What Virgin Media needs to do to make us switch to cable

Digital set-top boxes

virginmedia.jpgLots of hubbub in the press today about NTL’s rebranding as Virgin Media, which takes effect this week. Richard Branson is unsurprisingly bullish about its prospects, while BSkyB has been predictably nonchalant about the threat posed by its beefed-up competitor. Meanwhile, BT is focusing on getting its BT Vision service up and running.

But what about us punters? What will Virgin Media have to do to persuade us to switch to cable (or stay with it if we’re already on NTL)? Here’s three ideas from Tech Digest.

1. Prove that the customer service has improved
One word on NTL’s customer service in the past: Christ. It was every bit as bad as the complaints websites would have you believe. To quote one example close to home (i.e. me), when my telephone line was fecked and my digital set-top box stopped working, the response from customer services was inadequate at best (I had some choicier words at the time). Virgin Media execs are making the right noises about having sorted the problems since the NTL / Virgin merger, but the proof will be in the watching/talking/surfing.

2. Beat Sky+ at its own game
The word is truly out about Sky+ – it crossed over from a word-of-mouth geek secret to a mainstream device long ago. NTL customers have been waiting for something similar for some time, and talk of Virgin Media’s new PVR – which may or may not be called V+HD or some variation – has got us dribbling with anticipation. But it’ll have to out-Sky+ Sky+ to live up to expectations.

3. Bring great HD channels and on-demand content
The two areas on which the coming digital TV battle will be fought are crucial for Virgin Media. What HD channels are available and how fast the company’s HD set-top boxes roll out will be vitally important, while a strong suite of on-demand films and programmes will be equally essential to compete with Sky and BT Vision.

Stuart Dredge
For latest tech stories go to TechDigest.tv


  • Virgin Media is far and away the world’s worst customer service company. It is not surprising that the company is up for sale again. Anyone mad enough to buy them can expect the worst. Whatever due diligence they have done on the company will not prepare them for what they find on the ground. My own experience was an install from hell.

    I should have known what to expect when the VIrgin Media account generated and ntworld email address.

    My partners name was spelled differently on different letters / contract etc. not the best start given the fact that email is not that flexible. The Install letter did not arrive until several days after the engineer called. I therefore did not have a PIN number. The install engineer was plain rude and gave me the wrong PIN number after using his laptop to receive it from HQ.

    The serial number was wrong. It turned out the there was an error in the Customer Service manual!

    I signed up for 4 Meg but was entered up as 2 Meg on their database. I was not given the £10 installation discount for joining online – they had me down as ordering by telephone. I was advised to ring support in ‘India” and after a long time waiting they told me to ring ‘England’ who then told me to call ‘India’ … India did not have access to all my details and so we had a completely impossible conversation. They asked me for my password. Two had been given by the Virgin Media sign up did not work. Later, much later, it transpired that he should have asked for a ‘security word’ – in-fact I had given that in desperation even though it was not a ‘Password’ but they would not accept it. It later transpired (from a supervisor) that the staff I had been talking too did not know about a ‘security word’ for security reasons!

    I was continually refused access to a Manager / Supervisor.

    During one of the many calls it was revealed they I had been put down as £25 per month when it should have been £17.

    I was then told that ‘the best solution would be to go back online and go through the registration process again!’ I was told I would get two bills, TV and telephone and just a Telephone. I had not ordered TV! In fact it the became clear that the £25 charge was for TV. So I ‘may receive a £25 bill and a £25 credit’.

    At the end of all this I just kept insisting on a manager and finally, after god knows how many hours, I got one. Santosh was OK, he was doing his best to sort through all these mistakes. He was able to increase me to 4 meg pretty much immediately offered and I demanded better, compensation. He finally agreed to upgrade me to 20Meg for a £25 per month. I was told that he would not be able to do this himself and that it could take up to 24 hours but promised to call me back after 24 hours to check it had been done. I was impressed that, somewhere, there was someone at Virgin Media that understood that the customer is still king, I trusted him. I thanked him and we had a laugh.

    Some two hours later my 4 Meg died, I assumed that it was part of the 20 Meg upgrade. Sadly 24 hours later it was still dead. Santosh did not ring. Several days later I have nothing. I have a dead cable modem, a 4 port router I purchased to use with the service, and high blood pressure

    It has cost me a small fortune in phone calls and a redundant cable modem but I have had enough, I can’t take any more of this. The only problem is how do I get out of it?

    Virgin Media are the biggest bullshitters on the planet. DOING BUSINESS WITH VIRGIN MEDIA can seriously damage your health.

  • Received my V+ Box. Was very annoyed at the fact that the only HD channel i was able to watch on my new HD TV was BBC HD Preview channel.

    Telephoned Virgins retentions department expressing my annoyance and they immediately game me a 6 month discount of £10 per month to cover the cost of my V+ box until they get up and running with HD channels.

    SORTED !!!

  • NTL / Virgin call it what you like, until they beef up security on their systems, people will still be buying a hookie box and getting the lot for free. Sky got thiers sorted years ago and are reaping the rewards for people actually paying for what they watch. And Bob Jones is correct NTL/Telewest have been holding onto area licences for years and loads of us don’t have the option of cable. Hopefully the rebranding will also mean expansion.

  • Iam an employee of NTL/Telewest and the 14th of feb should be an exciting day with the takeover

  • Correct me if I’m wrong but they’ve had the TVDrive PVR out for a few months. Isn’t it just being rebranded? It has the ability to download shows and entire series on demand and although it needs a bit more work but from what I’ve seen it’s better than Sky+. If only they redesigned the remote!

  • Trust me, we’re working on all of those things. Customer services are being improved with a massive overhaul of the customer care and billing systems, V+ the new PVR is excellent and outclasses Sky+ IMO (but I would say that ;-).
    The real blocker to us getting more HD is Sky. They are very reluctant to sell us any content (including sky sports red button) for a price we can realistically sell on to the end customer.

  • I work for NTL/Virgin Media, and I can say that the service hasn’t been the best. But there i definitly going to be a large improvement on the customer service, everything is changing dramatically. The HD boxes are rolling out quickly and plentifully, and unfortunately, Sky are being cruel by not allowing Virgin Media to offer any more HD channels other than BBC HD at the moment. They’re in negotiation but I don’t expect it to be long until Virgin Media can offer more channels.

    The changeover is great and now NTL/Virgin Media truly are in competition with Sky.

  • I’d be happy if they just got coverage in my area – its 9 miles to the nearest cable place, they’ve had it for 20 years and NTL can’t get anything out here?

    Branson is a liberal nut – he whines about every competitor when his crappy products fail, he is Murdoch without any talent.

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