Virgin Media V Day: What can we expect from Richard Branson?

Broadband, Digital set-top boxes, Top stories, TVs

virginmedia.jpgToday is V Day, when Virgin Media officially launched. We’d already covered the basics last month, but now it’s all official, here’s what we can expect from Virgin Media.

Quad-play services

Thanks to the combination of ntl:Telewest and Virgin Mobile, quad play is billed as the ‘one-stop solution’ for consumers’ entertainment and communications needs. Well, of course they would say that. What about the detail?

Virgin Central

Billed as a ‘new TV channel with a difference’ and ‘its most innovative content offer yet’, Virgin Central will be launching on 20th February (cable channel 119). Customers can choose from a selection of episodes from various hit US and UK shows. They’re calling it a hybrid service. There won’t be scheduled start times, and different content will be uploaded on a regular basis.

Virgin describe it like this:

The channel will be free and host a showcase of blockbuster entertainment around the clock, selected from the best of the company’s TV-on-demand service. By pressing one button and using a simple on-screen guide, viewers will have instant access to different episodes of the show they select. They can then stop, rewind and pause – just like using a DVD player.

It sounds a bit like Sky+ meets Freeview Top-Up Anytime, and presumably (from a purely marketing point of view) is designed to entice viewers into paying for more of Virgin’s TV-on-demand offerings.

We’ve already reported on some high profile content deals, and the company also say they have over 500 movies, highlights from the previous week’s primetime schedule, classic series, and music videos.

Of course, Virgin will be doing more deals and adding more content throughout the year – again, they’re hardly likely to say “this is all there is, folks”.

Service coverage

For any media company to compete nationally, it has to have the coverage. Virgin Media have announced plans to extend its reach nationally by rolling services out to non-cable areas this year, and thus reaching over 97% of UK households. How it’s going to do that isn’t detailed, but if Sky can do it, then maybe Virgin can too. In any case, the ntl:Telewest catchment area already covers a significant portion of the UK.

High street presence

Through Virgin Mobile stores, the company will offer its quad-play services to the masses. It’ll also be running promotions in over 100 of the UK’s major shopping centres, and apparently a deal is imminent to sell its services in hundreds of high street retail outlets throughout Britain. Again, it’s a ‘wait and see’ moment.

Package choice

Customers will be offered various levels of quad-play service. For those who want “the best entertainment and communication products money can buy” there’s the VIP (Very Impressive Package) deal, offering V+ (the HD-enabled PVR), 10Mbps broadband, unlimited UK landline calls, and a free TV mobile phone with 500 minutes of mobile airtime and 1,000 texts per month, plus £60 free airtime. Very impressive?

For those on a more meagre budget (and there’s no definite statement as to how much VIP will cost) there are two packages at £20pm, three at £30pm, and four at £40pm. Plenty of choice, it seems.

Customer service

One of the three important factors that would make us switch to Virgin Mobile was customer service, and Virgin are pledging to put this at the heart of their business. “Great progress has been made, with 71% of calls now answered within 30 seconds compared to 37% this time last year. And the average speed of answer is now 40 seconds, compared to 176 seconds this time last year. Virgin Media will continue to focus on achieving and maintaining the highest levels of service for all its customers.”

Yep, that’s the rhetoric. We’ll wait to see if that continues when hordes of new customers roll in (as I’m sure Virgin are hoping for)

Building on strength

On paper, Virgin Media should be in a strong position. It brings together a major telecoms company with wide UK coverage, and Virgin’s mobile communications business. But watch out, Mr Branson, Sky are on the move already. Can you compete with them? We’ll have to wait and see.

Andy Merrett
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  • I am currently an ntl customer with the broadband, phone and cable tv set top box service. My question is how do we replace the ntl box with the V box? This had better be free as the service is changing.

  • Sadly my experiences today show that this may be another Virgin Trains – flashy new logo and Richard Branson doing some stunts, but same old product and service.

    You’d have thought that especially given NTL’s poor track record they’d have got all their ducks in a row for launch day, but no.

    I ordered a V+ box last week and it was due for installation between 1-6pm today (in itself a five hour window isn’t great).

    The guys in the van turned up at 1:30…and asked what it is we wanted. A V+ box? No, sorry, the ones for our area (South London) still had all the old logos on them and were sent back to be rebranded. I mean, perish the thought, that the nice new black box under the telly wouldn’t have the shiny red logo on it. That really wouldn’t do now would it.

    I rang up customer services and was assured that they’d be back with a V+ box in tow. 6pm came and went. I called up again and got a 15 minute wait message on the line. At this point it was sounding very much like the NTL millions of us are very familiar with.

    When I finally got through, the guy in the call centre did some checking and even though it showed that the stuff was available in our area on the system, the installation guys claimed not to have it.

    I was dying to ask Branson about this during his ‘ask Richard a question’ session in his Covent Garden glass box but unfortunately he’d already logged out.

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