July 31, 2008

Sky HD take up slows

Sky's latest quarterly results are published today; predictably good (but not outstanding) and still on target for their "10 million by 2010". Full press release here.
One thing that caught my eye was that there were 33,000 Sky HD customers added last quarter. That's somewhat disappointing if you look at it as a proportion of the total number of Sky customers: HD now being available to half a million of Sky's customers, just 5% of their total base. Okay, 41% of Sky customers have Sky +, but the HD take up appears to have stuttered.
Considering the marketing push behind their HD services, that's pretty surprising. Maybe the price cut will improve Sky's HD take up. Maybe it'll pick up with the new footie season. But maybe it's going to remain a niche product in these credit crunching times.
(Curiously, 11% of Virgin Media's customers have HD through the V+ according to the last published results, and that proportion should increase further when they release newer figures in August. Of course the customer base is smaller, but it makes you think. Unless your name's Neil Berkett, of course...)
Incidentally, Sky's ad revenues were again impacted by the lack of Sky basics on Virgin Media and Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch said this when asked about them returning to VM:
"Our view hasn't changed. We'd like to get our channels back on Virgin. It's cost us money in terms of advertising and wholesale, and I'm afraid that is the power of a closed network, so we can't do that unless they agree. If we can get to sensible terms we'll try to but it's still up in the air."

Virgin said "Discussions are still ongoing."

July 30, 2008

Two films this evening on BBC HD

Just a quick post - BBC HD is showing two films this evening; the 2003 remake of Freaky Friday and the Steve Coogan historical (as opposed to hysterical) comedy A Cock & Bull Story

July 29, 2008

Spooks in HD

Season six of the Beeb's excellent Spooks was disappointingly shown only in standard definition last year. But I've just noticed that Spooks is on the BBC HD schedules on Sunday 10 August at 11pm. I don't know what season this is, but it's good to see one of Auntie's finest finally becoming available in high definition.
Further good news: the BBC3 spin off, [Spooks] Code 9 is coming to BBC HD in August, too. The trailer and first ten minutes of episode one can be found here.
The fact that it's on BBC3 suggests a more teen-focussed storyline; Torchwood has shown the BBC can do spin offs successfully, but it doesn't always work. Should be one worth trying though.

July 28, 2008

Waiting in vain for Lost season 4?

Anyone waiting for Lost season 4 to arrive soon on Virgin's On Demand service may be waiting in vain; I've dug out the original press release on Virgin's deal with Buena Vista and there's only mention of the first three seasons being acquired by Virgin - nothing about subsequent seasons.
The DVDs are released on October 27th (Amazon has the 14-episode box set for £30) or you can download it now on iTunes for £26.46 (not in HD though).

July 27, 2008

BBC HD goes 24 hour with Olympic coverage

Saturday, August 9th, the first full day of Olympics coverage, boasts almost 24 hours of high definition broadcasts on BBC HD. Kicking off at 1.55am, coverage of the games continues right through the day until 7pm (when regular BBC HD programming takes over). The programme line up then runs through to 1.30am, when presumably the Beijing coverage kicks off again for the Sunday shift. Pretty awesome. How many will watch it through the small hours is debatable, and recording it in HD will soon gobble up what's left of your V+ hard disc, but well done BBC on really going to town with this.

Current Filmflex HD titles

July 25, 2008

About this blog

First off, thanks to all for continuing to visit this blog on a regular basis. It's still meeting a need I guess as traffic is pretty constant, even if the news on HD from Virgin is fairly light at the moment.
The response from our community to the questionnaire was, I think, pretty awesome. Unfortunately, the response from Virgin was predictably vacuous. I've recently sent an updated petition list to Virgin's Chief Executive of Content, Malcolm Wall - to date, no response. Obviously they're not going to make snap strategic decisions based on an internet petition, but they ignore their customer base at their peril - "negligence" is a word that springs to mind.
So what's going to be on the blog over the rest of the summer? Well, I should have details of BBC HD's opening Olympics coverage next week, along with some info on the [Spooks] spin off Code 9 and the new Andrew Marr series.
Over on Filmflex they've been slowly but surely adding HD content, now spilling over to a fifth page of listings. What's more, they now include the big releases as well as some lesser known titles. As the list only changes a little each week, I'll be dropping the regular panel listing the films and featuring them as a regular post instead. Do folk find the IMDB links useful? Let me know, otherwise I'll drop them. Similarly the RSS feeds from other sites - I've fiddled around with these and I'm not sure if folk find them interesting - please comment if you like 'em.
A real disappointment for us all is HD TV Choice On Demand. Six months ago we had in high def all three seasons of Lost, first seasons of Criminal Minds and Ghost Whisperer and 90% of the excellent Day Break. Today, we have just the second season of Sopranos (available for just two weeks!) and a handful of documentaries. The BBC HD On Demand has remained constant all year. Pathetic.
As is the continued absence of C4HD (ITV HD being something not even worth mentioning). Where are the promised On Demand HD versions of the little genuine HD content C4 has? Not even Hollyoaks in HD or the US imports.
So things have not improved - in fact, they're worse than ever. And I guess this blog will continue for some time yet - it was born from a frustration with the lack of information from Virgin on their HD services, and that's still very much the case today. Let me know what you think.

