Virgin Media, the British cable television company, will launch a new broadband connected television service with a set-top box powered by TiVo. The high-definition digital video recorder will be 3D compatible and will include a terabyte of storage. A year after entering into a strategic partnership, Virgin Media and TiVo say they have developed a unique converged television and interactive service bringing consumers in the United Kingdom the best in television entertainment, be it broadcast, on demand or online. Virgin Media boldly claims it will blow other connected television products out of the water.
The announcement from Virgin Media is long on promise but short on specifics or specifications.
It will include a terabyte of storage, which with the falling cost of hard drives is becoming standard for set-top boxes. Satellite competitor Sky has offered boxes with a terabyte of customer storage, with a further half a terabyte reserved for operator use.
The box will include a dedicated internal modem able to deliver high-definition video and other online services “without impacting customers’ regular broadband connections”.
Virgin Media suggests, without justification, that competitors connected television products “rely on just one central broadband connection” and argues that this makes it “difficult for families to watch online television or television on demand and take advantage of the internet at the same time”. This implies, but does not state, that Virgin Media will reserve bandwidth for connected television services over and above that allocated for general broadband usage.
The interface is understood to be similar to the latest TiVo Premiere digital video recorders, using Adobe Flash for presentation.
While Virgin Media has been highly critical of the YouView initiative from British broadcasters and competing broadband service providers, there is no indication as to how open the new Virgin box will be and whether it will provide a market for third-party applications or access to other web services.
Cindy Rose, the executive director of digital entertainment at Virgin Media, is confident about the capabilities of the new box. “Virgin Media’s next generation connected TV service — powered by TiVo — and combined with our superior broadband will blow other ‘connected TV’ products out of the water,” she said. “We’re really proud of our new next-generation TV service which will appeal to anyone and everyone looking for the best of live broadcast TV, catch up, on demand and internet apps and services.”
The new service is said to be “on track to be installed in the first homes in the fourth quarter.” It is also unclear whether the new box, when it available, will only be offered to new customers or whether it will be an optional upgrade for existing subscribers.
Virgin Media has 3.7 million digital cable television subscribers in the United Kingdom, up 145,000 on a year previously. The business is turning around under the Virgin Media brand, and now makes a modest operating profit, although it is still burdened by £5.7 billion in long-term debt.
Although it will initially be a hybrid service, the next-generation planning that Virgin Media is planning will open the way to delivering services exclusively over internet protocol in the future.
The cable company currently offers broadband connections of up to 50 megabits per second and will offer 100Mbps in London from December, rolling out across its network by mid-2012.
Neil Berkett, the chief executive officer at Virgin Media, said: “We have already seen a massive uptake in the number of customers watching video rich services and bandwidth hungry high definition programmes and clips. We are now in a world where people want the best connectivity with whatever screen they are using and those service providers that aren’t able to deliver this will simply be left behind.”