Definitions

Top_Up_TV

Top Up TV

Top Up TV is a digital Terrestrial Pay TV service offering content from 23 subscription Channels such as Living, G.O.L.D., Cartoon Network and TCM in addition to the Freeview service. Programming is received through a Top Up TV+ DTR and costs a monthly fee of £9.99 (without contract). In addition to being able to show programming from the Top Up TV Anytime line up, for an additional fee subscribers can access PictureBox (an NBC Universal premium film service) and premium broadcast channels such as Setanta Sports 1

Top Up TV Anytime

On 30 August 2006 Top Up TV announced that it was to launch a new service known as Top Up TV Anytime. The new service required a new DTR known as the Top Up TV+ Box (originally branded the Top Up TV Anytime DTR), and the old service is being phased out. Channels from the original service remained with new channels such as Living and Disney Channel UK.

Top Up TV Anytime is not live TV, but provides a selection of programs from many channels downloaded to the TV+ box to watch on demand. It still provides access to live Freeview channels and some subscription broadcast channels.

Programming

Top Up TV has indicated that Top Up TV Anytime will provide over 100 hours per week of downloaded programmes, meaning about 150 programmes to watch at any one time.

All of the content from the Top Up TV Anytime service (except the premium services - PictureBox movie service and Setanta Sports) is included in a £9.99 per month price package. Customers may select the channels they wish to receive in order to manage the space on their Hard Disc Drive more efficiently.

Top Up TV Anytime line up

The service broadcasts a variety of programmes from the following television channels:

The video on demand programming "pushed" by Top Up TV are encrypted on disk, meaning if you cancel you will not be able to view the previously stored Top Up TV programmes.

Coming Soon

  • Warner Movies (a new movies service launching in the next few months.)

Free services

  • Lottery Xtra (free programming from the National Lottery owner, Camelot.)
  • Info Channel (free video tutorials about using the Top Up TV+ Box.)

Premium Services

  • PictureBox, an NBC Universal premium film service from £5p/m
  • Setanta Sports 1 from £10.99p/m (new customers can get a season ticket for £20 connection fee and existing customers can get 3 months free.)

The PictureBox movie service costs an additional £5 per month to TUTV Anytime subscribers. PictureBox is available as a standalone service costing £7 per month. PictureBox provides one movie from Universal Studios for subscribers to watch each night. Certain "live" programming will be shown as part of British Eurosport, but it is unsure whether any other of the channels will have "live" capability for live events once the "old" streaming service is phased out.

On 11 July 2008, Warner announced that a PPV movie service with films such as I Am Legend is expected to be made available in the next few months.

Equipment

The Top Up TV+ box automatically records programmes broadcast overnight, and the user can then watch the stored programmes on demand. To receive this Top Up TV Anytime programme library, a subscriber must purchase a proprietary Top Up TV+ box, either the Thomson 160GB DTI 6300-16 or the Thomson 250GB DRT6300-25 Digital Video Recorder. Both models contain the same software 2.88, the 250GB box has 250 written on the right side.

Upgrading Hard Disk Drives has been a long standing tradition among personal Video recorder owners. The box is known to support up to a 500GB HDD. The HDD can be replaced by removing screws on the back cover and opening up the inside of the box. It is similar to replacing the hard drive in a computer. The advantages this brings is that the higher capacity hard drive will allow the user to store more of their own content as well as more Top Up TV programmes if Top Up TV add more services at a later date.

The Top Up TV+ Box upfront cost continues to decrease. The Top Up TV+ box originally cost between £139-£210, special offers brought the price to £99 (including 1 month free), then from £79.97 to £100. The 160GB box was offered free in July 2008 with a 12 month contract.

The set top box comes with a Top Up TV bespoke remote control and SCART lead, a signal improvement kit, an RF lead and a power cable. Printed materials include the Top Up TV welcome pack, a remote control codes guide and an instruction manual. The rear of the box has two SCART sockets, two tuners, an S-Video output, analogue phono output and Digital Audio output. It features an offline USB port on the front located next to the viewing card slot hidden behind an opening on the front panel.

Encryption

The video on demand programming "pushed" by Top Up TV are encrypted on disk. Nagravision is licensed for "over the air" encryption services whilst Arqiva holds the contract for Playout and Distribution services for Top Up TV Anytime programme. THOMSON and Wharfendale provide Digital Television Recorders (DTR's)which are used to access Top Up TV Anytime. Under the original Top Up TV service, ex-OnDigital and Top Up TV Ready set top boxes were used to receive the original 11 channel time-share service which is no longer available to subscribe to.

Top Up TV+ Box Firmware

The System software is developed by Top Up TV together with Nagra. The Overnight downloads and existing pay tv "live" channels like Setanta Sports and UKTV Gold use the Nagra France MediaGuard SECA2 system. It is believed that there has been a switch to the more secure Nagravision encryption system, however the encryption services displayed on the box do not reflect this change. For interactive services the box has MHEG5 v1.06 software.

