Living TV Group

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Living TV Group
Type Broadcast television
Country United Kingdom
Availability National; also available in Ireland, selected international countries, also distributed in certain other European countries.
Founded 1990 (1990) – 2011 (2011)
2.5%
Owner British Sky Broadcasting
Former names
Flextech (1990–2007)
Virgin Media Television (2007–10)

Living TV Group was a British television content subsidiary of British Sky Broadcasting. It is now defunct as a company but Sky Living, Sky Livingit, and Challenge are still operated by BSkyB.

Overview[edit]

Living TV Group had a number of wholly owned channels, available in the United Kingdom on Digital terrestrial television, Satellite television and Cable television platforms and in the Republic of Ireland on Satellite and Cable Television. Living TV Group's advertising for all of its channels was handled by former sister company Interactive Digital Sales (IDS) until 1 January 2011,[1] when Sky Media took over.

History[edit]

Flextech (1990–2000)[edit]

Flextech, was formerly an oil services group, previously being floated as an energy investment company back in 1983. It was not until the arrival of chief executive Roger Luard in 1986 that its focus began to change and becoming a TV programme provider. Its first media acquisition was in 1990 with a 20% stake in programme producer/distributor HIT Communications, by October 1990 acquired a stake in The Children's Channel, when it brought 25% holding in Starstream Ltd, from BT, who no longer need to make sure quality programming was being broadcast on the Cable network.[2] By 1992, Flextech was a media-only group, having built up stakes in local cable operators selling off its non-core asset.[3][4]

During the summer of 1993, Flextech entered in an agreement with International Family Entertainment (IFE), to hold 39% stake[5] in The Family Channel and to build upon its Television portfolio. Roger Luard, chief executive officer said, "We are delighted to be involved with one of the United States' leading and most successful basic cable networks, and we look forward to co-operating with IFE in opportunities for expansion into Europe and beyond. The channel was announced as a Premier family entertainment network in the United Kingdom. Maidstone Studios, become the station operation base, which also benefited Flextech, as the facility operated the channels' uplink, playout and management operations.[6] In the autumn talks, they were held with Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI- the Denver-based US cable TV giant). Under the original terms of the proposed deal, Flextech would have acquire TCI's European programming business in exchange for shares.[7] By January 1994, the deal was complete with TCI[8] which allowed TCI to acquire 60.4% of Flextech, while Flextech acquired 100% of Bravo, 25% of UK Gold, 31% of UK Living, and 25% of The Children's Channel which increased its share in that channel.[9]

In February 1994, Flextech shareholders approved a deal in which Flextech absorbs the European programming interests of United Artists European Holdings. In return, UAEH's US parent, TeleCommunications Inc (TCI), received 60 per cent of the enlarged Flextech.[10] Within days of the deal, Flextech brought a 20% stake in HTV for £27million.[11] Chris Rowlands, HTV's chief executive, said "The deal was a tremendous opportunity for both companies. We will make programmes for Flextech and provide services for them which at the moment they have to buy in".[12] Within a year, the stake was transferred to Scottish Television[13] as part of its deal to acquire a 20% stake in Scottish Television. As part of the deal, Flextech agreed to license the rights to over 125 hours of the drama and documentary output from STV's library which entered into a production output agreement to commission television programmes from STV with a minimum total value of 6.0 million pounds over three years.[4][14]

In 1995, the company raised £92M after two new American companies invested in the company, "US west" 9% and Hallmark 10%, the addition funds allowed buying the remaining share in The Children's Channel, to gain full control of the channel.[15]

Talks were held with BSkyB in the spring of 1996, over a potential merger of the two companies' pay-TV channels, with the aimed of a wholesale consolidation of the subscription market, which would have save costs and created a dominant supplier of programmes in the UK subscription market and Europe.[16] The deal come to nothing, but two years later, both companies agreed to allow Flextech's television channels to be broadcast on sky new digital platform.[17] Flextech started to strengthen its portfolio when it acquired full control over The Family Channel and Maidstone Studios. A new independent sales house was created to managed air time of over 14 channels. In 1993, Flextech gain its first stake in UK Gold after acquiring Tele-Communications' (TCI) TV interest in Europe.[9] In 1996, it started discussions about increasing its stake to gain full control. At that point, Flextech held 27% with Cox (38%), BBC (20%) and Pearson (15%).[18] By the Autumn, Flextech acquired Cox and Pearson stake thus give Flextech an 80% stake in UK Gold.[19][20]

