iTunes Movies and TV coming soon to UK, apparently…

According to a post on the Ars technica website those of us in the UK will soon have the ability, finally, to buy Movies and TV shows direct from the iTunes store.

It’s been a long, long time coming for sure, hopefully there’s some truth to the rumours as it seems such an big gap in the UK iTunes store offering, it would surely be very successful, assuming the price point isn’t too high.

The following quote comes from the article on Ars Technica:

Unfortunately, we still don’t have news for you about overall European deployment of iTunes movies, but we do have news about the UK. Trusted sources inside the company have told Ars that Apple plans to introduce movies and TV shows to iTunes UK very soon?as in, a couple of weeks.

Finally a reason to get an AppleTV?

If this is true then that’s pretty good news for all those UK purchasers of the AppleTV, now you’ll be able to buy some movies in a compatible format for once! Although the number of online sources for purchasing Movie downloads is increasing, invariably they all sing to the same tune of Windows Media Player and accompanying Windows-only DRM. The fact that the BBC’s iPlayer offering is also Windows-only means there are not a lot of options for mac users.

What sort of content will be available to download is anyone’s guess, I just hope that it isn’t too crippled a list of series to be purchased. I’m thinking that given the amount of hassle I’ve been having with my Sky broadband and general lack of excitement over the current programming that I would consider being able to purchase series such as Lost and Battlestar Galactica straight from iTunes a very attractive alternative to renewing my Sky contract once my 12 month minimum term is up! I’ve got a longer post about my experience with Sky coming up shortly ;)


My experience after switching to Sky from Virgin Media so far…

It’s been about 4 months now since I switched to Sky from Virgin Media so I thought I’d write a bit about my experiences with Sky so far, both good and bad. My original reason for switching was the removal of Sky One from Virgin Media, that coupled by the cheap price I decided to switch. My aim in this post is to try and compare what each company offers and what I like or dislike about it.

The package that I have with Sky is the See, Speak, Surf package giving me unlimited phone calls (plus the overseas option Canada and Australia calls included for an extra £5), up to 8Mb broadband and all 6 TV mixes – all this for £31 per month.

See – Sky TV service

The Sky TV package is pretty good as I get all 6 Mixes, basically this means that I get a whole range of TV channels, probably a few hundred. Most of these I would never watch but compared to the cost I would pay on Virgin to get a TV package that would include the Extreme Sports Channel then Sky offers good value.

One of the main reasons for switching was to get Sky One again. There were quite a few shows on Sky One that I watched, when Virgin didn’t renew their deal with Sky it basically left all of Virgin’s TV offering look pretty poor to me. Generally Sky TV is quite good but, like Virgin Media, most of the channels are rubbish but at least I’m paying less for it!

The one thing I do miss from Virgin Media though is their replay function, Virgin TV on demand. Basically this gives you the ability to watch a fairly broad selection of shows on demand for up to 7 days after they have aired. My wife and I used to use this a lot when we were with Virgin Media and we do miss it. Sky do have an on demand TV service called Sky Anytime but, like the BBC iPlayer, it only works for those using a PC running Microsoft Windows OS, not much use for me on my Mac! We could get Sky+ and record all the shows we want but that would be another £100+ to buy the box and then pay for installation, so I don’t think we’ll be doing that!

Sky TV rating: ★★
Virgin TV rating: ★★★

Speak – Sky’s Telephone service

As far as telephone service goes, Sky has been perfectly fine, no problems at all. As the phone service basically comes through a BT line you would hope that this couldn’t be screwed up! I’ve certainly not had any problems making and receiving calls, so no problems there. Comparing this with Virgin is kind of difficult as there’s not much difference there.

Perhaps the cost is the only difference, Sky’s Phone service gives me unlimited calling to UK landline numbers whenever I want. I have also paid an extra £5 to get the overseas option, this gives unlimited calls to 10 different countries, including Canada and Australia which is great as I have family in both countries.

