February 20, 2010

Sky Sports and Sky Movies HD on Virgin Media

I've been thinking that the signs are good for us getting Sky Sports HD and Sky Movies HD pretty soon on cable. I'm sure that's jinxed it for good, but bare with me...here's my logic...
Sky has done remarkably well with its HD offering - it remains unique in the UK, they've exploited their investment in content and technology (some would argue as is their right) and they've achieved stunning growth in a recession against not just the competition of Virgin Media but also of course Freeview, Freesat, BT Vision and the download community. They've lowered the cost of entry to the point where the HD Sky+ is the standard install, but have managed to maintain the £10 a month surcharge for HD. With the explosive demand for HD (who saw that coming? Certainly not Virgin) they own the premium market and have exploited their unregulated monopoly to great effect. Sure, OFCOM's done some initial sabre rattling about the HD versions of Sports and Movies being covered by the same rules as the standard definition channels, but Sky have ridden that so far and are marketing "Supertelly" like there's no tomorrow. But there is a tomorrow, and here's where I think they're going next.
  • Sky will shift its marketing focus to 3D, another premium priced product. I've no interest in it personally, but others will buy it if it's pushed hard enough, and if there's one thing Sky truly excels at, it's marketing
  • Sky will respond to Virgin's free HD channel offering by reducing the monthly sub to HD and making the non-premium HD channels in its offering free to owners of the Sky HD+ box
  • There'll be a big push for the new Sky HD+ box with the 1Tb disc (actually 1.5Tb - a third of that is set aside for the Sky Anytime service). £249 a pop
  • Sky will now cash in on the HD channels by selling them through Virgin Media - exploiting their investment further, picking up more viewers and allowing them to sell premium advertising spots on the HD channels. As we exit the recession, advertisers will be asked to cough up even more if they want to reach the discerning audience with the deepest pockets
  • Sky knows that they still have the best HD service - not only do they have superior coverage, but they also have Mpeg4 and have increased the PVR capacity, whereas VM customers still have the wasteful MPeg2 compression filling their smaller discs. (What's more, we can't upgrade our discs to large capacities legally). If you're serious about HD, 160Gb discs are not sufficient
  • OFCOM will tell them they must do it anyway, and the Tories won't overturn that over night nor can Sky drag it through the courts.
  • Sky1 HD will remain unique to Sky 
  • Virgin will continue to offer the barest bones of an HD service via VoD.
I reckon we'll have the Sky Movies and Sports HD in the next few months, albeit at a price.  Maybe even tied in with the sale of Virgin's TV channels to Sky.
Comments? Like I say, that's probably jinxed it for good...

23 comments:

tvsersity said...

Personally I have no interest in Sky Movies or Sports, HD or otherwise, so should this happen it wouldn't make any difference to me.

Sky One HD is a different prospect as they have a number of big US imports, such as Lost, 24, and Fringe. I would never watch them in SD so I have to find them elsewhere. (such as iTunes or blu-ray)

I'd also like the many other channels Sky seem to have the HD rights to. It's good we're finally getting Discovery sometime this year, but that really is just the tip of iceberg. Virgin have to try so much harder to compete, as right now they are clearly an also ran.

baw said...

I think you show clear logical thinking here.

BUT there is the technical side of things.

Virgin couldn't even contemplate the Sky HD offering up until recently.

Has the work been done to a sufficiently high standard to even allow all the HD channels ?

Secondly, what will the price be for these "premium" channels ? stupidly prohibitive?

Jez said...

I have been closely following Virgin Media's policy/attitude towards it's 'HD programming' for a couple+ years now, I dont know how much longer they can continue with the 'we want to concentrate on HD VOD'... YAWN! I believe the majority of HD viewers simply wish to see regular HD channels and their content as often as is possible.


Virgin media HAVE to sort out an improved HD channel line up soon and not just token less popular channels already added (we are not worthy) as I suspect a not so insignificant number of subscribers will refuse to keep waiting/hanging on any longer (through our misguided loyalty?) We will simply jump ship to join in with Sky's 'super telly'.

Each week the beautiful looking Ch4 HD movies is increasingly helping my decison to get Sky movies ASAP!!

Nialli said...

