Video services

FT Preps UK IPTV Launch

Having broken through the 1 million IPTV subscriber barrier in its domestic market, Orange (NYSE: FTE) says it's close to launching its triple play service in the U.K., where it's been developing a different way to present its video and audio content to help it stand out in an already intensely competitive digital TV services market. (See French Carriers Ramp Up IPTV Subs.)

Speaking at last week's IPTV World Forum event in London, Tim Pearson, director of Digital TV at FT's British business, Orange UK , said his team has been working with British creative services firm Red Bee Media to create a "consistent experience" for customers, no matter whether they access the forthcoming content services via a TV, a PC, or a mobile device.

To achieve that, and to create a different way of segmenting and introducing content to customers, Red Bee has created three animated characters that introduce and lead customers to different types or genres of content: "the roadie," who introduces music content; "clapper-loader," who introduces movies; and "TV lover."

Orange UK has also been developing ways to allow customers to create personalized schedules and playlists to help meet the demands of consumers "used to using YouTube, podcasts, portable media," and so on. And to avoid limiting the appeal of the service and alienating any of its existing 1.4 million DSL customers, Orange UK is calling its service Digital TV, and will not use the term IPTV externally.

Orange UK has been developing the service for some time, but decided not to launch until it could offer something different in a market already saturated with multiservice bundles that group voice, broadband Internet, and entertainment (TV and video on demand) services. Sky has more than 8 million satellite TV and 1 million broadband customers; cable operator Virgin Media Inc. (Nasdaq: VMED) has more than 3.4 million TV and 3.7 million broadband customers; and BT now has more than 150,000 subscribers for its hybrid (over-the-air digital TV plus on-demand content over broadband) service BT Vision, as well as nearly 3.5 million residential DSL customers.

Those market conditions help explain why FT didn't just cut and paste its French service, something it pretty much did in Poland and Spain, and launch it into the U.K.

Pearson said the planned U.K. service is "based on the French service -- that's largely what we've done. But French consumers are different to those in the U.K., so the service needs some finessing."

That's more good news, then, for the technology firms that underpin France Telecom's IPTV offering. (See France Telecom: 'More IPTV, Please'.)

So the service has been trialled since November 2007 in London and the northern city of Leeds with 350 existing, paying Orange UK broadband customers, and the "feedback on activation, navigation, and usage has been useful, allowing us to refine the service," said Pearson.

The service provider has also been testing some targeted advertising, though only to mobile devices at present. "There's a role for it -- with sponsorships, for example -- and it's something we want to do, but we don't have any immediate plans," said the U.K. man.

But Pearson wouldn't commit to a launch date. "Full rollout will be some time this year," was all he would say.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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