Barclays Drop BT Media And Broadcast Deal

Barclays Drop BT Media And Broadcast DealThe planned buy out of the satellite interests of BT Media and Broadcast, the division within UK giant, British Telecom, that operates ‘business to business’ broadcasting industry interests, has fallen at the final fence.

After long and protracted negotiations that we here at Digital Lifestyles have been covering for the last six months, we can reveal here that the deal will not go through. Rumours have been rife for the last week or so after Barclays Private Equity (BPE) failed to get the necessary agreements to cut suppliers costs.

Barclays Drop BT Media And Broadcast DealBT like other large telco’s is finding itself with more Satellite capacity than it can usefully manage, remains committed to a sale and is now considering the long term future of some of its’ other major earth stations.

The failure of the negotiations that valued the sale at around £80m, is expected to enable key players from both sides to ‘spend more time with their families’ and staff who had elected to join the new company that Barclays were putting together, face a prolonged period of uncertainty while “reserve bidders” are consulted, including a further interested private equity outfit.

Bright Star: BT Media and Broadcast Sale Close

As you may recall, we first reported the sale of BT’s Media and Broadcast division (or BTM&B as it’s known internally) and its TV satellite interests at the turn of the year. Since then detailed negotiations have been ongoing, with around 200 staff worldwide expected to be moving away from the comfy world of BT, to the more exposed waters of a private equity-driven outfit. We’ve heard that it’s expected to be known as Bright Star.

The new enterprise centred around Satellite Occasional use and satellite TV multiplexs will be headed up by Mark Smith who was the boss of what was, a couple of years back, BT Broadcast Services. Joining Mark there will be some new hires alongside those former BT folks, described as ‘in-scope’ who we understand have decided to take a sweetener of around £4,500 to transfer their skills and experience to the fledgling outfit.

It is expected that initially BT’s Media and Broadcast customers will notice little difference as BT continue to offer a wrap that includes satellite expertise. Beyond that, Bright Star will be looking at other opportunities not limited to BT’s customers.

The new business will include satellite earth stations in the UK, France and the USA but it is as yet unclear where the operation will be headquartered. Currently BT’s M&B operates out of the iconic BT Tower.

The transfer and negotiations around the unit are likely to have given BT some food for thought as to how they can manage the disposal of business units they do not see as key, or that are giving rates of return below the main business’s targets.

After such protracted negotiations it will be interesting to see if a more bottom line-focused business emerges and if BT attempts similar transfers around the peripheries of its empire in the future.

Live Sports TV Coverage Threatened By BT Media And Broadcast Sale

BT's part sale of Media and Broadcast threatens to turn back the clockThe story we’ve been reporting, on BT’s off loading of its unprofitable operations within the (M&B) unit is hotting up. Barclays PE (that’s Private Equity to you and me) is in a period of negotiation with M&B, to complete the deal where they take ownership of Occasional Use; generally outside events that includes Wimbledon tennis coverage and the uplinks of many TV and radio channels to the Sky digital platforms.

Barclay’s are looking to guarantee no compulsory redundancies, for three years, for the 100 plus staff that come across with the deal, and are planning to invest heavily in the future technologies like High Definition television, that they expect to drive broadcasting industry growth in the future.

BT's part sale of Media and Broadcast threatens to turn back the clockThe problem is that BT staffers are unhappy at being bundled in with the sale and have worries that long term they could see a reduction in the conditions they enjoy. One of their unions, the CWU, has now after balloting, threatened strike action, hoping to change BT’s management’s attitude to those described as ‘in scope’ by the potential deal.

The strike would hit contracted live events carried by both ITV and Sky, the coverage likely to be blacked out would include Grand Prix racing and Soccer games that are scheduled between 8th and 12th of March.

BT's part sale of Media and Broadcast threatens to turn back the clockNow to us here at Digital Lifestyles, this threatened action seems to have a bit of a King Canute/70’s vibe about it. The truth of the matter, is that the competitive landscape has changed in telecommunications and broadcasting. BT is answerable to their city shareholders, and a move to tackle some of the entrenched attitudes within the company’s workforce might be looked on favourably by the number crunchers around the London stock exchange.

BT Media And Broadcast Division Set For Part Sale

BT set to announce part sale of its Media and Broadcast division We understand from good sources that BT is set to announce the name of the buyer for a major slice of its Media and Broadcast operations.

As we revealed in January, BT’s Media and Broadcast (BT M & B) is looking to jettison its unprofitable OU operations. It has let interested parties know that a cash buyer would be welcome for its fleet of Transportable Satellite link vehicles.

We now hear that the sale is going to cover more than just the Occasional Use business.

BT, which since Post Office days has been working with the broadcasting industry, has been persuaded to include its profitable multiplexing business in the sale. This uplinks (ground to satellite) many of the Sky digital TV services and, we understand, it’s possible that part of the ITV network, that it is also responsible for, would also be included.

BT set to announce part sale of its Media and Broadcast divisionIn the frame for the buyout, which is likely to involve the transfer of over 100 employees, is the Australian-backed Arqiva and a major UK bank.

