Virgin Media O2 is set to redefine the TV viewing experience for some of its customers by integrating 14 Free, Ad-Supported Streaming TV (FAST) channels into its Electronic Programming Guide (EPG) – at no extra cost.
This move comes as FAST channels are gaining global traction, offering viewers a diverse range of content without the need for a traditional subscription (though a Virgin Media TV subscription is very much needed).
Among the new channels that viewers can look forward to are Inside Crime, featuring in-depth explorations of the UK’s most infamous crimes, Homes Under the Hammer, dedicated to the popular auction series, Deal or No Deal USA, the thrilling game show, and Tastemade, offering food, travel and lifestyle shows (see the full list below).
- August 1 Update: The channels have been added today.
Integrating these channels directly into the EPG, alongside Virgin Media’s current linear channel line-up, simplifies the viewing experience and brings a wider variety of content directly to the viewer’s fingertips.
What Are FAST Channels?
Free Ad-Supported Streaming TV (FAST) channels are gaining significant traction in the UK and globally.
These channels offer viewers a wide variety of content without the need for a traditional subscription or contract (though in this case, they’re a perk for Virgin Media subscribers).
Instead, FAST channels rely on an ad-based revenue model, providing an array of linear, themed streaming channels and on-demand content at no extra cost – but with advert breaks.
This model is becoming increasingly popular in the streaming TV arena, with several major players launching their own FAST channels.
For instance, Amazon’s Freevee service is a notable example of a FAST channel that has gained a substantial audience.
A Seamless Viewing Experience
The integration of Free Ad-Supported Streaming TV (FAST) channels into Virgin Media O2’s Electronic Programming Guide (EPG) marks a significant shift in the viewing experience for customers.
Traditionally, FAST channels have been accessed separately, often through specific apps or platforms. This has meant that viewers have had to switch between different interfaces to access their desired content.
However, Virgin Media’s decision to now integrate the new channels directly into the EPG alongside its current linear channel line-up changes this dynamic.
Now, viewers can seamlessly switch between traditional broadcast channels and FAST channels without having to leave the familiar interface of the EPG.
This not only simplifies the viewing experience but also brings a wider variety of content directly to the viewer’s fingertips.
David Bouchier, Chief TV and Entertainment Officer at Virgin Media O2, highlighted the significance of this move, stating, “We’re reimagining the traditional TV format, making our FAST channels visible in the TV guide alongside all our other pay and free channels.”
Earlier this month, Virgin Media made headlines by partnering with Pluto TV, a leading free, ad-supported streaming service.
This partnership allowed Pluto TV to become directly accessible on Virgin Media’s set-top boxes at no additional cost, enriching the television experience for Virgin Media’s customers.
Pluto TV offers an extensive range of programming, featuring over 100 live linear channels that span a variety of genres including drama, news, sport, entertainment, and kids’ programmes, along with thousands of on-demand films and television series.
However, unlike the newly announced FAST channels, Pluto TV was added as an app and was not integrated into Virgin Media’s Electronic Programming Guide (EPG).
This means that while Pluto TV content is accessible to Virgin Media customers, it does not appear alongside the traditional linear channels in the EPG (although some of the new programming is available both on Pluto, and the new EPG-integrated channels).
The introduction of FAST channels, fully integrated within the EPG, marks a new step in Virgin Media’s strategy, providing an even more seamless and integrated viewing experience for its customers.
And while streaming-savvy users don’t necessarily need this – it might make these sorts of free streaming channels more accessible to people not accustomed to using streaming apps.
Virgin Media’s New Channels
The streaming ad-supported channels which are being added to Virgin Media TV, at no extra cost, are:
Inside Crime – Get behind the headlines of some of the UK’s most infamous crimes. Shows include Crimes That Shook Britain and Britain’s Darkest Taboos.
Real Wild – From lush rainforests to sparse deserts, our planet is an extraordinary place teeming with life & beauty. Explore the wonders of earth – and the cute, colourful and wild animals inhabiting it.
Mystery TV – Delve into a world of mystery, the supernatural and the unexplained. Shows include Weird or What? With William Shatner and UFOs Declassified.
HauntTV – Love scares and ghosts that go bump in the night? You’re gonna love this channel. Shows include Paranormal Survivor and Bogeymen.
History Hit – The home of History. Share our enthusiasm for History capturing key moments in world history and linking them to the present day.
Baywatch – On a Los Angeles beach, a team of lifeguards led by Lieutenant Mitch Buchannon saves lives, deals with personal tragedies, fights crime, and participates in extraordinary adventures every day.
Homes Under the Hammer – An exciting auction series where potential bargains can bring big returns on investment and a carefully planned house makeover can make all the difference.
Tastemade – Upgrade your taste through fantastic food, travel and lifestyle shows, including Britain’s Biggest Adventures with Bear Grylls.
NextUp Live Comedy – The home of UK stand up comedy. From Edinburgh Fringe to London’s Comedy Store.
Great British Menu – A culinary competition series where world-class chefs from across the UK put their hearts on a plate, showcasing the nation’s best cooking talent and creating dishes inspired by Britain’s iconic spirit, from Wimbledon Tennis to The Royal Family.
The Chat Show Channel – Your favourite stars on the sofa! Shows include Chatty Man with Alan Carr and Friday Night with Jonathan Ross.
Deal or No Deal USA – 26 sealed briefcases ranging from a penny to $1 million. Contestants must decide whether to accept an offer of cash from the mysterious entity known as “the Banker,” in exchange for what might be contained in the contestant’s chosen briefcase.
Fear Factor – Imagine a world where your greatest fears become reality. Contestants battle in extreme stunts designed to challenge the contestants both physically and mentally.
Wipeout Xtra – Crashes, smashes and hilarious mud splashes are on the cards as twenty contestants take on one of television’s largest and most extreme obstacle courses.
How To Watch The New Channels
The new FAST channels will be accessible to all Virgin Media TV customers at no extra cost from next month.
To access these channels, customers will need to have one of Virgin Media’s newer set-top boxes: TV 360, Stream, or V6.
Virgin Media TV 360
TV 360 is Virgin Media’s “traditional” TV platform, offering access to 190 channels and up to three mini 360 boxes around the home for a full multi-room experience.
It also provides access to the Virgin TV Go app so customers can stream their favourite content from their phone or tablet, whenever and wherever suits them.
Virgin Media Stream
Stream (see our review), available to both new and existing customers who take a Virgin Media broadband-only or broadband and landline bundle, offers complete flexibility with a 30-day rolling contract and no ongoing cost beyond the streaming subscriptions they choose to subscribe to.
Stream customers can also benefit from Stream credit, which provides a 10% saving on select streaming services added via their Virgin TV bill.
In addition to these two boxes, the new FAST channels will also be available on the V6 box – Virgin Media’s previous-generation set-top device.
To access the new FAST channels, customers simply need to navigate to the relevant section on their EPG using their remote.
All in all, while the channels themselves are not exactly premium – their integration into the EPG means they will appear alongside the linear channels, which is an interesting first step in a better integration of streaming and more “traditional” channels.
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