June 17, 2015

Fear the Walking Dead - a BT exclusive not coming to Virgin Media soon

Now this is an interesting development in the battle for the great British couch potatoes. Determined to take its battle with the almighty Sky into new territory, BT announced a deal to exclusively bring American network AMC to the UK. In recent years, AMC has elevated itself from being a so-so US cable channel to an HBO-rivaling home of award-winning drama, with shows such as Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Mad Men and the biggest cable show of them all, The Walking Dead.
The new UK channel Awill launch in September with a particular ace up it's sleeve: the Walking Dead spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead.
The channel will also show long-running hits Breaking Bad and Mad Men. It's been announced that it is being made available for the first time in the UK to BT customers via its YouView pay-TV platform. 


Delia Bushell, managing director of BT TV and BT Sport, said: “AMC has showcased some of the biggest and most celebrated series on US television in recent years, including Breaking Bad and Mad Men. We’re confident our viewers will enjoy AMC’s cinematic approach to storytelling and look forward to offering them an outstanding selection of TV series and films in the months ahead.”
The question for Virgin Media (and Sky) customers is will this be a BT YouView exclusive? According to BT's own announcement, AMC will be a "BT Exclusive". So, much like Sky doesn't wholesale the Sky Atlantic channel to other platforms, it looks like BT is planning to keep this just for its own customers. That's a game changer, and it looks likely to leave Virgin Media the premium-priced platform with neither HBO nor AMC content. Of course, existing show deals with FX and Netflix may mean we still get AMC content (I recall Better Call Saul  being a Netflix exclusive for the commissioned two seasons and I think FX have Walking Dead for another series at least), but again Virgin Media are losing out by the company not playing in the content market itself.

June 16, 2015

New Now TV box on its way

Sky has announced its next-generation Now TV box and a new monthly streaming plan for Sky Sports. The refreshed lil' box will debut this August for £14.99 with an ethernet port and a five times faster processor. It is to be based on the Roku 3 player which hopefully means it will finally support 1080p streaming too.

Sky is also refreshing the crappy Now TV user interface to make it "quicker and easier" to navigate. No specific release date yet for that, but Sky says later updates in the year will improve discovery, tagging and bookmarking, and also add the ability to auto-play next episodes.

June 15, 2015

Game of Thrones on Now TV - the Nialli verdict

I'll be watching the final episode of season five of Game of Thrones this evening via the On Demand service on my Now TV box. To date it's been a near-faultless service this time around (let's not remind ourselves how poor the experience was a year ago) and viewing has been a good experience, no buffering whatsoever and fine 720p picture quality.
I still find the menu system on the Now TV box ridiculous (a curious mix of horizontal and vertical navigation that I've not fully mastered in three months) and there are bugs you'd have thought they would have ironed out by now, for example a "whoops, something went wrong" message at the end of every show if you don't press stop. I noticed a drop down to SD for a few minutes at one point (I think that was possibly broadband related) but generally it's proven reliable.
All told, the service has met my family's needs and has meant that we've been able to watch Sky Atlantic content legally, including GoT, Mad Men and Thronecast, at a reasonable price and without venturing near a dodgy download or the guy in the pub with the DVDs every Monday. It's not a service for everyone but worked for us.

Postcript: with GoT finishing tonight I went online to Now TV to cancel my subscription. When the site asked me why I was cancelling I said it was too expensive, and immediately it came back offering me the next four months of Entertainment pass for £3.49 a month, which will be worth taking for series two of True Detective alone. I wonder if that will happen again in four months’ time?

June 12, 2015

New on Netflix

Whatever the price you're paying, Netflix UK is finally getting its act together in telling you what's new on the service. Check out http://www.netflix.com/recentlyAdded for info.
Personally, I still think they should make MAFT's New on Netflix UK site official: how he keeps up with what's being added and, just as importantly, removed, is beyond me.

US tech giant shafts the UK: Netflix price rise for new customers

I got an email this week from Netflix:
In order to continue adding more TV programmes and films, including great Netflix series such as House of Cards and Better Call Saul, we are increasing our price for new members from £6.99 to £7.49 for the 2 screens at a time plan. As a thank you for being a member of Netflix already, your current pricing will remain in effect and we guarantee your price will not change until May 2016. 
Whilst it's comforting to know that my monthly subscription isn't going to rise for a while, I do wonder why they've increased the price for new customers at a time when it's fighting for customers with alternative over-the-top services such as Amazon Prime Video (which has a superior back catalogue of films and TV) and Now TV (which seems to be in much better shape than it was this time last year). Does Netflix believe it has already won the battle? If it does, I think it is seriously mistaken as you should never underestimate the corporate might of Sky or Amazon, especially as they undercut the new pricing (NowTV is £6.99 for a month of Entertainment channels and On Demand, Amazon Prime Instant Video is £5.99 a month or £79 a year if you go for the all-in Amazon Prime). Where does that leave Netflix with its TV oldies-but-goldies and a limited film catalogue when compared with its rivals?
TechRadar gives some perspective on the price hike:
"To continue adding more TV shows and movies, we're modestly raising the price for new members who choose the two-screen plan from £6.99 to £7.49," reads the statement from Netflix. "Pricing on other plans remains unchanged. As a thank you to existing members on the two-screen plan, their current plan and price will not change for one year." So there is to be no change to the pricing on either the basic £5.99 SD package or the uber £8.99 four device 4K package. It does though look like we're alone in this as Netflix has informed us the US and Australian services aren't going to be affected by the price changes.
Another example of UK customers being seen as an easy cash cow for a large US tech company with a currency conversion rate that just galls. The exchange rate as I write is a dollar equals 64p, so the US Netflix HD service should be £5.75 (it's $8.99 in the States). Add in the paucity of UK content (the US site has over twice the content of UK according to MAFT, including a far superior BBC and Channel 4 back catalogue) and I'm starting to feel well and truly mugged.
No wonder a Google Search for Netflix UK shows so many results on how to access the US version and pay just the US price...

