Archive: Virgin Media

I am writing to you direct from my new flat. It has been a hectic week, trying to move up here at the same time as a particularly nasty cold snap has hit the UK, and the east of Scotland in particular.

I was hoping to get the whole thing pretty much finished this week – I had even booked the week off work in order to get as much done as possible. Instead I am sitting here having not done very much, and even feel like it is a major achievement just to be sitting here.

I got the keys last Friday, and travelled up with some bits and pieces. There was loads of kitchen stuff that I bought two years ago at the Woolworths closing down sale! I had my staff discount on top of all the discounts that were going on anyway, so I got plenty of bargains.

Over the weekend, the snow worsened. A trip to Ikea was planned for Monday, but I decided to postpone it until Tuesday as the weather was looking like it was due to be a bit better. But the trip down was pretty hairy. I am pretty glad that my dad decided he would drive the van that we had hired. The conditions would probably have got the better of me – as they got the better of dad a few times.

We hadn’t been in Ikea for more than perhaps 15 minutes when an announcement was made that they would be closing the store in 60 minutes! That is not enough time to do Ikea properly, so the whole rest of the time was a completely mad stress-rush.

Considering the time constraints, I think I did a pretty good job, but there are still glaring gaps. I don’t have shelves for all my CDs. I don’t have a bed for the second bedroom. And most of all, I still don’t have a sofa. All there is to sit on is one office-type chair that I bought for the computer desk.

After taking it all up to Dundee, we had real trouble getting the van out of the snow. Luckily, the main roads between Kirkcaldy and Dundee have been largely okay whenever I have made the journey. But as soon as you turn off onto a side-street, the snow gets pretty bad.

I can’t get anywhere near my proper parking space, and it looks like all of my neighbours have their cars properly stranded. We made the mistake of being a bit too ambitious coming in, instead of parking on the street before (as I have done today!). Luckily, the neighbours seem really good and helped us get out!

There is still an awful lot to do. My bed has been built, so I am sleeping here tonight. Tomorrow, an engineer from Virgin Media is due to arrive to install my broadband, television and telephone line. Unfortunately, I still  haven’t got an HD television to test out the new HD Virgin Media box! I ordered it a week ago but it hasn’t arrived here yet – not that I’m surprised due to the snow. Hopefully it won’t be too much of a problem for Mr Virgin Media.

Meanwhile, I am kicking myself for some of the things I have forgotten to bring with me! Despite owning two phone chargers, I have neglected to bring either of them – so I have to keep remembering to go easy on my phone usage. That means that this little stay at my flat will be short-lived. I will go back to “old home” tomorrow afternoon, and I probably won’t return here until Monday evening.

I will get moved in one day…

A fun diversion during the season is to enter a Fantasy Formula 1 competition. When I was at school I actually used to run one for a couple of years. It was a bit too ambitious though. By the end I was getting people to design their liveries and even choose sponsors for points. I definitely overdid it there.

Anyway, it is years since I entered a Fantasy F1 competition. I was looking around for competitions to enter when a Sidepodcast league was announced. The league now contains an astonishing 84 entrants, with a few familiar names to the F1 blogosphere in the mix.

I have also decided to join in Linksheaven’s Fantasy F1 competition. The rules are a bit weird because you get a point for each lap a driver completes. I’m not sure if I have taken the right approach with this one. Apparently a lot of people have chosen Sutil on the basis that he is cheap and he will rack up the points by completing loads of laps. I’ve just gone for a general mid-grid selection, in the hope they’ll pick up some actual points now and again.

The other competition I am indulging in this season is Formula 1 Picks, a Facebook Application. Last year F1 Picks entailed predicting the top three finishers, but this year has seen a tweak to the rules. Drivers are now separated into three groups — Ferrari / McLaren drivers and Alonso; the midfield; the no-hopers. You score the Championship points of your three picks.

This is a simple approach, and the three tier selection system has mixed it up a bit. However, I am perplexed at some of the choices made by the application’s developers. Mark Webber is in the second group while David Coulthard is in the third group. It’s not clear to my why DC should be regarded as so much worse, especially since with the new gearbox rules Webber is sure to retire from several races!

I would choose Coulthard from the third group because it seems like an opportunity to pick up an ‘undervalued’ driver. But Kazuki Nakajima is also in this third group! I realise that Nakajima is a rookie, but the Williams is going to knock everyone’s block off this year, and Nakajima was handy in the Brazilian Grand Prix (pitstop mishap aside).

What other decent Fantasy F1 competitions are there? I have noticed competitions run by Virgin Media (goodness knows why), Times Online / The Sun and everyone’s favourite, ITV-F1.

But entering these competitions involves giving away quite a lot of personal information, and who knows, maybe even selling your soul. I suppose that is the price you pay for entering a competition that actually has a prize. But that’s not what it’s about surely?

