Active began rethinking its portal in December 2004 to create a magazine-style feel and more video material. It now hopes for more "content partnerships" with advertisers.



- Scores of advertisers have material available on demand in microsites on the Sky Digital platform, but the issue is persuading people to access that content.

- In addition to the red button, some advertisers are getting just as many hits via other routes. Many viewers, for instance, have started to scroll down the Sky Active index (in effect using it as an advertising version of the electronic programme guide) to seek out ads for products they are interested in.

- As PVRs gain ground and more viewers choose to watch less spot advertising, advertisers need to find new ways of pulling them in. Developing content partnerships on Sky Active could be a proving ground for advertisers.


- Rivals might feel daunted by Sky's role in continuing to develop new forms of communication where the line between advertising and editorial content is so blurred as to become irrelevant. Sky doesn't always get it right, but it is way ahead when it come to road-testing the future.

- The stronger Sky becomes as a portal for digital commerce, the more online media owners should start to fret too.


- Sky Active's creative partnerships with major companies could cause many media and (even more) creative agencies to feel somewhat threatened. Few have the "360-degree" skills needed to understand what's at stake here.

- They'll take heart from the fact that most of their clients are similarly unadventurous in their thinking - to date, at least. The danger for agencies is that Sky will begin convincing a wider spectrum of potential partners.