Why won’t Virgin and Sky Atlantic play ball?

Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk EmpireToday is 3 days before the launch of Sky’s new much-trumpeted US channel, Sky Atlantic.

Kicking off with the widely-lauded Boardwalk Empire, Sky Atlantic will be ‘the’ place in the UK to watch all of HBO’s output, according to the blurb, having done an exclusive deal, pinching the likes of Mad Men from the BBC and Curb Your Enthusiasm from Channel 4.

The good news for the 10m Sky subscribers is that Sky Atlantic won’t be a premium channel, so no additional fees (unlike Sky Sports or Sky Movies).

However, there are another 3.5 million paying TV customers that won’t be quite so impressed (me included) and that’s because they’re Virgin Media customers. And the reason? Because even though Sky Atlantic costs nothing extra on Sky, the two competing organisations (along with BT Vision) have been unable to reach an agreement to show it.

For the past two months, Virgin Media customers have been taunted by endless trailers for Sky Atlantic, because we all know that we won’t be able to watch it. We may have the fastest broadband around, but we won’t be able to watch Boardwalk Empire because Sky hasn’t agreed terms with Virgin.

Messageboards have been awash with speculation about this ever since Sky announced the launch of Atlantic almost a year ago back in 2010, but Virgin’s breakthrough has not been forthcoming.

This isn’t the first time that Virgin and Sky have been at loggerheads. On various occasions, Virgin has refused to show Sky channels, but eventually agreements have been reached.

This, however, looks to be a bridge too far. Virgin has promised continued TV on demand, along with an increase in other services, but for a large number of people who are interested in high-quality TV, this will be scant consolation.

Some people will – as Sky desperately hopes – ditch Virgin, but it’s more likely that a high number will use slightly less legal means to watch some of the programmes, which means that no-one is the winner, least of all Sky, as well as HBO who sold the shows to Sky in the first place.

So come Tuesday night, I won’t be among the millions watching Boardwalk Empire on Sky. However, I do hope I manage to get to watch it somehow. Anyone got it on DVD?

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