The blog’s latest poll demonstrates the predicament over HD; almost half of the respondents said that they would not be prepared to shell out an extra £10 a month for more high definition services. 45% (of 284 voters) said they wouldn’t pay for the Sky HD channels, and given that this blog is pretty much preaching to the HD converted, that really does ask a question regarding the financial benefit to a company like Virgin Media of High Definition services today.
Admittedly the HD channels from Sky aren’t compulsive viewing for everyone, but last month’s poll had Sky Sports HD as the most wanted channels on cable, so I’m somewhat surprised by this month’s vote. For an extra £10 a month, Sky HD subscribers get two sports and movies HD channels, Sky One, National Geographic, History Channel, Discovery, Sky Arts and Channel 4. Is that worth £10 a month? Only 155 of you thought that was worth £120 a year – so what do VM do?
I think the vast majority of Virgin customers will be satisfied (for now) with the HD versions of the main broadcasters’ flagships; BBC, ITV, C4 and Five. Throw in a high definition Film4 or Five US, all for free, and we’d be very happy bunnies indeed. What’s more, I think envious Sky HD customers would be demanding the reduction or elimination of their monthly bills, too – check out some of the Sky HD forums over on Digital Spy.
The truth is that HD, fabulous though it is, is still very much of minority appeal in the UK. This ain’t the States, where the SD picture is almost unwatchable and the average TV is approximately the width of a terraced house – the SD on a V+ of a higher bitrate channel is exceptionally good on the average UK LCD. It’s not high-end home cinema, but it is sufficiently HD-enough for the average family.
That may not be comfortable reading for the HD aficionado (who is unlikely to be a Virgin customer out of choice anyway) but is pretty much the reality. For Virgin, an HD offering matching FreeSat’s basics when it launches later this year will probably be sufficient to keep the vast majority of its customer base happy, especially given the current V+’s limits with storing Mpeg2 HD programming. VM’s latest customer figures are due to be revealed any day now – the increase in V+ subscribers will be primarily down to the PVR functionality rather than HD capability. And I strongly suspect Virgin’s HD offering will be limited in its expansion in 2008, and for the foreseeable future. C’est la vie.