During 1996, talks began between Flextech and the BBC about a partnership[19] to launch a new range of entertainment channels which had access to the BBC's entire programme library. The deal was signed in March 1997 when the BBC and Flextech unveiled their new venture, which included BBC Showcase, an entertainment channel; BBC Horizon, documentaries; BBC Style, lifestyle; BBC Learning, for schools, and BBC Arena, for the arts, plus three other channels including BBC Sport, BBC Catch-Up, for repeats of popular programmes within days of their original transmission, and a TV version of Radio 1. Initially, it was assumed that the new channels would be BBC-branded but Flextech wanted the channels to have advertisements. The BBC argued that BBC-branded services in the UK should not carry advertising, and thought that this would undermine the rationale of the license fee in the UK. A compromise was reached when the BBC launch BBC Showcase and BBC Learning (later renamed BBC Choice and BBC Knowledge shortly before launch) on its own while the remainder of the deal was past to BBC Worldwide controlled 50/50.[21][22]

Eventually the concept of the BBC/Flextech channels led the launch of UKTV in September 1997, with BBC Horizon becoming UK Horizons, BBC Style becoming UK Style and BBC Arena becoming UK Arena. Also the concept of a TV version of BBC Radio 1 was reused for the UK Play channel, which launched on October 1998, but became defunct in September 2002 and the concept of BBC Catch-Up was later reused for the channel Watch, which was launched on October 2008. The concept of a dedicated BBC Sport channel never materialised, however, it has been reused when BBC Parliament was temporarily replaced by a dedicated BBC Sport channel in the 2008 Summer Olympics and the 2012 Summer Olympics, plus a range of dedicated BBC Sport channels was launched specifically for the 2012 Summer Olympics, plus there is a BBC Sport interactive channel that is available on Freeview channel 301 as a part of the BBC Red Button service.

Flextech agreed to acquire Minotaur International for around $6.5 million in 1999[23] Minotaur International was responsible for international sales of most programmes commissioned by the network. In 2007, Target Entertainment Group acquired Minotaur International and formed strategic alliances with Virgin Media Television to act as their preferred distribution partner in 2007.[24]

In 1998, chief executive Roger Luard died,[25] with Adam Singler becoming chief executive. In early December 1999, talks were configured about a merger between Telewest and Flextech,[26][27] By 17 December 1999, the merger was agreed upon which created a £10.5bn media giant with Telewest shareholders would own 80% of the new group, while Flextech shareholders would own 20%[28] The two company fully merged and completed on 19 April 2000.

Telewest/NTL/Virgin (2000–09)[edit]

Flextech continued to expand under Telewest ownership with UKTV continuing to expanded its network of channels with the BBC, plus a new venture which saw a shopping channel come into operation in Autumn 2000. In 2003, Flextech restructured its marketing department with creative solutions put together by central in-house marketers who worked agencies including Banc and Karmarama. The new marketing strategy was also used as a forerunner for the company's newest channel Ftn which launched in January 2003 on the Freeview platform.[29] This was followed by Living TV receiving a new on-screen look and additional channel Living 2 which specialised in reality and entertainment television.[30] During the Spring of 2004, United Business Media and RTL, which both held shares in Five, held talks with Flextech about merging the advertising sales teams of Five and Flextech's channels together, but came to nothing.[31]

In 2005, Telewest, in preparation for its long-awaited merger with NTL, put Flextech up for sale as the companies agreed "a content provider" had no place within the merged operation. A lot of interest was generated by the sale which included RTL, Hallmark Channel, ITV, Time Warner and Viacom. It become clear the BBC had the right to veto any change in ownership of Flextech's stake in the UKTV joint venture, which lead to further speculation that Flextech's assets may have ended up being split. NTL also complicated matters by stating it would be reluctant to see any of Flextech's channels in the hands of terrestrial broadcasters such as ITV or Five. The underlying fear is that a terrestrial broadcaster could use Flextech to bolster the digital terrestrial platform and its appeal to viewers. Commercial terrestrial players have found that the popularity of Freeview has worked to their advantage, as viewers have fewer channels to choose from than on pay-TV platforms.[32]

By September, nearly all the bidders had pulled out except for BSkyB,[33] but later pulled out of the deal over number of fears including the Competition Commission investigating the sale. Media analysis at the time did not believe the sale was genuine, although five other bidders including RTL and ITV did mark an interest.[34][35] Simon Duffy, NTL's chief executive, stated "Flextech remains a key focus".[36] Shortly afterwards Flextech appointed Jonathan Webb to replace Lisa Opie as managing director; Jonathan Webb was responsible for moving Challenge away from its staple of game shows and axing Bravo's "laddism" strategy.[37]

