April 30, 2010

Virgin's first HD ad

Showing during this week's Britain's Got Talent.
BTW, ever wondered why Sky ads are everywhere? Marketing Week reports that BSkyB’s marketing spend is on course to hit £1bn this year!

April 29, 2010

Sky Sports HD Coming to Virgin Media

It's the one we've all been waiting for, now confirmed in MediaGuardian late on Thursday:
Ofcom's ruling also states that HD versions of Sky Sports 1 and 2 must be offered to rivals on "fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms". The deal struck by BSkyB today will allow Virgin Media access to HD channels but BT and Top Up TV will have to apply to the CAT to get HD access as and when their services can launch the higher specification channels.

Sky agrees deal with Virgin for reduced rate Sky Sports

It's complex, but Sky has today agreed a new deal to provide Virgin Media, BT and Top Up TV with discounted wholesale deals for Sky Sports. According to MediaGuardian:

BSkyB has today dropped fight to get the Competition Appeals Tribunal to implement a "stay" to postpone the implementation of Ofcom's ruling that it must cut the amount it charges all rival pay-TV operators to offer Sky Sports by more than 20% [...] Despite today's deal BSkyB intends to mount a case to overturn the Ofcom ruling that it must slash the cost of SkySports 1 and 2. It will present to the C.A.T. in a matter of weeks, but its rivals will be able to take advantage of those new prices while it argues its case.
No word yet though as to what's happening with OFCOM's ruling on the availability of Sky Sports HD (and Sky Movies HD) on non-BSkyB platforms.

Sky Q1 2010

From MediaGuardian:
The popularity of BSkyB's high-definition services has outstripped analysts' expectations with 428,000 households signing up for Sky+ HD in the first quarter, a 76% year-on-year increase, helping average revenue per user to top £500 for the first time.
BSkyB, which today announced that Sky News will launch in HD on 6 May to coincide with election coverage, hit analyst forecasts by adding 62,000 net new customers in the three months to the end of March.

April 28, 2010

Tivo Premiere review

Just found this. Virgin won't be bringing to the UK exactly the same box or service as the Tivo Premiere but it gives you some idea of Tivo's interface. (I've embedded the HD version, so blow it up to full screen when playing)

Berkett: HD is key

From http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/apr/28/virgin-media-sky-sports:
Virgin Media has pledged to launch cheaper TV packages for football fans in time for next season, if the Competition Appeals Tribunal enforces a cut in the amount BSkyB charges rival broadcasters for Sky Sports, but believes that access to HD offers it the biggest potential rewards.
Berkett [said] that while the wholesale price cuts will "definitely benefit customers", for Virgin Media the real long-term financial benefit will be gaining access to high definition versions of Sky Sports channels. Part of Ofcom's ruling states that HD versions of Sky Sports 1 and 2 must be offered to rivals on "fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms".
"The real issue is access to HD, it is more important to us than the economics in sports packages," he said. "Customers will definitely benefit [from pricing cuts to sports packages] but in terms of financial performance this is more important. Now in 2010 us not getting access to HD supply [channels from Sky] is going to start to make a difference.

Virgin Media Q1 2010 Results

Full details: Virgin Media - First Quarter 2010 Results
We grew our digital TV base by 46,600 in the quarter to over 3.7m. We have now switched off our analogue TV signal in all digitally capable areas, freeing up significant spectrum to enhance both our TV and broadband services further. Taking into account this planned decline in analogue TV services, our TV customer net growth was 35,700.
Subscribers are increasingly using our market-leading video-on-demand (VOD) service and 58% of our TV customers now regularly watch VOD. We are developing monetization of this library of thousands of hours of content, working with broadcasters and advertisers to create dynamic pre-, mid- and post-roll adverts. We recently announced a landmark first agreement with two UK media agencies that are part of Aegis Group, one of the world's leading marketing communications companies.
Our VOD services include a substantial amount of high definition (HD) content. We are also continuing to expand our HD offering, where we now offer 12 HD channels and expect to add even more in the coming months. We have also launched our new HD ready standard set-top box, the V HD Box, which is available for no additional monthly subscription fee, ensuring our customers do not need to pay extra per month for access to HD channels. Our V+ HD DVR subscriber base continues to grow and we added 77,900 subscribers in the quarter to reach an installed base of 939,900, which represents a penetration level of 25%.
We also continue to work with TiVo to develop a new converged TV and broadband interactive platform which will be unveiled later this year.
Coverage from Media Guardian: Virgin Media beats expectations with 38,000 new households

April 27, 2010

Sky appeal delayed 24 hours

LONDON (Dow Jones)--The hearing before the Competition Appeal Tribunal on British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC's appeal to delay Ofcom's recent ruling that it must wholesale its premium sport content to rivals and provide a new pricing structure by May 14 was Tuesday unexpectedly adjourned until Wednesday afternoon.

