Virgin Media versus BSkyB: 'supercomplaint', compensation, ratings

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skyvirginmedia.gifThe war between Murdoch’s Sky and Branson’s Virgin Media continues to rumble on, and (unsurprisingly) consumers are the ones most suffering.

Sky pulled a number of their most popular channels from Virgin Media last week after Virgin refused to pay the increased carriage charges Sky were demanding.

Naturally both sides were keen to emphasise their innocence and their desire to reach a mutually-agreeable settlement. Sky posted a notice on its web site, claiming that “Virgin Media have decided to drop these channels from today. This was their decision. As a “closed network” only they can decide what to offer their customers. Up to the final hours we tried time and again to reach a solution, including proposing a way for Sky to retail channels directly to cable customers in a way that would cost Virgin Media nothing.”

Virgin Media said, “We’re disappointed but not surprised by this outcome: nothing Sky have said or done in the course of the negotiation indicates they had the slightest interest in doing a commercially viable deal. Their action here is consistent with their plans to withdraw their free channels from Freeview and, in our view, reflects their desire to limit consumer choice.”

Our report that Virgin Media would refund customers for lost Sky channels appears to have been rescinded, with Virgin claiming the money they save will be invested into the Video on Demand service, boosting it to over 6,000 hours of content by the end of the year. However, Virgin do appear to be offering retention deals to a number of customers, according to the Digital Spy forum.

Now, the National Consumer Council is planning to use its powers to raise a ‘supercomplaint’ with the broadcasting regulator, to ensure that consumers no longer suffer. NCC’s Deputy Chief Executive, Philip Cullum, said: “The fallout from the dispute between Virgin Media and BSkyB is bad news for consumers. Over 3 million Virgin Media customers have been left high and dry. They have lost some of the most popular channels, they aren’t getting a discount, and they’ve had little notice. Our reading is that Virgin Media customers have got the right to cancel their subscriptions without penalty, and we call on the company to confirm this without delay.”

Sky are calling for unhappy Virgin customers to pick up a subscription with them instead (what a surprise). Virgin Media, on the other hand, say that they’ve had hundreds of installation orders since March 1st.

No wonder Sky want Virgin’s customers. Digital Spy suggests that viewing figures for key Sky One shows have dropped significantly since they were removed from Virgin Media:

24 dropped 175,000 viewers from last week’s high of 529,000 to just 354,000 and a 1.8% share at 9pm last night.

The tenth episode of the third series of Lost at 10pm managed 752,000 and a 4.6% share, but this was down 96,000 on last week.

Sky’s advertisers aren’t going to be too happy.

Andy Merrett