July 30, 2010

More on TiVo and Virgin Media

Virgin Media’s TV and online executive director Alex Green has given an interesting interview to paidContent:UK in which he talks about the arrival of TiVo on Virgin Media
“We see this very much as part of our multi-screen strategy - TiVo is at the centre of that. The way we are creating TiVo is replicated in this service - there’s a real focus on content discovery - you can search, browse, get recommendations and make playlists - helping you discover content you know you like or didn’t know you liked.
“It very much complements TiVo - that will be about bringing new content sources from the web to the TiVo.”
Green wouldn’t comment on from which web sources Virgin’s TiVo box will offer content, but he referred to “apps” as much as video and likened it to the TiVo Premiere service in the U.S., which includes YouTube, Time magazine, CNET, Twitter, Netflix and Blockbuster rentals, RSS, podcasts, a range of photo sharing and music access services plus side-loading of recordings and more.
“What TiVo does allow is a whole world of combining over-the-top delivered content with our core TV service. That can be a whole range of apps as well as pure video. TiVo Premiere opens up that whole new world from the web to TV.”
It’s the first time TiVo has operated in the UK since 2003, when it abandoned the Thomson PVR10UK box it built with with Thomson Multimedia and BSkyB. It gives Virgin Media exclusive UK rights to use the TiVo brand and technology.

July 29, 2010

Sky signs exclusive HBO deal

Ever wondered what programmes Sky was going to put on all of those VMTV channels it has just bought? Wonder no more - according to The Guardian Sky has signed a massive deal securing it the entire HBO catalogue, old and new:
The satellite TV company has signed a content deal with HBO, the US channel that revolutionised the television market by launching a pay-TV service that screens big-budget dramas. The Sky deal, expected to be announced this morning, will give Sky access to HBO's archive and all forthcoming shows over the lifetime of the agreement. It is believed to be worth around £150m over five years.
It's a biggie, and means that the likes of True Blood and Treme will be Sky exclusives in years to come. Living may get Sex in the City repeats, Bravo The Sopranos and The Wire, whilst new series such as Boardwalk Empire are likely to debut on Sky Movies Premier (like The Pacific did last Easter).
It's an interesting deal, not just because it steals content from other commercial broadcasters (once their current deals run out) but because it signals an attempt by Sky to secure some of the highest quality programming around, something it has long been criticised for not attempting. These series aren't huge audience pullers and HBO's track record of late has been somewhat mixed - True Blood aside, there's been nothing new that has really caught light with US audiences - so it's a prestige acquisition more likely to booster perception rather than audiences.

July 28, 2010

Sky 3D launches on October 1st - chemists stock up on Nurofen

Having finally recovered from the 3D "experience" of (the otherwise excellent) Toy Story 3 - blurry vision for a good ten minutes after removing the glasses and a cracker of a headache later on - I plan to steer well clear of this particular innovation.
According to The Telegraph Jeremy Darroch, Sky’s chief executive, said: “As with High Definition, 3D is set to transform the way TV is enjoyed in homes nationwide. Following hot on the heels of the success of 3D cinema, Sky customers will now be the first anywhere in Europe to experience 3D TV from the comfort of their living rooms. They can look forward to a fantastic mix of live sport, blockbuster movies, and innovative entertainment and arts shows.”
I think not. 

Virgin Media Q2 2010 Results

Virgin Media Inc. announces results for the quarter ended June 30, 20101.