Top Up TV+ Box has received 7 software revisions since its launch, these are for the Thomson DTI6300-16 and DTI6300-25 models:

Version Released Notes
1.50 Shipped firmware.
1.80 First firmware update.
2.00 08/01/2007 Second firmware update.
2.44 12/03/2007 Third firmware update. Fixed problems with the box crashing, rebooting, and missing or deleting recordings. Also added series link, which allows the whole series of a show to be downloaded automatically.
2.81 03/07/2007 Fourth firmware update. Improved general stability and encryption. Also added Subtitles, which although there was a dedicated button on the remote it was functionless. Also fixed the problem with BBCi News Multiscreen.
2.88 08/11/2007 Fifth firmware update. This software includes a number of enhancements and improvements. Specifically EPG & VOD Search (You need to turn this on by going MENU -> 4, 2 and then selecting on from line 5),expanded the Synopsis window, Removed the Anytime Grey Channel bars in the EPG, Revised “Favourites” screen, Series link reliability is now improved and failed series link recordings are re-scheduled, Inclusion of a Channel and VOD Channel Lock facility screen, added facility to “centre” the display off-set. The reliability of VOD downloads has been improved. The ability to save content from the VOD library to the user library has been re-activated. A number of other user interface changes that will make the DTR easier to operate and improved the stability of the DTR generally. It still retains a major bug from previous versions in that the rewind and fast forward functions are not reliable, as the box apparently "forgets" where it is and is liable to skip backward an hour or more if users fast-forward a show after rewinding once.
2.91 31/03/2008 Sixth firmware update. Addresses channel scanning issues for viewers in the Sutton Coldfield transmitter area, allegedly fixes some stability issues, and adds a troubleshooting option to the engineer menu to turn off the recording library's video preview window. It still retains a major bug from previous versions in that the rewind and fast forward functions are not reliable, as the box apparently "forgets" where it is and is liable to skip back wards an hour or more if users fast-forward a show after rewinding once. It also fast-forwards instead of rewinding on occasions.
2.93 01/08/08 Seventh firmware update to address the channel scanning problem (NIT issue) for repeater transmitters. It was released as an opt in (via forcing a download) a few days before it was officially released on 01/08/08
2.99 17/09/08 eighth firmware update to address issues such as the box locking up which were introduced since the last few software updates.

There are newer models of the Top Up TV+ box manufactured by Thomson and Wharfedale which have different firmware versions to the above.

Company Information

The company was founded by two former BSkyB executives, David Chance and Ian West. Top Up TV is 20% owned by Five who took a stake in 2005, its Financial Officer is Nick Humby from Manchester United. The owner of Access Industries, Len Blavatnik, is said to have purchased a 70% stake in January 2007.. In 2006, Top Up TV restructured which saw the original company liquidated under Members voluntary liquidation under the name Minds1. The company was then split up into 3 companies: Top Up TV 1, Top Up TV 2, Top Up TV 3.

Top Up TV's management team currently consists of Nick Markham as chief executive officer, Matt Seaman as chief operating officer, Nick Humby as chief financial officer, Simon Dore as chief technical officer as well as Jim Hytner as commercial Director who used to work for major companies such as Coca Cola and Manchester United.

Internationally, Top Up TV is a major shareholder in French pay TV firm TNTop.

History

Top Up TV, as Newincco 166 Ltd, attempted to make an application for the multiplex licence bid for multiplex D on the DTT service in 2002 as a joint application with Carlton, Granada and Channel 4, trading as the Digital Terrestrial Alliance (DTA). The company were prepared to offer a "viable" and "lite-pay" service, which would have provided a large number of free to air channels and a few pay-TV ones The bid was unsuccessful, and the licence was instead awarded to the BBC, BSkyB and Crown Castle, which later became National Grid Wireless.

After the turn-down of a multiplex bid, Top Up TV turned to public service broadcasters Five and Channel 4 to gain capacity on the platform. On multiplex A, Top Up TV were granted four long-term streams (one of which previously hosted TV Travel Shop), and on multiplex 2, were granted one short-term stream from Channel 4. They came up with a time-shared system which allowed 10 pay-TV channels to be broadcast in the space of five television streams, two of which were allotted "empty" space, which later became ABC1 and Teachers' TV. The sixth stream was used as a temporary measure (as of the short-term contract with Channel 4), and hosted pay-per-view channels Xtraview and Red Hot.

Top Up TV focused less on the premium services which were prominent of ITV Digital prior to 2002. By 2005, eleven channels were available on the service but were all time-shared. Overnight this dropped to as few as two channels (from the main package), in order to make space for premium adult entertainment channels.

