January 28, 2009

Sky HD numbers soar

Two news stories that merit repeating in full. The first is from mediaguardian this morning:

BSkyB has shrugged off the economic gloom by grabbing 171,000 new customers over Christmas and announcing plans to recruit 1,000 engineers and call centre staff as it launches a major push to get people to sign up for high definition TV.

The satellite broadcaster reckons more than 7m households already have TV sets that can receive HD programming - and this is set to double by the end of the decade. Announcing a 26% increase in first-half profits, Sky said it was looking to grow its HD customers from the 779,000 it had at the end of last year. As a result, today it is slashing the cost of a Sky+ HD box by two-thirds to £49.

To back up its drive for HD viewers, Sky is recruiting 1,000 more staff and opening a call centre in Leeds. The company, which employs about 15,000 workers, said it needed about 600 new engineers and 400 call centre staff to meet anticipated demand for HD services. Recruiting the staff, which has already begun, will add about £30m a year to Sky's cost base.

In the three months to the end of December, Sky gained 188,000 new HD customers – including existing subsribers who have upgraded – double the rate of first-quarter additions and five times the rate seen in the fourth quarter of last year. The broadcaster now offers access to 31 HD channels, more than any other broadcaster, but just 8% of its total customers base are taking the service. It refused, however, to set a target for how many HD customers it wants by the end of the decade.

Overall Sky added 171,000 new customers in the three months to end December – its second financial quarter – compared with 167,000 in the same period in 2007 as cash-strapped consumers opted to stay at home and watch TV rather than go out to the cinema or a restaurant. In fact, over the past year average TV viewing per individual in the UK increased by 3% to 3.7 hours per day.

City analysts had forecast Sky would add between 95,000 and 167,000 new customers in the quarter. Sky now has 9.24 million customers with 13% taking all three of its services – TV, broadband and home phone.

And this from Virgin Media's chief technology officer Howard Watson, April last year:

Watson said the popularity of HD in the US - where significantly more content and channels are generally available - was driven by the country's NTSC analogue television system. It is generally accepted that it gives a worse picture than PAL, the alternative employed in the UK.

"We don’t have the ‘Never The Same Colour’ challenge that has driven HD offering in the US," said Watson, according to Broadband TV News. "We have 7m HD ready sets in the UK and I still think HD works really well for certain bits of content but is disappointing for others.

"I don’t think we’re losing customers because we don’t have the HD lineup that Sky has. It’s not causing us a churn problem - all of our HD customers [have] PVRs - so it's difficult to separate them, but a part of that is HD."

Doesn't really merit comment, does it?


maestromarv said...

Yet still no response from VM.... they still reckon there's no demand for HD in the UK. I still feel like a loyal MUG.
Caught by the short and curlies (best reliable broadband service).

Maybe when I move house and there's no cable service I can break free!

Alan said...

Virgin need a good kick up the backside.
If this is not a wake up call then I don't know how what is!
As soon as my year is up if they haven't got the movie / sports channels in HD by that time, then
sianara / I'm off.

It's 2009 - get with the times Virgin!

Anonymous said...

I don't want to change to Sky but this is really starting to make me change my mind.

Anonymous said...

Yet another new HD channel added yesterday (Sci Fi HD) all included in the £9.75 HD subscription.

I'm just glad I saw the light and switched last August. When I phoned to cancel my VIP subscription they promised more HD channels in the autumn - but I notice that these have yet to materialise and I see the same sad old HD VOD offerings are still being shown as when I left.

Afront said...

Sky and Virgin may still be competitors, but it seems each is pushing one unique selling point (Sky's HD, Virgin's VOD and BB speed) to the detriment of their other services.

Nice to see Carol still lurks around here.. I just checked the Sky site to verify costs: note that £9.75 HD subscription is on top of the minimum £16.50 for the cheapest entertainment packs, so cheapest monthly cost is actually £26.25 for a HD subscription. Not sure exactly how many HD channels you get for that, probably several million...

Nialli said...

Carol's always welcome here - I'm glad this blog still offers something even to those who no longer subscribe to Virgin Media's TV service.
I'm starting to think this blog is turning into an ad for Sky HD - I can assure you that is most definitely not the case, but Virgin Media sometime gives you little option but to point out that if you want HD, there's only one show in town.

Dave said...

I have been with VM since eurobell days, and now I am thinking, that if they don't start listening to their customers (hopefully via this blog), there is only one place to go for serious HD content.

Lets hope things start to change once the digital switch over begins.

demented said...

It's still looking like Sky may be adding HD channels faster than VM. Animal Planet HD has a license since December (although others have said there may be other reasons).

188 000 is very impressive. Let's hope cable bring out the new samsung box and that sells well too. I can see £49 HD boxes selling like hotcakes. Cable's screwed.

I'm not sure I can wait till 31st March to decide whether to stay with cable. All I want confirming is that C4HD is among the "three or four". It's not much to ask and very bad PR.