Ironically, and annoyingly, calling their own Tech support number is not counted as a free call and costs about 3p or so per minute which is actually pretty lame! Come on Sky, give us an 0800 number, kill the 08702 and 08705 numbers! I actually complained about this and they did actually give me £5 credit back on my line, I don’t see why I should pay to phone them up about fixing problems with their service!

Sky Phone rating: ★★★★
Virgin Phone rating: ★★★

Sky Surf – Sky broadband

Sky has been pretty good, apart from having a technical issue for a few weeks which turned out to be a problem with BT’s exchange the service has been quite reliable. I’ve got the 8MB broadband package.

One not so good point though is that the Sky NetGear router comes with custom firmware and is locked down for users. No login details provided for using an alternative router, however, a little Google search will tell you how to find these details anyway!

Sky Broadband rating: ★★★★
Virgin Broadband rating: ★★★★

Free phones, now free computers, why not free TVs?

If you’re in the UK reading this then you’ve quite probably seen the TV adverts for PCWorld which offer Laptops for free (or a discount of £300 on other laptops) if you sign up for a 2 year Orange broadband contract.

I’d heard about Orange in France offering some kind of deal like this but it’s interesting to see it happening here now. The fact that they are doing this raises a few issues, or points of interest anyway.

PC’s are now a commodity

This is kind of a sweeping statement but mainly I mean that PCs, and laptops especially, have become much cheaper. To the point that they are cheap enough to offered for free upon signing up for a 2 year contract for internet access!

Mobile phones are already a commodity

That whole model is pretty familiar, sign up with any mobile phone company for 12 months, 18 months or even better 24 months and they’ll offer you an increasingly better range of free mobile phones to choose from. Interestingly though, a lot of these phones are worth a lot more than a £300 laptop!

Seeing the parallel between these two business models it’s making me wonder why the cable and satellite TV companies don’t do the same?

Calling Sky & Virgin, where’s my free HD TV?

In as much as phones and laptops have become something of a commodity High Definition HD TVs are quickly following suit. PC World list 26" HD Ready LCD TVs for about £350, if a TV costs only this much then why not offer a good deal on televisions when signing up for a contract with you local cable or satellite TV company?

The costs of all these products is fairly similar, I can’t see any reason why this couldn’t be done? One added benefit is that it would greatly increase the uptake in viewing HD television and help bring more momentum behind the HD format It’s really common to change mobile phones every year or so (at least on pay monthly contracts in the UK it is anyway!) and people often upgrade computers on average between 2 – 4 years of usage. But Televisions have always had a much longer shelf life, it’s not uncommon for people to have TVs that are at least 5 years old but possibly over 10 years old!

Many people’s timescale for buying a new TV will be several years away, but they will likely switch between cable or satellite TV providers several times within the lifetime of that TV, so why not offer free TVs in exchange for signing up for a fixed contract?

Well, I do have one reason why not…

Just to balance this whole argument I have one reason why this would be a bad thing, it’s basically why the frequent offering of free mobile phone and now free computers is a bad thing – the environmental impact.

I’ve written above that phones (and computers now) are a commodity, there’s something about that I don’t like. People’s attitudes towards technology increasingly becomes far more throw away. A recent upgrade for my mobile phone landed me a shiny new Nokia N95 for free in exchange for an 18 month contract, the reality is that this device sells on Amazon at the time of writing for about £450. There’s no way I would ever have spent that kind of money on a phone, despite how smart a gadget it is. It’s easy to see how the true cost of these devices is lost on people, they’re just seen as free phones1.

It’s a little bit of a scary thought to see computers go that way and perhaps be even worse to see TVs be viewed that way. The environmental impact could be pretty huge. Not that the impact of these devices isn’t huge already of course! I appreciate that this kind of technology fills landfills regardless but at least when you pay for something you are likely to value it more than if it is just given to you. Wow, that sounds like a life lesson a parent would teach their child!2


  1. This is a purposeful decision by Apple in regards to the cost of the iPhone, it is not sold as a subsidised device but rather at it’s full market cost. Apple products tend to buck the trend of being ‘commodity’ items but rather as desirable objects.
  2. Well, I am a parent and I will teach my child that lesson ;)

I don’t know who I’m annoyed with most, Virgin Media or Sky…

Recently Virgin Media and Sky have been having an ongoing disagreement about the amount that Sky want to charge Virgin Media for receiving the standard Sky TV channels such as Sky One, Sky Two etc. It’s basically now come to a head and Virgin have refused to pay what they perceive as the excessive amount that Sky want to charge for these channels. As of midnight on the 28th of February, Sky’s basic channels stopped airing on Virgin Media.

