From the endless channel number changes on Freeview, to the streaming price hikes, TV licence fee issues and streaming services that fumbled in all sorts of ways – 2020 brought us some major TV annoyances.
So sure, 2020 was a bad year in so many ways – but we’re here today to focus on one topic: TV services in the UK, and some of the bad things that happened to them this year.
That being said – there were also a lot of wonderful things that happened to TV and cord cutting in the UK this year – so also take a look at our picks of the year’s biggest wins on UK TV.
So for now – here are some of the things that annoyed us the most this year:
1. Endless Freeview Retuning
It’s all quite easy to use, until… channel numbers start changing, and you have to retune your Freeview receiver. And this year, it seemed to happen again and again.
A major shakeup occurred in October, when more than 30 Freeview channels changed places, and viewers were told to retune yet again. But then they were told to stop and NOT retune, because of weather conditions.
Wait, there’s more! In December, Freeview viewers were told to retune once more, because five channels were changing. Oh and back in July, a new Freeview channel – Merit – launched. It was then shut down in September.
It’s not just about the act of retuning (some devices do it automatically) – it’s also about remembering where your favourite channels are, and having them constantly move around.
So we do like it when new channels are added to Freeview, and we realise some changes are inevitable – but maybe not as often?
2. Netflix UK Prices Going Up – Again
We owe Netflix a lot, for almost singlehandedly inventing the streaming TV revolution, and for their impressive library of content.
But by now, Netflix is one of the most expensive streaming services in the country – and this month, their prices went up again.
While the price of the Basic plan stayed the same, most people would prefer the Standard plan, which gives you HD streaming. And that plan, went up from £8.99/month to £9.99.
And then the Premium plan – which gives you 4K streaming and up to four concurrent devices – jumped up from £11.99/month to £13.99.
Sure, Netflix is still a better deal than the traditional pay-TV offers like Sky and Virgin Media. But with prices going up again and again, and with most of their competition being cheaper – people might start cancelling.
3. NOW TV Still Wants You To Pay Extra For 1080p
Amazon Prime Video gives you 4K and Full HD content for £5.99/month. Disney+ does the same, also for £5.99/month. Netflix asks for £9.99 for 1080p, and £13.99 for 4K.
And NOW TV? Their standard video streams are in 720p.
Yep – remember those HD-Ready tellies from years ago, that only supported 720p instead of 1080p (Full HD)? NOW TV is still stuck in that era for some inexplicable reason.
Last year, they FINALLY added Full HD, to some of their content – with a catch: it costs more.
So for Full HD – something that most streaming services take for granted – you have to get the “NOW TV Boost” pass, which costs an additional £3/month, on top of any other NOW TV passes you have.
With NOW TV already being more expensive than most of the other streaming services in the UK – the Full HD addon is a major annoyance.
4. Over-75s Having To Pay The TV Licence Fee
Back in June 2020, The BBC announced a plan to cancel an exemption that’s been in place since 1999, which meant over-75s didn’t need to pay the TV Licence fee, with the government subsidising the added costs.
The government then decided to phase out those subsidies, and over-75s were told they would have to start paying for the TV licence.
The change was then postponed because of the pandemic and the first lockdown – but it eventually happened this summer.
Close to 4 million people over the age of 75 are now required to pay the £157.50/year TV Licence, though those that receive Pension Credit can still ask for an exemption.
There’s an ongoing debate on whether the TV licence should be overhauled – but for now, the fact that so many older people – who have already suffered quite a lot this year – have to add the TV Licence Fee to their annual bills, is troubling.
5. Premier League’s Pay Per View Mess
This wasn’t a very good year for football and sports in general, obviously. But Premier League matches eventually returned, though without live audiences.
And because some matches were not set to be televised (on the regular pay-TV services like Sky Sports and BT Sport), The Premier League decided that they will be available on a Pay-Per-View basis, for £14.95 per game.
The concept – and the high cost – made a lot of fans furious. So much so, that some called to boycott those matches.
Eventually, it was decided to scrap the PPV model – and instead air all the matches on the regular sports channels – so this is a case of bad news that turned to some good news.
6. TV Shows Coming To The UK Too Late
With the internet and social media being what they are, TV shows that air in the US, immediately get talked about, and Twitter gets filled with spoilers.
On some streaming services – like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video – new original programmes launch all over the world on the same day, so UK audiences can join the party along with everybody else.
But some programmes take their sweet time to cross the pond. Sometimes a very long time.
Take Grey’s Anatomy for example, which is a long-running show with a loyal fan base. Last year, with Season 16, fans had to wait seven whole months between the US broadcast and the UK one on Sky / NOW TV.
Then there was Supernatural, which aired its last-ever season (15) this year – months after the US. And the list goes on and on, with shows like The Blacklist, Billions, Station 19 and more and more.
