August 29, 2011

Sky Premium HD channels

Good news for folk subscribing to the Sky HD Sports and Movie channels with more than one box: Virgin Media are going to move Sky Premium HD Channels from £7 a month per box to £7 per account from October 1st. (Sky customers too will enjoy their HD on multiroom boxes for the single monthly charge of £10.25.)

August 24, 2011

Spotify offer until August 31st

Bainsy88 has left a new comment on the earlier post "Berkett talks about Spotify":
On the Spotify front it's already available! If you go to this page:
It invites you to fill in your details to claim a code for 12 months free unlimited Spotify. The best bit is that all codes for Spotify relate to premium so in fact you actually get 12 months premium for free, which is a nice saving of £120.
So VM seem to come through on this, maybe apart from the total lack of advertising on the offer and the lack of a link from there existing customers page. Anyway shouldn't grumble the offer ends on the 31/08/11 so enjoy your free Spotify.

BBC to phase out 'red button' video and launch more HD - after the Olympics

It is being reported that the BBC will probably wind down its existing red button video services following the Olympics in order to use the bandwidth to launch new high definition stations (Freeview being the bandwidth-constrained platform).What HD channels would that be? With both BBC3 and BBC4 undergoing major reviews my money would be on BBC2 HD and BBC News HD, with the current BBC HD channel becoming a mix of CBeebies and CBBC daytime, BBC3/4 in the evenings.

August 19, 2011

Sky Sports Red Button

Now on V+ boxes, TiVo to follow in the autumn. Virgin Media is now publishing the events available on the Sky Sports Red Button. Here are the events for the rest of August:

  • Super League: 19th August, 10pm (Sky Sports 1/Sky Sports 1 HD)
  • Football First: 20th August, 10:15pm (Sky Sports 1/Sky Sports 1 HD)
  • Champions League: 23rd August, 7pm (Sky Sports 2/Sky Sports 2 HD)
  • Champions League: 24th August, 7pm (Sky Sports 2/Sky Sports 2 HD)
  • Euro Gold Johnnie Walker Highlights:25th August-5th September, 8.30pm (Sky Sports 3)
  • Currie Cup: 27th August, 9pm (Sky Sports 3)
  • Football First: 27th August, 10:15pm (Sky Sports 1/Sky Sports 1 HD)
  • US Open: 29th August-11th September, 4pm (Sky Sports 2/Sky Sports 2 HD)

Competition Commission recommends pay-TV movie changes

Could the price of Sky Movies be coming down? There are two stings in the tail of the following report from MediaGuardian: the final report from the Competitions Commission isn't due for another year, and when we last had this kind of breakup on Sky's market dominance (with Premiership football) the consumer ended up worse off, having to be pay for ESPN without Sky's prices dropping. We'll have to see.
BSkyB will be ordered to weaken its stranglehold on Hollywood films on pay-TV after an investigation by the Competition Commission.
In a provisional decision published on Friday morning, the commission said BSkyB's contracts with the six major Hollywood studios present a significant barrier to entry to potential competitors, including BT and Virgin Media. The industry watchdog ruled that the prices charged by Sky to Virgin are too high, meaning Virgin cannot make a business selling films to its customers.
Among a number of recommendations from the commission, the regulator said Sky should be restricted from signing exclusivity deals with all of the major Hollywood film studios for movie rights in the so-called "first subscription pay television window".
The Competition Commission recommended that exclusivity deals with the film giants should be weakened so rival operators can buy the rights to other distribution methods, including video on demand.
Under recommendations put forward by the Competition Commission, BT and Virgin Media would be able to rival Sky Movies by offering their own selection of new releases.
The Virgin Media chief executive, Neil Berkett, said: "Virgin Media has long argued that there are deep rooted problems in the pay-TV movies market which have been severely hampering competition. We're pleased that the Competition Commission has provisionally recognised that consumers have suffered significant harm from Sky's stranglehold and are paying far too much to watch films at home.
"We hope today's findings will lead to a dramatic transformation of the market and allow new compelling services to flourish that give consumers much greater choice of innovative film services. We look forward to working with the commission to ensure that movie fans reap the benefits of a more competitive and dynamic market."
The Competition Commission will invite views on its recommendation before publishing a final decision in August 2012.

August 16, 2011

Virgin Media adding five HD channels as part of UKTV deal

Virgin Media customers are soon to get Eden HD, Good Food HD, Dave HD, Watch HD and Alibi HD (once they launch) as part of the UKTV sale:
"Virgin Media has just completed agreements to launch the new HD channels from UKTV. I'm really pleased to say that we'll be adding them to our HD channel line-up as soon as we possibly can. We're still in discussion with UKTV about the precise technical details re timing, but our aspiration is to launch at the same time as Sky or as soon as possible after. " Peter Chapman, Associate Director, Content Acquisition
Virgin Media are also reported to be in discussions with Turner Broadcasting about Cartoon Network HD and TCM HD.