June 09, 2015

BT announced Sports plans for next season's Champions League

But no word yet on availability or pricing on Virgin Media, but it looks like we're losing BT Sports in HD (I've highlighted that in bold in the following extract from the press release;

BT has revealed that all 351 matches from the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League next season will be free for customers who take BT TV. BT TV customers will be able to receive the full BT Sport Pack for free – comprising BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2, ESPN on BT Sport and the new BT Sport Europe channel, which launches on August 1 as the new home of top European football.
BT Broadband customers who choose to watch on their Sky service, via the BT Sport App or on BT Mobile, will be able to add the BT Sport Pack for a small charge of £5 a month.
BT also announced it will be launching a new Ultra HD channel in August, giving fans an outstanding viewing experience on BT Sport.
Keeping its promise to make televised sport more accessible to more people, BT will give its broadband customers the option of receiving BT Sport 1 for free for a third season. This channel will show all 38 live Barclays Premier League matches as well as the Aviva Premiership and SPFL.
John Petter, chief executive of BT Consumer, said: "When we launched BT Sport we promised to make televised football far more accessible and affordable than it has been to date. We have opened the market to millions of new customers and we want to build on that as BT Sport becomes the undisputed home of European football.
"We are of course giving our best offer to existing customers – broadband customers will get the new BT Sport Pack for the heavily discounted price of £5, whilst customers who take broadband and TV from us will get it absolutely free.
"This is a new chapter for European football on TV. BT Sport will show hundreds of live matches throughout the tournament using the very latest technology. Our presenters and experts will also provide the smartest insight and analysis."
BT’s screening of the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League matches will also see new innovation with regard to how viewers can watch games on BT TV. BT TV will be the only place where customers can watch all of the UEFA Champions League games in HD. A Red Button service will allow BT TV viewers to switch between matches and track the action with a new ‘Goal Alert’ function which will let the viewer know when a goal is scored in any of the games and check the latest stats.
BT will make some matches available for everyone to watch, whether a subscriber or not, via a new, free-to-air channel on digital TV. Called BT Sport Showcase, this channel will show a minimum of 12 UEFA Champions League matches and 14 UEFA Europa League matches and these will be available to anyone to watch for free. Each participating British team will be shown at least once. Finally, the company has announced that in August it will also launch the first Ultra HD (4K) channel in Europe, BT Sport Ultra HD, and will also introduce a new BT TV Ultra HD set top box. The Community Shield will be the first broadcast, with other live events shown throughout the season, including selected games from the UEFA Champions League, Barclays Premier League, FA Cup and Aviva Premiership Rugby.

June 05, 2015

Nat Geo Wild HD arrives on channel 229

A little delayed but here at last, we now have Nat Geo Wild in HD on channel 229.

May 26, 2015

Dabbling with the Dark Side: Now TV and Game of Thrones update

I have had my wee Now TV box and Entertainment subscription for two months now and I’m pleased to report it has been pretty much faultless for watching Game of Thrones season five, albeit through the Catch Up service rather than live viewing on the Sky Atlantic channel. Not a single instance of picture break up and the 720p picture quality has been extremely good. The Sky Atlantic fan show Thronecast has proven a hit with my family, too, but we’ve found little else on the channel (or ITV Encore, the other Sky exclusive, come to that) that justify keeping the Entertainment sub running after GoT has finished in a few weeks. I will cancel it in June (unless he reviews for the second season of True Detective suggest it's as good as the first).
One blip was with the final episodes of Mad Men when there has been a notable drop in PQ for a few minutes on a couple of occasions during episodes. But again, no break-ups to report and the service has been solid.

May 23, 2015

Netflix website to undergo major redesign

And hopefully the TiVo app will follow. 
Netflix confirms that it will roll out a new user interface on the web to all users worldwide beginning in June.  The most notable aspect to the new design is that it eliminates the slower, scrolling carousels for content discovery in favour of an updated look with larger thumbnails in each section which can be clicked on in order to expand a detail screen showing additional information about the title in question.
More details on the redesign can be found on TechCrunch.