BT Vision: 'the next chapter in TV history'

Latest deals give VoD and Freeview service live football

It's not every day that BT closes the main reception at its City of London offices. Today, though, is different.

If you're a BT employee, it's the back door for you. We, however, were shown the red carpet experience at the front entrance. There, several decades' worth of line rental seems to have been spent on hoardings and other gimmicks to promote BT Vision, the PLC's latest augmentation to its portfolio.

BT is to invest up to £100m into the project.

The service is an IPTV and Freeview hybrid, combining an 80GB Freeview PVR with Video-on-Demand (VoD) services and other interactive elements.

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HD-ready box

The box, manufactured by Philips, isn't exactly attractive - it looks fairly ordinary compared to the snazzy Home Hub. It has an HDMI port as well as LAN and USB capabilities for software updates, though HD broadcasting will have to wait.

At launch, the box - called the V-box - will be hard-wired to a BT Home Hub on a minimum 2Mbit/s connection. However, has learned that 'an alternative technology' will be in use from next year to reduce wiring.

Our source speculated that powerline networking could be used, but there is a possibility that new installations could use draft 802.11n high bandwidth wireless.

In BT's presentation theatre, Ian Livingston, the CEO of BT Retail, began by commentating on the windy weather and tried to claim it was still autumn - the period in which the service was originally supposed to launch.

Calling the launch "the next chapter in TV history," he told the audience made up of journalists, analysts and partners that the service was built around the theme of convergence.

Livingston talked of HD sound, entertainment, and how broadband will help this to be achieved.

"We're passing you the control," he said. The service will enable audiences to watch what they like from thousands of hours of added content.

Interactive elements

After the presentations, Roy Murphy, head of Interactive Services for BT, told that the company didn't see much mileage in the negative IPTV coverage attained by recent analyst reports.

"If we believed that, we wouldn't be here - our business plan wouldn't stand up."

Murphy demonstrated the service's interactive elements, such as a TV-based version of The Phone Book, and games.

The crux of BT's plan centres around the fact that consumers want more choice, yet "don't want to commit to £30, £40 or £50 a month," Livingston surmised.

The idea with BT Vision is that customers will be able to pay what they want, with pay-on-demand options available from a 29p music video to a £2.99 latest movie. There will be 500 movies available from the spring, which subscribers will 'own' for 24 hours.

You'll also be able to subscribe to programme strands for £6 per month, or £14 for all. This doesn't include the forthcoming Sports services.

Livingston introduced a video insert from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. He said: "BT had the imagination and determination" to make the service succeed. He paid tribute to the "groundbreaking deals" brokered for the service's launch.

BT Vision uses Microsoft's IPTV platform as its base. The service looks and works like Microsoft Media Center, even down to the EPG.

"I am excited to be working together with BT on BT Vision," finished Balmer.

Streaming options

Livingston also mentioned that the service will have streaming options, but declined to comment further.

Gavin Patterson, MD of consumer for BT, highlighted the lack of uptake among a significant segment of the population for digital services - 11 million people, or 13m television sets, as opposed to 47m 'uncommitted' television sets in homes.

"And that's because of Freeview - not Sky, not cable," he added.

He cited that cost was the main criticism from Sky customers, but it was choice with NTL customers and Freeview owners.

Patterson called BT Vision "a third way", offering choice, convenience - the ability to record and pause TV - and control.

Dan Marks, the CEO of BT Vision, thanked the partners that were present, before seizing on BT's big announcement with Setanta. BT Vision Sports will get the Setanta Sports channel. It carries 46 live Premiership games, as well as Scottish and English Championship football.

There will also be 242 games available over Pay Per View (PPV), making a total of 75 per cent of Premiership matches covered by the service

Marks admitted they would be bidding for more rights - BT did bid for near-live rights with Sky in the last Premiership rights round.

Subscribers will also need BT Total Broadband with a Home Hub.

Special interest

"We're going to roll-out very deliberately," concluded Marks. "Future developments will include special interest programming, making the viewing experience much richer."

Pre-registered people can get the service from next week. All initial installations will be by a BT engineer, but a self-install version will be available next year.

"We're aiming for 2-3m users in the medium term," said Marks. "BT Vision can and will make a difference." Dan Grabham