Virgin Media is launching a Virgin-branded Freeview box as the media operator attempts to shed its “cable-only” image and become a UK-wide player.
The initiative may also be a “stop gap” measure to provide digital TV ahead of a television over broadband (IPTV) service to be launched in 2008.
It is thought to be considering a raft of options, such as Freeview coupled with a personal video recorder (PVR), similar to its V-Plus box, or launching subscription channels over the digital terrestrial television (DTT) platform. The service would feature a Virgin-branded electronic programme guide.
Virgin Media owns content provider Virgin Media Television, which rebranded from Flextech last month. Its channels include Living, the on-demand service Virgin Central, and it is said to be “close” to launching a music channel and a Virgin Sport brand.
It is not known how Virgin Media would market the platform, although sources suggest it could give boxes away to add a “free television” element to customers subscribing to mobile, home telephone or broadband services.
One TV insider suggests such a service would be putting “brand over real customer benefit”.
However, a Virgin Media spokeswoman says plans are part of its commitment to providing a “quad play” proposition across the UK.
Cable’s infrastructure covers less than half of the population. She refused to divulge plans for the Freeview service, saying they were “at a high level”, with decisions still to be made.
Virgin Media has 3.3 million television subscribers while BSkyB has 8.4 million. Freeview is the primary source of digital television in 7.1 million homes.
News of the launch – expected next month – came during a lunch hosted this week by chief executive Steve Burch with analysts. It also follows a hotting up of hostilities between Virgin and Sky, following a dispute over the carriage of certain Sky channels on cable.