Between a rock and a hard place…

I’ve been aware of this impending stalemate over the last few weeks. From my point of view as a consumer I feel like I’ve been used like a pawn in a big power game. On one side there were the ads on the Sky channels saying that Virgin Media (or Telewest/NTL as they were still known at the time) were threatening to allow the removal of all Sky channels, they were asking for people to call and petition Virgin Media not to get rid of the channels. On the other side there was Virgin Media saying that they want ‘Fair play’ and that the reason these channels have gone is because Sky wanted too much money for these channels.

Now, I’ve no doubt that Sky by doubling the amount of money they wanted for these channels was imposing a pretty big price hike, no one likes raises in prices. However, there’s one very big, important fact that Virgin seem to have overlooked here:

The Sky channels were one of the few that actually contained anything worthwhile watching. Period. End of story.

I’m of course not including the standard terrestrial channels here, BBC etc. If you’re not familiar with the offerings on Cable TV then perhaps these lyrics of the Bruce Springsteen song (n.b. I’m not a Springsteen fan, I just remembered this song and thought it appropriate) will help:

“Man came by to hook up my cable TV
We settled in for the night my baby and me
We switched ’round and ’round ’til half-past dawn
There was fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on…”

Basically most of it is just rubbish, really terrible rubbish, repeated frequently. If you’ve got 57 channels of mostly rubbish and you take away the ones that are at least half decent, what do you have left? Not much of value.

Virgin Media, why the free TV then?

What I can’t understand is that Virgin Media actually offer a free TV package, as long as you have broadband and phone then you can get a basic package for free. I basically have this free TV package as the only other non-standard terrestrial channel on it that I watch was included with this package. Which channel was that? Sky One. And what was so special about Sky One? It is the channel that is now showing Series 3 of Lost, 24 as well as Battlestar Galactica and the Simpsons!

I think that Virgin are grossly undervaluing two things here: the value of these programmes to their customers, and the value of their customers themselves. These four shows above represent some of the most sought after shows on TV, regardless of the channel. They’re just pretty hot property in many people’s eyes. I think this is what Sky realises and this is what they’re wanting to be paid for.

All is not Lost?

Forgive the bad pun. Sky plan to drop their basic channels from the terrestrial Freeview service as well, but with this there’s a faint glimmer of hope as the end of the article talks about Sky’s plans to potentially offer subscription channels over Freeview from this Summer. Although there is no indication as to whether they would include Sky One and the aforementioned shows at all. There’s only one problem with that for me. I can’t get Freeview where I live, despite it being a highly populated area. Don’t get me started on that issue either! It’s one of the other reasons I went with Virgin in the first place as I had no other choice, it was either them or Sky, and at the time they were cheaper!

End of Transmission

There’s an article on the BBC News website ‘BSkyB channels taken off Virgin’ where another Virgin user echoes my own thoughts:

…I’m really angry about the whole situation. I signed up with NTL for the package, largely based on Sky One because I’m a big fan of all the American shows…

That kind of sums it up, I signed up for the service based on the shows I could get, I wanted to get the various channels I couldn’t get for free due to the lack of Freeview coverage and there was the added channels such as Sky One that were of interest. Since Sky picked up Lost Series 3 instead of Channel 4 it just made it all the more an essential channel for me to watch.

Virgin Media, I’m afraid I think you’ve underestimated the value of these shows to your customers. I think this is now a dealbreaker since Sky are offering a good deal, and I’m probably going to take them up on it.

End of rant.