Subscription TV

In the guide we investigate, rank and rate the ethical and Environmental record of 4 TV brands and give our recommended buy.

We also take a closer look at the power of Rupert Murdoch and Sky.

About 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.

What to buy

What to look for when buying subscription TV:

  • Do they pay a fair share of tax? With only 4 companies in this market, there's not much to choose from and we're not sure we'd recommend subscription TV at all. But if you do want to differentiate, opt for a company paying its fair share in taxes. 

Best Buys

There are no Best Buys in this sector.

We would recommend sticking to freeview TV.

However, if you do choose to pay for your TV, TalkTalk is our recommended buy as they come top of our score table.

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying subscription TV:

  • Is it funding conflict minerals? Several of the companies in this guide also sell electronic goods and were therefore rated for their conflict mineral sourcing. Conflict minerals are associated with a number of issues including poor workers rights, pollution and the funding of armed conflicts.

Companies to avoid

Look out for the company that has been at the forefront of climate change denial, a cheerleader for the right-wing agenda and has continuously campaigned against the BBC.

  • Sky TV

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20)

TalkTalk subscription TV

Company Profile: TalkTalk Group
8

BT subscription TV

Company Profile: BT Group Plc
7

Sky subscription TV

Company Profile: Sky plc
7

Virgin Media Subscription TV

Company Profile: Virgin Media Inc
7

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
Product sustainability

Our Analysis

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?

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.

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 key findings from the table above

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.

Rupert Murdoch
Rupert Murdoch who's family trust own part of Sky TV

Funding the World's Most Powerful Conservative Lobby Group

With people dying in the sea at the edge of fortress Europe, and the rising drumbeat of far-right parties, New Internationalist magazine recently argued that “It has never been so urgent to challenge alarmist illiberal voices.” 

Here Ethical Consumer argue key to these problems are ‘news’ groups for whom this illiberalism is not incidental but actually part of their mission. And at the top of the pile of such groups lie the business interests of Rupert Murdoch.

It is, of course, not news that he favours right-wing positions, but it is easy to misunderstand his empire as simply a cynical profit-making machine, much like other global corporations. Of course, the extreme tax avoidance and excessive directors’ pay certainly fit this model. But this doesn’t really explain the crusading zeal with which his media pursue his political interests.

To understand Rupert Murdoch, you need to realise that he believes that there is a general bias across media and journalism in favour of liberal and left ideas. Although this may seem absurd to Ethical Consumer readers, it fuels and justifies his mission to provide an avowedly biased ‘counterweight’.

In this way we can view his high-risk takeovers and huge investments not simply as business decisions but also as political manoeuvres to grab ‘land’ for the political right. We can also, therefore, understand, for example, his persistent lobbying in the UK against the BBC not as a business crying foul but as a political campaigner seeking to crush a liberal organisation.

This aspect of his political strategy is most transparent in the case of the US TV Channel Fox News. Much analysed by political commentators and comedians alike, its deliberate foundation as a right-wing news channel in 1996 to counterbalance perceived prevailing liberalism is a matter of public record.

There is a need for those of us who oppose his political position to take particular care, right now, not to inadvertently fund his mission by buying into his many brands.

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.

Warming the planet

Rupert Murdoch’s views on climate change have also been well documented. In a 2014 interview he told Sky News Australia:

“We should approach climate change with great scepticism. Climate change has been going on as long as the planet [has been] here, there will always be a little bit of it.”

Two key academic studies have found clear evidence of bias in this media empire against the scientific consensus on climate change.

A 2014 study by Rutgers University in the US found that Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal was “less likely than the other newspapers to discuss the threats or impacts of climate change and more likely to frame climate action as ineffective or even harmful.” The authors of the study concluded that, given the Journal’s conservative readership, the negative nature of its climate reporting “could exacerbate ideological polarization on climate change.”

In addition, the authors said that “The Journal was far less likely than the other newspapers to mention at least one impact of climate change on the environment, public health, national security, or the economy.” The Journal only mentioned climate change impacts in 21.6 percent of its climate stories, far less frequently than The New York Times (40.3 percent), The Washington Post (48.8 percent) and USA Today (58.2 percent).

The authors concluded that:

“The Wall Street Journal, to the extent that its reporting is affected by its conservative editorial stance, departs not just from the other three papers’ coverage, but from the generally accepted scientific consensus on climate change.”

An earlier study, carried out by the University of New South Wales in Australia from 1997 to 2007, showed similar results. Here researchers found that newspapers and television stations owned by News Corporation largely denied the science of climate change and dismissed those who were concerned about it.

The study noted that while:

“The intensity of commentary and editorials about climate change varied between media outlets owned by News Corporation in the USA, Britain and Australia, its corporate view framed the issue as one of political correctness rather than science. Scientific knowledge was portrayed as an orthodoxy and its own stance, and that of climate sceptics as one of ‘courageous dissent’”.

This is perhaps why the Murdoch family’s $725 million purchase of National Geographic last year caused so much consternation among its readers and the wider public. Not only did it take the title from the not-for-profit sector but it is likely to affect the company’s editorial integrity.

Warmongering

Although this article focuses most attention on Murdoch media’s bias regarding climate change there have been a large number of studies looking at other issues such as its support for wars in the middle east.

The US writer Anthony R. DiMaggio looked in 2008 at how Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News became a leading force, though not the only one, in promoting war in Iraq and using the language of a ‘war on terror.’ His analysis would apply equally well to its position on the current war in Syria.

Another US study in the same year found “an extraordinary unity across his media empire on the need for war in Iraq”. And in the UK, the group Spinwatch have described how the “Implacable support of the Murdoch press for the Iraq War was a key factor for Tony Blair.”

A difficult but necessary boycott

Boycotting cultural products is much more difficult that changing brands of toothpaste or washing powder; it can be an emotional wrench. But of all the dangerous company groups around the world that we come across at Ethical Consumer, the Murdoch empire has to be one of the most alarming.

One of the saddest things is that much of the cultural content bought up and fenced off by the Murdoch empire is not concerned with his political strategy and is great content for conservatives and liberals alike. These include football matches between teams that families have supported for generations, and cricket tours around the world that used to be the common property of all of us and broadcast by the BBC. He also owns TV programmes like the Simpsons, films like Avatar and books like Collins Guides and Naomi Klein’s book No Logo...to name but a few. Boycotting cultural goods is not easy.

But the late, great British playwright Dennis Potter perhaps gives us a pointer to how best to deal with Murdoch. He named the pancreatic cancer that ended his life ‘Rupert’ after Rupert Murdoch.

As with all cancers, the sooner you can cut them out, the better your chance of survival.

Murdoch, the BBC and 38 Degrees

In 2015, members of the online campaign group 38 Degrees voted to launch a campaign to challenge Rupert Murdoch. They described him as “a commercial media baron who’d love to see the BBC cut down so he could benefit: he’s one of our public broadcaster’s biggest threats.”

They went onto describe how: “The might of Murdoch is putting pressure on government ministers to cut the BBC, but 38 Degrees members’ collective voices have come out in force, with people coming together in focus groups across the country to discuss the next steps of the campaign and brainstorm tactics for our campaign together.”

Company profile

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”.

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.” 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.”

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.”

 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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