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Switching TV package during coronavirus (COVID-19)

By Dan Howdle | Tuesday, June 6th 2023

During the coronavirus pandemic, many of us spent more time indoors than at any time in living memory. And to stop ourselves going out of our minds, many of us are turned to subscription TV as a means to pass the time, either to expand our access to channels with our existing provider, or to sign up to a brand new subscription.

As a result of so many people trying to do this while so many staff were homeworking, however, may have caused you to hit some dead ends or experience severe delays when signing up to a new TV deal. And even upgrading your existing package may have taken a little longer than usual due to the shrinkage of customer service call centres and their focus on helping vulnerable customers first.

The situation differed from one provider to another, so in this guide we'll look at the best way to change your package or buy a new one in the event of another pandemic. We’ll also look at alternatives to switching or upgrading if you simply want to expand your choices when it comes to what you can watch.

Coronavirus, switching TV packages, and new TV packages

For the purposes of understanding the differences in current policy when it comes to getting a new TV package, first we must understand that subscription TV comes in three types. Satellite TV is paid service provided by Sky Q and delivers its service via a satellite-receiver's broadband connection, cable TV is provided by Virgin Media and is, yes you guessed it, delivered via dedicated cables. Freesat is a free satellite-service developed jointly by the BBC and ITV. Like Sky, it provides high-definition content, digital recording and video-on-demand via the broadband connection. Finally there's Freeview and IPTV (TV via the airwaves and the internet respectively) which are combined into a YouView set-top box by all other TV providers.

Hopefully, that's fairly easy to grasp. As is the fact that depending on the method of delivery (and therefore depending on the provider) the situation in terms of getting a new TV package differs. Here's a broad overview of the situation, depending on what it is you're trying to do.

  • Brand new TV package subscriptions – Most TV providers will offer new packages as normal, such as Sky TV,Virgin Media TV, BT TV, and TalkTalk TV, many of which offer set-top boxes that can be posted and set up by the user – they do not require an engineer visit
  • Switching TV providers – The exact same applies as brand new TV packages. This gets a little more complicated, however, if you're also switching your broadband provider. We have a separate guide on that, which you should definitely read if that is your plan
  • Upgrading your package with your existing provider – In all cases, this should not be a problem. In some cases, where your provider offers different set-top boxes for different levels of service, you may have to wait for your provider to post you a new set-top box. You may experience delays receiving it, too
  • Bolstering your current package with streaming services – Everyone can add streaming subscriptions to massively expand the amount of available content without messing about with set-top boxes or engineer visits delayed for several weeks or even months. We've got a full rundown of the best services to consider near the end of this guide

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Upgrading with your existing TV package

If you already have a subscription TV package with Sky, Virgin Media, Plusnet, TalkTalk or BT, and you're not on the top package, you will be able to upgrade easily. In some cases this may mean an upgrade to your set-top box and you'll have to wait for your provider to send it out to you.

In most cases, however, this won't be necessary, and upgrading your subscription to include more channels and content will be something you can do online, and your new services should be provided within minutes. With this in mind, there are two ways to upgrade your package, depending on what you want to do. They are…

  • Upgrading to get more channels – This means bolstering your channel count or adding access to additional, add-on services such as Sky Sport, BT Sport and Sky Cinema. This type of upgrade is unaffected by a pandemic situation
  • Upgrading to multiroom – The other way to upgrade your package is to add multiroom. That is, to increase the number of set-top boxes in your house to supply a second television in another room. Upgrading to multiroom means additional set-top boxes, and that means waiting for them to be posted to you
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Individual TV package providers' pandemic policy

Individual TV providers published their own policies during the coronavirus epidemic, which, by and large, were similar to their broadband policies. There are some differences with TV, however, and so here we've focused on the implications specifically for TV subscriptions. If you'd like to read about how the pandemic affected new broadband installations then we have that guide too.

  • BT TV – Is unaffected by a pandemic situation, since its set-top boxes do not require an engineer visit. You'll need to be a BT Broadband customer to get BT TV, so if you are, and want either to take out a new BT TV package where you didn't have one before, or upgrade your existing package, you may do so. If you do need an appointment for an installation, upgrade or repair you can now book if you wish. BT engineers will still take precautions to help keep everyone safe. This will include contacting you before the visit to ask a few questions.
  • NOW TV – Is Sky's online streaming service. You can install the NOW TV app on a wide range of different devices including smart TVs, games consoles, streaming boxes and streaming sticks, mobile phones, tablets and computers. NOW TV provides access to most of Sky's content, so it is the best alternative if you don’t want to sign up for one of Sky’s packages. Just be aware it can get expensive if you add movies and sport
  • Sky TV – It is only customers wanting Sky Q that will require an engineer visit to get their TV system up and running. Anyone taking Sky Glass or Sky Stream can easily self-install. Sky will send out its engineers in a pandemic situation once permitted to do so, and with suitable health and safety practices in place. Existing Sky customers can upgrade as they please
  • TalkTalk TV – You're free to upgrade or take out a TV subscription if you're an existing TalkTalk customer, but may need to read up on other possible complications if you're switching to TalkTalk from another provider. Customer service may be limited due to reduced staff in a pandemic situation
  • Virgin TV – will offer engineer appointments with increased health and safety guidance in place, so you still can take out a new Virgin Media TV package. Virgin TV has one set-top box for all packages (the TV 360), so if you're a customer and you have one already, you are free to upgrade as you please
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Alternatives to a new TV subscription