It all comes down to personal viewing tastes whether you think Sky Movies/Sports are going to be worth it. It could be argued that sports fans already get a good deal - BBCHD with its blanket coverage of the few events it still has, ESPN HD and the soon to be with us Eurosport HD. Documentary fans too are well catered for - Nat Geo HD, BBC HD and Discovery HD, and we have MTV HD, FX HD, Living HD and C4 HD too for fans of US series and music.
The biggest gap I see is movies, but Sky pretty much has those all tied up - Film4 doesn't appear to be as iminent as it once was and TCM doesn't even broadcast in widescreen. FilmFlex earns Virgin a pretty penny, but it is expensive and the HD selection there is tied to a couple of studio-specific deals and the PictureBox selection veers between so-so and so-what

James said...

I don't know why HD is causing so many problems. From what i've been told, it is actually cheaper for companies to produce content in HD. I guess it's daylight robbery/exploitation for ya. Companies like sky just want cash cash cash, despite it costing them less on production/finishing. The only way it will cost more will be transmission due to the extra bandwidth.

Martin said...

Whoever told you production on HD is cheaper is mildy insane. Digital production is cheaper than analogue, but as a result we expect more. Just try editing HD footage instead of SD from your camcorder on your home computer and you'll immediately need to upgrade your system to cope with rendering and conversion.

Sets also have to be of a higher standard, on par with films.

Costly stuff, especially the outlay initially just to handle HD.

Big Red said...

Hi
I actualy asked the Press officer at Virgin Media, Asam.Ahmad@virginmedoa.co.uk

The only reason why Virgin do not offer Sky HD services is due to the wholesale price Sky charge the like of Virgin and BT, both companies make a losss on the Sky Sports pack, Virgin always boast they are cheaper than Sky and its true.

ofcom have told sky to reduce there wholesale prices by 30% but we all know Sky, they will not reduce by that %.

http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/broadcasting/news/a177988/sky-ofcom-threatens-risk-and-reward.html

But what is intresting Sky are spending bucket loads on 3D services, and its only a matter of time when HD becomes the standard on all platforms.

Virgin have already confirmed they will be releasing the likes of Discovery and EuroSport HD channels.

Here is a tester for some of us, recently I have moved from Sky to Virgin as I have a mate who could offer me mates rates whcih saves me some £33.50 on the VIP pack.

but my point is has anyone really tried to test standard viewing on Virgin v Sky and Freesat.

Well I did before my Sky contract ended and I had Sky HD box, Virgin V+ and Freesat and I whiched between the likes of BBC and ITV.

Results
Freesat had best picture for ITV followed by Virgin.
Virgin had best picture for BBC followed by Freesat.

I'm not sure and I'm no expert but I'm presuming its based on signal strenght boosted by satilite/the service provder.

So is Sky reducing the pciture quailty on standard viewing channels to boost HD sales.

By no doubt HD is so much better but are we getting fooled by service providers reducing the picture quauily to thinking we need HD.

Erich said...

Results
Freesat had best picture for ITV followed by Virgin.

Having seen tests proving that at least ITV3 and ITV4 are identical on all platforms right down to the very last bit, I'm sceptical about the validity of your findings.

I suspect your comparison wasn't even side-by-side with like-for-like material, and there are huge differences from program to program on any given channel, never mind differences in the playback hardware.

I'm not sure and I'm no expert but I'm presuming its based on signal strenght boosted by satilite/the service provder.
No, there's no relationship between signal strength and picture quality on a digital platform. That would be like saying watching iPlayer would give you different quality depending on the strength of your modem's signal. As long as the signal is strong enough not to cause actual break-up and data loss, the picture quality remains unaffected.

By no doubt HD is so much better but are we getting fooled by service providers reducing the picture quauily to thinking we need HD.
There are quite a lot of contradicting conspiracy theories flying around. This particular argument conflicts with many people's claims that BBC HD's quality on Freesat/Freeview has been lowered to the point where it practically looks like SD.

BikeNutt said...

I watched 2 recorded programmes last night. Leverage (Bravo) and Lost (Sky1).

I've always considered Bravo to be a backwater channel but Leverage looked amazing for an SD broadcast. Little, if any, artefacting and a VERY sharp picture.

Lost is known to look very good in HD so should hold it's own when broadcast on a quality SD channel. The picture, as with anything on Sky1, was soft as mush.

Both are brand new shows.

I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions...

Erich said...

Sky 1 is 544x576, Bravo is 720x576.

I don't know that this aids the conspiracy argument, though, as the Sky Sports channels are 704x576.

BikeNutt said...

