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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 Virgin.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a shopping 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.

Learn more about us  →

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

We recommend sticking with freeview, or see our ethical shopping guide for Streaming Services on our website.

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying subscription TV:

  • Is it funding conflict minerals? The companies in this guide also provide equipment 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

BT, Sky and Virgin are three of the very biggest providers but all score worst for likely tax avoidance.

  • BT
  • Sky
  • Virgin

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 100) Ratings Categories

Sky subscription TV

Company Profile: Sky Limited

TalkTalk subscription TV

Company Profile: TalkTalk Group

Virgin Media Subscription TV

Company Profile: Virgin Media Inc

BT subscription TV

Company Profile: BT Group Plc

Our Analysis

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

The four most dominant packages are provided by the same companies that dominate UK broadband - see our ethical shopping guide for broadband:

  • Virgin
  • Sky
  • TalkTalk
  • BT

All four services offer various bundles.

You can only get BT TV or TalkTalk TV if you get their broadband too. Virgin Media TV is available in the 70% of the UK which is covered by its cable network, while Sky TV uses satellites.

However, with the growing popularity of simple streaming from the likes of Netflix, and new offers such as Apple TV+ and Disney+, its unclear how much longer these packaged services can last. Streaming services are provided directly over the Internet with no need for additional equipment, while subscription TV requires you to have a branded set-top box, or satellite (for Sky) which can receive and translate the providers’ encrypted signals. According to Ofcom, streaming subscriptions exceeded pay-TV subscriptions in the first quarter of 2019.

Table highlights

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 and BT score a middle rating while TalkTalk and Sky receive 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

Companies were also rated on their policies regarding minerals used in their equipment. BT scored a middle rating.

TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Sky all scored a worst rating.

Company profile

The Virgin brand is used on a huge variety of businesses, including the controversial Virgin Care, one of the biggest winners among private healthcare providers bidding for NHS contracts.

Virgin Care has taken the NHS to court over contracts, and concerns have also been reported about the use of tax havens in its corporate family.

Virgin Care’s ultimate parent, the Virgin Group, describes itself as “a family-owned growth capital investor, with a globally recognised and respected brand”, and lists Virgin Media and Virgin Mobile, as Virgin companies.

However, while the Virgin Group owns 100% of Virgin Care (and 51% of Virgin Trains) it actually owns 0% of Virgin Media. Virgin Media is owned by Liberty Global, but Virgin Group Holdings still gets royalty payments, apparently almost £10 million a year.

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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