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Virgin: We only need one HD channel

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Virgin: We only need one HD channel
Virgin Media executives have defended their linear high definition offering of just one channel - and reaffirmed their commitment to video on demand.

Chief executive Neil Berkett and chief technology officer Howard Watson both addressed the issue of advanced TV services at the Cable Congress in Madrid this week.

Watson said the popularity of HD in the US - where significantly more content and channels are generally available - was driven by the country's NTSC analogue television system. It is generally accepted that it gives a worse picture than PAL, the alternative employed in the UK.

"We don’t have the ‘Never The Same Colour’ challenge that has driven HD offering in the US," said Watson, according to Broadband TV News. "We have 7m HD ready sets in the UK and I still think HD works really well for certain bits of content but is disappointing for others.

"I don’t think we’re losing customers because we don’t have the HD lineup that Sky has. It’s not causing us a churn problem - all of our HD customers [have] PVRs - so it's difficult to separate them, but a part of that is HD."

Sky offers 18 linear HD channels whereas Virgin carries only BBC HD. Freesat, the soon-to-launch non-subscription satellite service, is expected to offer at least two at launch.

Meanwhile, Neil Berkett used his comments at the Madrid event to talk up its commitment to offering VoD. The chief executive has been speaking about prioritising fast broadband and VoD over premium content - such as sport or HD - since last year.

The cable operator is currently running a major marketing campaign focusing on VoD and claims to be expanding content rapidly, including in HD. BBC iPlayer content - nearly all the corporation's broadcast TV shows - will be added next month.

Yesterday Berkett said the strategy was going well - subscribers now spend more hours watching VoD than linear channel Five - but admitted the "need to educate consumers and drive experimentation" in order to push the service.

Cable providers - which increasingly face competition from TV-over-broadband services - have a gap of at least three to five years, Berkett said, in which they will have the advantage of faster connections. During that time new technologies and networks may give other platforms equally or higher-speed access.

Berkett said cable operators should take advantage of the gap - "not just a window of opportunity, but patio doors" - to develop new video services.

Also speaking at the annual summit was Mike Fries, president and chief executive of international cable operator Liberty Global. He said European firms should follow the American example by rolling out "killer applications" - high definition, VoD and digital video recorders.

> Virgin CEO wants to "engage" on neutrality

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