Will Virgin trump Sky+?

[intro]Next week, UK cable provider NTL/Telewest will transform into Virgin Media - but is this more than just a change of clothes?[/intro] Next week

Next week's hot ticket is undoubtedly the launch party for Virgin Media. But will it be more than a rebranding exercise for UK cable company NTL/Telewest?

The merger of Virgin Mobile and NTL/Telewest has created the biggest company under the Virgin brand - which is a great story for the business pages. And the £20m signing of Uma Thurman to promote the service has already made waves in the entertainment world.

But what about the tech angle? Recently Orange, BT and Sky have launched their own 'triple play' services, offering punters a package that includes broadband, phone line and mobile phone. BT and Sky are offering TV too.

Virgin Media will certainly offer a competing quadruple play service, but how can it stand out against BT's on-demand broadband TV service or Sky's high-definition package?

By offering high-definition AND on demand, of course. But it could do so much more. Virgin Mobile already has a distinctive handset in the ungainly shape of the TV-playing Lobster phone (above). It's not the most beautiful handset, and according to the Guardian, the TV mobile has sold less than 10,000 handsets despite the Pamela Anderson marketing campaign.

I'm hoping that won't stop Virgin Media launching with an innovative on-demand TV service that works whether you're at home or on the road. Providing a robust, cheap way to stream on-demand TV shows to mobile handsets could be the stand-out feature the new service needs.

And if not? Well, at least we're assured of a decent party.