February 25, 2013

BT buys ESPN UK channels

From MediaGuardian:
BT has continued its expansion into sports broadcasting, acquiring ESPN'S UK and Ireland TV channels business in a deal understood to be worth just over £10m.
The telecoms company will continue to broadcast at least one ESPN-branded channel after the deal's expected completion date of 31 July, as part of its BT Sport package of services.
However, ESPN Classic, which is not part of the BT deal, is expected to cease transmission across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Still no official confirmation that VM will carry the BT channels, but the above news would suggest they'll replace the ESPN line up on cable, although whether they'll be offered for nowt to premier customers is still to be seen.

Sky Movies line up to change in March

Anyone hoping that the arrival on Sky Movies Disney meant an additional movie channel for their money will be disappointed with the following announcment:
Sky Movies Classics & Indies are being withdrawn as separate channels, with their content being merged and will be replaced by a newly badged channel called Sky Movies Select and Sky Movies Modern Greats will be re-badged as Sky Movies Greats.
So here's the new HD channel line up (from 28th March)
431 - Sky Premier
433 - Sky Showcase
434 - Sky Greats
435 - Sky Disney
436 - Sky Family
437 - Sky Action & Adventure
438 - Sky Comedy
439 - Sky Crime & Thriller
440 - Sky Drama & Romance
441 - Sky Sci-Fi & Horror
442 - Sky Select

(thanks to MediaBoy for correcting the previous version)

February 22, 2013

Sky Movies Disney HD

Here's the official confirmation from the VM changelog:

We're adding Sky Movies Disney and Sky Movies Disney HD to our Sky Movies Collection in time for the Easter holidays on 28th March 2013, at no additional change. [Typo - they mean "charge"]
Sky Movies will include great Disney family movies like Finding Nemo, Cars, A Bug’s Life and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, as well as classics such as Bambi. We'll have the full details on this closer to the date.
Great news for Disney Cinemagic viewers!
Fantastic news if you've enjoyed Disney Cinemagic, which closes on 28th March. If you subscribed to Disney Cinemagic as a standalone channel you can take advantage of our Sky Premium Collections – 3 Months Half Price Offer, with the Sky movies collection including Sky Movies Disney for just £9.75 per month for the first three months.

February 21, 2013

Sky Movies Disney HD confirmed

A contact at VM has confirmed that we'll have Sky Movies Disney added to the premium line up on launch at the end of March. Hurrah!

Updated: Sky Movies Disney on Virgin

New Disney films will soon have their UK TV premiere on new, dedicated channel Sky Movies Disney, as part of a new multi-year film output deal between BSkyB and the Hollywood studio.
Sky Movies Disney will launch on March 28th on satellite as a new addition to Sky's pay-TV film channels lineup, replacing Disney Cinemagic.
Update: Virgin Media has now confirmed that it will offer the new Sky Movies Disney channel from its launch as part of the Sky Movies offering. Over on Cable Forum it has been hinted that we will get both SD and HD versions, but there's no official confirmation of this yet.

February 19, 2013

Farewell BBC HD, hello BBC2 HD

The six-year-old BBC HD channel will end next month and be replaced by a high definition simulcast of BBC Two at 6am on March 26th. It will arrive on Virgin Media down amongst the dead men on channel 187. The channel will be a HD simulcast network of BBC Two.
BBC Two controller Janice Hadlow said: "BBC One HD has already proved to be highly valued by our audiences and I'm delighted that we're able to follow this with the launch of BBC Two in HD.
"The launch of BBC Two HD will allow us to showcase more of our programmes at their very best - helping to highlight our commitment to high quality, engaging and ambitious programmes on BBC Two."
Hopefully, they'll still find somewhere on the schedules to include some BBC3 and BBC4 content in HD, although that's been getting less and less on BBC HD of late. There have been rumours of BBC News going HD, but nothing confirmed from the BBC that I've seen.

