U.K. cable operator speeds up download time

Virgin Media, the Nasdaq-quoted U.K. cable operator, is hoping to lure subscribers away from its main rival, Blighty’s dominant paybox, BSkyB, by launching a super-fast broadband offering.

The 50MB service, costing up to £51 ($78) a month, will enable customers to download a film in a little more than three minutes, and TV shows in 60 seconds.

Virgin has increasingly focused on its broadband service rather than premium content as a way of hooking customers.

However, it remains to be seen how many of Virgin’s 3.6 million customers buy into the premium broadband service. Despite selling 2MB, 10MB and 20MB broadband, the majority of subscribers opt for the 2MB packages.

Neil Berkett, chief executive of Virgin Media, predicted demand for broadband would remain strong despite the U.K. recession.

“Broadband is not a discretionary spend,” he said. “Despite the current environment, despite the doom and gloom about people choosing very wisely and frugally, customers are paying for the superior services they need for their superior data consumption.”

Virgin also announced that it will bow four HD channels in 2009.

New Corp.’s BSkyB has 9 million subscribers.

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