That'll be it then.

Interesting that Sky choose to broadcast Sky1 at a less-than-optimum resolution for the SD variant!

Erich said...

544 is actually a very common resolution. In fact, I'd almost guess that the majority of the non-terrestrial SD channels use this resolution. FX, Eurosport, Discovery, all the music channels, Film4, Cartoon Network, Disney, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, Eurosport, etc, etc, all use it. Even the PPV events like wrestling and boxing, as I recall.

CNN, Bravo 2 and Virgin +1 use the next step down of 528, I think it is.

Big Red said...

Erich
How about these findings and I urge anyone to try.

As all sports fans know kys Soccer Saterday or Soccer Special is viewable on both Sky Sports 1 and Sky Sports News.

On tonights viewing I flicked between both SS1 and SSN and SSN had the better picture than the Standard SS1.

The same programe viewed live.

ignoring the pictire movement and vidipronter the main surronding areas that take most of the screen were so much clear, you could seen clear lines and the writing and numbers were clearer.

Its simple standing viewing has not being this bad and its not just a case of us getting used to HD, i watch alot of BBC, Comdey Central and the pictire quailty is very good.

Even on the BBC v BBC HD with same programme its hard to tell apart but maybe that down to the whole BBC HD issue.

Maybe a BBC Watchdog investigation, there must be someway to prove that SD viewing quailty has got worse to enable Sky to sell a product they charge £10 for.

This is off the main subject but I do hope Virgin broker a deal with Sky to get HD package.

Erich said...

ignoring the pictire movement and vidipronter the main surronding areas that take most of the screen were so much clear, you could seen clear lines and the writing and numbers were clearer.
I didn't watch it myself, but I assume the SSN broadcast had the mostly static frame around the action? Due to all this surrounding area with very little movement, far more of the available bitrate woulld be dedicated to the small "live" window, which would certainly help the picture quality.

Another thing to consider is that SSN is 4:3, SS1 is 16:9, and depending on your exact settings, there's usually an extra level of blurring introduced by the anamorphic stretch, which wouldn't happen to the 4:3 version, so it's not really helpful to compare 4:3 and 16:9, though I'd be interested in having a look myself. Do you happen to know when the next dual broadcast is on?

Maybe a BBC Watchdog investigation, there must be someway to prove that SD viewing quailty has got worse to enable Sky to sell a product they charge £10 for.
Even if that were the case, and it's a very big "if", it would be nearly impossible to prove, unless you could get a Sky insider to admit to it. And Sky's channels aren't exactly bottom of the pile, when it comes to quality. Sky Sports' resolution is higher than Eurosport's and the same as ESPN.

Square eyes said...

Hey Big Red,

you won't win the argument with Erich. Erich is so wound up with Sky, I believe he may work for them in some way, but due to his location (having to chop down a small forest to be able to get Sky) Erich can only get VM.

No matter what you say he will not admit that he could be wrong and you may be right.

He will now rebuke these comments with some of his own diatribe to prove his point, but having read his previous comments, it would be a miracle to be proved wrong.

Big Red you are right, VM do make a loss on the Sports/Movie packages, however Sky will have to circum to the rulings made by Ofcom. By the end of 2010 there will be no difference in the services provided by Sky or VM except 3D TV, and to be quite honest I don’t fancy sitting with 3D glasses on to watch TV, neither do I fancy spending another few thousand pounds on a 3D TV.

Nialli said...

I enjoy the Erich posts here as they always seem to provoke discussion :)
I have long had a theory that Sky deliberately lowered the PQ on the SD version of the movie channels to artificially promote the benefits of the HD versions and I stick by that. If you compare the PQ of a movie on Film4 with the same movie on one of the SD Sky movie channels the latter looks over-saturated and blurry. I'm surprised the likes of Watchdog or some other consumer body haven't picked up on this.
I have to say that the PQ on Sky1 recently has looked good to me, but then I've only got a 32in 720p TV.

Erich said...

SQUARE EYES SAYZ:
you won't win the argument with Erich.

That's true. :)

But seriously, I don't really think Big Red and I were having much of an argument. I just tried to explain why there may have been a perceived difference in PQ between SSN and SS1. I didn't say he was wrong.

