Video on Demand

Ethical shopping guide to Video on Demand, from Ethical Consumer

Ethical shopping guide to Video on Demand, 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.

Netflix VS Amazon Prime, they provide similar streaming services, but how do they compare on ethics? 


The guide includes:

  • Ethical and environmental ratings for 8 providers
  • Best Buy recommendations
  • Changing viewer habits
  • Tax avoidance 
  • Conflict minerals
  • Company profiles

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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.

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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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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. 


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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.

Netflix comes top of the table, despite doing very badly at a policy level, scoring a worst Ethical Consumer rating for all its policies including its tax avoidance rating. However, in a sector where the ethical scores are very low, and tax avoidance appears rife, the table score appears to be the best differentiator.



Online Streaming and Video on Demand


There has been growing demand to watch programmes and films on alternative platforms. We are no longer restricted to watching TV on four channels, now we have access to a vast array of channels, on demand services and the internet to choose from.  

Video on demand (VoD) services vary from pay as you watch tariffs to subscriptions. All those featured in this guide offer TV programs, although the amount of TV shows they offer varies.


What is Streaming?

Also known as ‘video on demand’, streaming means you can browse huge collections of films and TV shows and watch them instantly using a broadband internet connection. 

Streaming allows you to watch films or TV programs on your PC, tablet or your ‘smart’, internet-enabled TV. Even if you don’t have a smart TV you can still access these video-on-demand providers by connecting through a Blu-ray player, media streamer, games console or some PVRs (personal video recorders).

Most providers offer monthly subscriptions but with others like Google Play and iTunes you can pay individually for each film or TV show. If you’ve purchased it, you are free to download and view it on any device that is logged in to your iTunes/Play account, while rented material lasts for a limited time once you begin watching.


Netflix – Subscription

Amazon Prime – Subscription

Blinkbox – pay as you watch

iTunes – pay as you watch (you’ll need to have access to the iTunes store to use this service)

Google Play – pay as you watch

Now TV – pay as you watch

Playstation - pay as you watch

Viewing VoD services now represents 8% of total viewing among UK adults aged 16 and over. Take-up and use of VoD services continues to grow, with almost six in ten adults saying that they have used at least one VoD service in the past 12 months. The change in viewing habits is clearly shown by the fact that, since its launch in the UK in 2012, Netflix has increased its subscriptions to 4.4 million households, while 1.2 million households now have a subscription to Amazon Prime Instant (formerly LoveFilm).

However, it is the free service from the BBC iPlayer that remains the most popular of the VoD services provided by the major broadcasters and platforms, with around three in ten (31%) adults using it in the past year. As it’s a free service, we haven’t included the BBC on the table. Other free services include the Channel 4 on demand service and a similar catch up service from ITV.



Changing Viewing Habits

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.



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


Tax Avoidance

The last time we ranked online streaming services, Amazon's LoveFilm was the UK's largest TV and film streaming company. The last guide was part of our alternatives to Amazon series. Not much has changed in terms of Amazon's ethics with both Amazon Prime and LoveFilm at the bottom of the ranking. Both receive a worst rating for likely use of tax avoidance. 

Amazon is the subject of a boycott call by Ethical Consumer.


Environmental reporting

None of the companies score a best rating for their environmental reporting. NowTV scores a middle rating while the others receive a worst rating.


Supply chain

No companies score a best on supply chain management. Apple 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. Apple and Google score a best rating. Amazon 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


In December Apple’s Italian subsidiary agreed to pay €318 million (£235 million; $348 million) following an investigation into tax fraud allegations. Italy’s tax authorities say the company failed to pay €880 million in tax between 2008 and 2013. During that period there was a huge gap between the company’s revenues in Italy of over €1 billion and the €30 million that was paid in tax in the country.

A research paper released in October 2015 criticised Apple for their lack of investment in the real economy. The report from SOMO, ‘Rich Corporations, Poor Societies: The Financialisation of Apple’, explains how the multinational shrewdly minimised its corporate costs through the relentless offshoring of production and related ‘activities’ to low-wage countries and tax havens.

The report authors say that Apple is short-changing societies by acting as a financial investor when handling its enormous company profits instead of reinvesting them for the benefit of society.

They say that Apple had more capital than it can productively use, for instance it has $200 million sitting in offshore accounts. The report authors believed that rather than hoarding cash in offshore accounts, it should be more socially minded: paying a fair share of tax, paying living wages, and investing in research and development to directly create value in the real economy.[1]



 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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