Outlook BT Vision's latest customer-acquisition numbers must be treated with a degree of caution. True, they show the company adding pay-television customers more quickly than Sky for the first time on record. But BT is starting from a low base – just over 600,000 customers to Sky's 10 million-plus – and it provides much less detail in its numbers than its big rival. We don't know much about its churn rates, for example, or the revenues its customers are generating.
Nevertheless, this is a significant moment. There is no doubt that BT Vision has at last raised its game after several years of wasted time. The fact it offers the BBC's iPlayer to viewers, unlike Sky, is one attraction of the service. But better content has been important too and a revamp of pricing has been another kicker. Even the marketing is slicker.
The good news for pay-television customers is that BT Vision is not alone in doing more to try to combat the dominance of Sky. Virgin Media has also been making some inroads, persuading more of its broadband and phone customers, where it actually matches Sky, to take its television services too. The launch of its TiVo service has been one factor.
Sky will no doubt be keeping a close eye on its rivals (it took Virgin Media on at the Advertising Standards Authority only this week). But there might be one crumb of comfort for it in this new world of competition it is having to inhabit. Might Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, finally begin to take a more benign view of Sky, which has been hit with a series of judgmentsintended to curb its market dominance in recent years?