Erich is so wound up with Sky, I believe he may work for them in some way,
Heh, get a grip, man. Is this the first time someone has disagreed with you on the internet? :P

The reality is that Virgin declared themselves unable to compete with Sky on premium sports and movies just a few years ago, and the situation has not changed, though VM have finally realized the importance of HD to their customers. As for my supposed bias, I absolutely guarantee you that, if VM get Sky's HD channels, I would happily declare their overall service superior. I've already said their combination of broadband, telephone and TV is superior to Sky's comparable offering, but if you focus purely on TV, which the discussion was about, VM currently falls short. The combination of VOD and premium HD movies and sports would give VM a clear edge, though.

He will now rebuke these comments with some of his own diatribe to prove his point
On that note, I believe you and I have an outstanding issue. A few days ago, you made some claims about the popularity of VM basic channels like Bravo over Sky's, but when I checked the ratings, or "facts", as they're also called, Sky 1 seems to be getting far more viewers than Bravo, so I'm still curious what your claim was based on?

NIALLI SAYZ

I enjoy the Erich posts here as they always seem to provoke discussion :)

Thanks, and I think you should be commended for running a blog essentially promoting VM's service, but still having a realistic perspective on the quality of their offerings.

I have long had a theory that Sky deliberately lowered the PQ on the SD version of the movie channels to artificially promote the benefits of the HD versions and I stick by that. If you compare the PQ of a movie on Film4 with the same movie on one of the SD Sky movie channels the latter looks over-saturated and blurry.
Film4 is 704x576, Sky's movie channels are 544x576.

As for a supposed sudden drop in quality, I've looked into this, and it turns out that, prior to the big Sky Basic Channels Debacle of 2007(official historical title), VM received a raw, uncompressed feed of Sky's movie channels, which they encoded themselves to 720x576. This means that VM's version of the movie channels had a higher resolution than Sky's own versions, where the channels had always been 544x576. This is the exact same version that's now broadcast by VM. To the best of my knowledge, the resolution has never changed on Sky's own platform, though, and as I said, 544x576 is a very common resolution on sat.

It is possible that, when launching their digital service, Sky had just planned ahead and initially decided to use 544x576, because they knew they eventually wanted to promote HD versions of the channels at a £10 premium, but there's never been a drop in resolution, except on cable. And as I said, the conspiracy theory is an "if" that's nearly impossible to prove. And considering that Sky's sports channels are 704x576, there appears to be an odd lack of consistency in their cunning plan. And why not go all-out and only broadcast the SD channels with standard stereo and leave the 5.1 AC3 track to the HD version? That would give them another excellent selling point, if that's what they were after.

I have to say that the PQ on Sky1 recently has looked good to me, but then I've only got a 32in 720p TV.
I generally think that SD channels look better on 720 sets, as the screens tend to be smaller, and the resolution is closer to the source material, so less resizing is required.

Erich said...

While I'm waiting for Square Eyez to post some evidence for his still unsubstantiated claim about the popularity of Bravo, I can tell you that I just checked out Gillette Soccer Special on Sky Sports 1 and Sky Sports News. They were actually essentially the same 4:3 broadcast with the same frame around it, so a direct comparison was possible. I was literally inches away from the set, and there was absolutely no difference in quality whatsoever.

Big Red said...

Erich

Hey no arguments here, alls good with me.

Its all about finding out if SD viewing has got worse now Sky are throwing HD boxes from 30,000 ft.

I'm new to VM only because I have a mate who works for them so I get a very good deal but I have to agree with you the 50mb broadband/any broadband package and telephone services are light years ahead of the likes of Sky and BT - BT are going to have to spend millions if not billions to create the infrastructure for future broadband.

Virgin have already spent well NTL/Telewest have and they are not just stopping at 50mb and waiting for the likes of Sky and BT to catch up, there talking 200mb - Japen/China already have 100mb plus and thats standard is most households out there.

No doubt the goverment will bail BT out if they are really want every household in the UK to have atleast 2mb broadband.

In terms of TV, Sky can spend all the money in the world on 3D services (no doubt they will charge another £10 for that), how many years had it taken to get HD rolled out within the UK ? (5+)and still we have only what 40+ HD channels out of say 200+ channels.

3D - its just like another HD, we have the first 5 years with 3D Ready, then we have FULL 3D and then another 5 years we might even have full 3D with no Glasses.

So what say 10-15 years until 3D services are at the same level of the current HD 40 channels.

If I was VM i would be spending money on what there best at Broadband and telephone andmaybe this is VM's chance while Sky are playing about with 3D to start talking deals with more HD content, go direct like they are trying with UK Gold/ Good Food (ok not the best channels) but why not try to offer more HD content.

