As part of our continuing MIPCOM coverage, we spoke to Aleks Habdank, director of digital entertainment product at Virgin Media. In this exclusive interview, he reveals that Virgin Media are talking to content producers about creating bespoke 3D programming and how the cable giant are investigating the launch of a full HD 3D service via the fibre optic network.
By Marco Fiori
3D Focus: When did Virgin Media first start offering 3D content?
Aleks Habdank: Virgin Media was the first commercial TV provider to make 3D content available in the UK on the September 28th 2010, launching our 3D On-Demand service with a range of 3D content including free tasters for all, trailers, documentaries and blockbuster movies.
3D Focus: Please describe/highlight the 3D activity Virgin Media has been involved with since MIPTV April this year.
Aleks Habdank: Over the last few months, Virgin Media’s blockbuster movie 3D proposition has continued to grow, and we now offer the 3D output of almost all the Hollywood Studios, with the final one, Sony, coming on board towards the end of the year. Exciting new titles coming soon include Thor and Green Lantern, later this year
Virgin Media’s 3D sports event coverage has gone from strength to strength, offering live 3D content from some of the most prestigious sporting events in Europe. These have included coverage of the Roland Garros French Open tennis and the Wimbledon finals. We have also added ESPN X-Games to our 3D On Demand service.
In August, we announced that we were bringing our TV customers a range of stunning new 3D programmes on demand courtesy of Discovery Network, the latest additions to the Discovery line-up will be Experience 3D , High Octane and Building The Brand in October.
3D Focus: Can you share how many people have paid the premium to view 3D versions of films on Virgin Media VOD?
Aleks Habdank: I’m afraid this information is commercially sensitive so we can’t release any numbers.
3D Focus: Many are questioning the business model with 3D. As Virgin Media have a successful VOD platform, will your return always be on premium pricing for VOD views?
Aleks Habdank: Virgin Media customers don’t have to pay a premium monthly fee to get access to great 3D content. As well as our pay-per-view 3D movie offering we have a range of teasers, trailers and short documentaries that all of our TV customers can watch at no extra cost, these include documentary style features for example; Extreme Nature of Bats and Pebble Beach, all of which bring nature and technology to life in a brilliant 3D detail never seen before. We think that our On Demand service offers the best range of 3D content and a great way for families to get their 3D fix, allowing them to pick and choose what they want to watch, when they want to watch it.
3D Focus: 3D TVs are bound to sell well by default due to new TVs having the feature built in. Do you think you will ever launch a 3D 'package' like a music package?
Aleks Habdank: The increase in 3D coverage of major sporting events highlights the progress being made in sports broadcasting and it’s clear that the movie studios are continuing to embrace 3D. This highlights the commitment to innovation and development of this new technology as major film studios and sporting channels such as Eurosport and ESPN has recently demonstrated.
The main challenge for the future is for content providers to consistently deliver the best 3D viewing experience whether it’s through live transmission or on demand, and create cost effective combined 2D/3D events taking advantage of the technology and help contain costs. As this grows, there is potential for greater 3D focus and other areas such as music to gain momentum, and the flexibility of Virgin Media’s service means that we are ready to deliver this via broadcast or on demand with ease.
3D Focus: Sky are, of course, very active in this market, commissioning 3D content for Sky 3D. Are you in discussions with Sky to carry/retail some of their shows like Bachelor King, Kew 3D, Meerkats 3D etc.?
Aleks Habdank: We are in discussions with a number of 3D providers as well as Sky. We’re constantly reviewing the mix of SD, HD and 3D content to ensure we’re delivering an unbeatable entertainment offering for our customers.
3D Focus: Is Virgin Media in 'buying mode' right now? Will you be looking at obtaining exclusive UK VOD rights to shows at this year's MIPCOM?
Aleks Habdank: Our Product and Editorial team are at MIPCOM and will be keeping our eyes open for quality content that we think our customers would love.
3D Focus: Do you have a long term strategy for your 3D offerings? Or are you waiting to see how this early market matures first before making firm commitments?
Aleks Habdank: Virgin Media is keen to help the 3D industry grow. There are already over 1.5 million households in the UK who already have a 3D ready Virgin Media set-top box in their home, which means there's enormous potential for development in terms of the types of shows and events which can be offered through our services. We will continue to work closely with content providers in continuing to provide the best and most up-to-date programming available on the market. 3D ready TV's are becoming the de-facto standard at the high end of the market but will be increasing available in the mid-range sector as well. With prices of hardware falling the potential 3D audience is growing at a significant rate. Coupled with Virgin Media's increasing base of HD ready and TiVo subscribers it's a perfect time to bring consumers high quality 3D content.
Our On Demand service enables families to pick and choose the content that they most want to watch, whilst providing excellent opportunities for 3D producers and programme makers to showcase their talent. Our 3D On Demand proposition allows all customers to taste 3D for free as we believe that everyone should have the chance to experience the wonders of 3D viewing no matter what subscription costs they pay.
3D Focus: How strong is your 3D content marketing activity for your regular subscribers?
Aleks Habdank: We regularly promote our 3D content to our customers via the TV service itself using our TV barker channels and banners and now TiVo gives us even more ways to showcase content through the Discovery Bar. We also highlight all the content in our dedicated customer magazine.
3D Focus: Can you share anything particularly unique, exclusive, exciting that Virgin Media is working on in the 3D space?
Aleks Habdank: We are talking to a number of content providers and content creators about bespoke shows. You will appreciate that these discussions are commercially sensitive and so we cannot go into any more detail just yet.
3D Focus: With Virgin Media offering ever increasing broadband speeds, do you plan on offering a full HD 3D service?
Aleks Habdank: It’s certainly something we’re looking at as we’re in a strong position to be able to deliver this service over our fibre-optic network.
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