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BT V-box gets the Vision thing

7 December 2006

BT has launched BT Vision, a service that the telecommunications provider describes variously as having the appeal of TV with the interactivity of broadband and as ‘the next generation television service’, writes Philip Stevens.

BT Vision is delivered through a new set-top box, the V-box. This contains a personal video recorder (PVR) able to store up to 80 hours of content, with the ability to pause or rewind live television and to record programmes at the touch of a button. The box is also HD ready. In addition, there is a “Replay TV” service, allowing customers to watch some of the broadcast TV programmes they may have missed during the previous week.

Customers will have access to an extensive library of on-demand content via their broadband connection and will also receive more than 40 Freeview TV channels through their aerial. The idea, says BT, is to allow customers to watch what they want, when they want and not be tied to TV schedules.

BT is giving away the V-box — worth _199 — free of charge to existing and new customers who sign up to a new contract with BT Total Broadband. Currently, the box will be installed by a BT engineer for a fee of _60 and a connection charge of _30. However, BT plans to introduce a self-install version next year.

So, just what will BT Vision viewers get to see on the new service? Alongside the broadcast channels available on Freeview, BT Vision’s on-demand broadband content includes current and library movies, music videos, concerts, children’s programmes, recent and classic television including drama, comedy, documentaries and other genres. This content will come from a wide variety of providers including Channel 4, Disney, Dreamworks, i-concerts, Eagle Rock, BBC Worldwide, Paramount, Warner Music Group, National Geographic Channel, HIT Entertainment, Momentum, Universal, Nelvana, SONY BMG and Turner Broadcasting, as well as independents including Lionsgate, Entertainment Rights plc, NBD Television and Wall to Wall Television.

In the summer of 2007 a new sports service will be added. Following a deal with Setanta, BT Vision Sport customers will have access to the Setanta Sport channel and its 46 live FA Premiership games, 60 live games from the Scottish Premier League and a variety of other sports. Viewers will also have access to the 242 “near live” on-demand FA Premiership games secured by BT earlier this year. That means three quarters of all FA Premiership games will be available in full to BT Vision Sport customers.

Significantly, BT Vision requires no subscription or minimum monthly payment. This makes it different from other services currently available on the UK market. As a result, customers can subscribe to genres of content as they wish or select the “pay as you go” option. Movies will be available on a pay per view basis with current titles offered at lower prices than satellite, cable and high street video chains.

During 2007 the service is to become more flexible, personal and interactive. Broadband will be used to deliver additional special interest programming and there will be new interactive services based around audience participation, voting, gaming and gambling. In addition, there will be a communications option that will enable customers to talk with each other or use video telephony to talk face to face while watching programmes. BT Vision will also provide a platform for user-generated content that will allow customers to share their videos, photographs and music with a wider audience.

BT aims to have two to three million BT Vision customers in the medium term.

Additionally, BT and Vodafone UK are working together to enhance the recently announced Vodafone at Home service by offering these customers a version of BT Vision. Under these discussions, Vodafone UK will be the exclusive mobile network partner offering BT Vision as part of this converged TV, fixed, broadband and mobile experience.

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