The four main pay-television service providers in the United Kingdom added over half a million customers in the first quarter of 2015. Two-thirds of the additions were as a result of Virgin Media now including customers in the Republic of Ireland. There was still organic growth over 261,000 subscribers. The informitv Multiscreen Index now reports there are 18.50 million pay television customers across the four main providers in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Around two out of three homes there now receive pay television.

Sky added 127,000 customers in the United Kingdom and Ireland, for a total of 11.88 million. Sky no longer breaks out how many of these are pay-television customers or how many of these are NOW TV subscribers. Sky previously said it had 10.93 million television customers at the end of 2014.

Virgin Media gained 310,200 video customers, through the addition of UPC subscribers in Ireland, reaching a total of 4.07 million. Virgin Media actually lost 11,300 video customers in the United Kingdom in the first quarter of 2015, while UPC in Ireland lost 11,700 in the same period.

TalkTalk added 82,000 video customers for a total of 1.41 million, while BT TV gained 52,000 video customers to reach 1.14 million. Between them, the two telcos now have 2.55 million video customers.

United Kingdom
Service Change
571,200 18.50
Sky (UK and Ireland) 127,000 11.88
Virgin Media 310,200 4.07
TalkTalk 82,000 1.41
BT TV 52,000 1.14
Source: informitv Multiscreen Index. Digital television subscriber numbers at the end of March 2015 for the 4 leading pay-television services in the United Kingdom. Virgin Media change reflects the inclusion of figures for UPC in Ireland.

It means that around 18 million homes in the United Kingdom and Ireland now have pay television, out of a total of around 27.65 million television homes. So about two-thirds of homes with a television are paying directly for the service. Pay television penetration is relatively higher in Ireland at over 70%.

It might be argued that TalkTalk and BT offer a light version of pay television, bundled with other telecommunications services. They offer a range of subscription video services to complement the traditionally strong free-to-air television channel line-up. While not quite à la carte, their more modestly priced menu may prove tempting to those that do not necessarily want a full pay-television service.

While it has been growing faster than BT TV, TalkTalk added fewer television customers in the first three months of 2015 than any quarter since it launched the service. However, it added 47,000 more broadband customers, which is almost as many as in the preceding twelve months, for a total of 4.28 million.

BT gained fewer television customers but still added more than in any quarter for over a year. Meanwhile BT added 121,000 retail broadband customers, taking its total to 7.71 million.

It remains unclear whether the bundling of television services actually drives the acquisition of broadband customers, although it may arguably help retain existing customers.

BT shareholders have approved the pending £12.5 billion takeover of EE, which will give it access to its 4G network and customers. EE also has a TV service, available only to its fixed broadband customers, of which there are 884,000, although numbers for EE TV have not been disclosed.

Meanwhile Freesat, which offers satellite television without a subscription, insists on reporting its numbers as if it were a pay-television service with customers. The joint venture between the BBC and ITV reported that 12,000 new Freesat homes were added in the first quarter of 2015. Freesat is used in 1.9 million homes in the United Kingdom, although not necessarily on the main television. Freesat was in 1.84 million homes a year previously. While Freesat reports that it gained twice as many connected Freetime ‘customers’ over the quarter compared to a year previously, it does not provide a breakdown in numbers.

By our analysis, Sky, Virgin Media, BT and Talk Talk between them now account for 65% of television homes in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Much of the viewing in those homes remains on channels available free to air. Nevertheless, the availability of less expensive packages is extending the pay-television proposition. Growth is coming from the new entrants with their bundled boxes. That is without throwing online subscription video services like Netflix into the mix.

The informitv Multiscreen Index tracks trends in television services and provides an accessible compilation of top 10 tables and charts showing annual and quarterly changes in subscriber numbers. The latest report is available from the informitv web site.