Virgin Media, the embattled TV, broadband and mobile provider whose data governance appears to make even TalkTalk look safe as houses, is facing a fresh backlash in the wake of the UKTV fiasco following reports that disgruntled customers trying to downgrade their TV packages are being forced to sign new long-term contracts to get a reduced subscription.
Up to 4 million customers lost access to all 10 UKTV stations – including Dave, Gold, Drama, Home, and Yesterday – nearly three weeks ago. Since then, outraged customers have reportedly been jamming the phone lines at Virgin Media’s contact centres demanding a reduced subscription.
One customer told The Guardian that her attempt to downgrade her broadband TV package had been “hell”. She pays Virgin £80 a month, or £960 a year, for her TV, internet and phone package.
She said: “Once they removed the UKTV channels, which are the ones I watch, I had to buy a new TV with Freeview to get them back. I’ve been trying to downgrade my package, but I have been told that they will not let me do so unless I sign up to a new 12-month contract and lock me in for another year. That doesn’t seem right.”
Another was told that if she wanted to ditch her basic TV package her bill would rise from £60 to £75 a month. “Before calling we tried to view our contract online on our Virgin account, but it stated it could not find any contract,” she said, “we also looked at the price that a new customer pays for a landline and Internet deal, which is £44 a month. We didn’t expect to pay this, but we didn’t expect the bill to rise. It feels like we are trapped in a deal we don’t want.”
Media regulator Ofcom has so far declined to intervene to say whether affected customers should be allowed to leave penalty free. The company has since offered both customers new reduced payment terms.
Freeview, which offers UKTV’s five free channels has been mounting a social media campaign aimed at disgruntled Virgin Media customers. It is also putting the finishing touches to a TV ad campaign which will also target Virgin Media subscribers.
Meanwhile, Virgin Media customers have also started a number of online petitions demanding that the axed channels be returned.
One petition on Change.org said: “Customers of Virgin Media will be expected to pay the same for a vastly reduced service. Virgin must lower the cost of all TV packages that included UKTV channels.”
Another read: “We want Virgin Media to keep all of the UKTV channels.”
In a statement, Virgin Media said: “We’re as frustrated as our customers that UKTV has removed its channels. We are ready to bring them back immediately, with UKTV’s permission.”
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