Home media packages leave consumers confused

Take TV, phone and broadband from one firm, and you can save money. But confusion reigns, say Julian Knight and Chiara Cavaglieri

Consumers could save £30 a month on average by "bundling" their digital TV, phone and broadband services with one provider, says comparison site SimplifyDigital.co.uk. But around one in four are still choosing to go to three separate providers.

"People acquire these services organically over time," explains Charlie Ponsonby, chief executive of SimplifyDigital. "They get a BT home line, Sky TV and then they see an advert for a broadband provider."

Many consumers, it seems, are also confused by the technology and the choice. "The market is full of confusing jargon such as HD or personal video recorders [PVRs]," he adds. "On top of this, we reckon there are some 15,000 different deals out there, so it's easy to see why many consumers find it hard to know what's what."

A scan of the comparison websites reveals that there are several dozen providers across TV, broadband and home phones, compared to just six big players in the home energy market, for example. The differences can be tiny, with suppliers offering identical deals except, say, for free weekend calls to the US. Other deals involve a free gift, such as a laptop or PVR.

Mr Ponsonby adds that broadband consumers are often concerned that switching will lead to a loss of service. In some instances, providers have been slow to give departing customers a MAC code, without which they can't switch.

Consumer groups warn that the devil may lurk in the detail when you're seeking a new supplier. "Make sure you're out of any current contracts and beware of initial promotional pricing. Also, the more attractive deals often have the longer contracts, and always remember to look out for extra charges tucked away in the small print," says Natalie Hitchins at Which?. She adds that advertised download speeds for broadband can be misleading and consumers may end up paying extra for high speeds that they can't access.

One of the most important considerations in choosing a package is your address, as both pricing and coverage can vary widely according to location. Contracts also need to be examined very carefully as there may be substantial charges for leaving one provider before a deal runs out.

This is where comparison sites are meant to help. Some just offer a list of prices and services, while others are more exhaustive. Among these are SimplifyDigital and Broadband Choices.co.uk, whose product director, Michael Phillips, says consumers need to consider three factors when looking to bundle their broadband, digital TV and home-phone packages.

"Firstly check your usage, because that has the biggest impact on what you end up paying. Then see what's available in your area and shop around for a package that matches your usage. And, thirdly, find out if it's possible to stick with your current provider. Give them a ring – then haggle."