Exclusive British Sky Broadcasting has denied accusations that the company tried to profit from a known software fault in its digital video recorders, after customers were charged £65 for engineers to visit their homes.
A recurring fault in the Sky+ system software causes recordings to fail for no apparent reason. The bug eats up space on the digibox's hard disk and, even after the failed recording has been deleted, the disk space is lost.
Although the problem has dragged on for two years, coming and going through various software updates, recent complaints from Sky+ customers have revealed an interesting development:
Customers whose digiboxes are still under warranty are told by Sky that the fault is known about and will be fixed with an automatic software update, downloaded by satellite. But customers whose digiboxes are out of warranty are told that it is a hardware fault and will require an engineer visit. This incurs a £65 call-out charge.
The discrepancy was confirmed this week by The Register. Calling twice as a customer whose digibox is still under warranty, we were told on both occasions that the problem is caused by a known software fault.
But calling twice as a customer whose digibox is out of warranty, both times we were told that it is a hardware fault and we would have to pay £65 for an engineer to fix it.
Refunds and retraining
Sky has so far been unable to explain the discrepancy in advice being given to customers, but a spokeswoman stressed that the company was "absolutely not" trying to profit by charging for unnecessary call-outs.
"We have had complaints from a small percentage of customers and we have confirmed that it is a software fault," the spokeswoman explained.
"We will review engineer call-outs on a case-by-case basis and although we can't make any promises with regard to refunds, some customers would receive a refund if the engineer was unable to fix the problem."
The spokeswoman acknowledged that "retraining" of some call centre staff may be necessary to ensure that customers are offered appropriate advice in future, regardless of whether or not their digiboxes are still under warranty.
Never miss a thing
This recording fault has been a long-term thorn in the side of Sky and thousands of customers who subscribe to the £10 per month Sky+ service.
Why the fault cannot be fixed permanently is a mystery, and some Sky+ users have come to dread the automatic software updates, knowing that the problem may re-appear at any time.
When the bug first struck, customers were infuriated by Sky insisting that there was nothing wrong. An extemporary campaign organised on an internet discussion forum resulted in a flood of complaints to Sky, but the company continued to deny the fault and denied receiving any complaints.
Concerns were heightened when it was discovered that a hidden menu option had been added to the engineer's menu on the Sky+ interface. "Planner Rebuild" seemed to serve no purpose other than to correct for the lost disk space caused by the recording bug. Rather than crushing the bug once and for all, it appeared that Sky had decided to simply work around it.
Much to the dismay and some ironic amusement of Sky+ users, the "Planner Rebuild" feature was a failure and has not solved the problem it was meant to fix.
Sky+ adverts infamously boasted that subscribers would "never miss a thing", a claim which has lead to Sky paying compensation to customers affected by the recording bug. The "never miss a thing" line does not appear in the latest round of advertising.
Pace giveth and Freeview taketh away
Elsewhere in the troubled world of digital video recorders, owners of the Pace Twin Freeview recorder are still waiting for the service to work as expected, two years after its launch.
Essentially a Freeview version of Sky+, the Pace Twin relies on TV listings being broadcast as part of the Freeview signal.
But in the run-up to the product's launch for the Christmas 2002 market, Pace somehow neglected to warn customers that the requisite listings info was not being broadcast and, despite optimistic press releases, there was no certainty that it ever would be.
In late 2004 the listings broadcast finally began, but was soon dropped from some channels. Pace Twin users are now unable to record any programmes from those channels as the units report that there is a fault.
Users report a slew of other faults with the Pace Twin units, such as ITV and Channel 4 being omitted from the channel line-up, the instant record feature not working due to missing programme details, lock-ups caused by a known memory overflow issue, and a variety of other crashes and glitches that by some accounts have transformed the service into a cut-down version of Freeview costing ten times the price. ®
TiVo loses its MoJo
Hollywood sues DVD-chip makers
FCC awards small win to TiVo sharers, MPAA slips safety catch
BBC hijacks TiVo recorders
Sky falls down on digital TV recorder
You cannot record this program