April 26, 2010

Virgin Media Online Movies announced

Virgin is taking the FilmFlex on demand movie service to a PC near you with the launch of Virgin Media Online Movies :

"Film fans will be able to stream their choice of film, ready to watch when they want, directly to laptops, PCs and onto TVs. All rentals will offer unlimited views for 48 hours so viewers can pause, rewind and watch again. Plus the film can be watched wherever the account holder logs on – at work, or at home...

"Virgin Media Online Movies will help visitors discover and enjoy a whole world of film and we’ll continue to develop the service by adding download functionality, even more titles and a great choice of HD films to the line-up.”

No HD at start up though and no word yet as to when HD movies will be launched. Apparently rentals can be accessed up to 30 days from purchase but once you've started watching you only have 48 hours from thereon. (More info on The Register)
Let's hope that when it does arrive that 'great choice of HD films' is extended as is doesn't currently cover many of the big releases from certain studios. Also the rental for the service on PCs is 48 hours - the TV service is currently a measly 24 hours from purchase. The new service incidentally is not limited to Virgin Media customers - online movies will be available to all. Before anyone asks, I'm not sure if it will be available to Mac users but it's Silverlight-based and should be okay.
Incidentally, the VM press release says that "the TV service saw over 11 million films watched on demand in 2009." I had no idea Filmflex was that widely used.

April 24, 2010

Interesting week ahead for Virgin customers

On Monday, there's a ruling due on Sky's immediate appeal against the OFCOM demand for it to drop its prices for Sky Sports and Movies and make the HD versions available at  a reasonable price on all platforms. Sky is asking for a stay of execution whilst they appeal - hopefully the Competition Appeals Tribunal believe in better...
Details here: Sky Launches Appeal Against Pay-TV Ruling
Then on Wednesday we have Virgin's results for the first quarter of 2010, which is often accompanied by announcements of new services. Whilst rumours of Sky1 HD and other high def arrivals are rife on the forums, I've not heard anything to confirm anything is as iminent as the next few days. Besides, with many of us still awaiting NGTV and our four missing HD channels, any more HD channels are probably unlikely until the roll out is complete and everyone can get the new stuff.

April 22, 2010

Tonight's election debate to be broadcast on BBC HD at 11.30pm

For those who think they're missing out by not having it live in HD via satellite, BBC HD will be repeating the Sky HD debate at 11.30 on channel 108 for us.
Not that high def will do any of the three any great favours, methinks.
(Thanks MediaBoy for the tip)

Next Generation TV roll out update

MediaBoy's posted a list of the headends and areas still to be upgraded to Virgin's NGTV platform. Details here: NGTV News
18 headends covering some 58 regions. I think MB's updating the list regularly but it's not got a date on it so I'm not 100% sure. (Once areas are upgraded they get the additional HD channels from Discovery, Syfy, E4 and Eurosport, with the Nagra 3 encryption following as the new Smart Cards are distributed. The rollout should be completed by June.)
And a quick reminder that Virgin's Q1 2010 results are due next Wednesday, so there may be some service additions announced to coincide. Don't y'all get too excited now...

April 21, 2010

Scottish viewers to get HD World Cup 2010 on Virgin

This will make a few regulars on this blog very happy:
As a result of the improved advertising market STV said it would increase investment in HD with a service expected to be available for viewers for Scottish digital terrestrial TV viewers on Freeview and Virgin Media cable TV subscribers in time for the World Cup in June.
Full story on MediaGuardian.

April 18, 2010

Sky HD channels - coming VERY soon to Virgin Media?

Before each quarter's Virgin Media results there's always speculation on the various cable TV forums on what's going to be announced. Q1 2010's numbers are due on April 28th, so how about this little tidbit from Big Red (a frequently reliable source) over on Cable Forum?
Virgin Media TV - no plans for the sale of VM TV or its 50% ownership of UKTV, in fact VM are looking to grow with HD conversion of some of these channels.
Living HD/Sky1 HD - DONE DEAL - a pure swap deal fully expecting some kind of press release in the coming weeks.
Sky HD Pack - VM&Sky have already started to broker a deal for these channels - note these are for Sky's 100% HD channels - Not Joint Ownership HD channels i.e. MGM, Bio etc etc and ?s around the Five HD deal.
The Sky HD pack is expected before the summer

April 16, 2010

BBC HD's Nagler posts...and roasts

Head of BBC HD Danielle Nagler has posted a beginner's guide to HD service over on the BBC TV Blog: How to get the best out of HD TV. Needless to say satellite viewers suffering with substandard HD transmissions are commenting in force as there appears to be little improvement with the great encoder/bitrate quality debacle for non-Virgin viewers.

