BSkyB has made a multimillion pound investment in start-up social media firm Zeebox, as the broadcaster seeks to take advantage of a trend in which customers use the web while watching television.

In a move seen as important in the television market, BSkyB's investment will see viewers able to buy products on screen during programmes and ad breaks. Recent research by Ofcom has shown that many people spend several hours a day watching television and surfing the web at the same time.

The news comes on a day that online movies firm Netflix officially launched in the UK, streaming films over the internet to smart TVs, games consoles, computers, and mobile devices.

BSkyB's investment, for which an exact value has not been disclosed, gives it a 10 percent stake in Zeebox, which it described as a "second-screen consumer service that brings together broadcast TV and the internet". Zeebox provides social media feeds and conversations via Twitter and Facebook on specific programmes, as well as the e-shopping capabilities.

In the next few months, the broadcaster will launch an app enabling Sky TV customers to connect with friends around TV shows and buy products around their favourite programmes.

The news has also prompted questions as to whether Sky will eventually offer social media functionality via its set top boxes, though the company has not publicly spoken of any such plans.

The Zeebox app was launched in October. For the time being, it will be integrated into the Sky+ and Sky Go apps for tablets and smartphones, which enable customers to programme recordings on their set top boxes and watch television remotely.

Emma Lloyd, BSkyB director of emerging products, said that the broadcaster "took an early position of leadership with companion devices, having recognised the demand from our customers to use second screens to discover, enjoy and interact with their favourite content".

"We know that millions of our customers have smartphones and tablets and regularly use them to engage with Sky on mobile devices, so it's a natural next step for us," she said.