Thursday, 12 January 2017

Irish Times: Virgin Media leaves Horizon behind in television platform rebrand

Story from Irish Times:

Virgin Media Ireland is ditching the Horizon name for its most advanced set-top box and rebranding its television platform as Virgin TV in a new push for customers.

MyPrime, the name given to its on-demand library since March 2015, is also being removed in the latest change to the platform, while the Horizon Go mobile app will now be known as Virgin TV Anywhere.

Paul Farrell, Virgin Media Ireland’s vice-president of commercial, said the combination of Horizon and MyPrime, as well as a box sets menu, had been “a bit confusing” for customers.

“We’re trying to be more intuitive and call things what they are,” he said.

Virgin will launch a new advertising campaign on television on Saturday to promote Virgin TV and the integration of the Netflix app into the service via channels 999 and 300.

The company, which owns TV3 Group, is offering six-months’ free access to Netflix in a promotion available to new customers until the end of April.

The offer is part of a wider partnership between Virgin parent Liberty Global and Netflix agreed last year.

Virgin’s new advertising campaign, devised with its creative agency, Rothco, will acknowledge that the way in which people consume television has changed, giving greater prominence to the video-on-demand services that are delivered via broadband.

Virgin also intends to “raise the profile” of its mobile app, which will have improved functionality.

“People seem to like being able to access Netflix through our platform. It’s ahead of its time,” Mr Farrell said, adding that rival “Sky had gone a different route” in trying “to leverage the walled garden”.

Liberty Global, controlled by billionaire “cable cowboy” John Malone, announced its multi-year agreement with Netflix last September.

The Californian internet television company invests $6 billion annually in original programming and also has a wide catalogue of acquired film and television content.

Virgin Media has a slimmer on-demand library in its own right, although Mr Farrell said the company had seen higher engagement of late from Irish customers for titles such as Kingdom and Magic City.

Prices for broadband/television bundles have increased across the industry, including at Virgin Media, over the past year.

At the same time, Virgin, Sky, Eir and Vodafone have all been vying with each other for new customers.

Last July, Virgin stopped offering the Eir Sport pack of channels to its subscribers after it failed to agree commercial terms on a wholesale arrangement with its new rival.

The decision was a negative one for Eir, while also causing disgruntlement among some Virgin subscribers.

The spot on the Virgin electronic programme guide occupied by the free-to-air Eir Sport was initially replaced by Sky Sports Mix, but is now the home for Be3, the rebranded UTV Ireland channel that belongs to Virgin’s TV3 Group.

In a bid to recruit more customers to its television platform – and reverse a downward trend – Virgin Media Ireland is offering new subscribers a television, broadband and landline bundle for €35 a month for the first six months and €85 a month thereafter (including for the remaining six months of the 12-month contract).

The technology underpinning the Horizon set-top boxes, which were first introduced to the Irish market in 2013, will remain the same, Mr Farrell said.

A software update scheduled for later this year will provide support for 4K or Ultra HD viewing.

Customers with older, pre-Horizon set-top boxes will be encouraged to upgrade, he added.

It is also expected that Virgin Media in the UK, which uses set-top box technology known as TiVo, will switch to the platform used by Liberty’s companies across Europe.

Virgin Media has 457,700 customers in Ireland, with most people subscribing to more than one product.

It has invested heavily in recent times in extending the geographical footprint of its broadband service.

The company, formerly known as UPC Ireland, has 363,800 broadband subscribers and 312,200 television subscribers, according to the latest quarterly figures.

The number of TV subscribers has been sliding steadily for several years.


© 2017 THE IRISH TIMES.