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By | November 29, 2000

      BSkyB will shortly add two new dimensions to its Sky News Active channel. The first, BSkyB’s WAP-based on-screen service will start within the next two weeks, according to Dave Sparks, Sky’s chief engineer.

      Sparks, speaking to Interspace during the Barcelona Newsworld, said the long-awaited Wireless Markup Language (WML)-based on-screen text services will almost certainly be up and running by the end of November.

      Sky’s WML enhancements, which are undergoing final tests now, add textual information to a broadcast image, with Sparks saying that part of the delay has been in making the signal robust enough to be correctly received by all set-top boxes. Part of the WML appeal is the additional t-commerce and viewer polling options open to broadcasters.

      Sparks also spoke about Sky’s “exciting plans” to stream up to eight separate feeds as part of the Sky News Active portfolio of services. Currently Sky Digital viewers who select Sky Active get potentially four extra video streams comprising headlines, weather, showbiz and business news. Viewers can then select from this mosaic of four (or choose a text-based option) and get a summary of specialised news. This will shortly grow to an eight-stream option.

      Sparks, who has worked at Sky for some 12 years, says final discussions are taking place now with Sky news managers as to which sub-niches will be allocated their own video stream.

      “But it hasn’t got to be that way,” he says. “Imagine we are broadcasting the general election next year and we have eight simultaneous declarations taking place. We can show them all, letting the viewer choose which one to stay with.”

      Interspace understands that to create bandwidth for the extra four streams Sky is simply compressing the signals through both dimensions (vertical as well as horizontal). Sparks also said that over the next two to three months digital viewers would see “a flurry” of new broadcast innovations, especially in the interactive arena.

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