April 25, 2013

Sky Sports continues on Virgin Media, but BT struggling to reach agreement with Sky

Interesting piece on MediaGuardian
Virgin Media has secured the Sky Sports channels for the coming year, piling further pressure on BT to do a deal with the satellite broadcaster before the next football season begins in August. 
Virgin Media's agreement to carry Sky Sports 1 and 2 was negotiated in 2010 and due to expire this summer, but it is now expected to extend into next year. "We have surity through 2013," Virgin Media chief executive Neil Berkett said. "I'm comfortable with where we are in terms of continuity and surity of supply." 
By contrast, BT is struggling to agree terms to carry Sky's two main sports channels on its flagship YouView service.  BT has a deal until 2016 to carry Sky Sports 1 and 2 on its BT Vision box, but that service is being phased out in favour of YouView. 
In a sign of how telecoms and content are converging, it is thought Virgin and Sky have traded football for fibre-optic cables. Virgin announced Wednesday that it had struck a deal to rent its fibre 'backhaul' to the satellite group, helping carry internet traffic across its core network, although not as far as customers' homes, for which Sky still relies on BT. 
"I find it unbelievable that Virgin won't have a deal with Sky on the sports because they've just done a deal on backhaul and they'll all be connected," said Toby Syfret at Enders Analysis. "There is a better and better relationship between them helped by the aggressive stance taken by BT which it feels it has to attack Sky directly in the content area." 
Virgin is Sky's biggest wholesale customer, generating around 700,000 Sky Sports subscriptions, according to Enders.

April 24, 2013

Virgin Media first quarter of 2013 results announced

Here's this quarter's business speak:

  • Revenue up 3.6% to £1,043m 
  • OCF up 5.8% to £399m
  • OCF before merger-related costs up 7.9% to £406m
  • Operating income up 14% to £150m
  • Net income of £139m, up from £7m
  • FCF(2)up 54% to £135m
  • Net cash provided by operating activities up 44% to £306m Improved churn, ARPU and customer mix Cable customer net additions of 8,600
  • Churn fell to 1.1%; sixth consecutive quarter of year-on-year improvement
  • Triple-play penetration up to 65%; quad-play penetration up to 16%
  • Cable ARPU up 5.2% to £49.38* Improved customer mix
  • TiVo customers increased 171,900 to 1.5m; 40% of the TV base
  • Paying TV customers(3)increased 13,700 to 3.3m; 87% of the TV base
  • Superfast broadband customers (30Mb and above) increased 337,900 to 2.5m; 58% of the cable broadband base
  • Contract mobile customers increased 35,100 to 1.7m; 58% of the mobile base
  • Business division: new major backhaul contract wins from Sky, Telefonica and another large UK mobile network operator 

Very, very rich bloke Neil Berkett, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Media, said: 'We have had a good start to the year with accelerated revenue growth, improved churn, and strong free cash flow growth. The great value we provide through our Collections packages, which bundle superfast broadband and our next generation TiVo service, has seen new customers join and our existing customers stay loyal to us. This positive momentum in the business positions us well for our planned merger with Liberty Global.'

Interesting that the business division has secured Sky as a big contract...

April 22, 2013

21 new channels added to Virgin TV Anywhere

Virgin Media Press Release:

 Extra Sky channels, Nickelodeon, Channel 4 and more join line-up
Total streaming channels on Virgin TV Anywhere increased to 66

Virgin Media has added 21 new live channels to Virgin TV Anywhere, the cloud-based entertainment service available exclusively to Virgin TV customers.

Virgin Media’s subscribers will be able to stream the new array of channels – including channels from BSkyB, Channel 4, Discovery Networks, NBCUniversal, Turner Broadcasting and Viacom International Media Networks – on devices beyond the TV such as computers, tablets and smartphones at no extra cost. The new channels join the collection of entertainment, news, documentaries, music and even premium sport and movies channels already available on Virgin TV Anywhere.

The introduction of Channel 4 to the service makes shows including One Born Every Minute and The Mimic accessible on the go, while the range of Discovery channels offers everything from Dark Matters to Breaking Magic.

Meanwhile, SyFy’s Defiance and Lost Girl aim to satisfy those cravings for a fantasy drama fix and pre-school channel Cartoonito will help keep the kids entertained with a whole host of fun and educational shows including Lazy Town and Bananas in Pyjamas.

