The new Sky+HD Guide – what it means for radio
Posted on Friday, April 3rd, 2009 at 3:15 pm. #
According to RAJAR, 3.2% of all UK radio listening is done through the television, a figure which confounds and amuses many of my friends overseas. It’s an important figure – over one and a half times as much as listening to live radio over the internet – reflecting that radio on TV platforms is useful for more than simply trial. There’s no doubting that this is an important platform for any radio broadcaster.
So, when Sky, the satellite TV provider, changes their EPG (their electronic programme guide), it was worth a look to see what’s different; and to ponder on the effects on radio listening.
A look at the new Guide
Press the ‘TV Guide’ button on your remote, and you’ll end up here. The highlight is on the ‘Middle Menu’ (“All channels” in this case). Scrolling left and right goes through all of the old TV genres you’ll remember from the old guide. Except there’s no radio. Radio is no longer lumped in with TV. Instead, you’ll note an icon of a speaker in the ‘Top Menu’. To get there, you need to press ‘backup’, or ‘up’. (‘Up’ no longer, in this case, shows you the radio station part of the EPG). You then need to scroll across to the speaker. This process is quite difficult, and quite clunky.
The ‘radio’ section of the EPG looks different to the TV section: in two columns, the default view now shows you 12 different radio stations. I think that means Heart and Galaxy have now made it to the front page. Note that the ‘Middle Menu’ simply says “All” in this case: it’s clear that this new EPG could enable genres for radio.
Scroll over a radio station, and its description now appears at the top of the screen. This behaviour means that your station brand name is even more important – nothing explains what ‘Absolute’ is until you scroll over it. There’s much more space for information here (both in station name and description); this has previously been limited by screen real-estate, though backwards compatibility means this is unlikely to change.
Here’s the surprise: pressing “SELECT” to listen simply switches the audio to that radio station (cutting off the top-right ‘mini-tv’ in the process). It doesn’t take you to the familiar dark blue screen. Above, I’m listening to Caroline. There is no schedule information displayed whatsoever. There is, however, a record button.
Highlight a radio station, then press “Record” and you’re taken to this page – a manual record page. This simply surfaces existing functionality in the SkyGuide, but sadly doesn’t show any schedule information, and nor is the channel even pre-filled. This is a poor user experience.
The familiar blue screen does still appear when listening to radio – providing you don’t follow the instructions. You can either get to it by simply typing a channel number (0101 for BBC Radio 1) while watching another channel, or – entirely undocumented – by navigating to the station you want in the SkyGuide, pressing SELECT to start listening, then pressing SELECT again. This gives schedule information for the current programme, and says (confusingly) “Further schedule information not available”. This, where the ‘next’ information should go, was supressed in the last Sky Guide software, and there was simply a little space – odd why it’s not like that this time. (As a point of interest, all radio stations supply a fourteen-day schedule to Sky, just the same as TV does).
Some handy tips
The quickest route to the radio EPG is to press “Services” then “6″.
The quickest route to Radio 1 is by simply typing “0101″.
Comparing Freeview, Sky and Virgin Media, it’s clear that the radio experience on Sky is both the most varied (with over 100 channels) and the least feature-rich. Freeview and Virgin offer a full EPG with complete programme information; both also offer on-screen information related to the service, often synchronised to the audio.
The new SkyGuide would appear to remove functionality from the novice, rather than add it. Radio is now totally divorced from the television guide, making it harder to discover by accident. I found it difficult to get to the ‘Radio’ menu in the first place. Users don’t now get a clearly visible description of each station without selecting each one in the Guide, and it is harder to see current programme information, with the demise of the ‘big blue screen’.
The Sky HD boxes are interesting – with ethernet connections sprouting out of the back, you could see some very interesting things happening from Sky. Particularly, Sky could be the place for interactive radio, using RadioDNS functionality to link satellite broadcasts to IP resources – personalised tagging or visual services, for example. Currently, however, it seems that radio has regressed, rather than progressed, on the platform.
These are my own personal views, as ever.