Will the sale of Virgin Media mean better TV deals?

US technology giant Liberty Global has bought Virgin Media – the business established by Sir Richard Branson – in a deal worth around £15billion ($23billion).  The buyout will see the Virgin brand take the fight to Rupert Murdoch’s Sky in a renewed battle for pay-tv supremacy.

Now owned by Liberty Global (Branson retains a 3% stake), the Virgin cable network has almost 5million subscribers in the UK - around half that of British Sky Broadcasting.

If you’re a subscriber wondering how these changes might affect you, or you’re a Sky customer now wondering if it’s time to jump ship, here’s a look at what the deal will mean.

Invest and grow

Virgin says it’s a case of ‘business as usual’ for UK customers, who won’t notice any immediate changes following the takeover.

Liberty Global says Virgin Media will continue to operate under the Virgin Media brand in the UK, and that it will move its headquarters from Delaware in the United States to Britain.

But the investment Virgin will receive from its new American parent will no doubt help it to grow and utilise new technology as it takes on Sky.

Neil Berkett, chief executive of Virgin Media, said: "The combined company will be able to grow faster and deliver enhanced returns by capitalising on the exciting opportunities that the digital revolution presents, both in the UK and across Europe."

If you’re a Sky customer and you’re now wondering if the grass will be greener elsewhere, Karl Thompson looked at the alternatives to Sky in his article ‘Is there a cheaper alternative to Sky?’, just last week.

In it, Karl says Virgin is a viable alternative to Sky, offering all the features of Sky+ HD and almost the entire range of Sky channels for £5 less than Sky through its M+ package. But the service is not available to everyone…

Can I get Virgin Media?

Unlike Sky’s satellite technology, which is available to pretty much anyone able to install a dish on their property, Virgin Media uses cable technology – which isn’t quite available to everyone.

Though the UK’s cable network is fairly extensive, those living in more rural and remote areas may find they can’t get access to it. That said, Virgin boasts coverage for over half (55%) of all UK homes and says it is giving 100,000 extra homes access to its network each year.

Virgin has a postcode checker tool on its website which will tell you which of its services you can get in your area.

Investment from Liberty Global could supercharge this expansion, and see more UK homes given access to cable.

Increased competition

What it might also mean is more competitive deals from Sky, which might have to up its game in order to stave off Virgin Media’s advances.

The pay-tv market is becoming more competitive all the time, particularly since fibre optic broadband ushered in the age of reliable on-demand services like LOVEFiLM and Netflix, and new digital and catch-up services like YouView and Freesat+.

Again you can read about the alternatives to Sky and what they cost in Karl’s article.

While there’s not a great deal of difference in what you can get via cable as opposed to satellite, it might be an option for homes which, for whatever reason, cannot install a satellite dish (listed properties sometimes run into difficulties with permission).

Satellite subscribers may also suffer from service disruption in particularly bad weather, as many of us will have seen recently with the snowfall, but cable isn’t really affected in the same way.

If you want to see how your current pay-tv deal measures up against the rest of the market, or you’re thinking of signing up for a subscription and want to know what’s out there, head over to our broadband channel, which features deals on TV and broadband packages from all the big providers.

Dell as well…

Virgin wasn’t the only big deal to go down this week, as Michael Dell decided to take Dell computers company private again in order to compete in the mobile devices market, writing a £15.6billion cheque for the privilege.

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