Also, what do you think is a good strategy? When I ran my competition at school I sadly undervalued Michael Schumacher just in time for him to have one of his most dominant seasons (I think that must have been 2002), so everyone who bought Michael Schumacher and had even the crappest chassis and engine just ran away with the competition.

Is the “great driver / poor chassis” combination the best? I tend to go for an all-round middling team in the hope of grabbing a few points here and there, rather than going to the expense of buying, say, Räikkönen. I am out of practice in this Fantasy F1 malarkey though. Time will tell.

I am quite a fan of Freeview. Even though I hardly ever watch any television these days, I think it is so wonderful to have that kind of choice fairly hassle-free for £20-odd. There have been quite a lot of changes to Freeview recently.

First came the unexpected and abrupt death of ABC1. It wasn’t a bad channel, but it always seemed like there was something that didn’t quite work about it. When it launched there were no adverts for months — so how was it funded? Then there was the distinct lack of space on prime-time on Freeview, which essentially made ABC1 a daytime-only channel.

ABC1’s schedule was therefore restricted to rather tame American comedies. The same ones. Over and over again. What’s more, they did that odd thing that digital channels sometimes do, of showing the episodes seemingly in random order. This was especially problematic for 8 Simple Rules. One minute John Ritter was dead, the next he had come back to life! And then he was dead again.

In a way this was a good thing though, because you knew what you were getting. Unchallenging, homely television. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I imagine that if ABC1 was around ten years ago, I would have loved watching it on the days when I was off sick from school.

Then came Virgin 1, which is Virgin Media’s latest little stone thrown in their big bear fight with BSkyB. “Oh, they think they’re so smart having a channel called Sky One,” some Virgin Media big-wig probably said on day. “We’ll show them! We can have Virgin 1.”

So, Ftn has been killed to death just when it was getting good. I loved Ftn in its later days. Its repeats of retro gameshows like The Crystal Maze, The Krypton Factor and Bullseye were strangely captivating. Then later at night there was always Takeshi’s Castle if you were up for vegetating a bit. While it was always Freeview’s worst channel, in the past year or so it had carved out a distinctive identity for itself.

The new channel, on the other hand, does not have a distinctive flavour. In fact, it is almost as if they looked at Sky One and decided “we want a programme like that, a programme like that, and a programme like that.”

In short, it is like a watered-down version of Channel Five. Do we really need another channel full of sub-standard American imports? I think not. I would have thought that, especially with the Virgin brand attached to it, they would have put a bit more effort in to make it more distinctive.

Then this week there was the launch of Dave. Dave is essentially a re-branding of UKTV G2, so it’s good to know they’ve gone from one silly name to another. A lot of people are going on about what a great name Dave is for a channel, but I think it is quite silly. They say that it’s based on the idea that “everyone knows a bloke called Dave”, which is true. The problem is that whenever I hear the name I think of that balloon-faced Conservative leader.

As for the programming it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Watching Dave is like being transported back to the 1990s. Have I Got News For You, Red Dwarf and Bottom are among its roster. Essentially, Dave seems to me like BBC Two 2. It’s the channel that BBC Three secretly wishes it could be, if only it could be unleashed from all of those quotas to do with repeats.

Then there is Never Mind the Buzzcocks. I can’t stand watching it, at least when it was hosted by Mark Lamarr. He seems like a genuinely spiteful person. He tells nasty jokes about people, which I don’t mind usually. But Mark Lamarr doesn’t seem to tell them in the sense of “I’m only having a laugh”. He seems to be genuinely nasty. I can’t stand watching it. For a further insight into the dark world of Never Mind the Buzzcocks, check out this blog post by Adam Buxton.

But without a doubt the worst programme on Dave is A Question of Sport. Why does this programme still exist, even in repeat form? It is just diabolical.

Fortunately, this crime is outweighed by the repeats of Whose Line is it Anyway. Now, why is Whose Line is it Anyway not on any more, huh?

Despite the patchy output, the launch of Dave on Freeview seems to add a lot of value. It is replacing UKTV Bright Ideas, which I doubt will be missed by many people. The hours for UKTV History have been cut back, which might not be very popular. But let’s face it. Everyone knows that history channels only ever get ratings if they either

  1. Show programmes that are nothing to do with history
  2. Dedicate their entire schedule to programmes about Adolf Hitler’s second cousin twice removed’s hairdresser’s pet ostrich.

Long term readers of this blog will know that I am not a big fan of phone-in quizzes. So when the recent controversy surrounding premium rate phone lines I was quite pleased. But now I think it has turned into media bandwagon.

More and more instances of dodgy goings-on are being sniffed out by the media. The problem is, each subsequent new problem is less important than the last one. Now the premium rate phone lines look a bit amateurish — but not evil, which is what they actually are.