Financial performance driven by strong revenue growth in all segments
* Total revenue up 7.1% to £964m; strongest revenue growth since merger over four years ago
* Revenue growth in all areas, including improved performance in both Mobile and Business
* Third successive quarter of double-digit percentage OCF2 growth, up 12.9% to £370m
* Operating income increased to £80m from £9m

Strong operational performance driven by ARPU and best Q2 customer net adds since merger
* Cable ARPU, up 4.9% to a record £45.88
* 9,100 total new customers in traditionally the weakest quarter for growth, compared to 27,800 customer loss a year ago
* Cable gross additions of 188,600, up 18.2%
* 120,800 product net additions, up 26.2%; HD customers up 79.7% to 1.2m
* Churn remains flat at 1.3%; triple-play penetration increased to 62.4% and quad-play penetration increased to 11.3%, reflecting continued success with our bundling strategy

Bringing "Digital Entertainment" into homes

"We grew our digital TV base by 25,900 in the quarter to over 3.7m customers. These viewers continue to enjoy our market-leading video-on-demand (VOD) service with well over half of them using and watching VOD as part of their everyday lives.

"We are also continuing to aggressively expand our High Definition (HD) offering. A year ago, we carried one HD channel, but this will increase to a total of 26 channels in the next few weeks. We have announced the August launch for Sky Sports 1 and 2 HD and ten Sky Movies HD channels and we expect to continue to increase the number of HD channels. As a result, our HD base is growing rapidly and we added a record 259,000 customers in the quarter to reach an installed base of 1.2m.

"Through our agreements with BSkyB, we have also secured long-term carriage of the Sky Basic channels and the former VMtv channels, along with access to interactive red button sports coverage and the opportunity to deliver selected Sky standard definition programming over the internet.

"We continue to work with TiVo to develop and launch a new converged TV and broadband interactive platform in the fourth quarter."

July 27, 2010

Virgin broadband speeds

I don't normally post on VM's broadband offering, but anyone seriously considering Sky or BT for their triple play bundle should check out this BBC article on ISPs failing to deliver on broadband speeds.

Dear Five HD...

...there's no point in having a brand spanking new HD channel if you don't show your better films in widescreen, let alone in high defintion. Ronin was on last night but only in SD and 4:3. Bloody hell...amateurs.

July 26, 2010

BBC HD out of sync?

Anyone else finding HD channels on Virgin out of sync? I noticed that The One Show last week seemed to be notably out of sync and Dennis reports that Top Gear had problems last night. Pre-recorded stuff (eg. the movie The Damned United) appears to be okay but the studio stuff seems out. Anyone else noticed this? Anyone seen it on other HD channels?
UPDATE: just checked my recordings of Sherlock and Top Gear from BBC HD last night: neither look on the button to me. Watching the VM iPlayer versions though (both in HD) and they seem okay. Something wrong with the BBC HD live feed at Virgin Media maybe?

Clash of the Titans

Here's an odd one: Virgin have done a deal with Warner Bros to make this year's Clash of the Titans remake available through on demand before the DVD and Blu Ray discs are in the shops, but you have to pay a premium price for it and you get the DVD as part of the deal:
Virgin Media’s TV customers will be able to watch Clash of the Titans at home three days before the film is released on DVD. The blockbuster movie will be available via Virgin Media’s Movies on Demand service for £14.95. Customers will be able to watch the movie as many times as they’d like over a 48 hour period before receiving a DVD copy just a few days later.
Not sure if there will be many takers for this, but it's an interesting approach. Is anyone that keen on seeing the film that they would pay £14.95 to get it three days early? Amazon.co.uk is listing the film at £9.99 for the DVD and only £15.93 for a triple pack that contains the DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital copy, so Virgin's pricing looks way of the mark. And the Virgin offer ain't for an HD version - the on demand film is only SD.
As an idea it has potential, but this particular execution leaves something to be desired.
(Oh, and the film's pretty average if you haven't already seen it.)

July 23, 2010

Off topic: VMHD landmark

As of this week, this blog's passed 1m pages served since it launched in November 2007. Traffic peaked this week at 5,000 visits on Tuesday and we've had a 250k unique visitors since launch. Thanks, y'all!

