Why can't I manage my TV subscription through my TV?
"My pay TV provider said I'd be able to manage my account through my set top box, but all I seem to be able to do is add a few extra channels. Why can't I do more?"
Being able to control our various customers accounts online and via our mobile devices is something many of us take for granted.
And with the developments in internet-enabled TVs and smart set top boxes, it might seem reasonable to expect that we'd be able to effectively manage our pay TV accounts through the equipment provided to us.
At the time we write this article, people with Sky Q have just been given the ability to manage parts of their account through their set top boxes - but at least one of the features, the ability to add extra channels to their bundle, is nothing particularly new.
Users will be able to view their bills and payment status, check on engineer visits, and in a small but significant change, they'll be able to alter the email address associated with the account.
It begs the question, however: why can't we manage more of our pay TV subscriptions through our TVs?
Bonus feature vs useful extra
Given that all Sky Q equipment is on loan to subscribers, and that installation, servicing and repairs are included free of charge for as long as we remain subscribed, it makes sense in a way to include information about that service through the kit if possible.
There is an obvious issue here, in that having that information available through the box isn't much use if the box is the problem - but for routine servicing and being able to check waiting times on the day itself, it's a neat feature.
And for all it's a tiny thing, being able to change the email address associated with an account through the set top box will often be far more convenient than having to call Sky to do so - even if it does mean having to type it in using a remote control and an onscreen keyboard.
The ability to check the monthly bill, including any extra usage and costs, is a logical enough addition - but we do wonder if this is the sort of thing people will really check via an app on their TV, rather than using a mobile app or website on a nearby device.
It may well be useful, though, for Sky Q customers using the other new feature, and wanting to check how any extra channels they add will affect their bill, and from when.
As we mentioned above, some people may well be wondering what's so special about the ability to add extra channels to Sky Q through the box, because they've had that ability for some time.
TV customers with both Virgin Media and TalkTalk can do so with just a couple of clicks, even if they've got older kit like the V HD box.
Those with Sky+ and BT TV, however, have to go online or call their provider to request the addition of a new bolt on - although BT have told us "it's something we're looking into for the future".
But while Virgin, TalkTalk, and now Sky Q, offer channel upgrades through their set top boxes, they're not what we might consider "full upgrades" - that is, to a base package with more channels or features as standard.
This is understandable, really, as that would require us to enter into a new minimum contract of at least a year. By contrast, the extra channels available to add via all three providers' set top boxes are all sold on one month terms.
That doesn't mean the premium content is off limits: as long as our initial contracts don't include Sky Cinema or Sky Sports, we can add and remove them to our heart's content from month to month - although adding them is much easier than cancelling.
The streaming services
It's not just people with traditional pay TV services that have to manage the bulk of those accounts away from the TV set. Netflix and Now TV subscribers - even those who signed up through an app on their TV or set top box - have to use a mobile device or computer to edit or change details on their accounts.
In the case of Netflix, it's not possible to change any account information - including upgrading from being able to watch on one screen or two at a time (or in HD, which comes with the two-screen Standard subscription) - without going to the website.
Say we're accessing Netflix through the app on our phone or tablet and want to check something about our account. Tapping on that option in the app's menu opens up an internet browser window.
As more of us watch TV on other devices, that distinction might not be immediately obvious until we need to check or change something while watching on the big screen.
Depending on the make and model of our device, and the apps we use on it, that can be quite a noticeable switch, or quite subtle and smooth - but basically, apart from setting up the subscription, and watching content, there's not much else we can do via the TV.
Now TV users may be thinking - correctly - that not only can they sign up to a Now TV Pass via the app on their TV or set top box, but also add more passes to the same account in the same way.
But to change any other details, or to cancel, they have to go online - and for those with multiple passes, cancelling the account means cancelling each pass individually.
A different sort of smart
There's one simple reason behind this need to switch from device to device: internet-enabled TVs and set top boxes don't use the internet in the same way as computers and mobile devices.
To use the favourite object of everyone who's ever tried to explain the Internet of Things, there's no need for the fridge to be able to access Youtube - but it would be quite useful if it could let us know when we're out of milk, or maybe even order it for us, so it would make sense for it to have access to a simple messaging service, for example.
Smart TVs and set top boxes are therefore designed to make use of the parts of the internet that are most useful and beneficial considering their main purpose - the parts that stream content or allow us to show off our photo and music collections.
Even posting a short and pithy social media update via an included Twitter or Facebook app may be pushing it with the input methods we currently have.
Particularly as we have plenty of alternative ways of getting online to check account details, presently it's simply not worth the time and effort it would take manufacturers to develop apps that allowed us to use what are basically output devices for more than very simple extra functions.
The silver lining here is that the technology is constantly developing, and set top boxes are easier and cheaper to update, maintain, and replace than TVs - which we tend to buy based on simpler, more obvious features such as size, or HD and ultra HD compatibility.
Certainly it would be nice in the future to be able to manage more of our TV subscriptions via the equipment itself, and as the pay TV providers add the odd extra feature here and there, we may eventually reach that point.
But for now, with so many homes having multiple devices, and with so many of us browsing while watching, there really isn't much need.