In November 2006, NTL:Telewest began rebranding itself as Virgin Media. The group acquired Virgin Mobile in July, but went further by licensing the "Virgin" name, as they believed "Virgin Media would shake up the market by bringing the Virgin traditions of value-for-money, brilliant customer service and innovation to the world of entertainment and communications".[38] As part of the rebrand, Flextech was also renamed as Richard Branson was keen to move into branded content and insisted that the Flextech business was retained as a condition of NTL buying Virgin Mobile and licensing the name.[39] On 8 February 2007, Flextech was renamed Virgin Media Television as part of a larger re-branding exercise covering the whole of NTL:Telewest, Virgin Mobile and Virgin.net.[40]

Sale to BSkyB (2009–11)[edit]

On 7 April 2009, Virgin Media formally began the sale of its content operation, issuing a sales memorandum for its Virgin Media Television unit and its ad sales division, IDS. It excluded its 50% stake in UKTV from the sale.[41] Virgin Media sold its stake in UKTV, by then a portfolio of 10 pay-TV channels including Gold, Dave, Home, Watch, Yesterday and Good Food, in August 2011 to US-owned broadcaster Scripps Networks for £339 million (about $504 million). Scripps was negotiating a deal to give BBC Worldwide the option of increasing its stake to a maximum of 60%, by using a combination of cash and an unspecified "package of digital rights" for UKTV. "The new agreement we are developing will bring benefits to UKTV's audiences in the way they can consume content and will help to sustain UKTV's track record of growth," said BBC Worldwide chief executive John Smith.[42]

On 4 June 2010, British Sky Broadcasting and Virgin Media announced that they had reached an agreement for the acquisition by Sky of Virgin Media Television.[43][44] The companies had, in parallel, agreed to enter into a number of agreements providing for the carriage of certain Sky standard and high-definition (HD) channels. Sky acquired VMtv for a total consideration of up to £160 million in cash, with £105 million paid on completion and the remainder paid following the regulatory process. The acquisition expanded Sky's portfolio of basic pay TV channels and eliminated the carriage fees it previously paid for distributing VMtv channels on its TV services. New carriage agreements secured wholesale distribution of Sky's basic channel line-up, including Sky1 and Sky Arts, and the VMtv channels, on Virgin Media's cable TV service. For an incremental wholesale fee, Virgin Media, for the first time, had the option of carrying any of Sky's basic HD channels, Sky Sports HD 1 and Sky Sports HD 2, and all Sky Movies HD channels. Virgin Media will make available through its on-demand TV service a range of content from Sky's basic and premium channels, including the VMtv channels. Virgin Media also gained access to red button interactive sports coverage and the opportunity to deliver selected standard definition programming over the internet. Sky would assume responsibility for selling advertising for the newly acquired VMtv channels from January 2011. Completion of the agreements was conditional on obtaining merger control clearance in the Republic of Ireland.

Virgin1 was also a part of the deal, but was rebranded as Channel One on 3 September 2010, as the Virgin name was not licensed to Sky.[45][46] Virgin Media's stake in UKTV was not included in the deal.

On 29 June 2010, The Competition Authority in Ireland cleared the proposed transaction.[47] The parties proceeded after the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation did not direct the Authority to carry out a full investigation within 10 days of the date of the Authority's decision.

On 13 July 2010, British Sky Broadcasting and Virgin Media announced that Sky has completed the acquisition of Virgin Media Television (VMtv) following regulatory approval in the Republic of Ireland.[48] VMtv was then renamed the Living TV Group. In completing the acquisition, Sky paid Virgin Media an initial £105 million. Up to an additional £55 million would be paid on UK regulatory clearance.

On 20 July 2010, The Office of Fair Trading announced that they would review BSkyB's acquisition of the Virgin Media Television business to judge whether it posed any competition concerns in the UK.[49] The OFT planned to investigate the deal to see whether it could constitute a qualifying merger under the Enterprise Act 2002. The watchdog invited interested parties from the industry to comment on the sale, including its potential impact on the pay-TV market. On 14 September 2010, The OFT decided not to refer BSkyB's takeover of Virgin Media's TV channels to the Competition Commission.[50]

Following the sale, BSkyB chose to integrate the Living TV Group into its own operations.[51] This resulted in the closure of Bravo, Bravo 2, Challenge Jackpot on 1 January 2011 and Channel One on 1 February 2011. On 1 February 2011, Living, Livingit and Living Loves were rebranded as Sky Living, Sky Livingit and Sky Living Loves, while Challenge was added to Freeview, with the channels receiving a 25% boost to their programming budget. Fifty-two of the Living TV Group's 110 employees were made redundant as part of the process, including managing director – Johnny Webb, director of television – Claudia Rosencrantz and director of programmes for Channel One, Bravo and Challenge – Daniela Neumann.[52] The integration process was completed at the end of January 2011.[53]

Living TV Group channels[edit]

Living TV Group directly operated a number of linear television channels. Most of the channels were formed in the Flextech years. Additionally, Living TV Group operated a high-definition channel and a number of time-shifted channels. All channels were available on satellite and cable television services. Channel One, was also available on Freeview.

