Earlier this week Freesat boss Emma Scott declared: “TV fans are switching on to our Freetime service and switching away from pay TV and the expensive contracts that go with it.”
But it’s hard to reconcile that statement with subscriber figures recently released by three of the UK’s four pay-TV companies – Sky, Virgin Media and BT.
Sky had already announced 74,000 new TV customers last quarter, including subscriptions to its Now TV streaming service, a few days before Freesat boasted of adding a mere 18,000 new users.
Both sets of figures cover the three months ending March 31st so the evidence even on the day Freesat made its claim was already pointing in the opposite direction – Sky alone attracted four times the number of new users as Freesat.
Then came news from Virgin Media, again covering the three months to March.
Unlike Sky, Virgin Media reported a loss in customers of 4,700 users.
But this figures don’t support Freesat’s assertions because a) these were mostly customers receiving Virgin’s free TV service, and b) the cable firm’s losses were less than they were last year.
In other words, the rate of customer loss at Virgin Media is slowing, not speeding up as it would need to for Freesat’s claims of mass switching to be true.
Then came figures showing BT has boosted its TV customer base by 46,000, finally taking it above the 1m mark.
Even without TalkTalk’s figures, which will be out next week, that’s 120,000 new pay-TV customers versus 18,000 who went to Freesat.
And this growth isn’t isolated to a single quarter – in the final three months of 2013, BT, Sky and TalkTalk all added TV customers with TalkTalk alone adding a whopping 175,000.
Freesat is right that there’s a move in the UK’s paying TV user base but it isn’t towards free.
Instead customers are going for the middle option of low-cost subscription TV from TalkTalk, which now offers Sky 1 and other one-premium channels for free, BT’s £7pm month bundle of 20 pay-TV channels and its BT Sport package, and Sky’s Now TV entertainment service which starts at £5.99 a month with no contract.
The UK’s free-to-air satellite service is massively overstating its importance in, and effect on, the UK TV market.