The sale will ensure that existing contracts are honoured. Shedding it is symptomatic of the burden a heavily-unionised BT carries in making units perform profitably and it strikes at M & B’s ambitions to be a powerhouse in the evolving IPTV world.

Insiders have doubts that media and broadcast will continue an operating unit for more than 12 months.

As soon as we have the details on the decision it’ll be here on Digital Lifestyles.

BT Media and Broadcast Sale Sought: Exclusive

BT Looks To Sell OU OperationsDigital-Lifestyles has been informed, and can exclusively reveal, that BT is looking to shed its OU operations from its Media and Broadcast (BT M&B) division.

For those of you not in the know (like the vast majority of those not directly involved in the day-to-day of the business), OU is Occasional Use – the temporary services that provide worldwide video for events like Live 8.

BT has a long history of servicing the broadcast industry with the provision of telecom lines and links dating back to pre-Privatisation Post Office days. They provide the infrastructure behind ITV’s regional switching network and its customers include such TV giants as CNN and QVC.

BT Looks To Sell OU OperationsDespite BT as a whole being determined to move into new revenue opportunities like TV, there’s new breed of technology solutions for linking signals which are outside BT’s control. This bothersome issue is further squeezing their previously healthy profits, and the current cost base for BT’s OU services makes it difficult to justify continued operations, indeed we’ve been told that the OU is currently unprofitable. It’s hoped that a buyer will be able to make the operations pay, by reducing costs and realising synergies.

In the last decade, the former state monopoly phone companies (and many argue this hasn’t changed a great deal) have divested themselves of the majority of their interests in global satellite operators, as we saw when the global teleco industry packaged and sold Intelsat. There’s no reason to not see a continuation of that trend.

BT Looks To Sell OU OperationsFurther deals for incumbent European telecoms operators are on the cards as they retreat into their core businesses. See France Telecom, who recently off-loaded one of its Paris Earth Stations to the satellite operator Eutelsat.

Private discussion are ongoing with a number of suitors and a decision on a buyer is expected in February. Those linked with the purchase include satellite operators Intelsat and SES.

It’s unlikely to be simple to disengage the Occasional Use element from the Media and Broadcast division and potential suitors may try and cherry pick the more profitable elements in a deal.

John Lennon: All Digital Release Soon

John Lennon: All Digital Release SoonThe whole of John Lennon’s solo catalogue will be made available digitally, for the first time, on 5th December – Oooo, just in time for xmas.

Working Class Hero, the latest greatest hits album, is already available for digital download. This album is described as ‘definitive’, but it strikes us that many greatest hits albums are spoken about in these glowing terms.

Some Lennon tracks will also be available for mobile download in the coming weeks.

Pricing has not been discussed, but we hope they won’t be as inflated as the recently announced Rolling Stones album. It’s coming out on SanDisks TrustedFlash and was priced at just short of £40.

John Lennon: All Digital Release SoonYoko Ono, John Lennon’s wife, told of her views on if John would have been an Internet fan, “New technology is something he always embraced and this is something he would have loved. I always say that he would have been very excited by all the opportunities offered by the development of new means of communication.”

We’ve spoken to someone very close to the main rightsholders of The Beatles work and were told they had, about a year ago, been very close to signing a digital distribution deal. This fell apart over the amount of money being put on the table – and their view is “What’s the rush?”

If this John Lennon deal moves The Beatles any closer to releasing their tracks on digital formats is unclear, but many Beatles fans will have their fingers crossed.

John Lennon

Snakes Snare N-Gage for Nokia

Snakes N-gage NokiaThe all-time classic Nokia game, Snake, has now hit their gaming platform, the N-Gage. Best of all it’s free to download.

One initially surprising thing is that the whole game can be uploaded to another N-Gage via Bluetooth. Clearly this hasn’t been a feature of the commercial games already released, which include snowboard-a-thon SSX yesterday, but as it’s a give away, it makes it an interesting way to get it spreading.

Pasi Pölönen, Director, Game Publishing at Nokia said in a statement, “The unique method of viral distribution via Bluetooth, plus the free download, means that practically every N-Gage owner can enjoy the addictive gameplay and upload their high scores to the N-Gage Arena.”

Snakes on N-Gage has been updated to run in 3D, taking advantage of the additional processing power of the N-Gage. It also lets up to four players join together in a game by using Bluetooth to connect them up.

N-Gage hasn’t been the huge success that Nokia had wanted, but it is clearly not going to let the N-Gage slip away unnoticed.

Just looking at the Snakes Break Out Website, that they’ve prepared to support the release of Snake, proves that. It appears they have spent a considerable amount of money on its faux-TV appearance – and this is for a game that is FREE to download.

Snakes Break Out Website

The First Review of Snakes?

TI Announce Single-Chip Mobile Phones

mobile phone chip reductionTexas Instruments (TI) has announced they will bring a integrated single-chip solution for mobile phones.

Based on TI’s Digital RF Processor (DRP), it integrates two basic chips, one that controls sending and receiving radio frequencies, and one that controls basic computing functions.