New to BBC HD - Lost Land of the Jaguar

For me, the best programming in high definition is not always the stuff I would automatically set the V+ for. I'm not big on nature programmes, but the advent of high definition has really opened my eyes (I guess literally eye popping) to some great TV.
Following on from The Power of The Planet, Galapagos and Wild China comes Lost Land of the Jaguar, starting on BBC HD next Thursday at 8pm. It's about an expedition to the jungles of Guyana, featuring an international team of explorers, scientists and film makers discovering the plants and animals that inhabit the spectacular landscape of Guyana. From the trailer (currently showing on BBC HD and online here) it looks absolutely awesome. Time to be blown away again, methinks.

July 21, 2008

Previously in Virgin Media Land...

I've been away for a week so apologies for being a little late with some of the following:

iPlayer on VM
The BBC iPlayer service on Virgin Media recorded more than 10m viewings in June, according to the first figures released by the cable TV company. That's half as many viewings as the BBC website in the first full month it was made available to cable TV customers. Pretty impressive. Top programmes watched were EastEnders and Doctor Who.

New Head of BBC HD

The BBC has appointed Danielle Nagler as the new head of BBC HD. She replaces Seetha Kumar, who is moving to another as-yet-unspecified senior role within the corporation. The BBC said Nagler would focus on growing the HD channel and lead preparations for its launch on Freeview, expected to launch in a year's time. Let's hope she posts regular blogs like Ms Kumar - the BBC's candour regarding it's birth pains with HD have been a revelation. Speaking of which...

The BBC talks about the challenges of HD ... and surround sound
Just appeared on the BBC Internet Blog is a fine post byAndy Quested the Principal Technologist at BBC Future Media & Technology. If you wondered exactly what went wrong with this year's Eurovision broadcast, Quested supplies a detailed, technical but amusing account of the trials and tribulations of broadcasting 5.1 sound. If you ever doubted the BBC took its HD provision seriously or questioned their passion and pride in getting it right, give this a read - it's a revelation. Find it here.

Bet they call it "Freesat+"
Those Virgin customers considering moving to Freesat for their HD fix once the PVR is available are going to have to wait a little longer for the fledgling service's V+ equivalent to launch. It may just make it onto the shelves for Christmas. According to Humax's Chief Technologist:

'Humax has assigned one of its top development teams to the Freesat digital television recorder and they have completed the first stages of software integration and finalised the hardware design. Once testing of this stage of development is complete the more advanced features for Freesat will be worked on and tested.

'Because of the complex nature of the development of such an advanced recorder product Humax will dedicate an appropriate period to ensuring the good operation and stability of the product before releasing to market. It is currently estimated that the product will be available suitably in advance of the Christmas 2008 season.
'The product will be a twin tuner satellite recorder with an appropriately large capacity hard disk, although the exact size has yet to be finalised. The connectivity will be identical to the FOXSAT-HD, but unlike the FOXSAT-HD it will not have an analogue component output.'
Reports elsewhere suggest ITV's first steps with HD on Freesat have been somewhat less than successful with news that Harley Street in high def had probs last week. Full story over on DS.

July 19, 2008

Virgin's response to the petition

Virgin has responded to the petition:

