February 15, 2015

Virgin Media customer base passes five million

Virgin Media’s latest trading figures showed its revenue increased 3% to £4.2bn in the year to 31 December 2014, with operating profit up 41%, mostly due to revenue growth and economies of scale following its purchase by Liberty Global.

Cable subscription revenue grew 3% in 2014 and the quad-play company’s mobile revenue was also up, by 9%, while churn rate reached a record low of 14.6%.

Chief Executive Tom Mockridge put the fall in customers leaving down to better customer service and a more effective network, which people value more as they watch more video via broadband: “The fundamental reason is people use their broadband services so much more. The use in our network is running up 60% on last year.” Mockridge said that Virgin's first infrastructure expansion in 15 years is overdue and that the company will continue to prioritise infrastructure improvements over acquiring content. 

Average monthly revenue per user also rose, to £49.36 in the fourth quarter of 2014. While some could be attributed to price rises, the company also sold more products across its quad-play offering of telephony, broadband, mobile and television services. 

February 13, 2015

Virgin Media invests to increase network and create 6,000 new UK jobs

Press release (slighted abridged):
Virgin Media is embarking on “Project Lightning” the single largest investment in broadband digital infrastructure in the country for more than a decade; creating thousands of new jobs in what will be a multi-billion pound boost to the national economy.
Virgin Media will extend its unrivalled fibre-rich network to approximately four million additional premises over the next five years. This will increase the number of homes and businesses to which Virgin Media can offer services by almost a third; from around half of the country today to nearly 17 million premises by 2020. £3 billion for homes and businesses; £8 billion of value to the UK economy and consumers
Tom Mockridge, Virgin Media Chief Executive Officer, said: “Millions of homes and businesses will soon be able to benefit for the first time from broadband speeds at least twice as fast as those available from the other major providers. Consumers and business owners who want to make the switch to better broadband speeds now have an alternative; you can call on Virgin Media to ‘Cable My Street’.”
This network expansion programme is expected to create 6,000 new jobs in the UK at Virgin Media and across its construction partners. Roles will be created across the country, including jobs to support engineering and sales efforts. It will increase the number of apprenticeships created by Virgin Media to 1,000 over the next five years.
Virgin Media calls on consumers and businesses to register their interest Network expansion will be prioritised according to demand from households and companies, with a focus on areas closest to Virgin Media’s existing network. Virgin Media is urging communities who want better connectivity to register their interest at virginmedia.com/cablemystreet.
Mockridge added: “In virtually all of the areas we have identified for expansion, BT is the only option available right now. Its ageing copper telephony wires are not capable of the ultrafast connectivity that Virgin Media delivers. Soon we will offer unbeatable services to even more homes and businesses across the country.”

February 05, 2015

4k boxes from Sky? Don't hold your breath

Sky boss Jeremy Darroch played down the idea of a new 4k ready box from Sky – reported as Project Ethan – explaining the rate of change was different to what it was ten or even five years ago. Rather than replace the entire set-top box population it was more likely that changes will be made to the software.
“Ultra HD is to be determined – it does really well on big screens, but less impactful [sic] on smaller screens,” said Darroch. “The jury is still out as to how big an idea it will be, we’re thinking about the box power, how we build into the software stack and the broadcast infrastructure that goes alongside that.”
NOW TV, Sky’s pay-as-you-go service is to receive a revamped set-top, again based on the Roku platform. NOW will also receive a new logo. Rumours persist that it will be a full 1080p service - the current box, based on the old Roku LT, is only 720p. Expect a price hike too - despite service problems with the live channels the On Demand content has proven hugely popular and Sky are projecting even more success for the service going forward.

February 03, 2015

Amazon Instant Video

I've signed up to Amazon Prime for the free 30 days and have been impressed with the line up of programmes and films on the service compared with Netflix. I'm playing it through my Sony smart TV and iPhone - the former is poor and stutters at peak times, the latter is faultless*.
I've found Netflix's line up weaker of late (see previous post), so finding the following all available in Amazon Prime, in HD and sometimes 1080p, is quite heartening and certainly worth signing up for the month's trial. I'm currently watching the third season of Ripper Street and there's plenty of good TV series on Amazon that aren't on UK Netflix, including West Wing, Lost, Mad Men and The Walking Dead.
But it's the films where Amazon appears to be ahead of Netflix. Recent films include 12 Years a Slave, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Argo, Prometheus, Prisoners, Rush, Alan Partridge, Mud and last year's Under the Skin. It's impressive.
What I'd really like to see is the service available via my TiVo boxes. It's a broader service though than Netflix and you can buy or rent On Demand movies at lower prices than Virgin Movies, so maybe Virgin won't be offering it to UK customers any time soon.

* Does anyone else experience problems with Amazon Instant Video on Sony TV or Playstation? If so, any idea if Sony is doing anything about it? Netflix through the TV is stunning so I think it's the app rather than a broadband or service issue, as playing it via my iPhone or iPad is fine.

January 30, 2015

Virgin Media attempts to pause Premier League rights process

From MediaGuardian:
Virgin Media has asked the regulator Ofcom to take the unprecedented step of pausing the auction of Premier League television rights. Virgin has filed an ”application for interim measures” with Ofcom to use its powers to temporarily halt the decision process for which broadcasters get the rights to air live top-flight UK football matches.
Last autumn Virgin asked Ofcom to look into the the increasig cost of Premier League football rights, warning of “significant consumer harm” if the current process continued unchecked. It claimed fans were being asked to pay over the odds to watch live football. Ofcom’s decision is due in March but Virgin has now filed an application for the auction to be halted . Virgin said: “If the auction continues unchecked, Ofcom’s ability to act will be prejudiced and it will likely be 2019 until the next opportunity to reign-in the rampant inflation in prices for viewers.”

