Virgin Media made headlines last week as it announced that it was acquired by US cable giant Liberty Media for a whopping $23.3 billion (around £15 billion). This provided me with an excellent opportunity, as a long time user, to suggest some improvements and ideas, six in all, to the team at Virgin Media before it eventually becomes part of John’s Malone media empire.
Virgin Mobile, as far as branding is concerned, is still apparently a separate entity altogether since it resides on its own URL (VirginMobile.com) rather than under the Virgin Media one. Confusingly, while the site has the Virgin Media Logo, you cannot use your existing Virgin Media credentials to access your account. Instead you need a separate account altogether. To make matters even more perplexing, Virgin Media high street stores actually handle both Virgin media and Virgin Mobile business.
A sure way for Virgin Media to grow its branding would be to offer free Wi-Fi at airports in the UK and Ireland. The company tried it during the London Olympics last year and got a lot of very positive coverage. The scheme ended in January 2013 (although it is still free for Virgin Media users) and is now available for a fee. Getting Wi-Fi in airports would be a sure way to promote its brand and make the thousands of transient airport users happy. Arguably, whether Heathrow Airport Holdings, formerly known as BAA, allows Virgin Media to give away Wi-FI for free remains to be seen as it might have a negative impact on their bottom line (people not going through the duty free store, less users for the paid internet station etc).
Virgin Media remains the only major television content provider that requires a subscription to watch TV programs. BSkyB has FreeSat by Sky and Youview, Freeview HD and Freesat HD are open platforms available through a myriad of set top boxes. Check out my write-up as I compared the four free-to-air platforms following the launch of Youview last year. Virgin Media’s cheapest TV package (without any other services) has 90 channels and costs a whopping £14 per month (that’s £156 per year) although it does offer TV on Demand and Virgin TV anywhere. One might argue that the price paid is to lease the box and the landline and that FTA is easier with satellite (that doesn’t require an expensive connection). To that, we would argue a cheaper version of Virgin Media TV could be used to upsell other services. In addition, we’d be very keen to see more alternative/niche/ethnic channels available on Virgin Media such as movies4men, Vintage TV or Sony Movie Channel. Check out the ludicrously long list of movies available on Freesat from Sky. There are a staggering 240 of them.
Virgin Media knows how to bond lines. It did it nearly two years ago when it trialed a 1.5Gbps line in London by combining four fibre lines. Now wouldn’t it be fantastic if it could provide power users with the option to do so even if they have to pay extra? There are quite a few tech enthusiasts (and a lot of companies) I know who would find it hard to resist to the lure of being able to combine four 100 Mbps lines, each costing £35 per month on a one-year contract. Even if Virgin was to charge as much as £14 per line per month (as the only technology-agnostic bonding provider, Sharedband does), that would still be a wonderfully good deal.
Line bonding will require a special box, and given the fact that Virgin Media already provides its customers with a TiVO box and a cable router, it would make sense for the service provider to start thinking about a next generation set top box, one that not only combines a cable router, a TiVO and smart TV capabilities, but also the ability to add extra storage capacity (e.g. a 2-bay NAS box), the ability to do line bonding, the ability to act like a stand-alone server, webcam hosting and perhaps integrate femtocell features as well, all with a dollop of open-source goodness.
Which brings us nicely to our last suggestion. Virgin Media should collaborate with LiveDrive and Fon. The first one is a reputable company which counts DSGi (PC World, Currys) and Systemax (Circuit City, Tigerdirect, Misco) as its customers and offers unlimited online storage for a one-off fee (for the provider) while the second is the first global Wi-Fi network.. By becoming one member of the FON community, you can access millions of other hotspots globally for free, which explains why BT is one of its members. What’s more, the scheme is free to join and you only have to buy the hardware, one which can be licensed by Virgin Media’s cable router manufacturer.