Anonymous said...

The free London papers where running this story tonight. How much more publicity needs to happen before VM wake up, open their eyes and jump on the bandwaggon before it is too late? Their competitive advantage over the Sky+ box counts for nothing if their customers decide to jump ship.

Slippy Sloppy said...

I have to say Sky HD is looking extremely tempting, if it wasn't for not wanting to move over to copper lines for our internet use I would already have done so. Virgin really need to re-evaluate their attitude towards HD & thier customers if they are to survive the revolution.

Rob said...

It's very disappointing. The one thing that is stopping me calling up and switching today is the extra cost it is going to put on to my monthly outgoings - I'd still want to keep VM for broadband and phoneline (and I might as well keep a free box on TV:M for iPlayer). I'm on VIP at the moment, but I worked out today that even if I downgrade to 10 meg and phone to evenings and weekend (ditch all TV except the free TV), then to get Sky up and running with a comparable level of service will be costing me about £15pm more...

It is tempting though.

Anonymous said...

I have requested a reply from VM via their customer contact form about the lack of HD channels, and the fact that SKY are more dedicated to HD content.

Maybe if more HD subscribers do the same, they might get the message.

joff81 said...

im also tempted to take up this offer with sky for a HD subscription. i dont want the sky sports or movies and will only get them on months where i have time to watch them. i compaired my current VM subscription to what i could downgrade to and get Sky HD in and if i cut down to VM 2 for £20(M phone and M broadband) then im only paying £9.75 more per month.i left sky to save money but after working the above out its a serous temptation thats for sure.

hopefully we will get some news soon about HD on VM as they cant just let shy make an announcement like this and not have something to fight back with or customers will leave in serious numbers. infact 3 friends of mine that are all on VM told me about this offer as they are thinking of signing up as well.

Anonymous said...

I too was on Virgin's VIP service before I switched - I ended up with a split service, Sky for my telly services and Virgin for my phone line and broadband. I dropped to the 10Mbit broadband and basic phone and took out Sky with just the Entertainment pack but topped that up with Sky Movies, Sky Sports and of course the HD subscription pack. I ended up saving around £5 a month I think.

Of course, if the box goes wrong you have to pay to have it fixed - but the positive side of that is that you can quite legally upgrade the hard drive to something more appropriate. I just wish that they would activate the e-sata connector so that you can have an external caddy drive attached.

Alexei said...

Sadly Virgin have got me by the Short and curlies! I wanted Sky HD but i had to have a telephone line? Which i have no intention as i have no use for it? Is it actually a requirement?

Nialli said...

Never having been a Sky customer, I can't speak from first-hand experience, but a number of friends have told me that, yes, you do have to have a each Sky box plugged in to a landline, that with multiroom it has to be the same extension as your principle box, and that if you disconnect them from the phone line you get a letter warning you to reconnect or else. Not everyone has the same experience but around the table before the match last night all four Sky customers had tried unplugging and had received the warning letter, so I take that as pretty instructive.

Anonymous said...


Provided that you do not have Sky multiroom, then the standalone box does not require that you are connected to a land line as far as I know. If you ask this question in the Sky+ HD section of Digital Spy (sorry for the plug to a different site Nialli - especially after the way they came down on you for posting a link to your blog) I am sure you will get some definitive responses.

Rob said...

Hmmm, I've never thought about that. This would prevent me from having multiroom as I have no phone point in that bedroom.

BikeNutt said...

Virgin Media's apathy towards HD beggars belief.

Telewest was not perfect by any means but at least it was innovative. Since being swallowed up by the lumbering beast that was NTL, and we now 'lovingly' refer to as Virgin Media, there has been zero technical development on the cable TV front. Broadband is Berkett's one and only baby and the antipodean buffoon will soon have some explaining to do in the boardroom as Sky continues to leverage its market advantage.

Who really gives a stuff about on demand when there's nothing of value to watch - virtually no HD content and ancient TV series from yesteryear in SD. How long does he really think we're going to swallow this tripe!?

Nialli said...

Sorry to contradict Carole (a few posts earlier) but Sky require you to have your Sky box connected to a landline. It doesn't have to be BT (unless you want Sky Broadband too) but if you don't connect it they do find out (albeit not instantly) and contact you reminding you of the obligation to connect it to a phoneline under your contract terms.
No problem with mentioning the DS Sky + HD forum; folk may want to check out similar over on the AV Forums (less hostile to innocent enquiries) at http://www.avforums.com/forums/sky-hd/

Nialli said...

(sorry for mis-spelling your name, Carol!)

Anonymous said...

