BT Vision: gradually shifting the control to the viewer

The launch today of BT Vision, the new on-demand video download service from BT, represents a significant step towards achieving television for anyone, anywhere, at anytime, and on any device.

BT Vision will be delivered through a new set-top box, the V-box (a personal PVR, personal video recorder similar to the TiVo or Sky Plus) offered free to existing and new customers who sign up for a new contract for BT Total Broadband. Like the BSkyB service download service launched earlier this year, the V-box needs to be connected to the customer's broadband service in order to download on-demand content that will then be stored on the PVR.

Not surprisingly, BT Retail has decided to make it conditional on BT Vision customers subscribing to one of its own BT Total Broadband packages although unlike other on-demand download services available, BT Vision does not require a monthly subscription or a minimum monthly payment other than the broadband and telephony charges. The V-Box also enables customers to receive more than 40 Freeview digital terrestrial channels through their existing television aerial. The box is also HD ready and according to BT will offer a platform for user-generated content to be uploaded.

BT aims to have two to three million BT Vision customers in the medium term. This compares to more than eight million BSkyB households, most of which use a BT line for their return path, e.g. ordering pay-per-view events.

PVR based on-demand television is still built around a time shift viewing model and could be considered an intermediate technology between linear scheduling and truly on demand programming whereby the viewer can select in real time from the broadcaster's total catalogue.

For BT Retail, BT Vision will help it retain its existing broadband customers at a time when the established broadband service providers are gradually losing market share to new entrants offering lower priced packages and importantly help in the drive to get other customers to re-connect to BT. For the consumer, leaving aside the BT telephony monthly subscription costs, it opens up the pay-per-view market by offering a service not tied to paying for a broadcaster's channel package and equipment rental.

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