January 26, 2015

Netflix UK customers have a miserable January again

If you're a subscriber to Netflix, you've lost more than you've gained in January 2015. According to the excellent website New to Netflix there were 96 titles added to Netflix this month but a massive 284 removed. That sounds bad, but actually January 2014 was even worse, with 164 additions and a stunning 517 removals.
Over the rest of the year additions outpace removals most months, but the overall catalogue feels like on in decline.
The chart here is from Maft's nifty stats page where you can find other evidence that the service appears to be investing less in its catalogue now that it has a decent user base in the UK. And if you really want an eye opener, click on Maft's US Netflix stats - just under 7,500 titles available every month, albeit with some rotation compared with the UK's 2,700. As anyone with a VPN account will tell you, in the US (where the service is cheaper per month) it's a whole new ball game with loads of new films and series that we don't get a sniff of here.
I wonder where the service in the UK is heading now that Netflix has to compete with Amazon Instant Video and Now TV for film and series rights. Now TV is still overpriced and quality can be poor with live streaming, but Amazon's catalogue is increasingly impressive, and good value if you're a regular shopper on Amazon. So where's the Amazon app for TiVo? It was much talked about but never materialised. I can access it via my Sony TV but playback quality is patchy - even the SD buffers and stutters - but Sony assure me that will be fixed.

January 13, 2015

And after 3D, expect 4k to be the next big non-event

Interesting CES covering from The Register this year, who as always show a cynical disregard for technologies that nobody has actually asked for: It's 4K-ing big right now, but it's NOT going to save TV.
Virgin Media still only broadcasts all its HD in 720p and, as far as I'm aware, has no plans to increase this to 1080p. Sure, your TV may present it as 1080i, but the next step for VM and Sky would be 1080p, and even the most-lauded Netflix 4K content is actually currently upscaled. My Sony TV's Freeview channels occasionally are received in 1080p (notably some BBC content).
I'd expect Sky to launch and shout a 4K offering at some point, they've already done some trials, but I can't honestly see an appetite from the consumer yet except those hapless few who have to have the latest-if-not-greatest to impress the neighbours.

January 01, 2015

Happy new year from Virgin Media with two new HD channels

Finally, we have Sky Sports News in HD on 511 (identified as SkySpNHQHD in the EPG!) and Sky News in HD on 603. Enjoy!

December 29, 2014

Netflix ins and outs this January - UPDATED

Out go Roger Rabbit and the Blues Brothers and over two hundred others, many of which I had in My List, and  in come just a handful of new series and new(ish) films.
Info on what's departing can be found at http://netflix.maft.uk/lastchance
Details of what's arriving at http://vodzilla.co/blog/coming-soon-to-netflix/top-26-new-releases-coming-soon-to-netflix-uk-in-january-2015/
Hopefully there's plenty more additions on the way - to my eyes, the selection looks seriously depleted from what we enjoyed in 2014.

December 23, 2014

Buying an HD TV

Humour Hive posted the following (far too good to just appear as a Comment on a short Post). I hope newbies find it useful:

A couple of tips for those purchasing a TV and unsure what resolution they are buying. 
Most TV's have a sticker on the TV or box that states it is in High Definition (HD). 
If it says HD READY, this means it is 720 pixels. 
If it says FULL HD, this means it is 1080 (either 1080i or 1080p). 

The reason you may want to know the resolution is mainly based on the size of TV you are getting. 720 can be just as good an image as 1080 as long as you get the right screen size. 720 is best for smaller screens up to 32/36 inch TV's, whereas 42 inch and bigger would benefit with a 1080. 
If you try and get a cheap TV that is 720 on a 52 inch you will lose picture quality. Whereas paying out a lot of money for 1080 when the screen size is 22 inches is also a waste of money as the screen is too small to really appreciate the extra pixels, so the noticeable quality is hard to distinguish. 

Finally it is also worth noting that the bigger the screen size, the further away you should sit from the screen. A 32 inch screen you can sit much closer to, to get the best viewing of the image, while a 60 inch screen is better suited to large houses as you would really need to sit a good 10 - 15 feet away from the TV before you are getting the best image quality they want you to view the TV at. 

For the average UK living room a 32-42 inch TV is perfect for the distance the sofa is likely to be from the TV set. And the bigger you go, the more you want to avoid HD READY and go with FULL HD, especially over 40 inches. 

Don't worry too much about 4K TV's because they are expensive, not very many manufacturers and virtually nobody is even broadcasting in 4K yet except the occasional show on Netflix, etc. But even those shows in 4K will require you to have a beefy internet connection to stream them before you even buy the TV. 
And you could buy 4K to future proof yourself, but to be honest only the world cup final and a couple of Wimbledon matches have been shown in 4K to test the technology and is still a good 2 or 3 years before it will start to be broadcast in any regularity on a channel. It could be at least 5-7 years before it is as popular as HD channels are now, and by that time the price of 4K TV's will have dropped to a similar price as a HDTV is now, and you might be ready to upgrade again in 7 years time anyway. 
Its also worth noting that although 4K is very futuristic to the consumer, its already been outperformed by an even bigger HD technology that is starting to appear at tech shows and that broadcasters may see the investment in 4K a little pointless if the new technology is as cheap and far more advantageous for them to broadcast, it may be that 4K may end up like 3D and be a short-lived fad that is soon forgotten about. 
My advice, get a good quality FULL HD TV that suits the size of your living room. Invest in a Blu-Ray player that are really cheap now that makes full use of your new tv. Get a Netflix subscription and enjoy the next 3 or 4 years of entertainment to be had by that while 4K sorts itself out on whether it wants to be a dominant force or fades out into oblivion.