Virgin Media and Sky battle each other through ASA

Virgin Media and Sky have embarked on handbags at dawn using the Advertising Standards Authority as a pawn.

Sky seems to have won this time, after the ASA clamped down hard on its rival and let the broadcaster off.

Virgin Media was found guilty by the ASA for a website ad and claims on a circular for the TiVo service. However, it has let the company off for a TV advert relating to the same product.

In Virgin’s marketing blurb on its leaflets, it promised “Free TiVo Box activation for new and existing customers”.  It also offered “Free TiVo box activation TV, broadband and calls,” inviting customers to “pick 2 or 3 and adding that “prices were from just £9.50 a month”. Text within the footnote stated “Standard installation fee … required”.

On the Digital TV page of its website it stated “Free TiVo The activation’s on us, saving you £49.95 TiVo bundles from £9.50 Plus free installation”.

An asterisk was linked to a footnote which said “Free installation for new customers signing up online”, while further text stated “Free TiVo box activation worth £49.95 Free installation worth £49.95”. However, an asterisk linked to a footnote claiming “installation fee of £49.95 applies … “.

A TV ad promised the same, but again a footnote at the bottom of the screen told customers an installation fee applied.

The ASA waded into the claims after Sky as well as nine members of the public challenged whether the references to “Free TiVo Box activation” in the marketing leaflet were misleading and could be substantiated.

A further seven took the media house to task claiming the ads on the website were misleading as the company had failed to make clear an installation fee of £49.95 applied, while three complainants also challenged whether the ads were misleading, because they failed to make clear that a £3 monthly charge applied.

Standing up to the claims, Virgin said the blurb in the marketing leaflet related to the installation fee related to the process by which their services were connected to their customers’ homes and that the fee applied to all packages. It said the TiVo activation fee specifically related to the TiVo box and that there was a significant amount of work involved in the set up process.

It added that both the TV ad and circular made clear that a standard installation fee applied, while the online ads made clear that installation was free when purchased online.

The ASA considered Virgin’s argument but ultimately upheld claims that the marketing was misleading. However, it was more lenient with the TV advert, passing it as acceptable.

Virgin for its part reported Sky to the ASA, saying three adverts offering “Totally unlimited broadband” were misleading.

Virgin said it was understood that an “unlimited” broadband service was not subject to significant provider imposed limitations.

However, it went on to say “totally unlimited” went beyond this and implied there were no restrictions on the amount of data that a customer could download.

It argued that Sky’s service could not be described as “totally” unlimited. This was because the amount of data that a consumer could download was limited by the actual speed of the service, which was affected by a number of factors inherent in a copper DSL delivered service, such as distance from the exchange (known as ‘signal attenuation’).

It said the distance between a customer and the exchange affected their broadband speed and therefore the amount of data they could download in a given period. These restrictions were not applicable to all providers because some services, like those offered by Virgin, were not delivered over a copper wire.

The ASA, however, after feedback from Sky, decided that the average Joe would understand that “totally unlimited broadband” meant there were no provider-imposed limitations or restrictions on usage and let Sky off.