Sky boss Murdoch takes a swipe at rivals as he questions NTL/Virgin deal

LONDON - BSkyB's James Murdoch has questioned the fit between NTL and Virgin Mobile as he laid out reasons why he thinks Sky will win out over the cable company and rivals BT and Freeview.

The chief executive and heir to media magnate Rupert Murdoch was taking part in a Q&A session with the Financial Times' website, FT.com. He was invited to react to the arrival of Richard Branson on the broadcasting scene and the potential of NTL/Virgin Mobile's "quadruple play" offering.

It was understandable, he said, that NTL should react to the threat of its voice customers migrating to mobile networks.

"But what is less clear is how well mobile fits with cable's existing offering, particularly when considering a pre-pay franchise.

"The key question is how one fits, if there is a fit, the pre-pay individual choice of a mobile pay-as-you-go customer with the deeper, more considered choices a family makes with respects to entertainment and communications for the home."

Murdoch contrasted the strategy of cable and telecoms companies with Sky's approach of putting entertainment "at the core" and "making things easy" for families.

He said: "Bringing together content with customer service and innovative, friendly technology has always been central to customer services."

He said he saw the company's expansion into broadband, via its acquisiton of Easynet in October, as a key strategic move, adding value to Sky's offering as well as allowing it to introduce new services in new segments of the marketplace.

Murdoch was confident that Sky's history of technological innovation will allow it to win out over Freeview in the long term.

He pasted the free digital terrestrial platform, in which Sky has a stake, as a way for the terrestrial broadcasters to hinder customer choice.

"In essence, it's a slightly expanded version of the old, free-to-air TV that's existed for ages... it lacks a user-friendly EPG or PVR, has outdated technology with limited capacity for interactivity and HD and no customer or technical support."

Discussing mobile TV, Murdoch said he was encouraged by the response from users since the launch of Sky's mobile TV services on Vodafone, but "we don't know yet what is going to work best -- whether that is the underlying technology, the business model or the content that appeals most strongly."

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