Figures released by cable television provider Virgin Media reveal that users of their new TiVo platform are exploring new ways of finding programmes. A quarter of their views of a television channel did not originate from the traditional electronic programme guide. Searching for shows is apparently proving popular.

Some 50,000 of the 3.7 million Virgin Media television customers are now using the new TiVo service. Early indications suggest that they are exploring new ways to find their favourite programmes, such as search. Intelligent autocompletion means that users typically only have to enter three characters of a search term to see relevant results.

For example, a search for the medical drama House will lead to a page showing forthcoming episodes, those that have aired in the last seven days, previous series available on demand, and links to relevant clips on YouTube.

While half the top ten search terms reflect nationally top rated programmes like The Apprentice or EastEnders, the other half did not feature in the top fifty programmes of the week, including programmes like Dexter and Fringe from channels that are further down the electronic programme guide. This may suggest popularity that is not necessarily dependent upon prominence in the channel schedules. With the arguable exception of The Apprentice, which was the most searched for programme, the rest of the top ten were all for episodic drama series and serials.

There are also signs that the early adopters of the Virgin Media TiVo service are also doing more with their television. In the sample week some 79% used one of the available applications, averaging 4.5 app launches per set-top box. Available apps include the BBC iPlayer. A Spotify app is also planned, offering access to over 13 million music tracks.

Some 65% of Virgin Media television customers regularly use on demand services, which as informitv likes to observe means that over a third do not. Nevertheless, Virgin Media has seen a fourfold increase in on-demand viewing over the last five years, fuelled by catch-up programming from the BBC and ITV, with an average of 78 million on demand views a month. Soap operas Coronation Street, EastEnders and Emmerdale were among the top ten catch-up programmes, although event programmes Comic Relief and Britain’s Got Talent were interestingly the most popular in the first and second quarter respectively.

Catch-up and library programmes are most viewed during peak time, when most people are available to view, but they are still outranked by movies, which accounted for 16% of on-demand viewing at 8:30pm.

Across the entire subscriber base, Virgin Media customers requested 484 million on demand views or over a quarter of a billion hours of viewing in the first half of the year and are on track to exceed the predicted one billion on demand views in 2011.

“TV will never be the same again,” said Cindy Rose, executive director of digital entertainment at Virgin Media. “The discovery tools for the next generation will be search, browsable collections and recommendations. There’s such a vast world of great entertainment that it’s exciting our early adopters are already exploring what the TiVo Service can do and we’ll continue to refine and build upon our lead in connected TVs.”

Whether search is really the best way to find programmes, or this is simply symptomatic of the difficulty in finding them in a conventional channel schedule grid, it seems that viewers will be increasingly dissatisfied with traditional programme guides in the era of connected television.

The Entertainment Index is published by Virgin Media.