Current channels[edit]

Challenge[edit]

Challenge and Challenge +1, launched as The Family Channel on 1 September 1993 as a family orientated channel but relaunched as Challenge TV on 3 February 1997. The channel relies heavily on game shows taken from a variety of sources, although most are repeats of programmes acquired from the terrestrial channels' archives.

Sky Living[edit]

Main article: Sky Living

Sky Living and Sky Living +1, formerly affiliated with UK Gold as UK Living and then known as LIVINGtv. It is the main channel from Living TV Group and usually has the highest ratings, recently better than that of Sky1 which strengthened its bid to become "the 6th channel". It originally launched on 1 September 1993 as UK Living, but the channel later changed its name to Living in 1997, to disassociate itself from the UKTV network that launched that year. In a bid to appeal to a more male audience, the pink colour scheme was dropped and new types of programming came to the channel, but at the same time not losing its female audience. Shows include the likes of the CSI, Close to Home and Boston Legal, the channel is now broadening its audience reach to other key demographics such as men aged 18–45. On 1 February 2011, Living was rebranded as Sky Living.

Sky Livingit[edit]

Main article: Sky Livingit

Sky Livingit and Sky Livingit +1 is the sister channel of Sky Living which was launched on 13 December 2004 as Livingit. The channel mainly shows highlights of programming from the main channel, along with extended coverage of its reality programmes, such as I'm Famous and Frightened Extra! and Most Haunted Live!. However, the channel gained the American reality TV show, The Amazing Race. The channel also showed more lifestyle and health-related programming such as, Baby ER, Birth Stories, Downsize Me and Wedding SOS. There was also a programming slot called Baby Zone, in which programmes related to pregnancy and birth were shown. On 1 February 2011, Livingit was rebranded as Sky Livingit.

Defunct channels[edit]

As Flextech, Living TV Group used to be interested in different markets from its current demographics which focus on an older age group. But in an attempt to streamline the business that was at the time suffering from falling ratings across these channels, they were made defunct. Due to the sale of Living TV Group to Sky, some channels were disposed of.

Bravo[edit]

Main article: Bravo (UK TV channel)

Bravo was launched in 1985. The channel also had a one hour timeshift named Bravo +1. The channel mainly broadcast a multitude of exclusive crime documentaries and factual entertainment both from a variety of archive programming, such as Knight Rider and MacGyver, and original productions.[54] Its target audience is currently men in their late 20s to early 40s. On 28 August 2005, the channel started showing Serie A Italian football, bringing back the Channel 4 format Football Italia. The channel closed on 1 January 2011.

Bravo 2[edit]

Main article: Bravo 2

Bravo 2, formerly called Player, launched on 2 March 2006. It originally replaced the Player late night slot on Challenge. On 28 September 2006, Player relaunched as Bravo 2 and became a sister channel of Bravo. The channel's content consists of gambling and sports programmes. The ident for Player was the same as that of the original slot. Recently, as Player, Bravo 2 added exclusive coverage of the FIA GT Championship to its portfolio of sports events. The channel also carried a limited amount of Serie A matches under the production of Bravo. The channel closed on 1 January 2011.

Challenge Jackpot[edit]

Main article: Challenge Jackpot

Challenge Jackpot launched on 1 July 2008 as a 24-hour interactive gaming channel, run in collaboration with Two Way Media. It was available on Virgin Media cable & Sky but was also available on Freeview via Virgin 1 and Bravo 2 simulcasts overnight. On cable, an interactive application developed by Two Way Media that enables viewers to play along with live programming on the channel; alternatively, viewers may participate on the channel's website.[55] Challenge Jackpot was not available in Northern Ireland due to "regulatory and legal restrictions". Games were overseen by Ofcom and, because Two Way's gaming division was based there, the Alderney Gambling Control Commission. The channel closed on 1 January 2011.

Channel One[edit]

Channel One, a general entertainment channel from Living TV Group, launched on 1 October 2007 as Virgin1 and replaced Ftn on all platforms. Channel One +1 is also available on Virgin and Sky. Some media sources have claimed that the channel was intended to be Virgin Media's attempt to create a rival to Sky1 with the advantage of having a wider reach of viewers. The channel closed on 1 February 2011.