February 15, 2013

Sky Movies and Sports SD offer

"Take the Sky Sports and Sky Movies Collection and you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. It’s jam-packed full of, well, everything! You’ll get 5 Sky Sports channels including Sky Sports F1, and 12 Sky Movies channels, including Sky Movies Premiere. You’ll be able to watch the latest blockbusters and get all the action, drama, comedy and excitement too whether it’s on the pitch or at the pictures.
Just £16.37 a month for 3 months
And then £32.75 a month after that
Order online today or call us on 0800 952 2228"
Don't know about HD - I guess that's still an extra tenner a month. I have to say that I don't find the picture quality on the Sky Premium HD channels to be consistently good and the SD versions are pretty muddy and awful on my TVs.

February 12, 2013

February 10, 2013

Why I've quit Spotify

Virgin Media's original Spotify deal was a no-brainer: free Premium access for six months (or for some of us a full year) and almost unlimited access to the world's CD collection. Once my original free year expired I signed up for the ongoing Premium service at £9.99 a month, mainly so that I could continue to access it on my phone and iPad.
But now I've cancelled. Here's why.

  1. There is STILL a problem with streaming Spotify over VM broadband during the evenings and over weekends, with the service quitting after a short period. It's too unreliable at home to listen to.
  2. The sound quality, even at the Extreme setting, isn't a patch on iTunes or a 256k AAC rip from a CD.
  3. The TiVo App isn't the best. And I don't want to play music through a TV sound system tuned for movies rather than music.
  4. The iPhone App is, after the last update, even worse. There's a problem with nested folders that means any music you've neatly filed away by artist is either deleted or tucked away in a random folder within folder within folder bug - I lost over 30 playlists when this bug was introduced.
  5. The iPhone App still doesn't have any cache clearing capability, which means the more you use Spotify, the more it fills up your device. The only way to release that space is to delete the App and start again. Not the worst workaround, but annoying. 
  6. £9.99 in the UK but only $9.99 in the US. Yes, I know we have to pay VAT on downloads, but that doesn't strike me as particularly fair to UK customers.
  7. Albums come and go at random. Several of my playlists now have tracks that are no longer playable. Grrrrrr.
  8. Modern music is shite. 
  9. I've got over 80gb of my favourite music in my iMatched-iTunes. And anything new I'm interested in I can give a listen to in the free Spotify.
  10. Some times more means less. I prefer small bookshops' selections to the infinite shelves of Amazon. I prefer discovering new music from 6Music to hunting through the dross on Spotify. It was great to re-aquaint myself with some albums I don't own any more, but it also made me realise why I didn't buy them when I moved to digital.
So farewell for now, Premium Spotify. Maybe you will return at some point to my Direct Debits, but somehow I doubt it. Music's too important to me to be left to poorly written software and a service that's unreliable when I use it most. If I didn't have 30+ years of back catalogue already available to me digitally I would maybe reconsider, but I do. Time for some Beatles, methinks...

February 07, 2013

Virgin Media under new owners Liberty Global

It's going to take a while for the deal to be completed so don't expect any rapid changes under VM's new owners. “Virgin Media’s approach to the TV business is solid. It hasn’t been pursuing a premium content play and we think that’s right for Virgin Media,” said the Liberty Global President, whilst Chairman and Founder John Malone said “Relations with Sky are important to us. We have a long history of competitiveness with News Corp and we look forward to this.
“There’s no question that the UK is competitive but demand for services is strong. Everyone who does a good job will do well.”
Neil Berkett, who I personally think has done a great job at Virgin (despite ignoring my pleas for Sky Atlantic), will be stepping down when the takeover is complete.

February 06, 2013

Liberty Global buys Virgin Media for £15bn

From The Guardian: "Virgin Media has accepted a $23.3bn (£15bn) takeover by American cable tycoon John Malone's Liberty Global in a deal that threatens to topple Rupert Murdoch's dominance of pay television by creating Europe's largest broadband business."
More to follow on this no doubt. Neil Berkett is rumoured to be personally collecting £30m so I guess this morning's coffee and biscuits is on him.

Virgin Media Q4 and full year 2012 results

Virgin Media has published its latest results. The headlines:
• Cable revenue up 3.0% for the year; up 3.8% in the quarter
− Net cable customer additions of 88,700 in the year, 42,700 in the quarter
− Cable ARPU up 2.1% to £48.87 in the quarter
• On-going improvement of customer base mix in the quarter
− TiVo customers increased 896,900 in the year, 187,300 in the quarter
− Paying TV customers3 increased 210,000 in the year, 59,900 in the quarter
− Superfast broadband customers (30Mb and above) increased 1.5m in the year, 419,400 in the quarter.

