Virgin baits 'Sky Snooze'


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May 24, 2005
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Virgin baits 'Sky Snooze'

Both BSkyB and Virgin Media continued to blame each other today for the removal of Sky's basic channels - with the cable operator rubbing salt into the wounds with spoof names for the disappeared services on its electronic TV guide.

Cable viewers lost access to channels such as Sky One, Sky News and Sky Sports News this morning because the two companies could not agree on what Virgin should pay for them.

"We're disappointed but not surprised by this outcome," said Steve Burch, the Virgin chief executive.

"Nothing Sky have said or done in the course of the negotiation indicates they had the slightest interest in doing a commercially viable deal."

"Their action here is consistent with their plans to withdraw their free channels from Freeview and, in our view, reflects their desire to limit consumer choice."

Sky said it had endured "six frustrating days" waiting for Virgin to improve its offer for the channels.

"We're disappointed that we will now be denied access to cable TV homes," a spokesman said.

"We've made repeated efforts to reach an agreement but Virgin Media has rejected all of our proposals."

Virgin Media's biggest single shareholder, Sir Richard Branson, also expressed his disappointment but promised not to let the company's 3.3 million TV customers down.

"Consumers have my whole-hearted assurance that Virgin Media will not allow this dispute to prevent us from giving them the freshest and most exciting TV service in the UK. With Virgin Central and our massive library of on-demand, programming, there's a lot to look forward to."

Virgin has taken the aggressive step of replacing Sky One with its new video-on-demand channel, Virgin Central, on the channel 120 slot.

Virgin also gave its rival's old slots new jokey names. Channel 602 - the former Sky News slot - was renamed "Sky Snooze try BBC" and Channel 515, formerly Sky Sports News, was named "Old Sky Sports Snooze".

Negotiating Sky One's slot allocation could provide a further obstacle to reconciliation if the groups try to do a deal after all.

However, despite Sky's suggestion today that it was "available for talks at any time", there seems little chance of any deal happening soon, after a week of rancourous and very public exchanges between the companies.

"If Virgin Media decides that it wants to bring back the TV that its customers enjoy, we're available for talks at any time," a Sky spokesman said.

Both sides will be looking for early signs of customer defections to monitor the potential damage the row could cause.

Virgin will be hoping customers decide that the revamped on-demand offering makes up for the loss of the Sky channels and hit shows such as Lost, 24 and Battlestar Galactica.

Sky could lose up to £60m a year from the advertising revenues and channel fees it has drawn from cable viewing in the past.

It can claw some of this back if enough customers - 150,000 on one analyst's estimate - decide to ditch their Virgin subscription and sign up with the Sky Digital satellite service, as of today the only place to see Sky's basic channels.

Chris Tryhorn
Thursday March 1, 2007
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2007