Virgin Media video on demand player: Competing with Sky and BBC later this year

Virgin Media's new online player will take the battle to both Sky and the BBC's on-demand offerings

Patrick Steen Special to CNET News
2 min read

Virgin Media subscribers are keeping up with the Sky-paying Joneses with the arrival of a new on-demand Web player. The Virgin Player -- the name is unconfirmed -- will pimp its wares online and on mobile devices later this year.

Virgin Media announced its new player during the third day of the IPTV World Forum. Alex Green, executive director for commercial, TV and online (everything then?) at Virgin Media, told the audience yesterday that the service will provide access to premium content over any broadband connection, TechRadar reports.

"We'll be launching this year our player [sic]. This will deliver a super-high quality click-to-watch experience for our subscribers to see their favourite on-demand shows online and on their mobile," Green pronounced in a keynote on the future of video delivery.

"We're determined to get the experience right in terms of viewing quality and usability and we're taking advantage of the way technology has developed in the past couple of years to do that," he added.

The broadcaster has previously offered content via its TV Choice On-Demand service, which provides select programmes through its set-top box only. The new online service will be a direct competitor to Sky's Player and the BBC's iPlayer, though Virgin Media has yet to confirm whether its service will only be available to subscribers. Sky allows non-home subscibers access to Sky Player, for a separate fee.

Online devices beyond TV and mobile phones were not revealed by Virgin Media -- Sky Player is available on the Xbox 360 and the BBC iPlayer on the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii.

On-demand high-definition content was also not confirmed, though Green did hint towards such an arrival when boasting the broadcaster's newly announced HD channels:

"It allows us to build on our recent slew of HD TV announcements like ITV, Eurosport, Discovery, E4, Film 4 and others. We have a strong HD line-up and our onus is to offer the highest quality experience on demand on TV, online and on mobile," he commented.

The Virgin Player's 2010 launch smartly coincides with the release of the broadcaster's TiVo-enabled set-top boxes. This technology, which has been a smash hit in the US, will allow users to search for their favourite programmes in a browser-like experience -- functionality we expect from the rumoured Google TV too.

Update: A previous version of this story had a confirmation from Virgin that its player would only be available to subscribers, but it has since retracted that statement. Its current line is that it's too early in its development to say either way.