July 21, 2010

Sky HD channel numbers

Premiere 431
Showcase 433
Comedy 434
Action 435
Family 436
Thriller 437
Drama & Romance 438
Sci-Fi & Horror 439
Modern Greats 440
Indie 442
(presumably 432 is for Premiere +1 and 441 will be Classics if they launch)
Sky Sports 1 517
Sky Sports 2 518

July 20, 2010

VIP package changes in the pipeline?

For those VIPs feeling a little less "important", an interesting post from our mate Big Red over on Cable Forum: VIP/VIP+ New and Improved VIP Package

Sky HD channels confirmed (official)

Official press release:
Virgin Media today announced the addition of Sky Sports HD1 and Sky Sports HD2 for the very first time to its rapidly growing line-up of HD channels, bringing its customers the best of sport in crystal clear high definition. Featuring Premier League Football, Cricket and Rugby Union amongst a wide range of other popular sports, Sky Sports HD1 and HD2 will join ESPN HD, EuroSport HD, BBC HD and ITV1 HD giving Virgin Media customers a diverse and compelling range of HD sports to enjoy.

The new Sky Sports HD channels will be available from August 2nd and will cost just £7 per month on any TV package when subscribing to Sky Sports in standard definition. The optional HD subscription covers all available HD versions of subscribed Sky Premiums including Sky Sports HD1 and HD2 and ten Sky Movies HD channels, though high definition versions of standard channels (such as BBC, ITV1, FX, Eurosport and SyFy) remain free of additional subscription costs, giving customers a simple upgrade path to take advantage of HD content as they choose.
The addition of Sky Sports HD1 and HD2 follows Virgin Media’s deal with Sky to bring its customers a wide range of new HD channels and Red Button interactive services*. The deal also adds Sky 1HD, Sky Arts HD** and Sky Movies HD channels for the very first time, which will take the total number of HD channels on Virgin Media to 30.
Cindy Rose, executive director of digital entertainment said: “As the new home of HD telly, we’re delighted to bring our customers Sky Sports in HD at incredibly competitive rates. With the rapid growth of HD content, customers are demanding more and more from their TV service, and with our growing range of HD channels and on demand content in HD, Virgin Media is the best place for the whole families’ entertainment needs.”

All Virgin Media’s HD channels are available to all customers with an HD ready TV with either a V HD or V+ HD set top box enabled for HD. * Details of Red Button interactive services from Sky will be announced in due course. ** Timing for Sky 1HD and other Sky Basic channel launches in HD will be confirmed in due course
Basic HD Channels (available for no extra monthly fee)
M:            BBC HD, ITV1 HD, 4 HD, FIVE HD
M+:         add Film 4HD
XL:          add ESPN HD, FX HD, MTV Networks HD, National Geographic HD
LIVING HD, E4 HD, SyFy HD, Discovery HD, Eurosport HD
And coming soon: Sky 1HD, Sky Arts HD and more
Premium HD Channels (subscription-based, with optional £7 HD fee):
Available in HD within £7 HD Sub
Sky Sports 1
Sky Sports 2
Sky Sports 1,2,3 & 4
YES (SS1 & SS2 only)
Sky Movies Comedy
Sky Movies Modern Greats
Sky Movies Drama & Romance
Sky Movies Family
Sky Movies Classics
Sky Movies Comedy
Sky Movies Action & Adventure
Sky Movies Crime & Thriller
Sky Movies Sci-Fi & Horror
Sky Movies Indie
Includes Movies Pack 1 & 2 plus:
Sky Movies Premiere
Sky Movies Showcase
Sky Movies Premiere +1
Disney Cinemagic
All channels listed above
YES (except exclusions above)
How we compare
Basic TV &
HD Sports
Virgin Media
Basic TV
£18.00 (£19.00 from September)
Phone Line Rental
Sky Sports Pack
(SS 1,2,3,4)
£18.00 (£20.00 from September)
HD Subscription
(Covers Sky Premium HD)
£10.00 (HD Pack)
Catch Up TV
BBC iPlayer, ITV Net Player, 4OD, Virgin 1 Player (in HD where available)
Set Top Box Costs
V HD - Free
Sky+ HD - Free
Contract length
12 months
12 months
Monthly cost
£57.00 (£60.00 from September)
Total Annual cost
Family TV &
HD Sports
Virgin Media
Top TV
£23.00 (£24.00 from September)
Phone Line Rental
Sky Sports Pack
(SS 1,2,3,4)
£18.00 (£20.00 from September)
£9 when taken with Sky Sports
HD Subscription
(Covers all Sky premium HD)
£10.00 (HD Pack)
Catch Up TV
BBC iPlayer, ITV Net Player, 4OD, Virgin 1 Player (in HD where available)
Set Top Box Costs
V HD - Free
Sky+ HD - Free
Contract length
12 months
12 months
Monthly cost
£71.00 (£74.00 from September)
Total Annual cost
Prices correct at time of press, and based on stated online pricing in effect on August 1st, excluding introductory period discounts. All prices assume paying by direct debit and opting for paper-free billing. With Sky, you can add UK evening and weekend calls and up to 20Mb broadband with 2 GB usage (depending on location) to your package for no extra charge. For Unlimited Sky Broadband, add £7.50. Virgin Media prices include unlimited UK weekend calls. For Virgin Media unlimited UK evening and weekend calls add £3.45 a month. Virgin Media broadband packages start at £12.50 a month for up to 10Mb. The average performance of Virgin Media’s up to 10Mb service is comparable to ADSL2+ services at up to 16Mb and more. UK calls = numbers starting 01, 02 and 03.

