I got a letter addressed to “The Occupier” from Virgin Media this morning. It’s the latest in many advertising missives that I’m convinced I’m only sent because someone has surveyed the street and spied my Sky minidish attached to my back wall.

So this one I got this morning has listed ten reasons to switch from Sky to Virgin Media. Each one of them pissed me off at their tactics, so I thought I’d go through them, like the pedantic, easily-pissed-off bastard that I am.

1. We’ve got all your favourite Sky channels including Sky1, Sky News and Sky Sports News. Yes, and Sky Sports and Sky Movies too.*

But I have those channels already (excepting the Sports and Movies packs, because I cancelled those along with Setanta after I lost my job to save me money). Sky also have Sky1, Sky Movies and more in HD. You don’t. You also charge more for Sky Movies (Sky charge a fixed £16/mo for all the channels, regardless of what other tiers you’ve signed up to; Virgin charge between £19.50/mo and £30/mo dependent on which TV tier you’re on).

2. Only V+HD can let you record two channels while watching a third (Sky+HD can’t).

But various Freeview+ and Freesat+ PVRs can.

3. Only Virgin TV gives you access to a huge, ever-changing library of over 500 movies and thousands of great TV shows, documentaries and music videos stored to watch whenever you want (Sky’s equivalent doesn’t even come close).

Yes, Sky don’t have a “pull VOD” system, where you can watch video on demand by having it streamed to your set top box whenever you like. They have a “push VOD” system, where they send select movies and shows to your PVR’s hard drive, but you have no real choice in what you get. However, Sky does have a VOD website (currently called Sky Player), where you can stream or download hundreds of movies on a pay-per-view/own basis, or for free when you subscribe to Sky Movies. It’s not equivalent to Virgin’s Replay, but it’s a stopgap until Sky complete developing their broadband-based VOD next year.

4. Only Virgin TV lets you watch BBC iPlayer, ITV Net Player and 4oD right there on your telly.

No, I’ve been doing this without Virgin for quite some time. Again with the “only” thing. Yes, Sky don’t have VOD yet, but my laptop has it. As does the Mac mini plugged into my TV. However, the actual necessity of watching anything on ITV Player is very much debatable.

5. And only our TV comes down a state-of-the-art fibre optic cable, not through a dish or aerial. So when the weather’s bad, your picture won’t be.

6. The same fibre optic cable brings you fast, future proof Virgin Broadband at up to 50Mb, that’s the UK’s fastest. (Broadband from BT, Sky or one of the others comes down copper telephone wire, which means your speed gets slower the further you live from the phone exchange).

Two ‘reasons’ talking about fibre optic cable. Bloody hell. Are Virgin still droning on about fibre optic cable? Let’s clear something up. Virgin insinuate they deliver all their services to your home via fibre optic cable. They don’t. Well, not really. Virgin deliver services over a hybrid fibre-coaxial network, using a national fibre network to “headends” in each regional area, just as BT use a national fibre network to interconnect telephone exchanges. “Headends” are akin to exchanges: they slurp in content, phone calls and Internet access using satellite feeds, fibre optic links and network connections, then spit all that out along fibre trunks to cabinets in each Virgin-covered street. From there, coaxial cable (aka copper wire) transfers the signals back and forth from each house to the cabinet.

ADSL, on the other hand, which is the primary thing Virgin are attacking with this component of their campaign, is delivered over fibre optic links — just like Virgin — to BT’s telephone exchanges, and from there to your home using pairs of copper wire. This will slowly be replaced by BT with fibre optic cabling to cabinets in the streets, and on occasion, to your home.

So yes, Virgin use fibre optic cable further up the chain than anyone else at this consumer level of Internet service provision does. But it doesn’t really make it all that “better”. It’s as prone to congestion (aka contention) as ADSL is. They really need to find another way to market this, because leaning on the fibre optic angle just ain’t the truth.

However, at least their “UK’s fastest” line is mainly true: only BT’s “Fibre to the Cabinet” trials could be faster; no UK DSL provider offers more than 24Mbps on a single line at the moment. But is 50Mbps really that important?

7. Servicing and repairs are free all the time you’re a customer.† (Sky charges you £65 for a call-out the minute you’re out of warranty.)

Yeah, but Virgin subscribers don’t own their receiving equipment, they merely lease it from Virgin. Once you’re no longer a customer, none of that equipment will work, and they’ll want it back. Meanwhile, Sky customers own their receivers from the get-go, and once out of their subscriptions, they can still receive all Free-to-Air and most Free-to-View channels, including at least one in HD.

8. Delivering TV, broadband and phone down the same fibre optic cable is better value and keeps everything in one simple bill. Our prices for TV, broadband and calls start at just £14 a month when you switch to a Virgin phone line for £11 a month.

Sky’s package of TV, broadband and phone starts at £17/mo (+ phone line for £11/mo). Virgin undercut this by offering an entry level, no-cost TV package (called ‘M’ as in Medium) which mirrors a list of channels freely available on Sky, Freesat and Freeview. If you want channels like Sky1, G.O.L.D., Hallmark, etc, on Virgin, you need to shell out at least £5.50/mo for the M+ package, bumping the comparable package price to £19.50. Oops.

9. We’re so confident you’ll love it, we’ll give you your money back if you don’t. Everything is covered by our 28 day guarantee.

Or I could just not change anything at all and keep my money in my pocket.

10. Your street’s already connected to our fibre optic network so it’s easy to get switched on.

Well, woop de doo … but I’ve had a Sky dish attached to my house for over 8 years. What’s your point?

Job done? Great, just call …

Pass.

7 thoughts on “Virgin’s 10 Reasons That Wind Me Up

  1. I get regular leaflets from Virgin suggesting I switch to their TV and broadband. Unfortunately they haven't cabled my street and show no signs of doing so. Wasted effort on their part, wasted time on mine and a creeping sense of disappointment. (I would actually consider their service if it was available in my area, over our poor ADSL speeds.)

    Not quite as annoying as the letters from BT inviting me to "come back" when I'm a current paying customer, but just don't make many phone calls.

  2. The only thing that makes me like virgin above sky.. they're not owned by Rupert Murdock. For that reason only, I'd choose virgin any day of the week 😉

  3. Not wanting to be pedantic to a pedant, but your arguments for 2 and 4 are fallacious. The 10 reasons they are listing are reasons to move from Sky to Virgin, not reasons for moving to Virgin from any other setup. They are correctly pointing out features that Sky does not have that Virgin does.

    1. Here's the thing, mrben. If they had said "Sky+HD can't let you record two channels while while watching a third, V+HD can", I could deal with that; it's a truthful statement, and exactly the kind of one-upmanship that you can get away with when developing a platform after a competitor. But their wording was "Only V+HD can let you record two channels while watching a third (Sky+HD can’t)", which is false, and opens them up to comparison from other platforms.

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