European Business News[edit]

European Business News was a business news channel which broadcast throughout Europe in partnership with Dow Jones.[56] It broadcast between 06:00 and 12:00 on satellite, timesharing with Bravo, and 24 hours a day on cable. On 9 December 1998, the channel announced that it would be merging with the CNBC Europe news channel. The merger took place in February 1998, upon which the channel then became known officially as "CNBC Europe – A Service of NBC and Dow Jones". Flextech left all of its interests in the channel and then decided to focus on entertainment rather than news. Since the merger, CNBC Europe has leaned generally on the US CNBC on-air graphical look.

Ftn[edit]

Main article: Ftn

Ftn (or Flextech Television Network) is the only wholly owned channel that has been closed down by the new VMT. The channel rebranded as Virgin1 on 1 October 2007.

SceneOne[edit]

Main article: SceneOne

SceneOne was a general entertainment website and television channel which was closed down under Flextech management after disappointing reach and a lack of revenue.[57] The website was set up in February 1999, and following an announcement in March 2002, was shut on 4 April 2002.[58] The site's coverage spanned cinema, TV, radio, music, concerts, theatre, comedy, online, books and videos. The television channel was announced in 1999 and launched in June 2000 but was closed in March 2001.

Setanta Sports News[edit]

Main article: Setanta Sports News

Setanta Sports News was a joint venture channel from Virgin Media Television and Setanta Sports.[59] Following many delays, the channel launched on 29 November 2007.[60] The channel was seen as Virgin Media's rival to Sky Sports News which was removed from their platform on 1 March 2007 as their contract with BSkyB had ended. The channel ceased broadcasting on 23 June 2009, the same day that Setanta Sports was placed into administration.[61]

Sky Living Loves[edit]

Main article: Sky Living Loves

On 5 July 2010, Living Loves replaced Living +2 on Sky and Virgin Media.[62] Running a daily schedule from 15:00 to 02:00, the channel gave viewers the opportunity to experience their favourite Living shows again or catch up on ones that they have missed. On 1 February 2011, Living Loves was rebranded as Sky Living Loves. On 5 September 2011, the channel began broadcasting for 24 hours a day. The channel closed on 21 February 2012.

The Children's Channel[edit]

The Children's Channel closed down silently on 3 April 1998. The reason for this is unknown, but it is known that TV Travel Shop took its place. It was available in Europe from the Astra 1A satellite. Despite the channel's closure, the website continued to be available as late as 2005, however most of the features that were originally available when the channel still broadcast were removed. The website has since became inaccessible.

Trouble[edit]

Main article: Trouble (TV channel)

Trouble launched on 3 February 1997. It fully replaced The Children's Channel from 4 April 1998, prior to the start of Sky Digital. Trouble had a key demographic of young adults and teenagers, aged between 15–24. The channel showed a lot of American and Australian imports, with only a small margin of programmes being British, although a website was launched called Trouble Homegrown that showcased British videos.[63]

Virgin Central[edit]

Main article: Virgin Central

Virgin Central was a TV channel launched on the Virgin Media platform on 20 February 2007. It was based on the video-on-demand system.[64] The service was launched on the Virgin Media platform on 20 February 2007.[64] Viewers pressed the red button on their remote controls and were presented with a list of television series, episodes of which they could have watched at any time they like during the week.[64] The programmes were all free to watch, and did not have any adverts in them. The viewer could also have used their remote control to pause, fast forward, rewind and stop the programme at any time.[64]

NetPlay TV[edit]

On 7 April 2009, it was announced that Virgin Media Television had agreed to buy options to acquire 9.9 percent of NetPlay TV Plc's shares at a strike price of 18 pence per share.[65]

NetPlay acquired the business assets of Two Way Gaming Ltd, the provider of the Challenge Jackpot gaming services, for £2 million in stock.

NetPlay TV signed production and gaming agreements with Virgin Media Television for an initial period until 30 June 2013, and take over production of Challenge Jackpot, including its website and television channel.

On 25 March 2010, NetPlay TV and Virgin Media Television agreed to the termination of the option agreement entered into on 7 April 2009 under which VMTV was granted options over 14.9m ordinary shares being 9.9 per cent of the share capital then in issue at a price of 18p per share (the "Option Agreement").[66] Under the revised agreement NetPlay TV will take control of the current Challenge Jackpot database and terminate the Option Agreement in exchange for a fixed cash payment of £1.82m. The current database generated £2.9m of gross gaming margin from 12 May 2009 to 31 December 2009 and was subject to a revenue share agreement. Under the revised terms, all revenues arising from this database will be retained by NetPlay TV, with VMTV receiving fixed monthly payments that reflect the value of its airtime.

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