(Incidentally, has anyone experienced Freeview HD yet? How does it compare with Virgin and Sky? Just interested).

April 14, 2010

HD movies on Virgin this weekend

Friday, April 16th
ITV1 HD, 10.35 Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket

Saturday, April 17th
ITV1 HD, 3.15pm Back to the Future
4HD, 9.35pm Run Fatboy Run
ITV1 HD, 10.30pm our first HD Bond, albeit the dire Die Another Day

The remake of The Prisoner debuts in HD on ITV1 HD on Saturday, too btw

April 13, 2010

Sci Fi HD becomes Syfy HD and premieres V on UK TV

I'm not a big fan of the channel and don't have the HD version yet, but for both SD and HD viewers the big budget remake of V debuts tonight on SyFy HD at 10pm tonight with a double-episode.

NGTV rollout continues apace - more HD channels for more

According to Cable Forum, Virgin's Next Generation TV platform (that gives access to the HD versions of Eurosport, E4, Syfy and Discovery) is continuing its rollout across the country and is now implemented on 35 of Virgin's headends. Discussion thread and latest areas to go live here.

April 11, 2010

Upgrade now or wait?

Another week, another BBC HD recording fail on my SA V+ box. This time Jonathan Creek - it showed okay after recording but when I sat down to watch it last night it had mysteriously "failed". Darn it.
But should I demand a Samsung V+ now, or should I wait until they increase the recording capacity? My V+ disc is now permanently running at around 90% full (even with the occassional failed recordings) so my dilemma is "stick or twist". Does anyone know if there is a disc capacity upgrade imminent? With Sky1 HD still strongly rumoured and the OFCOM dictated Sky premium HD channels 20 hours of HD recording capability just isn't going to be sufficient.

23% of Virgin TV customers now have HD

Found this interesting snippet in an OFCOM report this week on the take up of HD services in the UK:
  • Sky added 482,000 extra subscribers to its HD service, the highest quarterly additions to date. Total HD subscriptions are now almost 2.1 million equivalent to around 21 per cent of its customer base (up from 8.4 per cent in Q4 2008).
  • Virgin’s V+ HD service added 112,700 subscribers to reach 862,000 by the end of 2009, equivalent to 23 per cent of its TV subscriber base (up from 14 per cent in Q4 2008).
So Sky has the bigger number, but in terms of penetration of overall customer base it is Virgin that is actually closer to a quarter of its TV customers having HD services. Of course, the fact that the only PVR from Virgin is an HD device has distorted these numbers somewhat, but with the vastly improved HD line up on Virgin and now the non-PVR HD box shipping, I wouldn't be surprised to see a more rapid take up of HD penetration on cable this year.

April 03, 2010

FilmFlex HD - hunt and you will find

I watched the animation 9 in HD last night, courtesy of Virgin's On Demand FilmFlex service last night. The picture quality was stunning, the picture less so - great to look at but a somewhat confused storyline. Probably a bit too scarey for the under-12s.
Anyway the reason I mention it is because finding the HD version proved to be something of an ordeal. Here what you go through for a FilmFlex HD movie listing on the V+
Home; 3 Movies on Demand; 2 Filmflex - Browse All; (still no mention of HD movies being available at this stage) 6 Movie Type & Genres; 9 High Definition
Five buttons to get to the 30+ HD movies. What's worse, unless you know to persevere there's no mention that HD movies are on FilmFlex until you reach that final screen.
Talking about bad menu design. If Virgin aren't getting many customers buying HD movies on FilmFlex, they only have themselves to blame.

Ashes to Ashes on BBC HD - Revised

Good to see Ashes to Ashes in HD last night. Unfortunately, next Friday's episode won't be simulcast on BBC HD as there's blanket coverage of the US Masters from 9pm, but it will be shown the following Monday at 9pm. Details on Radio Times

Revision: Having watched it properly now, it wasn't that good an example of HD to my eyes. Possibly shot in a grainier definition to be truer to the eighties mood? Compared with the HD dazzle of Doctor Who the following night this looked more like the tame HD of Criminal Justice last year rather than an HD showcase. I don't think I'll be watching the rest of the series on channel 108. Besides, the thought of Gene Hunt in pin-sharp detail is likely to give me nightmares...

