One of the most striking things about the emergence of BT Sport is how reliant Virgin Media now are on their rivals for the content customers want.
While Virgin has long been reliant on Sky for top flight sports and films, until recently they owned a portfolio of their own channels and co-owned UKTV with the BBC.
This helped them have some leverage in content negotiations, though it wasn’t enough to stop Sky’s channels temporarily leaving the platform a few years back in a row over carriage fees.
But as soon as BT won 2 packages of Premier League matches it was clear that Virgin would also eventually have to negotiate with yet another rival, one which will soon offer fibre broadband to more homes than Virgin’s network covers.
Pressure from customers to do a deal with BT is immense and getting more so with every hour that takes us closer to the channels’ launch.
Sports fans unhappy at the loss of ESPN – bought by BT – and the free access they used to enjoy to Premier League games have been working themselves up into a lather over the past few weeks.
Across various forums, customers have been trading theories about such a deal.
One especially amusing theory which has taken on the status of ‘fact’ is that Virgin has done a deal with both BT and Sky that will see both companies loudly advertise that VM doesn’t have the channel and pick off customers until the channels launch.
Each and every Twitter response by Virgin’s customer service team is analysed for hidden meaning with such forensic determination that one has to assume all Virgin customers were Bletchley code-breakers in another lifetime.
Promises by call centre staff – whose job it is to sell to, and retain customers – are repeated in couched reverence as if they were the secret imparting of a truth, rather then simply someone trying not to lose a customer.
Rumours and speculation quickly become established ‘fact’ and when the predictions don’t come true, elaborate theories are concocted to avoid embracing the possibility that they were always nonsense.
Suggestions and rumours on one forum are posted as fact elsewhere, often with a new poster passing the ‘knowledge’ off as the result of a discussion with some insider or other.
And those who claim to be in the know seek to undermine those making differing claims as to the status of negotiations. Everyone is desperate to be hailed as the true bringer of truth.
One of the more amusing treats of the past few days was seeing anonymous ‘sources’ speculating on, and assessing, the credibility of well-known and rightly widely trusted industry magazine Broadcast.
And some are desperate to believe these claims of ‘insiders” that it seemed like half of Virgin’s online customers were waiting for the outcome of a staff meeting claimed to be taking place at 10am today.
This meeting – itself rapidly achieving the status of ‘internet fact’ – seems to have existed in nothing more than a claimed redacted email posted on Cable Forum.
When no news leaked from this claimed meeting, posters vented at Virgin, accusing them of ‘showing contempt’ by not posting updates from a meeting they never said was going to happen.
So why do people make up this guff?
Are they simply trolling, enjoying their ability to wind people up by exploiting their hunger for news?
Here’s what one Cable Forum poster says: “all a load of bollox this about announcement monday, announcement tuesday, it’ll be announcement wednesday in a minute. people are just hedging their bets. because then it looks brilliant if something happens the same day they claimed it would.”
And a few days ago, one said: “seriously, what is the point of stuff like this? sounds like a bullsh*tter to me whoever this “source” is.
“you get exactly the same on football forums. windup merchants hedging their bets. ‘Just been told we’re signing a really good player if not by this weekend then definitely by next weekend, been told deal done, but i can’t say who it is!!!!1’ then eventually a player is signed a few weeks later and they say ‘that’s the player i meant!’ and everyone congratulates them on their inside knowledge.”
And another said: “The ” there’s going to be an announcement in the next few days” thing that some are heralding as an exclusive is just stating the bleeding obvious. BT sports is due to launch in a few days, ESPN as it stands is due to disappear in a few days, of course Virgin are going to make an announcement, it ain’t rocket science. They will have to announce something no matter which way it goes.”
Their cynicism should be shared by anyone numerate, otherwise the number of people claiming to have “inside info” would mean every single UK Virgin Media employee was leaking details of deals they’re bizarrely all intimately involved in to their mates.