July 25, 2015

The BT Sports Europe verdict

The mighty readership of this blog has voted on the addition of BT Sports Europe to the XL TV package for a mandatory £3 for ALL customers - and you are most definitely not happy.
394 votes were cast in the poll I ran after it was announced that another sports channel was arriving but it was going to cost all customers on Virgin's top telly tier more, regardless of whether they wanted it or not. 68% said they were unhappy, 9% weren't particularly bothered one way or the other and less than a quarter were happy.
I don't think anyone's unhappy to see additional HD channels on cable, but clearly it's prospect of yet another price increase, and this one for a specialist (albeit probably popular) channel, that is the problem. And it sets a dangerous precedent: if Virgin starts bundling other specialist channels into its bundles and charging for the privilege, many customers will vote with their wallets and quit.
I like the Champions League and for me the new deal is good value. But if had been, say Sky Sports F1 I was being charged for I would have been seriously unhappy. I have no interest in F1 so why should I pay for it?
Virgin has most likely done the deal so that it can market the cost of BT's Europe channel as cheaper than Sky (simply by making sure all top tier customers fund it, not just those that sign up specifically for it) but that's not fair to many, many customers.
I think the days of channel bundling are numbered, especially as the noise of cord cutting gets louder, so is this is the latest evolution of the principle of bundling (i.e. us paying through the nose for channels we don't watch) or is the start of the desperate death throes of an outdmoded pricing model?

July 23, 2015

Is your TiVo box rebooting itself? UPDATED

I've got two TiVo boxes and they both have been rebooting like crazy this morning. I went on to the VM Community pages and found that I wasn't the only one - it appears to be widespread. Anyone else seen this?
UPDATE: VM employee Spiderplant reports on Cable Forum that it's a national fault and under investigation, problem F003809631 

UPDATE:
Outage reported on The Register but by the time they published it had been resolved. Spiderplant tells me that it was rectified mid-afternoon.

July 20, 2015

If you're unhappy...

...at the prospect of having to pay £3 more a month for XL TV for a sports channel you don't want, check out the footnote note of the email Virgin is sending to all XL customers:
We really hope you want to continue enjoying all the unmissable sport and top TV heading your way in your bigger, better TV XL package. But if you wish to, you can cancel or change your package at any time before 31 August 2015 without paying any cancellation fees, by visiting virginmedia.com/biggerbetter for more information.
Some VMHD readers have reported that they've been told they don't have to pay the £3 if they don't want the Sports Europe channel, but when I asked VM about this I got the following response:

"Do XL customers have to pay £3 extra if Sept if they don't want more BT Sport?" 
"That is the case I'm afraid. We did our research and we know our XL customers enjoy watching sports, we’ve worked hard to keep costs down. If your price is impacted you’ll receive a letter or email explaining any contract terms. It depends on your package. You can also give us a call on 150/0345 454 1111 and we'll look at what we can do to help."

July 17, 2015

Happy with BT Sports Europe HD for an extra £3?

The immediate reaction to the news that VM will increase the price of the XL TV package in September by £3 and will include the new channel BT Sports Europe HD has resulted in a number of complaints to this blog. I can see why: even as a football fan myself, this should have been an option for customers rather than a mandatory increase for all customers on the top end TV package. How do you feel? There's a poll top right to voice your opinion, and feel free to post a Comment on this post, too.

July 15, 2015

UPDATE: BT Sports Europe HD confirmed for XL TV customers, but...

Virgin Media has announced it is set to add BT Sport Europe to its XL TV bundle, but the package will rise by £3 a month.
Virgin claims the move means it is now the only provider in the UK to offer BT Sport as part of one subscription.
Virgin claims the £3 price rise for XL packages, which will take effect from September 1st, comes on the back of work done to help minimise the rising cost of sports subscriptions and adding the BT Sport Europe channel. While any price rise may seem at odds with the idea of minimising costs, the increase is less than those soon to be implemented by BT (+£6) and Sky (+£7.49). 
BT Sport Europe in SD and HD will also be included in the bolt-on package for non-XL customers - the cost of which has risen from £15 to £18 a month with no activation fee.  
Update: here's the Virgin Media Press Release, which strangely doesn't mention the price rise.
BT Sport Europe HD will join BT Sport channels - 1 HD, 2HD and BT Sport ESPN HD - on the Virgin Media platform from launch on 1st August and will be available to all TV XL customers and TV customers taking BT Sport as a bolt on. 
In addition to BT Sport Europe HD, we have added more HD channels including Nat Geo Wild HD and Lifestyle HD.

Our TV Anywhere service offers 100 live channels to enjoy over WiFi and is currently the UK’s most comprehensive TV on-the-go service.

Our extended contract with BT means that in addition to the Uefa Champions League and Europa League matches, TV XL customers can enjoy a wide variety of sports content including: English Premier League Football (38 matches), FA Cup (25 matches), Aviva Premiership Rugby (69 matches), up to 500 matches from across the German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A and French Ligue 1, UFC, NBA (basketball), MLB (Baseball) and Moto GP.

Subscribers will be able to stream matches live on TV Anywhere via tablets, mobiles, laptops and PCs.

You’ll also get access to BT Sport Extra (which is BT’s interactive red button content), allowing you to watch all eight matches during the UEFA Champions League group stages.