It will bring the advantages of lowering the cost, size and power requirements, while raising performance. All of these are vital in producing high-volume, entry-level cellular phones, particularly when selling into high-growth regions such as India and China.

Currently half of TI wireless business is not that it’s news to them. Back in 2002 TI announced its intention to integrate the bulk of handset electronics on a single chip, for delivery in 2004. It squeezed in to 2004 by providing samples in December 2004.

The NY Times is reporting that Qualcomm announced (reg. reqd) it had developed integrated technology back in November, but it is unlikely to reach the mass market before TI’s. Clearly TI is excited about it, Bill Krenik, manager of wireless advanced architectures for Texas Instruments said to the NY Times, “This isn’t an incremental step, it’s a big leap forward.”

Juha Pinomaa, Vice President, Entry Business Line, Nokia is equally sprightly. “By incorporating TI’s DRP technology into a single chip, future Nokia mobile phones will provide the ideal mix of cool features and cost-effectiveness, making them more attractive to the mass marketplace.”

Not resting on its laurels, TI’s integrated wireless technology roadmap also includes a single chip solution for digital TV for mobile phones, as well as future single chip solutions for GPS, wireless LAN and UMTS.

TI Nokia

Image source – The Hong Kong University of Science & Technology

HomeChoice Doubles Broadband Speeds, Free

HomeChoice STBVideo Networks Ltd (VNL), who run the UK VOD service, HomeChoice, will be doubling the speed of their broadband service from 1st February, at no extra cost.

512Kbps will raise to 1Mb, 1Mbps to 2Mbps and 2Mbps to 4Mbps.

Last week the two UK cable companies, ntl and Telewest, announced they would be offering Video on Demand (VoD) in the UK over their existing connections. They both offer broadband services at a range of speeds, but they are generally distinct from the TV services which are available at extra cost, except from occasional special offer bundles.

Currently ntl offer “broadband” at 300Kbps (arguable if this is broadband), 750Kb and 1.5Mbps (£37.99/month (~€57.50, ~$75). Telewest offer broadband only services (blueyonder) between 256Kbps and 4Mbps, with the top package being £50/month (~€72, ~$94). As these prices don’t include the TV services, they also won’t include VoD, when it gets rolled out.

The HomeChoice offering is delivered over a telephone line and includes the TV service; VoD; free evening and weekend phone calls; as well as higher speed broadband connections with their base level service now being 1Mbps. Their 4Mbps service is priced at #45/month (~€65, ~$85).

Roger Lynch, Chairman & CEO, Video Networks Ltd. said: “Video Networks is constantly looking for ways it can enhance its current suite of services to continue to provide a superb customer experience.”

It’s taken long enough for competition to arrive in the UK, but it finally appears to be taking root. For the UK consumer, this is all good news, as competing providers clamour to offer better deals to woo subscribers.

HomeChoice is currently available to over 1.4 million homes around London. VNL have stated that they want to expand their offering beyond London, although details are not yet public.

Existing HomeChoice customers will be notified of the automatic speed upgrades from 24th January via direct mail.


Telewest Announce PVR for the UK

Telewest PVRFollowing the release of their Video On Demand (VOD) service earlier this week, UK cable company, Telewest, has announced that they are to offer a PVR later in the year.

The signing of the deal with Scientific-Atlanta will provide them with a PVR featuring three tuners, enabling the recording of two channels while watching a third. Coming with a 160Gb hard disk, Telewest are quoting a recording capacity of 80 hours.

When we spoke to Telewest on a more exact release date, they said it would be second half of 2005. Pressing a little harder, they said they hoped it to be the third quarter.

Given the date of the release isn’t firm, neither were Telewest’s answers to our more detailed questions, but here’s what we got. If subscribers take the service, the PVR will be a replacement for their current STB.

It will be a Personal VR rather than a Digital VR, as customers will be able to link the recording of series, as possibility more – at this time undecided.

The existing Telewest service offers a 24-hour Electronic Programming Guide (EPG). They’re currently saying that they don’t know if this is to be extended or not. To us it would be pretty bizarre if it didn’t go to at least a 7-day service – filling up your 80-hour hard drive in a single 24-hours would take some doing.

The price of the box remains undecided. Internally they haven’t decided if there will be a one off fee or if they will continue with the current arrangement for their Set Top Boxes (STB), rental.

The PVR will feature as standard high-definition TV (HDTV) support, not that Telewest has HD at the moment but they say it’s coming “in the future”. While we assume everyone will eventually be delivering HD, we would have thought that if they’re paying for a HD capable box, they’re likely to be supporting it soon.

Eric Tveter president and chief operating officer at Telewest Broadband said “Telewest Broadband’s unique combination of personal video recorder and television-on-demand services will mean our customers have the best of both worlds — freedom from the TV schedule with PVR control, and on-demand access to a wider selection of movies and TV content. It’s not about offering people more TV, but giving them the freedom to watch exactly what they want, when they want.”

Right on Eric.