Its only a matter of time before Sky sell HD services to VM at a fair wholesale price - Market rules will make them.

VM state quite produaly they have 10m plus customers - thats going to be around 6-7m Broadband/Telephone customers with no TV. and around 3-4 TV accounts.

Its quite clear VM have a huge customer base so why not offer a TV services will all the HD content until our heart bleeds, then it will be Sky complaining to Ofcom about VM stronge market position.

I have nothing against Sky as there HD content is the best but it comes at a high price, £10 on top of a very high premium price.

Anyone watched the ITV coverage of Chelsea v Inter, and the FA highlights on SD viewing - so so poor qlty - I done care who you are it was not that bad last year and I watched alot of champs league games on ITV SD - before anyone asks no I'm not a Chelsea fan just a football fan.

I agree its going to be hard to prove or get anyone to come out and state this but I think its quite clear to see SD viewing has got worse.

Erich said...

Its all about finding out if SD viewing has got worse now Sky are throwing HD boxes from 30,000 ft.
It's always worth keeping the broadcasters' feet to the fire when it comes to quality issues, but I can't really see a significant degradation of Sky's SD service, except on VM, where they went from their own higher quality encodes to a direct copy of the sat version.

3D - its just like another HD, we have the first 5 years with 3D Ready, then we have FULL 3D and then another 5 years we might even have full 3D with no Glasses.
I'm not sure about the exact timescale of 3D's uptake, but Sky deserves some serious credit for continuing to push the evolution of British television. I'm quite sure we would still be watching b/w, mono broadcasts if it were up to the likes of NTL/VM/TW and their many other incarnations.

I have nothing against Sky as there HD content is the best but it comes at a high price, £10 on top of a very high premium price.
Yes, it doesn't come cheap, but I think it's a question of finding the right balance between what consumers are prepared to pay, and what Sky needs to be able to continue to invest in new technology and content.

I agree its going to be hard to prove or get anyone to come out and state this but I think its quite clear to see SD viewing has got worse.
I think we need better evidence than subjective assessments based purely on memory, before we can draw any conclusions like that.

Big Red said...

SKY HD Content VM HD Content
BBC HD BBC HD
4HD 4HD
ESPN HD ESPN HD
Nat Geo HD Nat Geo HD
MTVN HD MTVNHD
FX HD FX HD
Eurosport HD Eurosport HD
Discovery HD Discovery HD
LIVING HD

What's Stopping VM offering these HD services? - these are not Sky owned.

Bio HD
SCI FI HD
E4 HD
Luxe TV HD
MGM HD
Rush HD
Nat Geo Wild HD
History Channel HD
CI HD
Disney Cine HD

Would this be part of the Sky wholesale deal?

Sky One HD
Sky Arts 1 HD
Sky Arts 2 HD
Sky Real Lives HD
Sky Premier HD
Sky Screen 1 HD
Sky Screen 2 HD
Sky Comedy HD
Sky Action HD
Sky Family HD
Sky Drama HD
Sky SciFi/Horror HD
Sky Modern Greats HD
Sky Indie HD
Sky Sports HD 1
Sky Sports HD 2
Sky Sports HD 3
Sky Box Office Hd1
Sky Box Office Hd1

ITV HD ??? - When

Big Red said...

3D - but Sky deserves some serious credit for continuing to push the evolution of British television.

come on are we really saying its time for 3D - sky are just getting ahead of the game not just UK but global so they can then charge the customers.

If you include both Sky. VM and FreeSat we have 39 HD channels - with not all HD channels showing HD content - simple test on your HD Sky box selex option were it highlights all HD programmes in red.

Were paying for HD channels that we dont get full HD content.

Would it not be best if we the consumers had full HD services i.e. HD becoming the standard viewing.

I do understand that HD filming/recording and live events is costly but come can we really see TV markers dropping it and spend shed loads on 3D which is still in its early stage.

Sky and VM are struggling to get huge TV programmers to convert to HD, so why waste money of 3D.

Yes its one for future but come on offer HD services first.

Erich said...

For all the non-Sky channels you mentioned, it's simply a question of VM getting their asses in gear and negotiating carriage deals. I'm sure more or less all of the channels you mention are on the list of the 20-30 HD channels VM claimed/hoped to be able to offer by June.