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Old 06-10-2012, 03:02  
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Re: Virgin Media TiVo iPad app

Brand new TiVo service launched with a first-hand preview

My Invite to Head Office

I was lucky enough to be among one of those selected to take part in an exclusive beta test of the new Virgin TV Anywhere service last Friday. For those of you who are not aware of what Virgin TV Anywhere is, it is a very intelligent television service which not only allows you to view programmes on your TV, but it also gathers similar programmes to the ones you enjoy so that you can discover new programmes to watch. The current version of Virgin TV Anywhere is extremely advanced and it's actually very hard to think of what else could be added or changed to make the service even better for Virgin Media customers. Until taking a trip to head office, that is.

Background Information & Sneaky Preview

Sky Go is an application which was introduced to the iOS App Store in late 2011. In my opinion, Sky have never had a proper reason to have an application. It seemed, at the time, that they chose to have an app because lots of other companies had one. Virgin Media, however, did not. Scott Kewley, Director of Multiscreen Entertainment, told me that they had been planning an iOS application for over a year but held back until now as they wanted to get it just right. Sky, on the other hand, appeared to be very eager to get their iOS application out and almost rushed into it. The first version did not include live streaming of television programmes - a feature which Virgin Media view as being of the utmost importance as many families will simply not be in the same room together now and instead they may wish to watch television on their own. They can now do just that with an iPhone and iPad application, which has been planned and tested for over a year. The app, which you can sign into using your Virgin TV Anywhere account, is not only a fully-working television guide - it also allows you to actually watch the TV on your iOS device.

[Screenshot of iPad app, the one you've most likely already seen]

As you can see from this screenshot (above), the attention to detail is amazing. In the upper right-hand corner you will see that there are the options to watch the programme in realtime, record the programme (this will sync with your Virgin TV Anywhere box so you can record television programmes on-the-go and have them waiting for you when you get home), view all the programmes in the series or any related episodes and explore more about the programme.

The design of the application is equally fantastic. Virgin Media have clearly spent a lot of time making their application look good as well as being usable. Sky Go, however, could possibly do with a re-design as I think this makes it look old!

In my opinion, the best feature by far of the Virgin TV Anywhere iPad app is the ability to switch between watching something on your iPad and watching it on your television. If you are browsing the guide on your iPad and see a programme that you wish to watch on your widescreen television, you can just do a flick gesture and in less than a second your television programme will start playing on the TV rather than your iPad. If that's not awesome, I don't know what is! Sky haven't implemented anything like this (although gestures can be used for other features within their app) in Sky Go, so it's a real game-changer for the television guide application sector.

Virgin Media's online Virgin TV Anywhere system has been around for quite a while. This year, they are completely revamping it. The new version will let you watch television directly from your web browser in realtime, you can record programmes as the click of a button, you can view your recordings and series links and much more.

[Screenshot of the website, the one with The Thick Of It selected]

In my meeting with Scott, I asked whether it is easy to tell apart the programmes you have subscribed to and the ones which you have not. Scott told me that there is a simple filter feature online which allows you to pick which package you currently have and it will then only show the channels which you have subscribed to. I personally find it annoying when random TV channels which you haven't subscribed to are listed because it makes it very hard to tell what you can and cannot watch for the current price you are paying. Virgin Media want to make it as simple as possible for customers to interact with their services and in this instance, they have created a feature which could lower the amount of new subscribers for different channels but has put the customer first before profit.

When will the new Virgin TV Anywhere service launch?

It's set to launch very soon - in the next couple of months in fact. I've not been given an exact date, but I shall be tweeting (follow @iamjsanderson for updates) when I hear more details on this.

Who is this updated service available to and what's the cost?

Here's the best part: all customers will have access to watch Live TV and on Demand through the online service at Customers with iOS devices and Virgin TV Anywhere can also download and use the application from the App Store to take advantage of the advanced features of Virgin TV Anywhere through their handset/tablet. Support for other devices is also on the way soon, including Android. The service is available at no extra cost for customers who subscribe to any of Virgin Media's great TV packages.

What if you only want a subscription for your iPad?

Virgin Media say that currently they do not have a plan for customers who wish to solely use their iPad with Virgin TV Anywhere. For now you will also need a television and a Virgin TV Anywhere box to sign in to the application. This is a little disappointing - especially as many students (< 25 years of age) cannot afford both a television and subscription plan but may already have an iPad they wish to use as their main 'television'. This could all change in the near future though as Virgin Media plan to keep their iOS applications updated regularly to satisfy a growing number of customers.

It was a great experience heading up to Virgin Media Head Office in Hammersmith and talking with them about the new service. I would like to thank the entire team for looking after me throughout the afternoon. Remember to stay updated with me on Twitter and on my blog here because I'll be posting again once Virgin Media have released their new service to the public.
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