April 02, 2010

ITV1 HD - first week highlights

For those in England and Wales there are a few HD morsels in the first week of ITV1 HD on Virgin:
Saturday, 4.20pm Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Wednesday, 7.30pm Manchester United v Bayern Munich
Friday, 8pm Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (and Order of the Phoenix debuts on the Saturday afternoon)
Not a dazzling line up to be truthful, but better than nothing. Saturday also has both FA Cup semi finals in HD. Good news for footie and Harry fans, not so good for soap followers; no HD Corro or Emmerdale yet.
A reminder that Good Friday sees the HD debut of Ashes to Ashes on BBC HD at 9pm and the new Doctor Who lands on Saturday evening in high def. The 4HD films this weekend are The Italian Job (remake), Pan's Labyrinth, One Hour Photo and Eragon. (Four Weddings and a Funeral is also showing on C4, but is not listed as being in HD.) The following weekend's 4HD film line up is pretty poor: Soderberg's Solaris and the animation Valiant.

OFCOM on Sky HD - a bit more bite than first thought?

I didn't have time to have a look at the full OFCOM report when it was first published this week, but digging my way through its 600+ pages on a lazy Good Friday morning I've uncovered a number of promising statements that give me hope we will have the Sky HD sports and movie channels before long. For instance, did you know that:
In March 2009, Virgin Media issued a request for proposals from channel providers wishing to distribute HD content over its cable platform. Sky approached Virgin Media with a proposal to supply a number of its HD channels on a wholesale basis. Sky indicated that due to Virgin Media’s 5/6 channel limit, its proposal focused on the basics and sport HD channel offerings, but Sky also offered to develop “an attractive Sky Movies HD proposal for Virgin Media”.
Nothing came of that, but it's interesting that they were talking about this last year and both sides were up for it. Here are some extracts from the full report for those interested, specific to HD on Virgin. This is a fairly long post but I hope it proves informative to those who want to see more HD channels on Virgin Media. The full report is online: Pay TV Statement. Here we go...
As Sky pointed out ... we [OFCOM] noted that the quality of content was of primary importance in attracting viewers. We said that content was more important than platform features (such as EPGs, DVRs, VoD and HD), which added to convenience or, in the case of HD, to technical quality. We noted that if customers did not want to watch a programme, then the ability to watch it in HD would not change their minds.
In our Third Pay TV Consultation we noted that this view was set out in the context of discussing the importance of premium content, and we continued to see Core Premium content as a key driver of platform choice. However, where the same content was available on two platforms, as Sky’s Core Premium content is on satellite and cable, then the customer’s choice would be determined by other factors, such as the availability of that Core Premium content in HD. In this context, we said, the availability of services such as HD could well make the difference between a customer choosing one platform or another. As such they could be of crucial importance to the competing platform providers.
Sky's own marketing of its HD channels then proves to be its undoing:
Evidence of the importance of HD content
In the course of its response to our Second Consultation, Sky commented that “Such has been the consumer demand for HD that Sky+ HD is the fastest selling additional TV product ever offered by Sky”. Sky has recently promoted this service with the slogan “High Definition. Now it’s for everyone”. A recent Sky marketing pamphlet sent to Virgin Media customers included an illustration comparing the 34 HD channels available from Sky (including Sky’s Core Premium channels) with the seven HD channels available from Virgin Media.
Our 2009 Omnibus Survey indicated that around three in ten Sky HD customers saw HD as crucial. Similarly, three in ten respondents to the survey would not have chosen their pay TV provider (in most cases Sky) if HD services had not been available. Again similarly, two in ten HD customers said they would not consider downgrading to SD even if the price difference went up to £30 a month. These results support the view that a substantial minority of customers see HD as important, and this is likely to mean that having limited HD content would put Virgin Media at a competitive disadvantage.
So Sky can hardly say that HD is not important. Made me smile that!
Negotiations for supply of Sky’s HD Core Premium channels
Sky told us that in March 2009 Virgin Media had sent it a Request for Proposal which stated that Virgin Media was “now keen” to receive proposals from HD content providers. Sky said it had replied, Both Sky and Virgin Media provided us with correspondence relating to negotiations between the Sky and Virgin Media and, earlier, Sky and ntl, which included discussion of HD supply
Discussions between Virgin Media and Sky are ongoing. At the time of publication no agreement has been reached.
In our view, Virgin Media’s 2007 request for wholesale supply of Sky’s HD channels was a genuine opportunity for Sky to make its HD premium channels available to Virgin Media. Sky’s response raised security issues and questioned whether such a deal (either with a wholesale or with a self-retail model) would be worth the endeavour given Virgin Media’s public statements ascribing very little value to HD. However, nothing in the response indicates that it would not have been possible for Sky to take advantage of this opportunity had it wished to do so.
Instead of engaging with this opportunity, Sky’s response raised a series of obstacles to a wholesale agreement taking place, and put the onus firmly on Virgin Media to overcome them.
Moreover, in its written response Sky did not make any concrete proposals, or even suggestions, as to how Virgin Media could address its concerns.
Likewise it is not clear how Virgin Media could have demonstrated to Sky’s satisfaction that sufficient extra revenue would be generated by the proposal, or that Sky would be better off under a wholesale arrangement than a retail arrangement, given the inherent uncertainty of launching a new service.
While Sky’s response left open the possibility of further discussion of these issues, we consider that it also signalled that Sky would be unlikely to take a constructive approach in any such discussions. Sky’s repeated emphasis on a remark made by a Virgin Media executive at a trade conference further indicates its negative view of the proposal.
Negotiations between Sky and Virgin Media since early 2009 appear to have developed considerably from Sky’s position in 2007. However, these have not yet led to agreement, and, as Virgin Media notes, Sky’s security concerns have not yet been resolved. It is unclear whether Sky would have an incentive to reach an agreement following the conclusion of Ofcom’s market review.
Presumably Sky's "security concerns" are being addressed with the rollout of the new N3 encryption on the NGTV platform? Personally, I think the security of cable was a convenient obstacle Sky could throw in rather than a genuine concern, but hey ho, it's soon to be history.
Our view is that, given the increasing importance of HD as a means of viewing premium content, the non-supply of the HD versions of Sky’s Core Premium channels to Virgin Media is and will prevent Virgin Media from competing effectively.
We have a particular concern that the non-supply of HD versions of Sky’s Core Premium channels, and also interactive services, prevents Virgin Media from competing effectively.
To which end, OFCOM states
The wholesale must-offer remedy will apply to high-definition versions of the included channels. High-definition is increasingly important to effective competition, and a remedy which excluded it would become ineffective over time. Sky has suggested that including high-definition in a wholesale must-offer remedy would damage innovation. We do not believe that including high- definition would be damaging to innovation in the way Sky suggests. However, because high-definition is a relatively recent innovation and there is a degree of uncertainty as to the appropriate approach to setting a price, we have decided not to set a price for supply of these channels. Setting prices might bring about supply faster, but doing so particularly in relation to a relatively new service such as high-definition might risk harming incentives for future innovation. Instead we have included an obligation for supply to be on a fair, reasonable and non- discriminatory basis. This should allow scope for commercial negotiation, with the possibility of bringing a complaint to Ofcom as a backstop.
So where does that leave things? Well, first off, Sky and Virgin have been talking for some time although without a final agreement. This is understandable, given that the "elephant in the room" of those negotiations was this very OFCOM report. But now it is published and things can move on (legal challenges permitting). But those legal challenges are likely to focus on the wholesale pricing of the SD channels, and maybe the provision of HD Sky premium channels will happen regardless, especially now that Virgin has greatly improved its capacity and security capability.
Here's hoping.
Happy Easter. As always, comments welcome.

