UK TV Blunders 2023: From BBC Fees To Freeview Fails

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As the curtain falls on another eventful year in TV and streaming, we’ve witnessed everything from the dramatic to the downright perplexing in the UK’s television landscape.

In 2023, we’ve seen it all: price hikes across major streaming platforms, Netflix’s controversial password-sharing fee, and the baffling scarcity of Freeview recorders.

Remember when TV was all about unwinding? This year, it felt more like a scavenger hunt, with streaming giants playing a game of ‘hide and seek’ with our favourite shows, channels – and wallets.

Don’t worry – we’ll also look at some of the TV Wins from 2023 in the coming days (and there certainly were good things that happened this year) – but for now, let’s start looking at the bad, annoying or funny things that happened to TV services in the UK in 2023.

1. Streaming And Pay-TV Prices Continuing To Go Up

With the ongoing cost of living crisis, and the soaring inflation rates (at least for most of the year), it’s no wonder streaming and TV prices have continued to go up – as they do every year, unfortunately. 

The list covers almost every TV service in the UK: Sky’s streaming service NOW kicked off 2023 with increases to its Sky Sports membership and the Full-HD, NOW Boost add-on.

NOW TV price increase collage

Then Sky TV itself increased prices across the board with their annual mid-contract price hikes, something most pay-TV (and broadband) companies love doing. So, of course, BT TV followed suit with a price increase for its TV/Netflix/Sports bundles.

Virgin Media not only increased prices for some with the annual increase – but has also removed TNT Sports from all its TV bundles – so sports fans now have to pay extra for that.

Later in the year, the streaming services joined the party. Netflix brought its annual price increase in October, this time raising the prices of the now-defunct Basic tier, and the Premium tier, which went up to a whopping £17.99/month (remember when streaming services used to be the ‘cheap’ option?).

In November, Disney+ revamped its whole subscription plan, switching from one tier to three – and basically increasing the price of the top tier from £7.99/month to £10.99/month.

Disney Plus and Netflix on phone
(Photo: Deposit Photos / Daniel Constante)

Oh, and Apple TV+ has increased its price to £8.99/month from the previous £6.99, and even YouTube Premium (which removes adverts from YouTube) went up to £12.99 per month.

So, are things going to get better in 2024? Sadly, no. Most companies – both pay-TV and streaming – will likely continue with more price increases.

Remember, though, TV cord-cutting is not just about direct prices – it’s also about flexibility. There are no long-term contracts (usually), so you really don’t need to be subscribed to EVERYTHING – just pick and choose every month.

2. TV Licence Fee Going Up

Technically, this belongs to next year’s list – but the upcoming TV licence fee increase was announced this month – so it’s certainly something we can talk about in 2023.

TV licence documents

So, in April 2024, the licence fee – which is used to fund the BBC – will increase to £169.50, marking an end to a two-year freeze.

Is that a bad thing? It depends on your point of view, of course – if you think a public broadcaster like the BBC needs to exist and offers good value, then an increase – after two years – was imminent. 

There are often debates about TV Licence fee alternatives, though – A couple of months ago, Acting Chair of the BBC Dame Elan Closs Stephens addressed the issue, discussing a potential shift to a subscription model similar to Netflix or Amazon’s Prime Video.

In her speech, she estimated that such a subscription could cost about £400 per year – if you take into account the BBC’s TV shows (and iPlayer), BBC News, the BBC website and BBC radio.

Watching BBC News on tv

Either way, no one likes a price increase – especially during a cost of living crisis – so it’s something households will have to deal with in 2024.

Meanwhile, TV Licence fee evasion rates have hit their highest point since 1995.

3. Netflix’s Password Sharing Crackdown

Speaking about prices going up – sometimes the increase is indirect, as is the case with Netflix’s crackdown on account sharing in the UK – which forced a lot of people to either pay up or stop watching.

For years, Netflix ignored the fact families – and even friends – were sharing the same account (and thus paying less for it).

