TalkTalk is closing its film & TV store permanently, customers losing access to paid-for digital purchases

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As TalkTalk closes its film and TV store, customers are losing the content they paid for – in some cases, purchases worth hundreds of pounds or more. 

UPDATE: A further TalkTalk comment has been added below. Further clarification is being sought, but we’ve not heard back since Sunday. The last official comment, when we’ve asked about refunds, was “The TalkTalk TV Hub is the smarter, simpler and more flexible way to stay entertained for only £5 a month”. Which doesn’t really help. We’ll keep asking.

For many years, the fear for some of buying films and TV shows from a digital service is that, well, it relies on said digital service still being in operation. We saw a few years ago with the closure of Flixster that when a digital store decides to cease operations, people lose access to films and shows that they’ve bought as a result. The fact that you’ve legally bought a movie doesn’t seem to hold the currency it should.

In days of old, the analogy goes that this would be like a high street video store closing down, and the operators of said store coming around to your house and taking away all the movies you’ve bought off them.

The issue is coming to prominence again with the news that TalkTalk has decided to completely shut its TalkTalk TV Store, from which it was selling films and TV shows. It had closed it for new purchases in 2021, but customers had – rightly – been allowed continual access to their library of films and shows.

That’s about to change. As per a note on its website…

“Over the past few years TV has changed, in how we all access and watch content. At TalkTalk we have been evolving our TV service to keep it up to date and offer access to great content, to give our customers the best possible TV service.

With TV content now available through a huge variety of players, apps, and streaming services, more traditional services, such as TV content stores or lockers, have become outdated. Many studios and channels have removed their content from them to concentrate on their own platforms.”

And then the bit that’s highlighted in a grey box….

“As a result of these changes, the TalkTalk TV store will close on 31st October 2023, and you will not be able to access any of your content after this time.”

This is under a page ironically entitled ‘Owned Content’. As we’re about to discover, it’s not very owned at all.

TalkTalk website

TalkTalk’s website making the announcement, and describing ‘content’ as ‘owned’

You can find the page here, where the company promises to communicate directly with customers affected by the change. And in fairness to TalkTalk, that looks like what it’s been doing.

The problem? Well, we’ve seen emails sent to affected customers, and those emails advise people to get in touch with customer service if they have any questions.

They need to do this too, because the initial email being sent out – and thank you to those who got in touch to show us this – doesn’t mention any recompense for purchased films or TV shows at all, nor does it give any indication as to if they’re being transferred to another service.

Instead, what seems to be happening is that customers are being offered – again, not by default, only if they email customer service – a compensatory credit to their account. Yet it’s one they have to ask for.

TalkTalk's website

TalkTalk’s website, explaining how easy it is to watch films on its service (until October 31st)

One customer, posting on the TalkTalk community support forums, has reported purchasing 75 movies via the service, at a cost of hundreds and hundreds of pounds. In return, they’ve been offered £25 in credit towards their broadband bill. As they entirely reasonably wrote, “I paid to own the right to see these movies as and when I wanted – I wasn’t just renting them…”

It’s worth reiterating that TalkTalk describes these movies as ‘owned content’.

A member of the support team, posting in reply, wrote that “I’m sorry if you disagree with the decision of our CEO Teams. This is a business decision and I’m unable to override this.  As they mention, if you disagree, you can pursue a complaint externally via organisations such as CISAS.”

CISAS is an Ofcom-certified adjudication service, and while it’s unclear if this is official policy, the impression given appears to be if you don’t like your compensation figure, then you need to complain to an external regulator to go any further.

Another affected customer got in direct touch with us, saying they’d been contacted by someone from TalkTalk’s support team via phone.

The explanation they were given on that call was that the amount of compensation being offered to customers was being calculated according to whether they’d watched something in their digital library in the last 12 months. Furthermore, the number of purchases made before the store was closed in 2021 is also being taken into account.

But, by the sounds of it, if you’d bought 100 movies at full price, and not watched them since the start of 2022, your compensation offer is being reduced.

UPDATE: TalkTalk has confirmed to us that this is not correct. It has added that “we have created a route for resolution for all customers irrespective of whether they have watched their content, and communicated with them directly.”  We have asked TalkTalk to confirm if customers will receive a full refund for digital purchase that they no longer will have access to, and will update with any response.

The customer concerned was also told over the phone that ‘some customers have spent thousands on their collections and are only getting a fraction back’.

TalkTalk website response

A copy of a TalkTalk email response, taken from its community forums.

TalkTalk, which annually brings in over £1bn in revenue, has nonetheless been struggling with losses for the last year or two, and was acquired by Toscafund Asset Management in March of 2021.

TalkTalk’s spokesperson confirmed to us that the store itself had not been selling films and TV shows since 2021, and that it would indeed close completely after October 31st of this year. They clarified that customers who have been using their digital purchases over the last 12 months were the ones contacted, and that fewer than 100 people are affected.

They also explained the changing nature of TalkTalk’s packages, and what it’s offering customers going forward. There’s more information on its website, here.

However, there are no known plans to transfer purchases to another online store. Furthermore, we could not get a commitment that if someone had paid, say, £10 for a movie, they would be getting a full refund for their purchase.

Customers affected are advised to contact TalkTalk customer service to pursue some form of recompense. It does feel odd that if fewer than 100 people are affected, this can’t be sorted out in full. Hopefully, an agreeable resolution will be found.

This is, however, a broader industry problem: the entire model of digital film and TV purchases – ‘owned content’ – requires confidence on the part of the customer to work.

Bluntly, we have to know that if we purchase a movie for, say, £10, that the film will still be available to watch in ten years’ time, if that’s what we want to do. Otherwise, what’s the point of actually ‘buying’ it?

Of course, corporate terms and conditions make it clear that we never actually own a film or TV show, no matter how it’s marketed to us. Thus, by the letter of the law, digital services may well win when it comes to a ruling somewhere along the line. But if digital services withdraw access to what we’ve paid for then we – as customers – lose confidence in the entire system.

At a time when studios are reporting billions of dollars in annual revenue from digital on demand services – and it took a long time to get customers into the habit of buying digital movies and such like – it’s surely incumbent on the broader industry to maintain the basic confidence that if we buy something, we retain access to it.

The industry, we’d suggest, needs to firmly address that, without people having to go to an Ofcom-certified adjudication service so they can watch what they’ve paid for.

We’ll keep an eye on the TalkTalk story as it continues to develop.

Lead image: BigStock


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