And they do KNOW how to do better – Game Of Thrones and The Walking Dead, for example, aired episodes just 24 hours after their US broadcasts.
If the UK broadcasters want their audience to stay loyal – and subscribed – they shouldn’t make us wait months, after everyone’s done talking about the show.
7. Discovery+ Launches – But Most People Can’t Watch It On TV
Judging by the level of interest on Cord Busters – and the number of questions I’ve gotten – people were quite intrigued with the new Discovery+ streaming service.
Discovery’s long-running streaming service, dplay, was rebranded to Discovery+, with an added paid tier that gives viewers access to a bigger library of content.
It’s an enticing offer, with a lot of content – but there’s one problem: streaming devices support was minimal, to say the least.
Sure, it was available on Sky Q (where subscribers even got it for free, for a year) – but aren’t streaming services supposed to lure cord cutters and those who DON’T have a Sky subscription?
So at launch – and even now, almost two months later – Discovery+ only supports mobile phones, tablets, and a small number of Android-TV based TVs.
It also supports Google Chromecast, so you can cast content from your phone or desktop PC.
Launching a new major streaming service, in this day and age, without the ability – for most viewers – to watch it on the big TV, is… strange.
8. BritBox Still Not Available On Roku And Freeview Play
Here’s another example of streaming device support that’s still lacking: BritBox.
When the UK version of ITV and the BBC’s paid streaming service launched, a little more than a year ago, its streaming device compatibility list was quite bad.
However, things have improved a lot this year, with BritBox now available on most of the major streaming devices – from Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Samsung TVs, Freesat and more.
However, there are still two major omissions – BritBox is still not available for the Roku streaming devices (which are hugely popular in the US, but also becoming more and more popular on our side of the pond), or as part of Freeview Play.
I suspect the audience who uses the apps on Freeview Play is exactly the type of audience who would enjoy watching BritBox’ nostalgic library of UK classics – so it’s a shame the app has been missing for so long. Here’s to 2021…
9. NOW TV White Box Stops Working
This is one of the nightmares of modern technology – you buy a device, a streaming device in this case – and it stops working after a few years. Not because it breaks down – but because it’s not supported anymore.
That’s what happened to users of the early NOW TV streaming device known as the “White Box” – it stopped working on October 6, because “it wasn’t powerful enough to support NOW TV’s modern apps and services”.
Some NOW TV customers were offered a free upgrade in its place, others were offered a discount, and some had to buy a new device.
Granted, this box dates back to 2013 – but I was surprised to learn, from the number of complaints and questions that came to us – that quite a lot of people were still using this old box, and were therefore quite displeased when it was no longer of use.
I realise companies can’t keep supporting devices forever (though in the modern tech world, devices seem to last less and less time), but this is still a good (or rather, bad) example of why we can’t rely on our purchases for too long.
10. Almost No 4K Content On BBC iPlayer
BBC iPlayer, the BBC’s streaming app, has been around for many years. It can’t quite compete with Netflix, for lots of reasons – but it’s gaining popularity.
In terms of picture quality, however… things are dire. Sure, everything’s in Full HD, which is great – but most of us have moved on to 4K, and the BBC is lagging behind.
It’s 2020, and they’re still calling Ultra HD content a “trial”, with a only handful of BBC titles available to watch in 4K.
The absurd part is that some BBC programmes are available in 4K on OTHER platforms – such as Blu-ray or Netflix in other countries – but not here on BBC iPlayer.
There’s SOME good news, with the new festive special of Doctor Who being broadcast in 4K – along with a couple of other programmes. So maybe there’s hope for the near future?
11. New US Streaming Services NOT Coming To The UK (Yet?)
It felt like the cord-cutting world was exploding in the US this year, with several new streaming services, from very big names, launching and fighting for prominence: HBO Max, Peacock, CBS All Access, Disney+ and more.
And while we did, thankfully, get Disney+ in the UK (albeit a few months after its US launch) the other big streaming service are not coming to our shores – at least not anytime soon.
There are plenty of reasons for this – rights issues, for one (as many programmes were already sold to local UK broadcasters), but the bottom line is that we’re missing on a lot of content.
Wonder Woman 1984 is a prime example – it was available to stream for HBO Max subscribers in the US on December 25, but UK viewers will have to wait until January 13 for a Premium VOD streaming option.
And the same goes for a lot of original content that these new streaming services are producing – some of it comes to the UK via other streaming companies (but often months later), and some may never arrive – at least until (and if) those streaming services launch here.
So sure, there are ways to unblock geo-blocks and watch US services in the UK – but why should we resort to these?
What were some of your TV disappointments this year? Let us know in the comments below, or on our Facebook group.