But then, earlier this year, Netflix introduced the long-dreaded ‘Password Sharing Fee’ in the UK, aimed at curbing the sharing of Netflix passwords with individuals outside the subscriber’s immediate living environment.

netflix password padlock 1200
Photo: Deposit Photos / Rafapress

This new policy requires subscribers to pay an additional £4.99/month for each “Extra Member” they add to their account. Otherwise – those ‘extra members’ get cut off from the service.

And, since it seems Netflix is doing quite well with this change (getting MORE subscribers), other companies are joining in – and Disney+ also recently announced that account sharing is now forbidden.

4. Freeview Recorders Disappearing

This year, finding a Freeview recorder in the UK has become surprisingly tough.

Popular models like the Manhattan T3-R and Humax FVP-5000T were discontinued, leaving fewer choices for those who like to record live TV.

Adding to the challenge, the new Manhattan T4 and T4-R models, expected to be the next big thing in Freeview recorders, have faced repeated delays (Now, their release is estimated for February 2024).

Manhattan T4-R Next to TV
Manhattan T4-R Freeview Recorder

So, for now – the Humax Aura is practically the only Freeview recorder available to buy as new, unless you find older – usually expensive – stocks. And even the Aura had stock issues this year…

Of course, the decreasing popularity of Freeview recorders is part of a bigger change in how we watch TV in the UK, with more people now streaming their shows.

A new service called Freely, launching in 2024, is set to change things even more – created by Everyone TV (the body behind Freeview and Freesat), Freely will offer live TV and shows over the internet.

Freely on a TV

Although Freely might eventually take over from Freeview, it won’t let viewers record shows to watch later – something many enjoyed with Freeview and Freesat.

So, for those who liked recording their favourite shows, these new streaming options might not be as appealing.

And – without recording – you can’t fast-forward adverts (and sometimes you can’t fast-forward adverts even if you DO record – as BT and ITV demonstrated this year).

Which brings us to…

5. Streaming Services Adding Adverts

The more we move forward with TV and technology – it sometimes feels like we’re also going back. And this year – adverts started to return in a big way.

Of course, for those who only watch linear TV, adverts never went anyway (unless you recorded – and then fast-forwarded them) – with long ad breaks on channels like ITV, Channel 4 and many others.

Angry man watching adverts on his TV - dall

 

But streaming finally brought with it the promise of clean, ad-free viewing. You could binge-watch whole seasons of shows on Netflix, or five Marvel films one-after-the-other on Disney+, without seeing a single advert.

But then – the streaming companies discovered what broadcasters knew for many, many years – there’s money to be made with adverts.

So, in late 2022, Netflix led the pack by introducing the ‘Basic with Ads’ tier. But 2023 was when Netflix really started pushing this tier.

First, they made it harder to find the basic, no-adverts tier. Then they cancelled it altogether – so new users can no longer sign up for the basic ad-free tier (even on Sky).

Want to watch without adverts? You’ll have to jump up to the £10.99 Standard Without Ads tier.

Netflix UK Plans October 2023
Netflix’s UK Plans

And, as always, if something works well for Netflix – other companies jump on the bandwagon. So Disney+ introduced a lower-cost ad-supported tier, Amazon is planning to introduce adverts on Prime Video next year, and Paramount+ is also joining the adverts party.

So – the plus side to this, is that subscribers can get Netflix, Disney+ and others at lower costs – if they’re willing to sit through adverts.

But for me – I’d rather go outside and watch the grass growing – than watch a bunch of adverts in the middle of a gripping drama. And remember – those tiers are often a way to mask price increases…

6. TV Services And Channels Shutting Down

Remember the days when you could count streaming services on one hand?

Well, those days are long gone – and some say there’s now an over-saturation of streaming services, and people can’t be asked to sign up for yet another paid service every time there’s a show they like.

And with that – smaller streaming services are starting to disappear. 

This year, the UK streaming scene saw several channels and services close their doors.

Viaplay logo on a laptop

Viaplay, a service offering live sports and Nordic films and shows, decided to leave the UK market due to financial challenges and a strategic shift to focus on the Nordics and the Netherlands.

