Long reads

Q&A: Aleks Habdank, director, digital entertainment product, Virgin Media

Digital TV Europe talked to Virgin Media’s digital entertainment chief about the operator’s launch of TiVo-powered hybrid set-top boxes and the multiscreen future.

How should pay TV operators view OTT?

Thanks to the strength of Virgin Media’s cable fibre optic network, combined with our TiVo content discovery platform, we’re offering a seamless experience where consumers don’t have to worry about where their content is coming from. We’re embracing over-the-top services but within a managed environment, what we call a ‘through-the-middle’ approach and, with a dedicated 10Mbps modem in each set-top box, our new Virgin Media TiVo service blurs the distinction between broadcast, on-demand and online content. For customers it becomes just about the content, regardless of where it’s coming from. The challenge for others is providing sufficient bandwidth to the home and a quality of service capable of delivering a great viewing experience to multiple users, all at the same time. Increasing demand for content online is driving data consumption. Broadband traffic forecasts on Virgin Media’s own network indicate that we’ll see a leap from 781Gbps this year to 1.7Tbps in 2013.

What have you learned about TiVo use?

Our Tivo customers absolutely love it! They are starting to embrace alternative methods of finding favourite shows as well as exploring new shows, with 25% of views of linear broadcast channels from a means other than the linear EPG. The backwards EPG, enabling viewers to scroll back over the past seven days, is making it easier to find shows they may have missed and catch up via our on demand TV service. The search tool is popular, with the top 10 most searched for shows providing an insight into the programming viewers really want to watch. While half the searches in any week are for nationally rated shows, such as The Apprentice and EastEnders, the other half are for shows that did not feature in the top 50. There is clear demand for shows that don’t appear at the top of the EPG and TiVo is helping viewers find them with greater flexibility than traditional scheduling allows for. Popular searches includes programmes from channels  further down the EPG, such as Comedy Central, Warner TV and FX, suggesting an appetite for a broad array of content and hinting at the opportunity for broadcasters to reach greater audiences. And with intelligent search bringing up results as the customer types, with only three characters on average needed to get to the content they want, there is little to deter people from exploring the vast array of content Virgin Media puts at their fingertips.

What role can third-party players have?

We’re very interested in talking with providers who can offer something our customers want to see. Early indications imply the growing selection of apps on Virgin Media TiVo is adding to the TV experience. 79% of Virgin Media TiVo customers are using them with over four apps launched per set-top box per week. While early adopters may have a prevalence to use innovative new services, it hints at an appetite to ‘do more’ through the TV and it will be interesting to watch this change as the Virgin Media TiVo audience grows. One absolute rule is that the content and apps need to be fully integrated into the TiVo platform and all of our search, recommendation, discovery and selections functionality.

What multiscreen plans do you have?

The way people watch TV and consume content has already changed. For the first time, there are more internet connected screens in UK homes than TV screens: 3.4 screens across a household’s smartphones, tablet, connected games consoles or PCs versus 2.4 TV screens. Virgin Media is one of very few companies who can genuinely make this a mass-market experience. Virgin Media TiVo is not just a new TV service. We want to bring our multiple platforms together and enable our customers to take their favourite content with them, across their choice of screens, and we have already taken our first steps in this direction with Virgin Media Player which complements our on demand TV service, online and on mobiles. Watch this space for more.

How can you integrate your offering?

Virgin Media is ideally placed to bring together all four services. We’ve done a lot of work behind the scenes to integrate the way we operate. Instead of looking at TV, broadband and mobile as separate delivery mediums, we now have a single integrated digital entertainment team, responsible for delivering an editorially consistent  entertainment experience across all platforms. In the not-too-distant future, our mobile platform will allow you to pause a programme on your living room TV and continue watching it on your iPad in the kitchen. We have the platform, the connectivity, the products and the ambition. The challenge is encouraging content providers, broadcasters and regulators to think about content creatively, helping us make the most of the new digital landscape for the benefit of consumers.

Tags: TiVo, UK, Virgin Media

Most Recent