Scott Kewley, Virgin Media’s multiscreen product director, said: “We know our customers love being able to watch whatever they want at a time that suits them, and by adding 21 live channels to Virgin TV Anywhere at no extra cost we’re also enabling them to watch their favourite shows wherever they want too. Whether our customers are looking for something to keep the kids happy, an enthralling drama or a cutting-edge documentary, the new line-up on Virgin TV Anywhere really does have something for everyone.”

In addition to the new channels now available on Virgin TV Anywhere, Discovery Networks’ TLC channel will join the line up on 30th April, bringing a host of UK and US reality entertainment shows to the service that will really get people talking.

Virgin TV customers can access Virgin TV Anywhere through the web or, if they have Virgin Media TiVo®, through a mobile and tablet app. The online service is available to all Virgin TV customers, with extra features for TiVo users to manage their boxes through a range of exclusive tools such as remote record and managing ‘My Shows’.

The mobile and tablet app is available on iOS devices such as the iPad and will be coming to Android devices later this year. The app offers the ability to manage TiVo boxes including scheduling recordings and deleting shows. It also acts as a touch/gesture-based remote control when at home which means viewers can search for whatever they want using a full QWERTY keyboard and without taking over the big screen. They can flick any live TV show or recording straight to the TV and even immediately start watching something On Demand from any point without the need to fast-forward or rewind.

For further information on Virgin TV Anywhere, head to virginmedia.com/discovertvanywhere.

April 19, 2013

TV Anywhere (unless you're on Android)

What's going on with the Android version of Virgin Media's TV Anywhere App? For iPhone and iPad users it's been around a while now, and jolly useful it is too, but for non-Apple mobile and tablet users the wait is proving increasingly frustrating. Not only are there mixed messages emanating from VM as to whether they actually are going to release an Android App (see the later posts here: http://community.virginmedia.com/t5/TV-Anywhere/Tv-anywhere-android-support/td-p/1573160/page/9 ) but the US TiVo Android App is over a year old (see the video). How frustrating, and how long does it take to change the colour from blue to red?? (Thanks for the tip, Neil G)

Historical greats: Da Vinci, Hannibal and Raylan Givens

The much-hyped action drama Da Vinci's Demons debuts this evening on Fox HD at 10pm. From the trailers I've seen it doesn't look to be big on the old historical accuracy but may prove to be an entertaining diversion and worth a look.
Also looking interesting is Hannibal, which arrives on Sky Living HD on May 7th at 10pm. It's had strong reviews and looks tasty.
But where's everything else? There are a number of shows I'd expected to return by now but actual dates are thin on the ground still. The following are all promised for "spring" so keep an eye out for Raising Hope, The Americans (on ITV HD), 30 Rock, Supernatural and Cougar Town.
What I find really frustrating though is the treatment of the fantastic Justified by 5. Season four of  the higly acclaimed, Emmy-winning law and disorder drama is still only broadcast in very poor SD in the UK (on 5USA) and to add further insult there is still no start date for season four which concluded in the US a few weeks back. Why? No idea. And why don't they broadcast it in HD on 5 HD? Even less idea. When you look at what else is on the 5 channels it's completely baffling. And they wonder why people resort to "other means" for their viewing.
At least season one has turned up in Virgin's On Demand listings in HD recently, even if the show didn't really hit its stride until the stunning second season.
(And don't get me started on the absence of Breaking Bad on UK channels.)

April 18, 2013

Animal Planet HD arriving April 30th (confirmed by VM)

Virgin's own listings are showing Animal Planet HD as coming soon on channel 217. No official word yet on the rumoured Universal HD, and Sky Atlantic, even in SD, remains the most notable absentee from the channel line up.

