A little bit of good news and some bad news for television viewers in the UK today. We’ll start off with the bad…
Sky’s Pay DTT Service
Freeview is the UK’s free-tv Digital Terrestrial TV platform. It’s a brand name for the consortium consisting of the BBC, Sky, ITV, Channel 4 and transmission company National Grid Wireless. Freeview was launched after the collapse of ITV Digital (in related news, Monkey and Al are back on our screens).
Freeview is probably the biggest digital television sector in the UK and it’s great for the people who don’t want to pay a subscription but still want to be able to watch television after the digital switchover which begins next year.
Freeview was joined by a pay-DTT service called Top Up TV in 2004. Top Up TV used to broadcast about 8 or 9 different channels for a few hours a day through a timesharing system, as they only had 4 streams. They’ve been subject to a lot of speculation to how successful it is, and many people don’t like it as it causes confusion and some people believe it hinders the growth of Freeview. Paid subscription services have no place on the limited capacity on DTT.
Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB currently contributes three channels to the line up: Sky Three, Sky News and Sky Sports News. Today Sky announced plans to remove their three channels from the lineup and to replace them with it’s own subscription service.
This is obviously another big blow to Freeview and people who simply want free television. We’ll have a second, incompatible pay-TV service sharing the bandwidth and more pay channels littering the channel lineup. It really seems to be a way for Sky to reduce competition coming from Freeview rather than Sky providing a real alternative. They already provide a pay-TV service on satellite.
Ntl and Telewest become Virgin Media
The two cable companies Ntl and Telewest have now become Virgin Media. The "merger" combines the tri-play services from the two cable companies: broadband, tv and phone with Virgin’s mobile arm. The ISP Virgin.net has also been absorbed under the brand name of Virgin Media.
To promote Virgin Media, Virgin boss Richard Branson has decided to live in a glass box for one day.
The great thing about Virgin Media is that we finally have a rival to Sky. Virgin has some really attractive packages. The 3 for £30 offer gives you 2Mbps broadband, a pretty decent TV service including Sky channels and unlimited free national calls at weekends. Line rental is included in the price (line rental is usually £11 on BT so this package is effectively £19).
If you just want broadband through your BT line, you can get unlimited 8mbps broadband for just £15 a month. You also get evening and weekend calls to UK landlines for free. As a comparison, BT Broadband costs £27 a month. Switching to Virgin saves £144 a year.
Virgin also plan to launch a hybrid interactive television channel.
It’s worth mentioning that BT are also expanding to compete with these new offers. BT Broadband was rebranded as BT Total Broadband with 8Mbps as standard, usage caps have been raised or removed, a VoD-service called BT Vision is being launched and a wi-fi enabled mobile service BT Fusion.
If BT tie up with FON, this could be really interesting.