BT TV complaints rise even more after sports launch

14 December 2013, 15:29   By Julia Kukiewicz

bt logo on wall
Credit: chrisdorney/

Yesterday, Ofcom released their telecoms complaints data for the year and one graph in particular jumped out at us.

That light blue column towering over everything else? That's BT TV.

ofcom pay tv complaints

Ofcom pay TV complaints July to September 2013. Source: Ofcom.

Ofcom report that from July to September this year one BT subscriber in every 1,800 complained.

In contrast, the worst mobile phone network this quarter, T-mobile, got one complaint in every 10,000 customers. A lot of BT TV customers are getting annoyed enough to get in touch and complain.

What's going on?

Mostly, we can put this huge rise in complaints down to dissatisfaction with one BT service in particular: BT Sport.

However, that is far from the whole story.

BT complaints, especially about TV, have been high, and rising, for some time now.

We reported on this in July last year as well as in March: BT have been getting far more complaints about their service (i.e. 'it didn't work and then they didn't fix it') than their rivals for a while now.

Here are the main reasons why BT TV customers are unhappy and, in the next section, whether these problems should worry you, if you have BT TV, or are thinking about getting it.

Disappearing sport channels

Let's start with sports.

In August 2013, almost half of all complaints were just about the BT sport service.

More on sports
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BT Sports: explained

We can get really specific about why that is.

BT decided in early 2013 to start delivering all their channels through broadband.

That meant they withdrew Sky Sports 1 and 2 to everyone except Infinity subscribers. They gave ADSL subscribers BT Sport through Vision+ on terrestrial and six months free broadband to compensate, but it's not a fair exchange and many were likely unhappy.

On top of that, BT were rolling out the totally new BT Sports channels over a number of platforms: satellite, digital terrestrial TV, broadband multicast TV and online.

There were some teething troubles but, again, BT were forced to take away channels from their customers as part of their plan: BT Sport was initially free on BT TV but was later available only to subscribers.

BT YouView subscribers are unable to get the BT sports channels at all.

The BT figures include complaints from Sky customers

Because BT Sport had all these problems it's also worth noting that these latest complaints figures include complaints about BT Sport from Sky TV customers.

That could have increased the total number of complaints quite a bit, since Sky have so many TV subscribers and given a slightly false impression since the data is presented in terms of complaints per (BT) customer.

The BT Sports channels are available with both Sky and Virgin Media as well as BT.

Virgin Media and Sky are on their game, complaints wise

Another factor in those blue columns looking so scary is that BT are in the ring with Virgin Media and Sky and both providers have drastically reduced their complaints levels recently.

Pay TV big three
Who's best? here
Pay TV or Freeview? here

When it comes to pay TV, Virgin Media had just 0.05 complaints in 1,000 customers in this release, Sky had just 0.02 in every 1,000.

The two also have the lowest complaints levels when it comes to broadband.

In contrast, BT did worse in terms of broadband complaints this time around than TalkTalk did. Yes, that TalkTalk.

Growing pains: this is pretty normal with a launch

As is usual at these times, BT took the opportunity to argue that they had been a victim of their own success.

"The unprecedented volume of interest in BT Sport," was part of the reason for the spike, a BT spokesperson said.

There's some truth to this: BT were forced to switch around their services and, inevitably, that annoyed some people that liked them the way they were.

This is not that unusual. For example, Orange (now EE) broadband saw a huge spike in complaints when they withdrew free broadband for mobile customers.

But without taking that step, it's unlikely that the provider would have been able to even start pulling itself out of the years long nosedive it had found itself in.

Having said that, when providers bring out the 'too big not to fail' line it's a cause for concern.

What's up BT? Self-esteem issues? The best providers estimate the demand they'll see and plan for it.

Time to think twice?

For all of the reasons above but especially because BT had high complaint levels for some time now, those looking for the very best customer service have a right to be concerned about BT's record.

Although some of these complaints are clearly linked to the launch of BT Sports, BT have a longstanding problem with TV customers that seem unsure exactly what they're going to get for their money, and are therefore disappointed with the TV service.

BT have sold themselves as a rival, and equal to Virgin Media and Sky, but, in many ways, the UK's biggest telecoms provider is still just learning the ropes of the pay TV business.

More generally, when you take an overview of complaints data alongside customer satisfaction, BT come out among the worst providers.

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