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Virgin Media downgrades product pool

Pay TV provider's future is in mid-market

Virgin Media, the U.S.-quoted British cable combine, has indicated it is no longer in the market for premium content.

At a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch acting CEO Neil Berkett said that as a pay TV provider Virgin’s future was in the mid-market. “There is no money for us in premium TV,” he said. “We have a superior product in the mid-range and that is where the profit pool will grow.”

In a reference to arch-rival BSkyB, the Virgin topper added: “Those customers who want premium sport and movies have got them, but there is not where the money is. … There is a massive opportunity (in the mid-market).”

Significantly, BSkyB is poised to launch its own middle-market terrestrial pay offering entitled Picnic provided regulators greenlight the service.

In the past, Virgin, launched a year ago following NTL’s purchase of Virgin Mobile, has expressed interest in bidding for Premier League English soccer.

Berkett, who took over as acting CEO following the sudden departure of Steve Burch in August, ruled out any renewed interest in bidding for ITV, the U.K. terrestrial broadcaster, the subject of renewed takeover speculation in recent days.

“That was a moment in time,” he said. “The market is completely different now.”

Virgin Media launched promising to deliver growth by offering U.K. consumers a so-called “quadruple play” proposition involving pay TV, broadband, fixed and mobile telephone.

But, according to Berkett, the company’s future is now fixed firmly on its ability to offer high-speed broadband services and video on demand that rivals cannot match.

The fact that Berkett, who has made secret of his desire to land the top job on a permanent basis, is still acting CEO has led to suggestions that Virgin Media is effectively run from the U.S. where the company’s chairman Jim Mooney is based. Berkett, however, denied this was the case. He said the outfit was being run by the executive team located in the U.K.

In a separate move, seasoned British U.K. topper David Elstein, a former CEO at Channel 5, BSkyB and ITV chief, announced he is stepping down from the Virgin Media board.

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