The link up between Xbox LIVE and BSkyB, announced earlier this year, goes live next week in the UK, and the jointly-funded ad campaigns are under way. From the live demo I’ve just seen, I’d say this raises the bar for internet-delivered video.

Users with an Xbox LIVE Gold account and a Sky subscription will soon be able to watch Sky’s live channels (such as Premier League football on Sky Sports 1 and 2, or Sky Movies) on their TV via their Xbox. This allows them to watch at the same time as similarly connected friends, with who they can communicate via on-screen avatars (in a virtual front room) or via their headsets.

It’s a fun, social way to consume content, and in an age of increasingly fragmented audiences reinvents the notion of TV consumption as an event. Even better, it supports and reinforces Sky’s fundamental principle that its high-end content is worth paying for, however you receive it.

One small gripe – there’s no obvious way yet of connecting via live text feed on-screen – inputting text onto a TV screen is still a hurdle for interactive products –  although Xbox does separately support Facebook and Twitter. Some kind of future link-up allowing users to send messages direct to their virtual on-screen friends from their laptop would be fantastic.

For Xbox, this continues their mission to expand the role – and therefore the potential audience – for the console. They see the opportunity to become the home entertainment hub that can deliver a range of content – movies and TV as well as games – via the primary TV, ahead of the new generation of STBs, connected TVs and widgets that are coming to market. 

For Sky, this ties in with their new found enthusiasm for taking their content to new platforms, as they have done on the PC with Sky Player. For DTH customers, this increases the value of the proposition. For non-DTH customers, this is yet another route into the Sky ecosystem.

According to Microsoft, nearly 1 million UK users have both a Sky subscription and an Xbox, but both parties see this as an opportunity to drive sales. The initiative also positions them aggressively in what we expect to be a crowded UK marketplace for IP-delivered premium content in 2010.