Not that I have any sympathy for the viewers who phone in time after time and somehow expect not to be charged. Take the fuss surrounding Channel Five’s Brainteaser. There were a few instances where the producers were unable to find anybody who had a correct answer among the ten random names and numbers supplied by the people in charge of the phone lines.

If you have ever watched Brainteaser, you will know just how cretinous you have to be to get the answer wrong. The most common puzzles on Brainteaser are are a bit like anagrams, but instead of all the letters being jumbled up, groups of letters are jumbled up. A typical example (stolen from here) is “LL WA PER PA”.

Not too difficult is it? To be honest, I don’t blame the producers for not having a contingency plan in case they can’t find somebody out of a list of ten people who can’t get the correct answer. It might have been misguided for them to make up fake names of non-winners, but this smacks more of panicking producers on a live TV show who don’t know what to do rather than the pure evil that can be found on other quiz channels.

Then there is the hoo-ha over The X Factor, where viewers were charged a bank-breaking 15 pence. I mean, most people probably drop that amount of money every day without realising it. And if you can’t spare that extra 15 pence, what on earth are you doing using premium rate phone-in lines where your chances of affecting the result are approximately zero?

Channel 4’s The Morning Line got in trouble for charging callers who were stupid enough to phone up after it was announced that the lines were closed. If the phrase “phone lines are now closed” isn’t enough to stop you phoning in, then you really have nothing to complain about.

And now we have got to the point where children are being dragged into the whole thing. A Blue Peter phone-in competition where proceeds went to charity fell victim to a technical glitch. Much like the Brainteaser instance, a panicking member of the production put a child who happened to be visiting the studio on the air to pose as a competition entrant.

Note the final couple of paragraphs in the story:

But Ms Zahoor, whose information led to the discovery, says she thinks the BBC’s reaction is “silly”.

“I didn’t realise that it would be blown out of all proportion,” she said, adding that she had refused to lodge a formal complaint about the show.

Again, it was probably misguided, but it is hardly the deception and near fraud that you find on some channels. I can’t actually imagine how lame the next “premium rate phone call revelation” is going to be. 999 lines open instead of the 1,000 promised? Comic Relief is going to be fun this year!

What really gets me the most about this storm is the fact that the very worst examples of the genre are getting away with it. The media is after the big names like Britain’s finest comedy duo Richard and Judy, Saturday Kitchen, The X Factor and Blue Peter.

But the quiz channels themselves — entire channels that are devoted to these controversial competitions — are carrying on pretty much as normal. There was a slightly eerie evening recently when there was only one of these on Freeview — Big Game TV on Ftn (how different would it be if this channel were called ‘Virgin’, its true colours?). But TMF’s Pop the Q was only gone for one evening due to a technical problem.

Channel Five dropped Quiz Call in the wake of the Brainteaser problems, but Quiz Call itself carries on as normal on Sky. The ITV Play channel has been axed by ITV, but only because it wasn’t making enough money!

These might be signs that the phone-in quiz television genre has hit the rocks. But the genre’s coat has been on a shoogly nail for ages. You can tell that with all the chopping and changing that has been going on, such as when Channel 4 sold Quiz Call (I bet they’re mighty glad they sold it now!) and the musical chairs involving Ftn’s, Channel Five’s and even ITV’s quiz slots.

ITV Play only makes money on its late-night ITV1 slot and apparently often made a loss during the day. The channel probably would have closed anyway — it’s just that now was a convenient time to close it.

With this controversy, programmes like the relatively innocuous Richard & Judy are being castigated, while the actually evil Make Your Play has technically been given the all-clear.

I mean, at least the competitions on Richard & Judy and the like have well-defined rules and everybody gets pretty much what is expected. On the quiz channels, on the other hand, callers are taken arbitrarily (even during ‘speed rounds’, even when the presenters are promising that they are taking “as many calls as they can”).

The questions are vaguely-defined such as the tower guessing games (where is the skill in that?, as a couple of Resonance FM presenters might say) or the downright deceitful ‘add the numbers / pennies / circles / whatever’ games. And they never tell you how they get to the answers. These are the real premium rate scams, but somehow everybody is now focussing on charity-funding competitions for children.

Finally, a big thumbs down goes to Icstis, the so-called regulatory body for premium rate phone lines. That is has taken this media bandwagon to finally get Icstis to levitate their big arse over problems that are in some cases several months old is shocking. The shouldn’t have to wait for the media to do their job for them.

Notably, The Hits has ditched its frankly diabolical Cash Call slot. Apparently this programme was actually beamed from Hungary (and the programme was often fronted by presenters whose grip of English wasn’t too great). Quite fishy.

Anyway, enjoy this clip of it on YouTube. As you can see, it is deceptively boring — a good cure for insomnia at that time of night perhaps? On the other hand, it is classic car-crash television, and it is fascinating just for how boring it is.

Update: Qwghlm Twitters his view:

ZOMG Blue Peter cheatery! Meanwhile, the Trident bill is going through the House…