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Virgin Mobile TV flops in UK [

The UK’s first broadcast mobile-television service has attracted less than 7,000 subscribers since its launch last October.

Virgin Mobile TV, a branded version of a service from wholesaler BT Movio, launched off the back of a multimillion-pound advertising campaign featuring Pamela Anderson, the former Baywatch actress.

Despite this and a leap of about 2,000 subscribers over the Christmas period, according to a source familiar with the situation, takeup for the innovative service remains slow.

The high-profile television advertising campaign was recently reintroduced, in the hope that Anderson would give some uplift to sales. There has also been a cut in the price of the service’s mobile television handset, the HTC-manufactured “Lobster”, from £199.99 to £109.99 for pay-as-you-go customers.

The content is free for the first 90 days.Customers with contracts of more than £25 a month can get both the handset and the service free.

Virgin Mobile, owned by cable operator NTL-Telewest, has around 4.5 million mobile-telephone customers in the UK. The company would not comment on the subscriber numbers for mobile television.

Dominic Strowbridge, marketing director for BT Movio, also refused to discuss subscribernumbers but claimed: “It’s going well and was definitely a popular present under the Christmas tree.”

Virgin Mobile had exclusive access to the Movio service until the end of last year and BT is now looking to wholesale the broadcast service to other mobile operators. Strowbridge said: “We’d hope to get some more operators on board this year.” While Virgin Mobile is the only broadcast mobile television offer on the market, it faces stiff competitionfrom 3G-based services from rival operators. SkyMobile TV, which launched in 2005 with Vodafone, is now available via the Orange and 3 networks.

These services offer a wider range of content than BT Movio, which is restricted by the amount ofcapacity it has available on its network, based on the DAB-IP standard.

At present, the service offers BBC1, ITV, Channel4 and youth entertainment service E4, an ITN news channel and 50 DAB audio channels.

BT Movio is looking at ways to expand its offering and may acquire more capacity. The auction later this year of a second national DAB multiplex would provide opportunities for more capacity, whether owned directly or leased from another operator.

At present, the service uses bandwidth leased from Digital One, the national DAB multiplex operator.”We haven’t said that we’re going to be bidding but we’re clearly interested in looking at extra capacity for the right price,” said Strowbridge. “We don’t necessarily have to own capacity outright.”

BT Movio said that it could complement the broadcastoffer with 3G content for “catch-up” television andthat new handsets to enable this would be on the market later this year.

While 3G mobile television – with its non-broadcast, one-to-one network architecture – is not seen asa long-term solution for delivering television to mobile devices, it has made a promising start in the UK. The most recent figures published by BSkyB showed that Vodafone had about 180,000 subscribersto Sky Mobile TV.

Strowbridge said that, according to BT’s research,consumers demanded real-time simulcasts of broadcast television channels rather than the looped content more typically found on 3G mobile television services. He said that the participating channels in BTMovio/Virgin Mobile TV were broadcasting 87 per cent of their normal schedules – the exceptions were some Hollywood films and series plus major live sports.

This was the equivalent of 720 hours of programmes per week, he added. Channel 4 last month launched a fully-fledged broadcast channel after it successfully overcame hurdles over clearing rights.

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