March 22, 2015

Sky packages go up again

Five of Sky's six TV bundles are going up in price come June, with Sky suggesting the average bill will increase by "less than £3 per month". I guess they had to fund that ridiculous inflated price they paid for Premiership rights somehow.
Sky's basic bundle, which includes 35 entertainment channels including Sky Atlantic and Sky Sports News, will remain the same price (£21) but all the other packages, including the Sky Sports and Sky Movies packages will increase in cost.
How this will impact Virgin Media subscribers to the Sky channels we will have to wait to see. The Sky Movies bundle will go up 50p/month to £17/month, Sky Sports will increase by £1 to £25.50/month, while the Sky Movies + Sky Sports bundle will be £34.50/month, up £1.50. The Variety bundle goes up £2 to £30/month, while the Family bundle jumps £3 to £36/month. The new prices come in to effect from June 1st.
(I think Sky still charges extra each month for HD too - it used to be a tenner but I think it's half that now.)

March 20, 2015

Sky Sports anywhere for Android users

Virgin Android device owners who subscribe to Sky Sports as part of their TV packages can now watch Sky Sports content on their smartphones and tablets.
The latest version of the Sky Sports app for Android now lets Virgin Media customers sign in using their VM log in details in order to access any of the channels. They do need to have a TV sports subscription, where they can watch Sky's channels through a TiVo box, but there are no other restrictions.
Sky Sports 1 to 5, Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports News HQ are all available to watch on Android phones and tablets over Wi-Fi or a mobile data connection. TiVo customers can also choose to watch the channels through the Virgin TV Anywhere app, which will then subsequently open the Sky Sports app. "The Sky Sports app for Android cements our position as the home of sports TV at home or on the move and means we now have a full complement of Android and iOS apps for both Sky Sports and Sky Movies<" said Scott Kewley, director of digital entertainment for Virgin Media. "Our customers enjoy the same access to Sky Sports on the go as Sky customers."

March 15, 2015

VMHD Blog back in action

I've been away from the country for work but I'm back now. Apologies for the unheralded silence.

Virgin Media blocks Pirate Bay proxy sites

Not that I advocate torrenting on this blog, but the Government's mandate to ISPs to block file sharing sites took a step to the even darker side with the news that VM and others aren't just required to block the sites themselves, but also sites that tell you about the sites.
Here's what The Inquirer reports:
THE MAIN UK INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDERS (ISPs) are reportedly blocking access to sites that offer links to Pirate Bay proxy access sites, or are in the process of doing so. 
We can confirm that access to one of the pages is prohibited by Virgin Media's copyright guardian. The same test on a BSkyB connection returned sites one and three in their known form, while the second had a holding page for a domain firm. Virgin Media told us that it is blocking the court ordered sites, and confirmed that 98 sites fall into this camp. A spokesman added: "Virgin Media is required to block certain sites by the UK High Court. As a responsible ISP, we comply with court orders addressed to us."

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
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.