April 17, 2013

Virgin Media changes broadband traffic management

Virgin used to cut download speeds by 40% and upload speeds by 75% if customers went mad and exceeded usage caps during peak traffic times -10am-3pm and 5pm-10pm on weekdays, and 3pm-8pm on weekends. The speed reduction lasted for five hours. This throttling/service denial, euphemistically called "traffic management", doesn't affect many people - Virgin claims that only 2.3% of its users are affected by traffic management.
Now, Virgin is dropping the 10am-3pm weekday period, but extending the other period from 4pm to 11pm. It's also adjusting how much it reduces speeds by and shortening the amount of time broadband speeds will be reduced for when customers use their broadband to download in excess of the threshold.
For example, if you trigger the traffic cap by downloading, say, the previous two seasons of Game of Thrones in HD by naughty naughty means, but then immediately cease downloading so much data so that you once again fall beneath the threshold, your speed will only be reduced for an hour. (Which you probably won't notice because you are watching Westeros's finest anyway rather than wasting time on the web.)*
The data cap counter will roll in 15 minute increments, so it starts from 4pm to 5pm, and then from 4:15 to 5:15 and so on.
Simple? Hardly. Furthermore, Virgin has also cut the speed reduction. For the first hour, download speeds will be cut by 30%, rising to 40% for two hours and above. Upload speeds will be cut by 60% and 75% respectively.
Theoretically, Virgin's new system means you won't have to suffer an evening of slower speeds for briefly exceeding a download cap. But you will receive no warning from Virgin. "To get back to full speed all you need to do is reduce your usage during peak hours," the company said. But how would you know? And, what's more, how consistent is the speed you get in the first place? My service is supposed to be 100mb but over the wifi I'm seeing it peak around 75mb at the moment, but then I'm still using an older cable modem and haven't set up the new one they set me as I'm moving house shortly and can't be arsed.
Virgin Media added in a statement that the aim was to make the traffic management policy "more flexible and responsive. We remain committed to bringing greater clarity to the broadband industry and urge every provider to step up and advertise the information people need to make an informed choice," . Their attempt at clarity (to see the details click here) is quite challenging to say the least...

* Not that this blog in any way promotes such activity of course. I mean, what is this Game of Thrones anyway? And why would Virgin Media customers be remotely interested in such minority audience fayre from HBO/Sky Atlantic?? Besides, Virgin Media says that peer to peer (e.g. BitTorrent) traffic will continue to be slowed automatically during peak times, regardless of whether the user has exceeded their cap...

April 15, 2013

Liberty Global takeover gets the thumbs up

Reuters has reported that the takeover of Virgin Media has had the thumbs up by the EU authorities:
"US cable firm Liberty Global has won unconditional EU regulatory approval on Monday for its $15.8 billion (£10.3 billion) takeover of Virgin Media. The European Commission said it did not have any competition concerns regarding the takeover, confirming a Reuters report last week. The EU antitrust authority said this was because the companies operated cable networks in different EU countries and because of the merged group's limited market position in wholesale TV channels in Britain and Ireland."

April 08, 2013

Sky and BT fall out over sports ad campaign

BSkyB has refused to air a multimillion-pound TV advertising campaign booked by BT to promote its Premier League and other sports coverage.
BSkyB has refused to air BT's ad campaign – which as well as football was to highlight other sports it has secured TV rights for including Premiership Rugby, European Cup Rugby and top-flight women's tennis – although it is not clear on what grounds.
Under the broadcasting code TV companies are compelled to air ad campaigns and promotions run booked by rivals.
BT has lodged a complaint with Ofcom on the grounds that BSkyB is showing "undue discrimination" against it by refusing to air the campaign.
"We are happy to take Sky's advertising but they seem afraid of taking ours," says John Petter, managing director of consumer for BT Retail. "It's like a rottweiler running away from a newborn puppy."

April 06, 2013

TiVo network issue April 5th & 6th - UPDATED

There's a nationwide issue with TiVo's connecting to the network. Recording and playback's okay, but On Demand, internet programme info and TV Anywhere App aren't available.
This Cable Forum thread has the latest info: VOD Network down?
ETA is 3.45pm on Saturday but there have been some signs of life already reported.
UPDATE 7.45pm in SE London: On Demand and TiVo services back up and running

April 02, 2013

Sky Atlantic latest

HBO's excellent Game of Thrones returned for its third series on Sky Atlantic with a reported 710,000 viewers on Monday night. That's not quite the 743,000 it got when it first appeared a few years back but is up on its second series debut last year of 522,000. 
Those are big numbers for the Sky-exclusive Atlantic - 1,700% up on its slot average over the past three months, but still relatively small beer compared with the return of Jonathan Creek on BBC1 which pulled over 7 million viewers.
It was reported last year that Sky was planning to wholesale the channel (ie make Atlantic available to other carriers) once it was available on their IP service Now TV but, despite the occasional rumour, there is still no sign of Atlantic appearing for anyone lacking a dish.
Which is odd, as you would have thought that any new customers for Sky would have jumped on board by now and chances are that it's not that much of a retention attraction given that it's attracting audiences that are a small fraction of the overall Sky customer base. But Sky continues to pursue this viewer-depriving strategy. And frustrated VM customers continue to obtain that non-VM content by "other means". Surely it would benefit both Virgin Media and Sky Atlantic advertisers to open it up to 4m more homes? You would have thought so.
Meanwhile, the new series of Mad Men launches on Sky Atlantic on April 10th at 10pm. It will be available in the US two days earlier for those with US iTunes accounts or with "other means" for viewing the show.