October 22, 2007

Virgin to become Freeview+?

I shared the cynicism of some when a story appeared in The Times this weekend suggesting Virgin Media was focusing on broadband rather than premium TV services going forward, but it's repeated, with quotes, in The Guardian today:
[Neil Berkett, acting Virgin Media CEO] wants to move the focus away from TV and onto more mass-market households who do not need Sky's sports and movie channels but do want more than basic Freeview digital TV. Virgin Media reckons these households can be tempted with services such as video on demand that require fast broadband.
"Despite our technical advantage we are still not really standing out from the crowd," admitted Mr Berkett. "I really do want to re-focus our energies onto the broadband platform."
"Think of Freeview as a nursery and you have millions of kindergarten kids who once they have got the taste for multi-channel TV may upgrade an element of the service."
I, for one, find this v. depressing. So those of us who at the top end of the market (VIP package, V+ dependent) are now going to have to settle for a Freeview+ service? That line about the Sky Movies and Sports channels is particularly concerning, especially at a time when there's a popular misconception with the general public that you can't get any Sky channels on cable. Clumsy or just plain foolish? Or ominous...is he saying that VM customers may not have the Sky Premium channels going forward?
I have cable out of choice - I do not want a dish on the outside of my house but Virgin Media appear to be going out of their way to push me to Sky with their lack of investment in HD services. If the FreeSat service next year offers more HD than cable I may even go there. Even though I work in IT I do not want or need 50mb broadband at home - the 20mb I currently have is more than sufficient and what use is it if the downloaders of pirated TV, movies and games are capped with download limits? That's the same folly as having a car capable of racing at 250mph with a speed limit on 50 on the roads!
I could be wrong...it could be that Virgin are planning to shift all their services over to IPTV and everything will be delivered over IP. But I don't think so. I think Burkett is desperate for a strategy that differentiates the VM offering and pulls in some more customers. Freeview+ certainly ain't it and besides, BT Vision is already offering that with limited success.
Somebody buy this company quick!

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