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Switching TV package during coronavirus (COVID-19)

By Dan Howdle | Wednesday, April 1st 2020

Due to the current situation with the coronavirus pandemic here at the end of March 2020, more of us are spending time indoors than any time in living memory. And to stop ourselves going out of our minds, many of us are turning 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.

Due to the current situation, however, you may find yourself hitting some dead ends or experiencing severe delays when signing up to a new TV deal. And even upgrading your existing package may take a little longer than usual due to the shrinkage of customer service call centres and their focus on helping vulnerable customers first.

The situation differs from one provider to another, so in this guide we'll look at the current state of affairs, first depending on what it is you're trying to do, then by provider. After that we will look at alternatives to switching or upgrading if your mission is simply 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 flavours. Satellite TV is provided by Sky and delivers its service via a satellite dish, cable TV is provided by Virgin Media and is, yes you guessed it, delivered via dedicated cables. 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 – Sky has cancelled all new installations until 1 June 2020. You can book now, but expect a large backlog when Sky gets things running again. Virgin Media continues to offer new installations, but you should expect delays. All other providers are offering new packages as normal, as BT TV, TalkTalk TV and Plusnet TV 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/a<. 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, considering the current situation
  • 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 till June. 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 regardless of the current situation with coronavirus. In some cases this may mean an upgrade to your set-top box (switching from BT TV Entertainment to BT TV VIP, for example) and you'll have to wait for your provider to send it out to you, which could be delayed due to the current situation.

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 the coronavirus outbreak
  • 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, which may be delayed given the current situation with COVID-19
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Individual TV package providers' coronavirus policy

Individual TV providers have published their policies as regards the coronavirus epidemic. The outlook is quite similar to broadband right now, since all of these providers also supply it. 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 coronavirus currently affects new broadband installations then we have that guide too.

  • BT TV – Is unaffected by the coronavirus outbreak, 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 one, 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
  • 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 with Sky not currently installing new equipment until June at least, NOW TV is the best alternative. It is unaffected by the coronavirus outbreak, but can get expensive if you add movies and sport
  • Plusnet – Like BT TV, is for Plusnet customers only, and like BT doesn't need an engineer to visit to get set up. If you're switching to Plusnet from another broadband provider, then there are some other things you should be aware of – see our other guide – but so long as you're a Plusnet customer, TV packages are unaffected
  • Sky – Has declared that it will not be installing TV equipment for new customers until June 1 2020 at the earliest. You can book in advance now, but expect there to be a backlog, and with such huge delays it's not going to fill the entertainment void while you're stuck at home. Existing Sky customers can upgrade as they please
  • TalkTalk – Exactly the same situation as Plusnet. You're free to upgrade or take out a TV subscription if you're a TalkTalk customer, but may need to read up on other possible complications if you're switching to TalkTalk from another provider
  • Virgin TV – Is the odd one out. Virgin Media is currently stating that it is still providing engineer visits and so you still can take out a new Virgin Media TV package. However, you should take that with a pinch of salt, since it appears Virgin Media is focusing its efforts primarily on fixing problems for existing customer, especially those that at vulnerable. Virgin TV has one set-top box for all packages (the V6), so if you're a customer and you have one you are free to upgrade as you please

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 service you can sign up to right now to get you through the weeks, or maybe even months, spent at home during this epidemic.

  • 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 basic Netflix subscription, which will cost you £5.99 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 programming ranging from dire to Oscar-winning, but there is so much of it that Netflix is a no-brainer
  • Amazon Prime – Is £7.99 per month, and subscribing also gets you access to next-day delivery from Amazon. 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 £8.99 per month, making it one of the most expensive services on this list. You can also purchase a Sky Cinema Membership for £11.99 per month, and a Sky Sports Membership for honestly quite silly money (not that there's any sport to watch right now anyway). If you need 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 See, The Morning Show 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 of £4.99 reflects the slim pickings
  • Disney+ – Has just hit the UK at the end of March, having been available in the USA since the end of last year. For £5.99 per month you will get access to practically every Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars and Disney movie ever made – there are hundreds – as well a large number of TV series. 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, heading up that line-up
  • 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. It doesn't have its own app, which means getting set up involves one additional stage; subscribing to Apple TV+ or Amazon first, then subscribing to Starzplay through that service. But it's worth it. 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 the COVID-19 pandemic?

Yes. Only Sky no longer offers new subscriptions for the time being. 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 the COVID-19 pandemic?

Yes. If you're looking to upgrade your current TV package subscription to something beefier you can, no matter 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 the coronavirus pandemic?

In the case of Sky, yes. It has said it is not taking any new TV customers until June 1 2020. You can still book a slot for the installation after that time, but you should expect further delays due to the backlog. Virgin TV is still taking new orders, as are all other providers.

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

If you're a new customer to Sky or Virgin Media, then yes. This is why Sky has said it is not taking any new TV customers until June. Virgin claims it is still taking new customers, but that it is focusing its efforts on existing and vulnerable customers. BT TV, Plusnet TV and TalkTalk TV do not require an engineer visit and so are unaffected, unless you are also switching your broadband package.

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