Virgin Media moves focus from cable TV to connected entertainment with launch of VOD box V6 and 'Telly Tablet'

Virgin Media's new TV hub V6

Virgin Media today (30 November) unveiled its worst kept secret - a video on-demand (VOD) box V6, boasting more streaming channels than any other box, the ability to record six shows simultaneously as well as an “industry-first” TV tablet, but what this means for advertisers is unclear.

As well as a completely redesigned interface, the new box has a hard drive with 1 terabyte of memory, which equates to 500 hours of recording space. In line with a rise in multiscreen viewing, the box allows recordings of on-demand programmes and live TV to move between rooms on TiVo boxes, or on mobile devices and tablets with Virgin Media’s TV Anywhere app.

Viewers can for the first time download recordings onto devices to watch later on the TV Anywhere app. Netflix succumbed to audience demand and announced a similar update today, allowing viewers to download TV shows and films onto their devices, following in the footsteps of rival Amazon Prime.

Built for apps

While the brand recognises there is still an industry demand for linear TV - 70% of viewing on TiVo is linear - viewing habits among younger generations have shifted to include multiple apps and streaming services. So much so, that Virgin Media’s chief digital entertainment officer David Bouchier said three out of five of TiVo’s top tier customers have Netflix.

As such, the box will integrate these apps, including a full deployment of BBC iPlayer, Netflix, YouTube, Hayu, Vevo and NBC Universal into the Virgin TV platform allowing viewers to switch between apps and search across the entire portfolio, without leaving the V6 platform. Amazon Prime is not part of the integration. When questioned on this, Bouchier would not comment on why, but ambiguously commented “never say never”.

Of the non-linear viewers on TiVo, 80% of viewing is recorded shows. Among V6’s perks is the ability to record six shows at once while watching a seventh, eclipsing Sky’s Q 2TB box which can record a maximum of four while watching live TV. Sky have suggested they are going to do the same, Bouchier said, but offered that “it is more difficult that they think”.

Taking control of the second screen

Also announced today was the launch of a Telly Tablet, a ‘personal smart TV’ designed to act as a more premium TV experience than viewing on the Apple or Amazon equivalent. It’s 14 inch screen dwarfs Apple iPad Pro’s 12.9 inches, and is built to be compatible with Virgin’s 5G wifi which is the fastest in the market.

Bouchier is confident consumers will fork out £299 to buy the Telly Tablet as a replacement or alternative to other more versatile models on the market as it offers a “great viewing experience”, instead of “compromising on quality” when streaming TV that isn’t in full HD. The tablet is Virgin Media’s way of being an end-to-end business, bringing all of its services together as it hopes to capitalise on the growth of connected TV viewing, evidenced by Channel 4’s recent changes to its own on-demand platform All4.

“It is bringing technology full circle, having a wireless television connected to all the great services we have,” Bouchier added. “We think this is the best way to watch TV.”

An app for the 'masters of entertainment'

A Virgin TV kids app is set to launch in February, for those viewers up to six-years-old. Content has been tailored to be age-appropriate to that audience, and is ad and purchase free.

The app can be locked to act as a “walled garden”, Bouchier said, meaning kids can’t leave the app and play around with features on the rest of device. It also includes a five times repeat button, which according to child psychologists consulted by Virgin is the optimum time to repeat a show for a child in that age range.

The kids app can only be downloaded as part of a Virgin broadband and TiVo subscription, and includes 1500 hours of TV, as well as games and picture books which can be stored on a device

First OTT offer

Just as digital has changed viewing habits, it has altered ownership of media away from DVD. Virgin Media Store, a film and TV hub which allows users to purchase shows and films directly to the V6 box, is a response to this shift. It comes with an option to get a purchased film or TV box set sent through the post in DVD form.

It is the brand’s first OTT consumer offer, meaning it is available for anyone, regardless of whether they have a subscription with Virgin or not.

While the product launches make it clear Virgin Media is setting itself up to be market leader in the future of VOD, the brand was guarded about what this means for advertisers.

Advertisers in the dark

It already provides advertisers with the ability to target advertising on its VOD service, but while Bouchier saw opportunity in developing addressable advertising for linear TV - mirroring that offered by Sky’s AdSmart platform - he did not believe this is where the future of advertising lies.

When asked how the new interface of the VOD service will affect advertising, Virgin Media’s chief marketing officer Kerris Bright replied conservatively that there is not a different advertising experience with the new Virgin TV hub, later adding that “it is not a part of something we are launching today”.

“We buy a lot of programmatic advertising and I expect that to continue. I am much more interested in how we can reach the customers in ways that we want to personalise and talk to them, if we can optimise programmatic to do that it is a benefit,” Bright added. “It is not without issues clearly.”

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