TV is better than ever these days, and we’re sometimes spoilt for choice. But that doesn’t mean all is well: from our ongoing longing for HBO Max, our confusion over Sky Glass, the BBC subscription kerfuffle, CNN disappearing and more – there were certainly some bad things happening in our TV landscape last year.
So we’re here again to look at some of the bad, annoying or funny things that happened to TV services in the UK in 2021 (you can see our 2020 selection here).
Of course, it wasn’t all bad – so expect a list of TV Wins later in the week…
For now, here are some of the things that irritated us the most in the year that just ended:
1. Major US Streaming Services Still Missing
There are lots of streaming services available in the UK (some would even dare to say too many) – and yet, some of the major American ones are STILL missing on our side of the pond (unless you use a VPN).
Chief among them is HBO Max, which launched back in 2020, and features the entire HBO library (including new releases), as well as content from other platforms – DC, Universal Pictures, Warner and more.
This year, HBO Max made many headlines when it premiered some big cinematic blockbusters on the same day and date of their theatrical release – Dune, The Suicide Squad, The Matrix Resurrections and more.
In October, HBO Max finally launched in several European countries – and more are expected to follow in a few months. So, what about the UK?
Better forget about HBO Max, at least until… 2025, due to licensing deals (mostly with Sky). Meanwhile, we get some of HBO Max’s content on Sky (and NOW) and sometimes on other streaming services.
But if you want it all in one place, and shortly after the US broadcast – you’ll have to keep waiting.
Then there’s Paramount+, another major streaming service that’s still missing here. The good news? This one is expected to launch in the UK sometime in 2022 – though it’s not clear whether it’ll have the same content library like the one in the US.
And finally, there’s Peacock – a streaming service from NBCUniversal that DID launch in the UK in 2021 – but only sort of. Instead of a fully-fledged streaming app/service, we got a “rail” of content on Sky and NOW.
You can’t sign-up to Peacock on its own, and its content is a mish-mash of TV shows and films that are scattered around Sky/NOW. If you pop into the American version of Peacock – you’ll see A LOT of content that’s not available on “our” version of it.
2. United Freeview Streaming App Still MIA
I always say Freeview is a wonderful service – more than 80 free channels, some of them in HD – it gives UK viewers something unique. And all you need are an indoor aerial and a Freeview box (or tuner).
But that’s often the problem – aerial reception can get quite patchy. And while it’s a good idea to keep that option available, it’s really about time Freeview switches to a streaming platform for ALL of its channels.
And it’s not just about fixing reception issues – it’s also about the interface. In February 2021, we told you that Freeview broadcasters were considering an all-in-one streaming TV app.
It would offer a single interface, at least for the major public broadcasters (but hopefully for smaller Freeview channels as well), that would help discover, search and mark content you’re interested in – and then stream it right away.
So, now what? Hopefully, we’ll get it in 2022. And I do hope it won’t just be a better-looking Freeview Play app that just sends you to each broadcaster’s dedicated streaming app… we’ll have to wait and see.
3. The Bilsdale Freeview Transmitter Fire
Speaking of Freeview, millions of people were left without reception back in August, when a 300-meters-tall transmitter located in Bilsdale burnt down.
The mast provided services to areas in northern England, from Tadcaster to Leyburn, Seaham and most of the way down the coast to Filey – both Freeview and YouView TV signals and FM radio.
This started a months-long ordeal, that even led to the BBC offering TV Licence refunds to thousands of Freeview viewers, and then – Arqiva (the company that operates the masts) – offering free streaming sticks (!) to people who were still not able to get free-to-air channels, even after a temporary 80-meters-tall mast has been switched on.
4. The BBC Saying A Subscription Would Cost £37/month
The TV licence fee, that is used to fund the BBC, is always a hot topic. Personally, I believe it offers a lot of value – but a report the BBC published back in February tried to put a number on that value…
The TV Licence fee currently stands at £159/year. Anyone who watches the BBC live, or via the BBC iPlayer app, has to pay it. Furthermore, if you watch any type of live TV from any broadcaster, you also need to pay the fee (See our full guide on whether you need to pay the TV Licence fee or not).
However, with some people choosing to ditch the TV licence, there’s often talk about switching the BBC to a subscription model, similar to services like Netflix and Disney+.
According to the BBC, “If one was to purchase the range of media offered through the licence fee, then a bundle of subscriptions providing advertising-free high-quality services comparable with those delivered by BBC across video, audio and news would cost £453.45 per year in comparison with the current licence fee.”
I understand the BBC is more than just its TV service and iPlayer (you get the radio, the BBC news website and more).
But trying to put a combined price tag on everything, using some complicated formula, when even just the regular TV licence fee is higher than some streaming services, is just silly.