July 07, 2015

More on that Virgin Movies quality drop

Our correspondent Jay has followed up his investigation into the drop of quality in picture quality and has found some interesting background information: 
I just found out that Filmflex (Sony + Disney owned) were the provider, but were taken over by a company called Vubiquity last year.  
Reading the Vubiquity site, they claim to encode films more efficiently and therefore reduce bandwidth requirements. 
Jay believes that this will lower the quality of any content. (Personally, I think this is the kind of optimisation work that takes a while to fine tune, but agree with him that if VM have started using this and there is an unacceptable drop in quality then Virgin should address this.) Here's what Jay concludes:
This is most likely the reason for the recent substantial drop in quality from the video on demand content, they must be using a lower bitrate to encode the premium movie content.  I would say that for about five weeks now the picture quality for their SD movies have been so bad they are now considered unviewable.  Even the quality of the HD movies has dropped, although they are still of viewable quality but not what some may consider true HD. Virgin Media are currently investigating this matters but let's see how long Vubiquity keep pushing this high cost and low quality junk!
I myself don't use Virgin Movies much these days and have alternatives providers (Amazon, Sony, Now TV) if I want on demand movies. I'd be interested to hear from any Virgin Media staff regarding what's actually happening with Virgin Movies and why this is seemingly going awry.

July 03, 2015

Virgin confirms BT Sports Europe

No pricing yet though. Here's the press release:
"Virgin Media today announces BT Sport Europe will join its existing sporting line-up, already the most comprehensive available for UK sports fans in one place.

The new channel will be available to Virgin Media customers from launch on 1 August. Full details of how it will be incorporated into Virgin Media sports packages will be announced soon.

Tom Mockridge, Virgin Media Chief Executive, said: “If the football is on, we’ll be showing it.  Virgin Media is still the only provider that offers you front row access to all the live sporting action at home and on the go.”

Virgin Media customers will have access to live televised matches from English Premier League, UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, at home or on the go.  For sports fans who want more than football, Virgin Media offers over 30 sports channels showing all the major live sporting action in HD or on the go. They include Sky Sports, BT Sport, British Eurosport, Premier Sport, BoxNation and Racing TV.  Virgin Media is the home of all the major live sports in the UK, in HD or on the go."

BT Sports Europe coming to Virgin Media?

Not a source I've seen before, but according to IP TV News:
Virgin Media today announces BT Sport Europe will join its existing sporting line-up. “If the football is on, we’ll be showing it,” explains Tom Mockridge, Virgin Media Chief Executive. “Virgin Media is still the only provider that offers you front row access to all the live sporting action at home and on the go.” The new channel will be available to Virgin Media customers from launch on 1 August. Full details of how it will be incorporated into Virgin Media sports packages will be announced soon.
No word as to if it will cost customers more or whether we will get the channel in HD. Stay tuned.

Virgin Movies - quality drop but still a premium price

It looks like Virgin Media are playing around with Virgin Movies On Demand content. I'm not sure if anyone else has noticed but I received an email this week from one unhappy VM customer, which I'm posting here in the hope that someone at Virgin Media will take note and perhaps explain what's going on and what they're going to do about it. (Thanks to Jay for bringing this to my attention.)
“We have been virgin customers for the past 5 years and have been quite satisfied with the service up until this point.  We have been using the Virgin Movies on Demand service extensively for some time now, watching as many as 4 movies a week from the "Out This Week" section at an approx cost of £3.99 per Standard Definition rental.“Prior to around four weeks ago everything was fine with the service, movies streamed fine and were clear, decent quality and had no problems such as pixelation.  We first noticed there was a problem when we rented a film called "The Mule" on 5th June and since then all of the Standard Definition films that have been added, have been of extremely poor quality, so bad in fact that we consider them unviewable. The picture quality is very pixelated, dark, grainy and out of focus, it's just awful to try and watch and is far below the acceptable level for standard definition as used for normal channels.“We have a 50 inch Plasma TV and have compared standard definition channels available through our TiVo Box, they are all vastly superior in quality compared with what we can now receive through Virgin Movies.  “We know that the problem is not with our TV or the TiVo box, because all the standard channels are okay and the same as before, it's only the Virgin Movies service. This can't be a streaming problem either, as all the movies that were made available prior to that bunch of "Out This Week" Movies, are all still available in a clear and decent viewing quality.“We reported this a few weeks back and specifically mentioned that it was relating to Movies on Demand. An engineer came out a couple of days later and said that there was not really anything that could be done about the problem with quality.  “Yesterday i spent a difficult two hours in a Livechat with a Virgin Media agent who was at time very argumentative instead of trying resolve the situation.  “It took a lot of effort and explaining for him to actually understand the problem. He did do comparisons in their office using the TV available, in the end he admitted that there was in fact a quality issue with the new movies available. After confirming the issue, he simply said that there was nothing that he could do about the matter.“When a customer is paying for a premium service such as a movie rental, they would expect at least the same quality as on the normal channels being broadcast, not the terrible quality material now being provided.  In order to get around this we have resorted to renting the HD versions, paying an extra pound per movie.  However, in the "Out Now Movies" there are maybe 30 rentals available and only about 5 are in HD.  “It used to be that around 80 - 90% of the films were available in SD and HD, but that's simply not the case anymore.  Not only are we unable to watch the majority of the content, and having to paying more when HD is available, the HD content is no longer as sharp and detailed as the HD movies used to be and we don't believe that they can be accurately described as high definition.“Having ruled out the TV, The TiVo Box and Streaming as being the cause of the problem, it can only be that the movies themselves have been encoded into much lower file sizes in order to cut down on bandwidth usage. We are surprised that this would be done for a premium rental service.“We are very disappointed in the situation, not only with the new low quality content, but also by the way this was dealt with by the engineer and the customer services agent.”.

July 02, 2015

New in July on Netflix

The Guardian has a useful summary of what's in the pipeline for Netflix this month: http://gu.com/p/4a9et. It includes new TV series and added films, but sadly doesn't say what's leaving (often important to know - check MAFT's blog for that info).
For those who have Amazon's Prime, the Guardian covers that too http://gu.com/p/4a9g3.