Since 2007, Top Up TV Anytime is replacing the original service. Five revoked broadcasting capacity to launch Five Life and Five US. They had to move to the Push Ondemand Top Up TV Anytime service (see below).

Original service

From March 2004 Top Up TV provided a package of 10 timeshared TV channels, this was joined by an eleventh in 2005: UKTV Gold, UKTV Style, UKTV Food, Discovery Channel, Discovery Home&Lesiure, TCM, E4, Bloomberg, Cartoon Network and Boomerang. In 2005 British Eurosport replaced E4 and Toonami joined the line-up. Discovery Home&Lesiure was rebranded Discovery Realtime. It is expected that this will fully close down in favour of Top Up TV Anytime. The original service broke even at 250,000 subscribers according to many sources around the Time Top Up TV Anytime was announced. The original service has been stripped down to UKTV Gold, UKTV Style, British Eurosport this is likely to be stripped down even more in the future - new customers must subscribe to the Anytime package. From its launch in 2004 Alice Beer ran an Information Programme viewable by the channel placeholders and the Top Up TV Sampler channel at the time about the service. However in 2007 when Top Up TV Anytime launched, the Top Up TV Promo channel ran a promotion service hosted by Craig Doyle.

Top Up TV provided additional services such as Xtraview which offered Top Up TV Channels for £1 a day but closed down after Channel 4 wanted the stream back for its own use. This was replaced by Top Up TV Pay As You Go which since closed. Top Up TV Active was an interactive advertising service that replace the off-air MHEG screens on Channel 107, it also featured an audio version of QuizWorld. Xtraview and Top Up TV still remain in a different form today with the off air MHEG being Top Up TV Active and the enter code system for Television X is using Xtraview's method of encryption.

Controversy

The BBC, a member of the Freeview Consortium, has accused Top Up TV of confusing customers by re-introducing pay-TV to DTT . The Freeview consortium had intended to push DTT as an entirely free-to-air (FTA) option to avoid scaring off those who did not want to pay to watch TV. However, some suspect that the entirely-FTA proposition was a ploy by the BBC to safeguard the TV Licence, a suspicion confirmed by former BBC Director General Greg Dyke in his autobiography "Inside Story". Initially, the BBC tried to insist that all of Top Up TV's channels were put at the end of the EPG to avoid confusion. In response to this Top Up TV filed a complaint with Ofcom over the BBC’s apparent refusal to list its new subscription channels on the DTT electronic programme guide. Ofcom spoke to the BBC and the matter was resolved between the parties.

Top Up TV had also found itself on the wrong side of a number of Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Ofcom adjudications, which have ruled that Top Up TV's advertising does not make the time-shared nature of the service clear enough. Their advertisements have been criticised in these rulings for appearing to indicate that 11 full channels are on offer when, in fact, the company only has broadcast access to 4.5 DTT channel streams and none of their channel offerings are broadcast full-time unlike their satellite and cable competitors.

The time sharing system also lead to criticism as it often cut programmes off before they were finished - especially on British Eurosport, and to a lesser extent on UKTV Gold. In its argument to the Advertising Standards Authority (see above), Top Up TV claimed that its channel suppliers joining the service had given an undertaking to align their channel's schedules to fit around Top Up TV's time sharing but that still left a few programmes cut off part way through.

On May 18, 2006 Top Up TV Ltd, Top Up TV's holding company, changed its name to Minds 1 Limited and entered members voluntary liquidation . According to Top Up TV the move is part of a restructuring programme, and will see the company demerged into three separate companies; Top Up TV 1 Limited, Top Up TV 2 Limited, and Top Up TV 3 Limited. The voluntary liquidation, combined with the initial heavy £7 million loss as reported in its own annual report, has resulted in increased media speculation regarding the viability and future of Top Up TV.

There were many complaints about the quality of the Top Up TV+ box made by Thomson and some customers complained to the BBC's Watchdog consumer programme on BBC1 which featured this product on the 23 January 2007 edition of the show. The box was described as "not fit for purpose" by one very dissatisfied customer and customers have reported many problems such as box crashing, picture freezing, cooling fans not working, failing to record and failing to pick up signals. Some recent software updates have greatly improved certain aspects of the box like adding new features such as Series Link and Subtitles. The Top Up TV+ box has had many favourable reviews including being awarded 'Best Hard Disk Recorder' by Computer Shopper, "It's the price and flexibility that makes this our new favourite DTR.

Some people complain about the choice of programming offered by Top Up TV, this coupled with the frequent problems with the TUTV+ boxes software has turned people away from subscribing after the first month.

On October 7, 2008, advertising for Top Up TV's set-top boxes appeared in programme details across the 4TV EPG, truncating the legitimate information to only a few characters. This was meant to have targeted Thomson customers only, but affected many other Freeview receivers using the 4TV EPG.

See also

References

External links


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