Virgin TV customers are about to lose all ten UKTV channels, including Dave, Gold, W, Drama and Alibi.
As of Sunday 22nd July, Virgin subscribers will no longer be able to watch shows such as Taskmaster, John Bishop in Conversation, Death in Paradise and Murdoch Mysteries after Virgin said they were “unable to come to terms” with UKTV in a row regarding on-demand content.
Virgin has been in negotiations with UKTV – which is joint-owned by the BBC and Discovery – in a bid to secure the rights for its customers to watch UKTV shows on demand. The BBC currently holds back old episodes of series including Top Gear, Red Dwarf and Call the Midwife and sells them to streaming services such as Netflix.
David Bouchier, Virgin Media’s chief digital entertainment officer, told The Guardian: “The problem is the BBC does not grant the UKTV digital rights with its TV shows which leaves it somewhat stranded as a linear dinosaur in an on-demand modern world.
“Part of a commitment to audiences has to be allowing them to watch what they want, when they want and that also means being able to watch those programmes on demand.
“From US studios to small programme-makers, that is how it is done. The BBC puts UKTV in a very difficult position and we have been unable to come to terms and will replace the channels.”
Broadcast reports Bouchier as adding: “UKTV is as frustrated as we are, there is a lot of disquiet and upset – it is like an episode of The Borgias. No-one who is involved in the modern TV business will be unaware of the need to move to a digital future. It is difficult for UKTV to grow the business other that by launching more channels – it’s business model is seriously outdated.”
However, UKTV responded by hitting out at Virgin’s request for a “huge cut in fees”.
Darren Childs, the chief executive of UKTV, said: “We want to continue to provide our channels to Virgin Media, but the huge cut in fees that Virgin has requested doesn’t reflect the value we bring to customers.
“UKTV’s channels account for over a quarter of pay entertainment channel viewing within Virgin Media’s basic subscription pack. If our channels are no longer available through Virgin, we will be hugely disappointed for the millions of customers who will lose out.”
On its website, Virgin Media says it is “still in discussions” with UKTV. However, it has already announced that it has invested in “an extensive collection of much-loved programming”, including new channels Paramount Network (Suits, Designated Survivor) and YourTV (Castle, Bones) which are set to replace the UKTV channels in Virgin TV customers’ EPGs.
UKTV insiders say there is still hope of reaching a last-minute deal, citing the agreement struck at the last minute between Discovery and Sky last year.
In February 2017 the US broadcaster behind channels such as Eurosport and TLC had threatened to remove its channels from Sky after a dispute over fees. However an eleventh hour reprieve ensured that the 12 Discovery channels were kept on the Sky platform.