5. Sky Glass’ Recording Confuses, Well, Everyone
Late in 2021, Sky launched their game-changing new 4k TV – Sky Glass. Unlike Sky’s previous offerings, Glass doesn’t rely on satellites and dishes, and is instead based on streaming.
But, just like Sky Q, Glass was also supposed to be a Freeview box, where you can watch Freeview channels live, on-demand, and – record shows for catch-up or just for saving to watch again.
However, Sky Glass doesn’t have any built-in storage space for recordings. Instead, Sky’s marketing kept hyping the TV’s “Cloud Recording” capabilities, with the device supposedly being able to record up to 1,000 hours “to the cloud”, and then stream them back to you on-demand.
When customers (and reviewers) started getting the actual TV, Sky Glass’ recording turned out to be much more complicated.
“Recording” in Sky Glass is all built around its Playlist feature. And when you add a programme/film to that Playlist, one of THREE things may happen: in most cases, it will merely create a “shortcut” thumbnail that then takes you to the streaming version of that content, on Sky or on 3rd party apps like BBC iPlayer or ITV Hub.
Only in some cases – a select few Freeview channels, mainly – will the content actually get recorded on the cloud, for you to be able to watch again (as well as fast-forward or backwards, and save indefinitely).
And then, for some channels – nothing will happen. Since there’s no deal in place between Sky and that channel – you won’t be able to record it to the cloud, AND it doesn’t have an app, so… you can only watch those particular channels live.
Granted, this is how most streaming devices work these days. But that’s not how Freeview boxes work, and it’s not even how Sky’s own Sky Q works – so customers were rightly confused.
In essence, this is more about misaligned expectations and marketing, than an actual missing feature (though I WOULD have loved to see a more encompassing cloud recording feature).
6. Sky’s NOW (TV) Starts Showing Ads
This put them in line with parent company Sky’s service – I was always baffled by the fact you get adverts on a TV service you pay so much for, but adding them to NOW was even worse.
That’s because NOW is meant to compete with streaming services like Netflix, Prime Video and Disney+. Can you imagine paying and then getting adverts on those services?
So yes, in the US, this option does exist – on Hulu, for example, where you pay one amount for streaming with adverts, and a higher amount for streaming without any adverts.
And on NOW, you also get the option to remove the adverts, by paying £5/month extra for the NOW Boost add-on (which also gives you Full HD quality streaming – yes, you still have to pay for that basic feature as well, on NOW).
But NOW is already pretty expensive compared to its UK competition (even though they lowered the cost of their Cinema membership in 2021). So paying more for the basic tier, and still having to sit through adverts?
7. Missing Subtitles On Sky
Sky has been pushing 4K / Ultra HD content a lot in 2021. So much so, that they started selling Sky Glass with 4K being one of its big selling points.
But wait – do you need subtitles when you’re watching TV? Many people do, either because they’re hard of hearing, or simply because it helps them understand the content better.
Here’s the catch: 4K content on Sky’s own channels – both on Sky Q and Sky Glass – doesn’t have subtitles. At all.
Viewers (who might be paying extra for 4K), have to switch to the HD version of each show if they want to get the subtitles.
According to Sky, this is due to a “technical issue”, and they’re working to fix this “later in 2022”.
But even that’s not all – if you scour Sky’s forums, you’ll see a lot of complaints on subtitles with non-4K content as well.
I’ve experienced this myself – sometimes a single random episode in a full season will not have subtitles. Sometimes the subtitles get out of sync in the middle of an episode. It often feels like a gamble.
This reminds me of the early days of NOW TV – their on-demand content didn’t have subtitles for YEARS, due to – yes – technical issues. They finally started adding subtitles to NOW in 2017.
If every American streaming service (in the UK as well) can master subtitles (on UHD too, of course) – there’s no reason Sky should be any different.
8. The Red Bee Media Fire
Speaking of subtitles… back on September 25, there was a major incident at Red Bee Media, a company that provides services to several broadcasters in the UK (including the BBC, Channel 4 and Channel 5).
On that day, the fire suppression systems were activated at the company’s broadcast centre, and several hard drives were severely damaged.
Several live channels and catch-up streaming services went off the air that night, or had technical difficulties, for several hours – with some technical issues staying around for days and days.
The major faults, however, were with the accessibility services on Channel 4 and Channel 5. As a result, many programmes on both channels, live and on-demand (via All4 and My5), stopped offering subtitles, audio descriptions or sign language.
On Channel 4 in particular, the issues persisted for close to two months – with many viewers having to miss popular shows like The Great British Bakeoff and Gogglebox.
9. Fox Channel Shutting Down
The Fox Channel has been operating in the UK for more than 15 years (first as FX Channel). Then, in 2021, Disney – its new owner – decided to shut it down.