July 18, 2010

From the folk behind The Wire: Generation Kill

After the awesome series The Wire, David Simon & co tackled the plight of Marines fighting in Iraq in a seven part series Generation Kill.  Starting on Wednesday 21st at 11pm in high def on FX HD.
UPDATE: GK episode one wasn't shown in HD after all. PQ was better on the FX HD channel but wasn't high def.

Five HD - Superman II

There's been precious little actual HD on our latest arrival, but my daughter has just stumbled upon the second of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies on it this afternoon. Great picture, but boy do those "special" effects look ropey in high def! Stil, Sarah Douglas, a teenage crush of mine, looked mighty fine. A shame she's only really done animation voice work and the odd TV drama since.
Finding Nemo is also showing this afternoon on Five. However, be warned that in the normally reliable Radio Times it doesn't say it's showing in HD - it is (and looks fab).
If Five on channel 150 doesn't have an "HD" top right, it's only showing upscaled versions of movies. Alternatively, check the information box in the EPG for the [HD] tag.

July 17, 2010

Big Red says....

Update from Big Red:
19th July - from this date you can add the Sky HD Prem Channels to your account.
2nd August - Go live date for these channels.

Price - £7 per HD Box (Optional i.e. if you have two HD boxes you do not have to take it out on both)
XL TV/VIP customers - Bad news it seems VM have changed there mind or there is no clear policy in place within VM on price - it seems XL/VIP customers will have to pay the £7.
I'm trying to get a clear answer on this but I guess Monday will be the official statement.
Sorry for any misleading I was 100% sure along with my insider these will be free to XL/VIP customers.

