Cable company benefits from catch-up services

LONDON — On-demand viewing has increased by 50% at U.K. cable company Virgin Media, according to the company’s own figures.

Virgin said there were more than 750 million on-demand views in 2009, up 50% on the previous 12 months.

This translates into 59% of Virgin Media’s 3.7 million TV customers regularly using the service.

The success of on-demand viewing is significant for Virgin because it gives the platform a potential advantage over arch-rival BSkyB, which has almost 10 million subscribers in the U.K.

Despite offering other technological advantages such as its upcoming 3D service and smart video Sky Plus function, BSkyB lacks an on-demand service.

Virgin Media’s Cindy Rose, executive director, digital entertainment, said: “Virgin Media was the first company to bring true TV on demand to the U.K. and in doing so we’ve helped redefine the viewing habits of millions of people by freeing them from the TV schedule.”

With 76 million views in December, a hike of 6% on the previous month, the cable combo is banking on 2010 being another strong year for its video-on-demand offering.

The BBC iPlayer has been available on Virgin since May 2008.

Viewing of fare accessed via the BBC portal grew from 10.5 million views in June 2008 to almost double — 20 million views — in December 2009.

The rival ITV Player has also performed strongly registering 25 million views over the last three months, thanks to shows such as “The X Factor,” “I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!” and local blue-collar soap “Coronation Street.”

Movies have also proved popular. More than 11 million movies were watched on demand throughout 2009, said Virgin.

December saw a 29% increase on November, driven by pictures such as “Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince,” shown on-demand the same day as the DVD bowed in the U.K., and “Monsters vs. Aliens.”

Tyke content like “High School Musical,” “Camp Rock” and “Hannah Montana” has been another success as overall kids programming generated almost 22 million views in 2009.

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