I've been following this excellent blog for around six months and I always find it amazing how we find out news here first. Virgin need to pull their finger out and give some commitment with dates and content. I upgraded to V+ in October and nearly switched to Sky then but decided to stay for VOD and VMs "talk" of bringing more HD content. I sent a complaint last week via email about the overall poor quality of the V+ service and the fact that they are now giving away V+ (a true reflection of its value). I received a mish-mash of generic responses in reply. On the back this latest offer from Sky I will definitely be ringing VM to get them to take back my V+ box and let me downgrade to just broadband, then I'll switch.
VM need to wake up and realise that there alot of people who have large screen HDTVs that need appropriate content. I urge all who are sick of VMs pitiful HD offering to complain.

Nialli said...

Thanks for the kind comments about the blog - I never take them for granted and appreciate the support. There's been a 25% rise in visitors to this site this month (over 25,000 visits in the last four weeks) , which I think reflects an even greater interest in Virgin Media's HD service - or rather the lack of it. The responses to this particular post suggest that many are now moving to Sky, sick of the broken promises and declining amount of HD programming on UK cable.

Jon Rogers said...

Hi, I've been following this blog for very, very long time and I’ve been willing to see the words NEW HD Channels Dated.

Yesterday, my patience ran out.

I have signed up for their £49 Sky HD box. For £15 more a month, I've got Sky Sports, Sky Movies (which I didn’t have before) and 30+ HD channels. I lose some great V+ benefits and even though I really wanted to go with the V+ HD route, I think I've waited long enough.

Can’t wait now. I still feel I’ve made the best decision.

Don’t worry Nialli, I’m going to carry on looking at this blog as my parents are VIPers

Anonymous said...

just of the phone to virgin media retentions,i was going to cancel v+ box and go to sky hd.the person i spoke to said that there will be 13 hd channels launching in feb.dont know what to believe with virgin.

Anonymous said...

A VM person phoned me today after I contacted them about this issue and could not give me any dates about more HD chanels.

I informed her that there appears to be alot of their customers that are very unhappy with this situation, especially now SKY have dropped their installation price
and are going after more HD subscribers, and the fact they seem to be more dedicated to HD content.

I told her that if things don't improve soon, then I think they will be losing alot of customers,
including myself.

She thanked me for taking the time to write to them, and said she would be flagging this complaint as high priority.

Time will tell (but not too long I hope)

Anonymous said...

Just to correct some misinformation posted earlier in this comments thread.
Sky don't require a phone be connected to their decoders unless the customer takes up what used to be refered to as the "interactive discount" whereby a free box and subsidised installation is given. This has to be kept connected for a year from the date of signing up. Typically, it's only Sky multi-room customers who find themselves being threatened with disconnection for not keeping their phoneline attached to the decoder, because Sky fear (quite rightly) that fraudsters could allow their multi-room decoder be used at another address; potentially receiving a full subscription of channels for £10 a month.
A BT line is never a pre-requisite of having Sky TV installed. Former Virgin customers can easily connect their cable telephone line to Sky equipment with no loss of TV service. Customers requiring Sky broadband and Sky Talk do need a BT landline, however.
To poster "Rob" who thinks he'd be prevented from having multi-room by having no phone point in his bedroom; it's a simple (and cheap) matter of running an extention cord from the main telephone point along the skirting anf up to his bedroom. Certainly not an insurmountable problem.

Nialli said...

According to Sky "General: Your Sky box(es) must be connected to a fixed telephone line for 12 months."
It's at the foot of this page http://mysky.sky.com/portal/site/skycom/skyproducts/getsky
I don't want to get into a debate on this: I'm not a Sky customer and never have been. But it's on the Sky site and that's good enough for me to pass it on.

Anonymous said...

I know you don't want to "debate" this and I also know you're not a Sky customer. Your blog does a fine job of promoting Virgin as it is, no need to post mis-information!
The fact remains that not all Sky customers need to connect their phone line to their decoders.
Let's leave it there shall we? Anyone seriously considering moving to Sky can do the research themselves. It's not such an imposition to connect the line anyway, it certainly doesn't cost any money on the phone bill!

Jones said...

Sky offer a contract minus phone line for an extra one-off payment of £25 (presumably for those who don't have a landline at all), so "anonymous" above is quite correct.

Nialli said...

Happy to stand corrected on the matter!

Rob said...

To poster anonymous above, yes I know, I had to run a rather long phone line extension in my parents house many years ago for them to get Sky Digital. It's slightly less feasible here in my house though as the closest phone point is literally in the opposite corner of the house, downstairs - the cable run would be huge.

However I have been doing my research this weekend and have found Maplin sell a "wireless" extension kit that runs calls over my electric cables.

So, with that information, been inputting various price combinations into Sky's site, and with the information on the new prices for VM BB, it would seem that for £87 (which is really my ceiling price as it is what I pay for VIP, I can get Sky HD, multiroom (Sky+ in the second room), BB L, Phone M, and TV M (keep it for iPlayer and other catch up on demand). This is very tempting - I can live without the BBXL.

All I would have to do is get VM to give me the new prices on those services... (Interestingly their site is quoting me odd prices where it would be cheaper to get phone and BB L, than the L/M combination above...)