July 16, 2010

First week on Film4 HD

It finally arrives on Tuesday, July 20th and, for those who aren't planning to invest in Sky's HD movie channels, Film4 HD is the place to be for cinematic visual splendour on Virgin Media. Here are some of the highlights to look forward to in the new channel's first week or so:
Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby at 10.45pm
Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ at 9pm, followed by Scorsese's Gangs of New York starring DiCaprio and Daniel Day Lewis at 11.20pm
The Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line at 9pm.
Brad Pitt in David Fincher's Fight Club at 11pm
Not a great night: Timothy Olyphant, so excellent in Justified, can't rescue Hitman from mediocrity. 9pm
Bride & Prejudice at 6.45pm, but the main event is the original Die Hard at 9pm
Not the one about aliens hovering over Jo'burg, but a fine film nevertheless: District 13 at 9pm
The 9pm movie is JJ Abrams' Mission Impossible III, and at 11pm there's the excellent Sideways
At 10.50pm Danny Boyle's superior homegrown zombie feast 28 Days Later.
It's not a bad lineup and there's pretty much something worth watching most nights. Daytime tends to be the older films thanks to OFCOM insisting everything has to be family friendly before 9pm unless PIN protected, but there are a few classics tucked in there too (Sunset Boulevard, The Four Feathers, even Carry on Dick is in high def!).
Welcome to Virgin, Film4 HD - great to have ya.

July 14, 2010

Did I miss something?

Am I missing something? Virgin Media customers are going to be paying less than Sky customers for Sky HD Sports 1 & 2 and all the Sky Movies channels, and have ESPN HD and Film4 HD and a dozen other HD channels for nowt (the ones worth having) and folk on Cable Forum are still sounding off and crying foul??
If you don't want to pay, don't. Simples. I could understand the outrage if all VM customers were going to be charged an extra £7 a month regardless of whether they want the premium HD channels or not, but that's not the case. At least we're getting the choice now.
Nothing's officially been announced. No matter how reliable sources are (and two of the best, Square Eyes and Big Red, are not hearing the same things) we still don't know exactly what's coming, so let's just see what's announced in the next few days.

July 13, 2010

Square Eyes says...

"It's official - 2nd August - more details to follow over cost of the premium HD channels. HD Premium cost - £7 per box"
Cheers mate!

Five HD launches on Virgin Media, channel 150

Virgin Media today announced that Five’s new high definition channel, Five HD, has launched on its line-up today (Tuesday, July 13th). Five HD is available to Virgin Media’s 3.7 million TV subscribers for no extra monthly fee.
The only HD programming though that I can see today is Neighbours and Home and Away. According to the listings tonight's CSI: Miami and CSI:NY are only in standard def. 
Five has also added to +1 SD channels, so the channels have been renumbered to accommodate as
150 Five HD
151 Fiver
152 Fiver +1
153 Five USA
154 Five USA +1

July 09, 2010

Sky Sports HD update - no 3,4 or News in HD

Anyone doubting the iminent arrival of Sky Sports HD on Virgin Media should check out this page from Sky.com: Why Sky Sports with Sky? This confirms that we're getting Sports 1 and 2 in HD, but not 3, 4 or Sports News. It also suggest we won't get some Red Button services until next year, but it isn't clear if others will be available this year.
Typical though - we learn more from Sky than we get from VM

July 07, 2010

Film4 HD starting July 20th on channel 429 [updated]

Update: or is it?According to this information on the Film4 web site it will be on channel 429 and is available "now". Either they're a few weeks' early or it really is launching tomorrow!
Another update: they've edited the Film4 HD trailer: it now says channel 429. Still July 20th though.

July 06, 2010

Sky Sports and Sky Movies HD update?

Interesting rumours on the Cable Forum 'Coming Soon' thread with Media Boy and Big Red both posting that they're hearing that "For anyone who has XL TV will have all new HD channels at no extra cost (excl sports and movies - you only need to subscribe to these channels to get SS HD and SM HD no matter what size TV package your on)"
I think if that's the case Sky will drop the £10 a month sub to coincide with VM's Sky HD launch - I heard a while back that it would most likely end after the World Cup and in time for the new football season in August.

July 05, 2010

The VMHD Blog

Summer 2010 may not just be a landmark for Virgin HD services, but it also should see the one millionth page served on this blog. Pretty amazing. Since I launched VMHD in November 2007 there have been 936,837 pages viewed by some 236,323 unique visitors, and with around 2,500 pages served a day, we should make the big 1m by the end of August, maybe even earlier. Currently traffic is growing around 15% every month. I was going to quietly retire when we got the Sky HD channels, but I guess I will keep it going a little longer as it seems as popular as ever.
Thanks everyone - I really appreciate you popping by.