If you're simply looking to expand the amount of entertainment content you have available to you, subscription TV packages are no longer the only game in town. In fact, there are plenty of folk out there who find them a bit old hat. That's because with almost every household possessing at least one video streaming device, whether that be a smart TV, a computer, streaming stick or box, games console or whatever, almost everyone has access to an extended range of services that are just a sign-up and an app download away.

Here, then, is a summary of some of the best services you can sign up to should we ever get hit by a pandemic situation again.

  • Netflix – There are literally tens of thousands of hours of movies and TV shows – many of them only available on Netflix – that you can watch any time you like with even a Netflix basic subscription, which will cost you £4.99 per month. If you want 4K quality and to stream to more devices, higher subscription tiers are available. Not everything on Netflix is golden, with the quality of the programmes ranging from dire to Oscar-winning, but there is so much of it that Netflix is a no-brainer
  • Amazon Prime Video – Is £8.99 per month, and subscribing also gets you access to next-day delivery from Amazon. However, you can also opt for an annual subscription costing £95 per year, which works out at £7.92 per month. Unlike Netflix, there are no higher-tier subscriptions where you pay more, and Amazon has plenty of 4K content to watch right off the bat if that's your thing. Like Netflix, a Prime subscription will get you access to hundreds of movies and TV shows including a large clutch of Amazon Originals. There's less to watch on Amazon than there is on Netflix, but on average, we'd say the quality is higher. There's less bad stuff
  • NOW TV – Is Sky's own streaming service. Access to Sky channels, including Sky Atlantic is provided through the Entertainment Membership, which will set you back £9.99 per month, making it one of the most expensive services on this list. SKy Cinema is also £9.99 per month but you can get both for £13.99 if you sign up for six months. However, you can usually bag a discount if you threaten to leave after a month. Sky Sports with NOW TV is the most expensive, currently costing £34.99 per month or £11.98 per day. If you want Sky, NOW TV is the best (and only) choice, but if you just want great stuff to watch, look to Netflix and Amazon first. NOW TV streaming quality is also comparatively low compared to Netflix or Amazon
  • Apple TV+ – Is Apple's own streaming subscription service. There's not a lot of content on it right now as Apple has opted to only stream its own content, and of course it has to have time to make it. Nevertheless, shows like The Morning Show, Ted Lasso and For All Mankind are all excellent, and if image and sound quality matter to you, Apple TV+ is the best in the business. Its monthly price is currently £6.99
  • Disney+ – For £7.99 per month or £79.90 per year, you will get access to practically every Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars and Disney movie ever made – there are hundreds – as well as a large number of TV series. Disney+ recently added on popular US channels Star and National Geographic, so you have access to films and documentaries galore too. Streaming quality is good, and there's some notable original content on Disney+ you won't find elsewhere, with The Mandalorian, a movie-quality Star Wars TV series, being just one example of this
  • Starzplay – You'll find Starzplay available to subscribe to via both the Amazon Prime and the Apple TV+ app. Both apps allow you to subscribe further to additional 'channels' – Starzplay is one such channel. Starzplay now offers its own standalone app so you don’t have to subscribe through Amazon Prime or Apple TV+. Doom Patrol, Mr Mercedes, Counterpart, Perpetual Grace Ltd and others form a wall of A1-quality series you can't watch any other way

Frequently asked questions

Can I switch TV packages during a pandemic?

Yes. All major TV providers offer new subscriptions. New customers to Virgin Media may also suffer some delays, while any other TV subscription services (BT TV, TalkTalk, Plusnet) are unaffected by the current coronavirus crisis.

Can I upgrade my TV package during a pandemic?

Yes. If you're looking to upgrade your current TV package subscription to something beefier, you can, regardless of which provider you're with. In some cases, where the upgrade means a different set-top box, you may have to wait for it to be posted out to you, but in all other cases, you can go online and select the upgrade and you will be up and running immediately.

Will there be delays to installation of new TV packages during a pandemic?

Depending on the provider and service you choose, there may be a delay in getting your service set up, especially if it requires a visit from an engineer.

Do I need an engineer in my home to switch TV packages during the coronavirus pandemic?

If you're a new customer to Sky Q or Virgin Media, then yes. BT TV and TalkTalk TV do not require an engineer visit and so are unaffected, unless you are also switching your broadband package. Customers choosing Sky Stream or Sky Glass will not need an engineer since they use your internet connection rather than a satellite dish to supply your TV service.

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