Four HD channels to launch on Virgin Media

Virgin Media CEO Neil Berkett has signalled a change in emphasis of the cablenet’s policy towards HD channels. Speaking at the UBS 36th Annual Global Media and Communications conference he indicated Virgin would look to take advantage of Ofcom’s decision to place access to HD content on a par with premium content.

“To date our HD content is limited, we only have a couple of HD channels today [sic] and we will be launching four channels over the next three months. For us the key to HD is sports and movies and to invest unduly until we get access to that is not the right thing to do.” Berkett said Virgin could catch-up quickly should the market change and would be able to gear up within three to six months. The switch-off of Virgin’s remaining analogue homes would enable delivery of between 30-40 HD channels should the cablenet choose to offer them.

“As you look at the impact and characteristics of HD in the UK market we took the view that to over invest early in the curve was not the right thing to do. We didn’t have an option six months ago, our competitor [Sky] had locked away all of the HD content and that has now become available.” Virgin has previously said that it has preferred to concentrate on the delivery of HD through its on demand offer. To date the only linear channel has been BBC HD.

Berkett confirmed the launch of a 50 Mbps broadband service that will be officially announced during a press conference on Monday morning. He added that the video on demand service had now passed 50 million views.
“We will have 50 Mbps available by June 2009 to all of our homes, it will be available to 50% of all of our homes by the end of this financial year, ie in the next two weeks.

The combination of fibre and coax gives us a significant advantage not just today, but in the future, because DSL today is a substantially inferior product.” Berkett said only 10% of the households with ADSL2+ could get speeds of 24 Mbps whereas such speeds were already capable across the entire Virgin network.