Fox was a premium pay-TV channel, so it wasn’t available on Freeview – instead, you could get it with a subscription to Sky, NOW, Virgin Media, TalkTalk and TVPlayer.
Some of the popular shows that aired on Fox in the UK over the years were American Horror Story, The Mentalist, Dexter, NCIS and many others, with The Walking Dead being one of its biggest hits in recent years, airing episodes shortly after their US airdate.
But on June 30, 2021 – Fox was no more. The writing was on the wall for a while, with Disney working to bolster its “mature” Star category on their Disney+ streaming service.
And indeed, The Walking Dead ended up on Disney+. American Horror Story is also there in part, and we’re told NCIS is also coming sometime in 2022.
But many Fox viewers, who are already paying for a pay-TV service, were very unhappy about having to pay more for Disney+ now.
10. CNN Leaving Freesat, BT And Virgin Media
CNN International might not be as popular as it once was, but it turns out it still had a lot of avid fans in the UK.
The live channel was available for free on Freesat and for subscribers of Sky, Virgin Media, and BT’s older TV service.
In September, however, the channel was removed from all those platforms – except for Sky (And even there, it’s only available on Sky Q and some older boxes, and not, currently on Sky’s new TV – Sky Glass).
The move was due to CNN’s new focus on subscription-based distribution, with their CNN Live streaming service, which costs £1.99/month.
Unfortunately, even now, the only direct way to watch CNN Live is via a browser, either on your desktop/laptop or on a mobile phone (even though you’re paying for that subscription) – there are no apps for any of the major streaming devices (such as Amazon Fire TV or Roku),
It’s still available on some Samsung Smart TVs as part of their Samsung TV Plus service, though that’s a limited crowd, of course.
This means that for now, at least – most CNN fans can no longer watch it on their big-screen tellies.
11. Star Trek Discovery Leaves Netflix Right Before The New Season
Those of you who are not Star Trek fans, may not understand how bad this was, or why it made so much noise on social media. After all, shows come and go on streaming services all the time.
But for three years, the new and popular Star Trek: Discovery series had a home on Netflix all over the world (and in the UK). In the US, it first streamed on CBS All Access, which then turned into Paramount+.
Things were quiet, fans were happy, and in November, some of the show’s actors were even guests in a London Star Trek convention, where they kept talking about how fans were about to enjoy Season 4 on Netflix.
Then – just three days before Season 4 was set to premiere in the US – and internationally on Netflix – a bombshell announcement was made late at night: All seasons of Discovery were leaving Netflix, and Season 4 would not premiere there.
However, the worst part was that fans had nowhere to go. It was announced that Season 4 (along with the previous seasons) would come to Paramount+ in the UK – a streaming service that… will only debut in the UK “sometime in 2022”.
And with Star Trek being such a highly talked-about show, fans were not only disappointed but were also scared of spoilers on social media. What’s the point of watching a show all the fans (in the US) are talking about – months after those discussions have ended?
A week later, in trying to appease some of the fans, it was announced that Season 4 would air weekly on… Pluto TV. A free (ad-based) streaming service owned by the same company.
It’s better than nothing – but you can only watch the episodes LIVE, every Friday at 9pm, and not on-demand (though you can also purchase them on Amazon’s Prime Video).
ViacomCBS managed to anger many fans – and it remains to be seen whether those fans will forgive-and-subscribe once Paramount+ finally launches in the UK.
12. Honorary Mentions –
A few smaller blunders that made us either cry or laugh in 2021:
ITV Hub Broke Down Right Before Love Island: During one of the Euro2020 matches, and right before the premiere of the new Love Island, ITV’s streaming platform crashed, angering both groups of fans. And then, a week later, it happened again.
Sky Replaced Justice League With A Romantic Comedy: Eager fans of the highly anticipated “Snyder Cut” of the Justice League film got up early to watch its premiere on Sky Cinema. Instead, due to a technical error, they got a Christmas romantic comedy starring Sarah Jessica Parker.
Court TV Joined Freeview. And Left After 4 Months – The American channel dedicated to live, real-life courtroom broadcasts was added to Freeview with much fanfare. Less than four months later, it was surprisingly removed without explanation (though it’s still available on Freesat).
The BBC Had To Officially Explain The Ending Of Line of Duty – Season 6 of the popular series ended with a very divisive episode. Some fans were so angry, they kept sending complaints to the BBC, who then issued an official response, explaining how TV works:
“The series 6 finale deliberately aimed to wrongfoot viewers’ expectations.
“Out of an audience of 16 million, we recognise that the programme makers’ dramatic choices won’t have met with everyone’s approval.”
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