At the turn of the year Virgin Media will launch a new set-top box to rival Sky Q, with ultra-high-definition pictures and a similar ability to sling programmes to tablets and smartphones around the home. Beyond that, there will be a major overhaul of the ageing plumbing that powers Virgin Media’s broadcasting, to allow it to shift to Liberty Global’s next generation distribution system, Horizon, which is already in use elsewhere in Europe.That’s disappointing to say the least as the initial rumours were of a new TiVo for this summer’s Olympics.
Whilst I appreciate that there may be considerable challenges in rolling out new equipment to the cable network Sky’s Q technology has hardly been a trade secret, and Virgin/Liberty aren’t really in a position to give Sky a year’s head start on modern technology and retain customers.
The Telegraph article also talks about ‘making the pipes sing with content’, which is a poetic turn of phrase but pretty meaningless when a subscription to NowTV Entertainment delivers more compelling content (Sky Atlantic, ITV Encore, etc) and better curated box sets for £6.99 a month on a cracking little badged Roku box that costs £14.99, less than Virgin’s hard sold monthly fixed phone line cost.
With Q stealing away VM’s last remaining high end customers and NowTV and BT luring the core middle of the TV market the Virgin television business is relying on the apathy of customers reluctant to change suppliers rather than any compelling USP to keep us on board.
Virgin’s answer, according to Chief Digital Entertainment Officer David Bouchier, is to go back to the content market again. But in returning to that particular table Virgin will find only slim pickings indeed as Sky has tied up the US networks HBO and ShowCase whilst BT has AMC. Throw in the competition for programming from a rejuvenated Five (now owned by Discovery) and the occasional big US swoop by Channel 4 and there’s precious little left worth talking about.
Virgin does have Netflix of course, but today’s smart TVs deliver over the top services much slicker than the TiVo, and often have the Amazon Prime network available too. There’s no mention of Amazon coming to the TiVo these days, which means the odd underwhelming pick up like Kingdom and Ash vs Evil Dead are hardly going to sustain existing customers or attract new ones.
It’s a pretty sorry state of affairs. Although the Telegraph can run some puff about how efficient Liberty Global is with it’s economies behind the scenes it can’t really hide the reality of a TV offering that has lacked the necessary vision, attention and investment for far too long, a typical example of a media company that’s been run by accountants who have turned a blind eye to the opportunities of today’s technology and compelling content.
Jam tomorrow maybe whilst raising prices today? Who is gullible enough to fall for that?