April 01, 2010

New HD channels launch on Virgin Media today

For those now on the "Next Generation TV" platform that Virgin Media is rolling out across the country today's is a red letter day, with the arrival of three new HD channels on cable; E4 HD, Sci Fi HD, Discovery HD and Eurosport HD are here. The rest of us will have to wait a little longer as the platform upgrade continues through to June, but our appetites will be sated somewhat by tomorrow's launch of ITV1 HD for all V+ customers in England and Wales (still no word on the other ITV regions).
These are the headends still to be upgraded - it's fewer than half of the total amount and they appear to be completing around five a week.
Andover (includes Salisbury and north-west Southampton)
Bristol (includes Gloucester, Cheltenham, Bath)
Cambridge (includes Newmarket, St Ives)
Cardiff (includes Newport)
Colchester (includes Ipswich)
Guildford (includes Woking, Aldershot, Farnborough)
Haringey (North London)
Lewisham (central London, includes Acton, Harrow)
Lichfield (includes Stafford, Tamworth)
Newton Abbott (includes Plymouth, Exeter)
Norwich (include Gt Yarmouth)
Preston (includes Liverpool, St Helens, Wigan, Blackpool)
Reading (includes Basingstoke, Bracknell, High Wycombe)
Warwick (includes Nuneaton, Rugby)

I'm in an area yet to have the upgrade (due mid-May apparently), so how is it looking for those of you who have got the new channels today?