The channels, comprising Sky One, Sky Two, Sky News, Sky Sports News, Sky Travel and Sky Travel Extra, are no longer available to Virgin Media customers. Sky's premium sports and film channels are not affected. The channels have been removed because a carriage agreement between Virgin Media and Sky has expired, and the two parties have not reached a new deal.
Shortly after a top of the hour sequence ran on Sky News, pictures and sound on the channel came to a halt. Upon reselecting the channel, viewers were greeted with the message: "Attention - Sorry, this channel is not available right now. Please wait, or try again later." The same message was presented upon the selection of Sky One and Sky's other basic channels in the electronic programme guide. Shortly after 1am, Sky One was replaced on channel 120 by Virgin Central 2 while on 602, the former home of Sky News, a message read "Sky Snooze try BBC".
References to the availability of Sky's basic channels on Virgin Media's television packages were erased from the cable operator's website at midnight. A statement on the site aimed at customers accused Sky of "bullying tactics" and said that money saved by not paying Sky for its basic channels would be invested in "even more of your favourite TV shows and films to watch whenever you want." Read the statement in full here.
It first emerged that Sky's basic channels could be pulled from Virgin's TV service on February 23, when Virgin accused Sky of attempting to double the price it wanted for Sky One, Two, News, Sports News, Travel and Travel Extra. Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Media's largest individual shareholder, said that the company was "not prepared to rip off" its customers in a subsequent statement. The cable operator launched a "fair play" campaign warning customers - both by means of a recorded message and a website - that Sky's channels could disappear. In response, Sky said that it was "surprised and disappointed" that Virgin had "prematurely" announced the withdrawal of its channels.
In the following days both sides prepared for a stalemate. Virgin acquired the VOD rights to Lost, one of Sky One's flagship programmes. Sky ran adverts featuring The Simpsons warning Virgin customers that Sky One could disappear from the platform in days. As the end of February approached, Sky denied that it wanted to double its basic channel carriage fee and claimed that it had offered Virgin high definition services and Sky Three as part of the new package. Virgin counter-claimed that a minimum price clause in Sky's proposal amounted to an effective doubling in price and indicated that it was not prepared to accept the offer.
On Wednesday, Virgin proposed that the matter be resolved by independent arbitration, a move rejected by Sky. For its part, Sky claimed that its chief executive, James Murdoch, had tried unsuccessfully to get Virgin to return to the table; it said it would like to market its channels over cable independently of Virgin; and it claimed that Virgin had attempted to use the arbitration procedure as a means of renegotiating the recently-signed deal for carriage of Virgin Media TV channels on Sky.
In the run-up to midnight, the silence from both companies indicated that a resolution had not been reached and duly, the channels were pulled at the expiration point of the current deal.
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