US Cable giant focuses on broadband rather than TV

It's not just Virgin Media who see the future as broadband over traditional TV services. As my earlier post about Virgin's strategy has provoked what's best described as a "mixed" response (sorry, Square Eyes!) I thought the following would be of interest as it illustrated that the VM strategy is not unique. The full article can be found at
The majority of [US cable company]Time Warner Cable’s subscribers and the bulk of its revenue still come from its traditional pay TV service, but that is changing — and fast. As a result, the company is betting on broadband to lead it into the future, due to wider adoption of high-speed data services at the same time TV subscribers are declining. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal Monday, CEO Glenn Britt talked up the company’s broadband business as the company’s “anchor service” of the future.“Clearly the relative importance of the video business has declined over time,” Mr. Britt said in an interview. “I think broadband clearly is becoming the anchor service.” Pay TV services still account for more than half of Time Warner Cable’s top-line revenue, according to the WSJ. But the gap between TV revenues and broadband revenues continues to narrow, as pay TV subscribers depart and new broadband users join. Time Warner Cable isn’t alone — the broader [US] pay TV industry lost a record number of subscribers in the second quarter, due in part to the down economy and weak housing formation. But there’s also the specter of cord cutting hovering over the industry, as a growing number of viewers turn to online video services for entertainment. It’s not just that broadband continues to make up a bigger portion of Time Warner Cable’s revenue and users, but the margins on broadband are much better than those for TV services.

August 15, 2011

Virgin Media exits content arena

Well, at least they didn't sell it to BSkyB:
Virgin Media has sold its 50% stake in pay TV operator UKTV to US TV company Scripps Networks in a deal worth £339m.
Scripps – which owns US TV brands including The Cooking Channel and The DIY Network – has paid £239m in cash, and will pay out about £100m to acquire the outstanding preferred stock and debt owed by UKTV to Virgin Media.
Virgin Media had valued it stake in UKTV, the pay-TV business formed in 1997 as a 50-50 joint venture with BBC Worldwide, at about £350m including outstanding loans of more than £100m.
Can we please have Sky Atlantic with some of that £300m+, Mr Berkett?

August 14, 2011

Virgin Media's strategy encourages piracy

Am I alone in thinking that the current strategy followed by Virgin Media is encouraging illegal downloading of TV content? VM deny us high profile content (Sky Atlantic the obvious example) but give us the means to easily acquire it illegally with broadband speeds in excess of what any non-downloading citizen would require. Does anyone need 100mb download speeds if they don't indulge in content downloading, let alone the ridiculous 1.5gb currently being tested?

August 13, 2011

OT: Boardwalk Empire returns to Sky Atlantic in September

It returns to HBO in the US on September 25th and is anticipated on Sky Atlantic a few days later. Again, Virgin Media customers will be deprived of watching arguably the best new series of the year. If you are a fan but aren't considering switching to Sky and don't want to download it by alternative means, there's now the option of subscribing to Sky Go and watching it on your PC: £15 a month with no minimum contract. Another temptation from the Dark Side. More information on Sky Go

August 10, 2011

Sky Sports Red Button operating on V+

Reported over on Cable Forum. To find out more, press Guide on your remote, then 9 (help & info) then 2 (virgin tv) then 2 again (red button & interactive services) then press 4 - it will explain that the red button service is now available. Can't test it myself at the moment but the other Red Button functionality on the V+ is terribly slow - is this the same I wonder?
Not on TiVo (rumoured for October).

Virgin network grows...and shrinks

Virgin Media is extending its network in Southampton, while cutting back services in Westminster.
Virgin said it would double its fibre footprint in Southampton by the end of the year. After adding 73,000 lines in the first half of year, the announcement means Virgin will have extended its fibre coverage by at least 100,000 homes this year. A Virgin spokesman said that number could increase by the end of the year as more projects are announced.
However the company is also withdrawing from a couple of thousand customers in a district of Westminster because the infrastructure it rents from BT there is insufficient to allow for broadband, cable TV and telephone services.
Affected customers were notified in mid-July that their services would be cut off in January 2012 and urged to find another communications provider, a Virgin Media spokesman said on Tuesday.

August 07, 2011

EPG aftermath

I returned from my holiday fearing the worst after the reported EPG issues in July, but my TiVo didn't miss a single programme: everything recorded either on the original broadcast date or picked up later in the schedules. Thank you TiVo: faith fully restored...

Virgin's Q2 results - a few comments

I've just returned from a fortnight's break so the Q2 results for Virgin and Sky were published with no comment from me at the time, so let me quickly address that now.
As we've now grown to expect, it was another great set of numbers from Sky and a mixed, somewhat disappointing performance announced by Virgin CEO Neil Berkett. Whilst revenues were up thanks to increased revenue per customer (that recent price hike) Virgin's customers dropped, 21k down on the TV side and 36k down in total. It's always a weak quarter for Virgin (last year in Q2 they added 9k customers but the previous year lost 26k in Q2).
Meanwhile Sky turned in more exceptional numbers - TV up by 40k, HD penetration up 30% on the previous year's stella performance.
Even with broadband, supposedly Virgin Media's main strength, VM lost 18k customers whilst BT added 141k and Sky added 174k. Sure, Virgin has stronger take up of triple play and higher speed broadband customers, but those are worrying numbers if they're not just a seasonal blip.
So where does VM go from here? We shouldn't really read too much into a single quarter, especially Q2, but Virgin really does have to hope TiVo takes off and brings new customers to the cable platform. The TiVo product has had generally strong reviews (although this month's CNet review is more critical and is perhaps a little more honest than some) and the marketing is now kicking in. Whilst it makes a few headlines with every announced speed hike, the demand for even higher broadband speeds seems to be at best small.
The day before I went on holiday a colleague and I presented to my company's senior management on the future of TV and included an extended piece on TiVo's capabilities. It got everyone pretty excited and even a few were talking about moving to Virgin...until they realised that it meant losing Sky Atlantic, which dampened their enthusiasm completely. Funny that...