This is in response to your letter addressed to Neil Berkett, dated 30 June 2008. I was pleased to be able to speak with you today and am writing as promised.
Customers with a V+ box and a correctly set up HD TV can view the following high definition content:
BBC HD channel. A specific channel from the BBC broadcasting programmes in high definition; this can be found on channel 108 and available to all digital TV customers with a V+ box no matter what package they have.
On Demand. A range of high definition programmes and films can be fond in the Virgin Media on demand service. HD programmes in the TV Choice or Movies on demand will be clearly stated as being high definition, and may cost more than the standard definition programmes. HD programmes can also be found by selecting ‘more on demand’ and then ‘High Definition’.
In your note you comment that you are disappointed with the pool levels of HD content on our service. We are sorry that you feel this way. I would like to reassure you that we ware focusing on our HD services within the On Demand service, especially in the Movies genre and continue to look at the linear HD channels available. I have passed your comments on to the appropriate teams for consideration.
Whilst we are working hard on our broadband development to ensure that we continue to deliver a ‘Hero broadband’ service, we are committed to ongoing development on our TV services. We have recently improved our VoD Music and more recently our Bollywood/Asian VoD Services. In addition, we are the only TV provider able to off the BBC iPlayer service via the TV. We hope you are enjoying these services.
We always try to be open and upfront with our customers. As yours is by no means the first mention of dissatisfaction we have received concerning the HD content of our Digital TV services, we are taking this seriously and, as mentioned above, I have passed this on to the appropriate teams.
Penny D Patchett
Chief Executive’s Office

Hmmm. Can't say I'm completely surprised to the response from Virgin to the petition for more HD services. That the letter actually fails to mention the petition itself (which was over 800 signatures when sent - it now numbers over 1,000) suggests that this is a standard response churned out for the seemingly many complaints about the lack of HD services they're receiving.
Any revelations? 'I would like to reassure you that we are focusing on our HD services within the On Demand service' would be more assuring if we saw that with the HD content growing, but it's a fraction of what it was six months ago. Movies? Two dozen movies that features a handful of titles you've heard of and a majority that you haven't is hardly a service to shout about. Sky has three HD movie channels regularly cycling content - Sky HD may be £10 a month, but you'd pay more than that with a movie a week from the Filmflex HD selection. And don't look at Sky Box Office's HD selection: it features all films you'd want to see in HD that FilmFlex (the superior service in every other aspect) only shows in SD.
So the only crumb of comfort is that last paragraph;
As yours is by no means the first mention of dissatisfaction we have received concerning the HD content of our Digital TV services, we are taking this seriously
Crumbs indeed; hardly a response likely to stop folk switching to Sky HD.
One of this blog's regular readers, Dazza124, has also received some feedback from Virgin when complaining about the lack of HD - at least Darren had a personally written response, rather than the 'another complaint about HD' standard one:
Neil Berkett passed me your e-mail. I hope that I can answer at least some of your issues:
On HD, there are three key areas where we want to add services for customers exactly like yourself. Firstly, we do want to add some of the broadest audience HD services (like BBC HD) that may also go onto Freesat. I cannot give you dates or individual channel names if/until those commercial agreements are signed. You will see from BBC HD availability that our platform works well today in delivering these.
Secondly, we do want to add more HD VOD content and organize this amongst all the other titles on the service so that you can find and select it more easily. Our infrastructure gives us essentially unlimited capacity to add as many titles as we can get on reasonable terms. Thirdly, IPTV is interesting as you benefit from having a potentially better broadband connection via cable than by phone line. Hence if iPlayer or any other similar content becomes available in true HD, the difference between Virgin and other options becomes much more noticeable. Obviously we are encouraging this, although we also recently put iPlayer (for example) on the TV platform as well so you should be getting better quality for that programming today, rather than wait for HD IPTV.
I do know that this isn't everything you wanted on the "Christmas list" below, but please be assured that we are working hard to evolve our service to take full advantage of your 1080p TV.
Thank you for your continued custom.
Best regards
Andrew Barron
Again, nothing revelatory and little comfort to those who invest monthly in Virgin Media's TV services at a premium. I love the bit 'add as many titles as we can get on reasonable terms' - not that Virgin are providing HD content on the cheap...
One small note of good news; I see the first six episodes of The Sopranos season two are now available in On Demand in HD. Catch 'em quick; they won't be around for long.

July 11, 2008

TV Choice on Demand - new content

Nialli's out of town for the next few days, so please add Comments on this post if you spot any new TV Choice On Demand high definition programming in your region during my absence. Thanks!

July 10, 2008

Heroes Season 3 news

The BBC has announced that the third series of Heroes will be broadcast on BBC Two shortly after it is first shown in the US. Each episode will be shown 'hopefully within a week' of appearing stateside. That means a return mid-September to BBC HD, with what looks like a bumper episode:
The season 3 premiere of Heroes will be, rather appropriately, super-sized. NBC will air a three-hour "event" on Sept. 15, consisting of a one-hour recap of the previous two seasons, followed by the two-hour season premiere. (source: Entertainment Weekly)

July 07, 2008

HD On Demand: going, going...

...all but gone here in SE London. As warned last week, Virgin's TV Choice On Demand HD selection has just about disappeared, and what little remains has only a few days left. Re-population normally varies from region to region (Carol normally gets it first down the the South West for some reason) so please post here if you spot new material arriving.

