ntl:Telewest planning four-in-one package

The newly merged company plans to deliver its riposte to recent 'triple-play' offers by bundling TV, broadband, fixed-line and mobile services — but will anyone understand a deal that spans three different brands?

ntl:Telewest is planning to launch what it claims is the UK's first "quad-play" package, including TV, broadband, fixed-line and mobile phone services.

The move comes only weeks after the newly merged company bought Virgin Mobile for just under a billion pounds, and less than a week after rival cable firm Sky launched its "triple-play" offer.

Steve Burch, ntl:Telewest's chief executive officer, said on Tuesday that this would be "the first time we've combined a Virgin-branded service with ntl:Telewest products", and claimed that "no other company has the capability to provide such total flexibility for the consumer".

According to the company, the quad-play deal — which will become available by the end of September — will incorporate all four services for £40 per month, which includes the equivalent of a £30-per-month contract with Virgin Mobile.

The package will be flexible, with customers being able to choose any two products in the portfolio for £20 per month, any three for £30 or four for £40. ntl:Telewest claimed there would also be a move towards unified billing across the services "over time".

But Ian Fogg, an analyst with Jupiter Research, told ZDNet UK that the offer "feels like a kneejerk reaction" to Sky's recent announcements.

"It feels to me as though they've announced it now because they felt they had to," he said. "I’m not sure how easy it will be for consumers to understand what it's about — given they haven't yet re-branded, they're actually operating three separate brands here."

Fogg pointed to Sky's dominance in the pay-TV market, suggesting it was "not enough to bundle [the elements of ntl:Telewest's offer] together and say there's more discount".

"Sky had a nice simple offer — this is a much more complex message. You've got to be in the know to realise ntl:Telewest and Virgin are the same. You need to have nice clear marketing [and you] need a product offering which is greater than just the sum of the parts," Fogg added.

A spokesperson for ntl:Telewest denied that the offer was reactionary, and pointed to comments made in April about offering quad-play products. "It's not rushed at all — it's something we've been thinking about for a long time. One of the rationales for integrating the businesses was to offer all four communications products from one company," she told ZDNet UK on Tuesday.

ntl:Telewest claimed there would be a "rebranding exercise" in early 2007, and confirmed that Virgin Mobile was continuing as a standalone business for now.

The spokesperson also acknowledged that she was "very aware [the company] does not have the best reputation [for customer service] at the moment", but claimed the issue was a major priority in the merger of NTL and Telewest.

NTL recently came bottom of a survey on ISP customer service conducted by comparison site uSwitch.com. The service provider still achieved an 81 percent satisfaction rating but was the bottom of the pile, while Telewest managed to make the number three slot.

On the subject of bundled services across multiple brands creating more customer-service problems, the spokesperson denied it would be an issue. "All the various parts of the business will be briefed and will be able to provide products and services to the customers as they are at the moment," she added.