Here's the TV piece from the press release:
Strong demand for superfast broadband and TiVo
A year ago we introduced new product “Collections” which included superfast broadband, TiVo and HD TV as standard. These were created to meet increasingly widespread consumer demand for better connectivity and next generation entertainment by further differentiating our products from those of our competitors.
During 2012, the number of customers on superfast speeds (30Mb and above) increased by 1.5m, including 419,400 during the last quarter, taking the total to 2.176m or 51% of our broadband base. Total broadband net additions in the year were 169,300, with 62,700 in the quarter compared to 30,000 a year ago.
Demand for even faster speeds remains strong with around 41% of new broadband subscribers taking speeds of 60Mb or higher during Q4. Our programme to double the broadband speeds of over 4m customers is on track with 76% of our network upgraded for the new faster speeds.
At the same time, the recognized appeal of our TiVo service is driving pay TV growth. We added 896,900 more TiVo customers during 2012, including 187,300 in the fourth quarter to reach a total of 1.33m or 35% of our TV customer base. This uptake has helped to drive the overall number of paying TV customers, which increased by 210,000 in the year, including 59,900 in the final quarter.
We launched our Virgin TV Anywhere service towards the end of the year which allows our TV customers to stream up to 45 live channels to tablets and smartphones, with even more content available online, including thousands of hours of on demand programming. It also allows Virgin Media TiVo customers to connect to their TiVo boxes to manage their recordings wherever they are.
We continue to add more TV content to all our entertainment services. After the period end, we introduced two further HD channels from Turner Broadcasting, bolstering the total number of HD channels available to our customers to 39.

February 05, 2013

Virgin adds five +1 and two asian SD channels

DMAX + 1 - Channel 171 Animal Planet + 1 Channel 218
Discovery Science + 1 Channel 220
Discovery History + 1 Channel 223
Home and Health + 1 Channel 276
Sony SAB Channel 807
ARY News Channel 819

Liberty Global makes a bit for Virgin Media

It's Virgin Media's results week, and whereas most of us would be happy if CEO Mr Berkett was eyeing  additional HD channels it appears something else is trying to catch his attention. Reuters reports:
John Malone's cable group Liberty Global has approached Britain's No. 2 pay-TV operator Virgin Media about making a bid for the firm, the UK group said on Tuesday. Virgin Media, which has a market value of $10.6 billion, was formed by the merger of cable groups Telewest and NTL and mobile operator Virgin Mobile.
"Virgin Media confirms that it is in discussions with Liberty Global, a leading international cable company, concerning a possible transaction," it said in a brief statement. "Any such transaction would be subject to regulatory and other conditions."
More on Liberty Global on Wikipedia. To get a taste of how they run their current cable companies, take a look at the entry on Cablevision, the NY. Lots of carriage disputes and a reputation for carrying too few channels at too low a bit rate. Sound familiar?

February 03, 2013

Sky shines, Virgin Media to announce this week

Virgin Media will be announcing its Full Year and Fourth Quarter 2012 results on Wednesday 6 February 2013 at 7am. Pop back to this blog that morning for details and the usual management gloss on what will likely be so-so results. Gone are the days when there would be new channels or even new HD channels announced in the week of the results. There's a new deal been signed with Discovery but no word yet as to what this actually means - Animal Planet HD maybe? Don't get your hopes up. Meanwhile, Sky announced results last week and they were pretty impressive yet again:
[source: Guardian] BSkyB has 10.33m TV customersa nd reported six-monthly pre-tax profits up 7.5% to £642m to 31 December, beating most analyst expectations. The number of customers taking high definition TV rose 93,000 to 4.56m of its total customer base. Revenue rose 5% to £3.5bn in the six months to the end of December. Average revenue per user rose £24 year on year to £568. Churn rose slightly from 9.6% at 31 December 2011 to 10.3% at the end of last year.