The sports part will be taken over by Premier Sports – but the drama section will likely disappear.

Lionsgate+, known for series like Outlander and Power Book III is also shutting down in the UK in early 2024 as part of a larger corporate reorganisation by Starz.

Lionsgate on TV outlander

Peacock, NBCUniversal’s platform that launched via Sky and NOW in late 2021, is also ending its UK operations next month.

Despite a promising start, Peacock never launched as a full, standalone service in the UK – and so it struggled to compete with larger platforms. It will now redistribute some of its content across Sky’s channels.

Peacock Sky collage

And let’s not forget TCM Movies UK, a cherished destination for classic cinema, that has ceased broadcasting this year.

Launched in 1999, TCM Movies offered a diverse range of classic films, catering to a dedicated audience of film buffs.

TCM Movies closing official message

Its closure in July was a surprise to many, ending a long-standing tradition of classic film broadcasting in the UK.

7. Strange Name Changes

It all started with NOW TV (well, at least in the streaming era). On one sunny day in 2021 (who are we kidding, it was probably raining), Sky’s streaming service announced a major name change – goodbye NOW TV, hello… NOW.

As someone who writes about TV daily – and often discusses it with people – I never once encountered a person who calls it NOW (outside of Sky, that is). Not to mention how hard it is to search for information about the service – Now? Now what? 

But let’s not dwell on 2021, now (pun intended) that we’re looking back at 2023. The thing is – this year – two similar name changes were announced.

First, there was All4 – Channel 4’s popular streaming app (which many still call 4oD).

Channel 4 all4 on tv
All 4

For years, we had the linear channel – Channel 4 – and we had the streaming app – All4. And all was well.

Then, in April 2023, the channel announced that All4 would be getting a new name… Channel 4

So now we have Channel 4 – the channel. And Channel 4 – the streaming service/app. So, is The Great British Bakeoff available on Channel 4? No, I don’t mean the linear Freeview/Freesat channel, I mean the streaming service. Oh, past seasons are there? So where can I watch the next one? On Channel 4? The app? The Channel?

Channel 4 app on Apple ios app store
Channel 4 app on iOS

Not to mention that Channel 4 (the app) also includes content from E4, More4, etc. – which are channels with their own names. But they’re on Channel 4. The App.

OK, you get the drift.

Then in November, another staple of British broadcasting – UKTV, also announced a name change.

Starting next year, UKTV Play, the streaming platform that includes content from channels such as Dave and Yesterday, will change its name to… U.

U formerly UKTV Play

Yes, just the letter, U. NOW – hold our beer!

Honourable Mentions

A few smaller blunders that annoyed us in 2023:

TNT Sports Box Office’s Big Screen Woes: Even after BT Sport changed into TNT Sports – with its streaming platform now being a part of Discovery+ – viewers STILL can’t easily watch pay-per-view sporting events on the big screen, unless they have pay-TV services like Sky or Virgin Media TV. You can cast to Chromecast – but other than that, you can’t use Fire TV, Roku, or any other streaming device. Why not? Who knows.

The Walking Dead Spin-offs Missing – UK fans of The Walking Dead are missing out on the latest spin-offs, as Tales Of The Walking Dead, The Walking Dead: Dead City and The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon have not been available to stream or watch in the UK. This absence of new content from such a popular franchise is really inexplicable in this day and age.

The walking dead spinoff collage

No Subtitles on 4K Content on Sky – OK, at this point, I’m starting to think this will be on this list forever. Yes, for some reason, Sky STILL doesn’t let you use subtitles when you’re watching any 4K content – on Sky Q, Sky Glass and Sky Stream. They’ve been “working on a fix” for more than two years. We’re still waiting.

4K On The BBC Is Still “An Experiment”: Yes, we’re still there. The BBC has been offering a handful of programmes in 4K for years now. They keep adding shows every year, and happily – all the Doctor Who 60th specials were in 4K. But the selection is still meagre, compared to other streaming services.

Doctor Who The Giggle
Doctor Who: The Giggle (Photo: BBC)

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