Sky Sports HD the most keenly anticipated HD service

The quick poll I ran on which new HD service are you most excited about has had a pretty amazing response: 868 of this blog's visitors* responded. Many thanks for ticking the box, guys.
Without doubt, it's Sky Sports HD that most are looking forward to, with over 50% voting for the imminent premium sports channels. Whether we get Sky Sport 3 and 4 is still subject to speculation (OFCOM only required Sky Sports 1 and 2 to be made available) but it is clear that sport is hugely attractive to the pay TV audience.
Sky Movies HD proved the next most popular (14%), then Sky1 (13%) and Film4 (11%). The latter launches this Thursday btw.
Less popular but probably because it is not coming until the autumn is the BBC1 high def simulcast, whilst bringing up the rear is Five HD, a channel we may or may not get in the next few weeks.
For me it is Sky Movies and Film4 HD that I am keenest to see, althought they will be recorded sparingly thanks to the limited storage capacity on my V+. Sky Sports HD will be fab as I've now got used to my football in HD (great coverage of the World Cup has spoiled me) and I tend not to record sport, just watch it live. Sky1 HD will be welcome too in the Nialli household; Fringe and Caprica in particular.
Exciting times. I have heard that we will get some definite news in the next couple of weeks, especially after that BT cut-price Sky Sports announcement has grabbed the headlines. Stay tuned...

* If anyone is interested, this blog is attracting over 50,000 visits a month and visitors have doubled in the last year.

July 01, 2010

The Tour de France arrives on Eurosport HD

It's a channel I've never watched before, but come Saturday Eurosport HD premiers cycling's biggie with the Tour de France in high def on Virgin for the first time. So, if pumping sweaty thighs and tight lycra outfits is your kinda thing, tune to channel 522. (Or get some help quick...it's not natural...)

Sky Sports price hike, OFCOM outsmarted?

Hmmm. Just when you thought that Sky was finally having to fall in line with some OFCOM regulation, they outmanoeuvre the regulator again.
BT today announced pricing for Sky Sports 1 and 2 that is actually cheaper than Sky's own pricing, but they are selling it at a considerable loss after Sky increased the cost of the channels to its own customers (and therefore the wholesale rate it charges BT). It's complex, but here's how The Guardian explains it:

Sky is increasing the retail price of Sky Sports 1 and Sky Sports 2 by £3. Under the complicated wholesale pricing mechanism set out in Ofcom's ruling, this means that the wholesale price of Sky Sports 1 increases from £10.63 a month to £13.42, Sky Sports 2 rises from £10.63 to £13.34 and both channels together rise from £17.14 to £19.07 per month.
For Sky's retail customers, meanwhile, it means that from 1 September the cost of a basic subscription plus Sky Sports 1 or 2 will increase from £26 a month to £29 a month. The cost of a basic subscription plus all its sports channels will increase from £35 to £38 and the cost of all its sports plus its six entertainment bundles will rise from £41 to £44 per month. The cost of its top-end package – including movies – will increase from £48.50 to £51.50.
Sky justifies the hike by saying that the increase is to cover the cost of the extra package of Premiership matches it secured from Setanta/ESPN for next season, but that hardly seems fair and to me it seems a deliberate ploy to undermine the launch of BT's offering: the more customers BT attracts, the more money they lose.
Fortunately for us Virgin Media is understood to be unaffected as it has already signed a separate deal with Sky. Phew.

Five HD testing on Virgin Media

According to this screen grab, Five HD is being tested. That's not to say it is definitely on its way yet, but with Media Boy reporting that Virgin are testing a dozen new streams (capacity for up to 20 further HD channels) things seems to be getting ready for the new high def services due in the next month or two.