Update: GONE!

July 05, 2008

HD adoption in the UK

An interesting press release from screendigest.com is being widely commented upon on other sites. You can read the full release here, or, if you have a few thousand euros and several days to digest the full 230 pages, you can get the entire report here.
In my professional experience expensive consultancy reports normally state the bleedin' obvious, making you wonder why you didn't write it yourself in the first place. But ocassionally they put a twist on it, and to some degree this is one of those.
First big finding is that despite the considerable sales of HD ready TVs, the vast majority appear to be happy to stick with standard definition broadcasts or are ignorant of the difference between SD and HD. Hardly innovative thinking. It also states that the lack of HD programming is a major problem facing adoption in Europe - again, nothing new there.
But it then suggests that pay TV only has a limited opportunity to cash in on the HD market before the free-to-air technologies evolve to deliver HD and it becomes the norm. Very true - Sky has seen this already and has already signed up half a million (and rising) premium rate customers, whilst Virgin Media is doing its best to drive its own top-paying customers to Sky HD too.
Europe's Pay TV operators are using HD to increase loyalty and reduce churn rates and to increase revenues per subscriber (ARPU). Some operators have also been able to charge subscribers a premium for HD content; others have offered it for a small fee or none at all for subscribers with an HD box. Screen Digest believes this approach will become the most popular as cable and satellite operators drop fees to encourage more people to upgrade to HD.
In a maturing pay TV market HDTV can also drive customer acquisitions as consumers who upgrade to an HD display might also wish to upgrade to a pay TV package to fully enjoy their new purchase. In this sense, pay TV operators have a window of opportunity in which to drive subscriber growth before HD broadcasts become available on free-to-air platforms.
So how long will HD remain a premium pay-for product? The report suggest 2015, but I think 2012 will prove the tipping point in the UK as that's when we'll see the analogue signal finally off, MPeg4 on Freeview and Freesat fully loaded. Whither Virgin Media? Who knows - the silence is deafening, they seem incapable (either through funding or strategic will) to cash in at the moment and have opted for the "who needs high definition?" head in the sand approach.
Anyone who doesn't believe the customer doesn't appreciate better quality should ask themselves when did they last watch a VHS tape or listen to a cassette - once you've experienced better, it's difficult to accept lower standards.
Have a read of the press release and let me know what you think. (And thanks to Dazza for supplying the source for this post - cheers mate!)

July 04, 2008

TV Choice on Demand snippets

A couple of quick items on the TV Choice on Demand service:
  • Almost all of the current HD series are now appearing in the "Last Chance To See" category - Angels in America and Sopranos season one both are due to finish next week, as is the programming from the History channel
  • Virgin1 series The Sarah Connor Chronicles has its first four episodes showing in On Demand in full widescreen. To XL customers these are free of charge. No sign of HD though.

July 03, 2008

Heroes finale on BBC HD tonight

A word of warning for those recording Heroes on BBC HD via Series Link; if your series link is set for the weekly 10.30 BBC3 simulcast it WON'T record the final episode tonight. The final episode is showing on BBC2 and BBC HD at 9pm, but although there's a second showing at 10.30 on BBC3 there's no simulcast on BBC HD at that time so Series Link won't work.
Fans of the series will be pleased to know that the next season is 25 episodes and will start on the BBC apparently before the year is out, bringing us closer to the US broadcasts.

July 01, 2008

HD in the UK

Good read over on The Register on the state of HD in the UK. Check it out here. You don't get anything about Virgin until the last page (surprise surprise);

Another affordable option – though only if you live in an area that can receive the service – is the Virgin TV cable service. The V+ box that Virgin provides to its customers costs £150 and is capable of receiving both standard-definition and HD channels. However, when we rang them they offered to let us have it for £75 – obviously an attempt to lure us away from Sky and Freesat.
Virgin offers three packages of channels, called Small (free), Medium (£9 per month) and Large (£9.75), and for another £5 per month you can get the BBC HD channel added to the Small and Medium packages - there’s no additional cost for the Large package. Virgin also has an ‘on demand’ option that includes pay-per-view films, some of which are in HD. However, Virgin were a bit vague about the HD films that are currently available, so Freesat looks like a better deal if you’re looking for an affordable entry into the world of HD.

Hardly a glowing endorsement, but then what do Virgin expect? The HD movies are of course on VM courtesy of Filmflex (28 of them at last count). I got the distinct impression the guy had never seen Virgin as he makes no mention of the On Demand HD stuff (which gets picked up in the Comments attached to the piece.