Subscription TV

Ethical shopping guide to Subscription TV, from Ethical Consumer

Ethical shopping guide to Subscription TV, from Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.


Sky VS Virgin, whose ethics are lagging behind in the world of subscription TV? 

This report includes: 

  • Ethical and Environmental ratings of 4 companies
  • Best Buy suggestions
  • Company profiles
  • Decline of the set-top box


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Score Ratings

Our ratings are live updated scores from our primary research database. They are based on primary and secondary research across 23 categories - 17 negative categories and 6 positive ones (Company Ethos and Product Sustainability). Find out more about our ethical ratings


Score table

The score table shows simple numerical ratings out of 20 for each product. The higher the score, the more ethical the company.

Move the sliders to customise these scores. 

Click on a product name to see the stories behind the score (subscribers only). 


Full Scorecard

The Full Scorecard shows the 'black marks' for each product, by each of the 17 negative categories. The bigger the mark, the worse the score. So for example a big black circle under 'Worker Rights' shows that the company making this product has been severely criticised for worker abuses.

Scores start at 14.  A small circle means that half a mark is deducted, a large circle means that a full mark is deducted.

Marks are added in the positive categories of Company Ethos and the five Product Sustainability columns (O,F,E,S,A).  A small circle  means that half a mark is added, a large circle means that a full mark is added.

The Full Scorecard is only available to subscribers. Click on the More Detail link at the top of the score table to access it.


Customising Rating Scores

Move the sliders to change the weighting given to each category. You can open up each of the 5 main categories by clicking on the + sign. This way you can compare products according to what's ethically important to YOU.  


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Stories and Data behind the scores

To see all the stories and research data behind the ratings you'll need to be a subscriber.

You must be signed-in to save your customisations. The weightings you have given to each category will be saved premanently (subscribers) or only for this visit to the site (registered users).  Once set, they will be used to calculate the scores in all the buyers' guides that you view. 


Stories and Data behind the scores

To see all the stories and research data behind the ratings you'll need to be a subscriber.

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Best Buys

as of March/April 2016

As our ratings are constantly updated, it is possible that company ratings on the score table may have changed since this report was written.

There is no overall best buy in this sector.

We recommend TalkTalk as the best option as it is top of the score table.

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TV Packages


The digital revolution has changed the way we watch TV. Pay as you watch TV packages allow consumers to have access to a vast array of channels and on-demand services. 

However, with the growing popularity of cheap competition from the likes of Netflix, how much longer can these packaged services last?


Image: guide to subscription TV

The four most dominant packages are: 

  • Virgin
  • Sky
  • TalkTalk
  • BT


All four services offer various bundles at different prices that include access to numerous channels, internet connections and even mobile phone sim cards as part of a package.

According to OFCOM, just over six in ten consumers (63%) reported that they had bought at least two of their communications services together in a bundle in 2015. Dual-play packages of landline and broadband, and triple-play packages of landline, broadband and TV were the most popular (reported to be taken up by 27% and 25% of households respectively).



Habits Are Changing


While we’re still a nation of telly addicts, the amount of time we spend in front of the TV is falling as people plug in to a variety of new and developing technologies and media. 

The number of people watching TV each week stands at around 54.1 million and this figure remains steady. However, the amount we watch per week is beginning to decrease. In 2014 the average number of minutes of TV, watched on a TV set, was 220 minutes per person per day; 11 minutes less than in 2013. OFCOM reports that this fall, of 4.9% year on year, is the second consecutive year of decline.

Image: Laptop on ethical shopping guide to subscription TV


It’s the younger demographic who are switching off, or at least switching devices. Among 16-24 year olds and 35-44 year olds, average daily viewing has fallen every year since 2010. But this doesn’t tell the whole story. While the traditional night in front of the telly might be on the wane, consumption of video content certainly is not.

Computers and smartphones are now more popular than set-top boxes among 16-24 year olds for accessing on-demand and catch-up services. And this age group now claim to use a desktop or laptop computer (57%) or a smartphone (45%) rather than a set top box (40%) for viewing on-demand and catch-up services. This trend looks set to continue.



Our Policy Rankings


We summarise our key findings:


Tax avoidance

Disappointingly all but one company (TalkTalk) score a worst rating for the likely use of tax avoidance strategies.


Environmental reporting

None of the companies score a best rating for their environmental reporting. Virgin Media, BT and Sky score a middle rating while TalkTalk receives a worst rating. 


Supply chain

No companies score a best on supply chain management.  BT gets a middle rating. The rest score a worst rating.


Conflict minerals

Several of the companies (who sell electronic devices) were also rated on their policies regarding conflict minerals. BT scoring a middle rating. TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Sky all scored a worst rating.

For more information on conflict minerals, read our feature which highlights how the production of electronics can fuel conflict around the world.  


Company Profiles


BT is a UK registered plc that is part owned by the German state. It has been criticised by the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign for its partnership with Bezeq International Ltd which it describes as an “Alliance Partner”.[1]

On the Who Profits? Website, Bezeq International was reported to provide “telecommunication services to all of the Israeli settlements, army bases and checkpoints in the West Bank and to Israeli settlements in the Golan Heights.”

In 2014 the company earned $23 million from a US government contract to supply key communications infrastructure between RAF Croughton – a US military base in Northamptonshire – and Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, a secret base from which armed drones reportedly carry out lethal strikes in Yemen. According to the US military, American forces stationed at RAF Croughton provide “global strike operations.”[2]

Read our feature on Sky TV: Inside Rupert Murdoch's Media Empire 


Virgin Media is no longer part of the Richard Branson empire and is instead owned by US firm Liberty Global. The latter is a member of the American Chamber of Commerce and the World Economic Forum, two lobby groups that have lobbied for free trade at the expense of the environment, animal welfare, human rights or health protection.


TalkTalk is a UK listed plc that recently purchased Blinkbox from supermarket Tesco. Aside from its poor policy scores (mentioned above) the company is also marked down for excessive remuneration with CEO Diana Harding receiving over £6 million in 2014.[3] Ethical Consumer considers anything over £1 million to be excessive.


Sky is a plc but Rupert Murdoch still holds sway through majority ownership via the Murdoch Family Trust. This organisation has its fingers in a number of media pies, USA Today puts the total at 49 major media companies including, News Corporation, Sky, The Sun and The Times newspapers here in the UK, and publisher HarperCollins, along with a raft of media companies in the US and Australia.[4]



 Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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