ASA rules against Virgin Media advert on best streaming service
ASA rulings are by their nature slow to resolve issues and often adverts have adopted recommended changes well before the ruling gets published and the latest ruling that goes against Virgin Media revolves around advertising for its old up to 152 Mbps cable broadband service and adverts they ran promoting it as the 'UK's best widely available broadband for streaming'
"Virgin Media said download speeds had the greatest effect on the quality of streaming services, and latency and packet loss were also relevant albeit to a lesser extent; other metrics that affected broadband were secondary factors. They said without sufficient download speed, consumers would suffer more buffering when streaming, more delays loading web pages and downloading files would take longer. They believed their service was better than, or the same as, all other providers in terms of latency, and while some other providers were better in terms of packet loss, that factor had a comparatively small effect on the quality of a streaming service.
"Virgin Media said their faster speeds were the most critical aspect of a streaming service because high definition (HD) content required up to 12 Mb/s per stream and 4 Kb/s for an on-demand service. They said at those speeds, their 152 Mb product was the only one that would be able to support two concurrent streams with bandwidth remaining for additional web surfing. They said if there was an interruption to the stream, for example due to congestion before data reached a consumer’s device, the additional speed would ensure that the buffer could be replenished before it ran out. That enabled a steady stream of video without interruption, avoiding content drop-out.Extract from ASA ruling
The complaints were actually made by Sky and BT which is not uncommon as providers tend to watch and others adverts and dissect them with a fine toothcomb.
The ASA upheld the complaints around the three issues of “the UK’s best widely available broadband for streaming”, “Virgin Media’s up to 152Mb service is the best for streaming, when compared to BT, Plusnet and Sky” and “Faster wireless hub than Sky and BT”.
What we found most illuminating was the comments around HD content requiring up to 12 Mbps per stream (the 4Kb/s for on-demand we presume is a typo and should be 4 Mbps). The difference in speeds is odd, and probably relates to the movies you can buy from some online stores that are higher quality which don't strictly stream but rather download and after a short period you can start viewing. For live streaming and what most of the public accept as streaming should be around 4 Mbps to 5 Mbps for HD content, some Netflix content does go higher and their UHD content will obviously be a lot higher but that is not under the spotlight. Even if we work to the assumption that a stream needs 12 Mbps, we fail to understand why two streams and some web browsing should need a 152 Mbps connection? Any connection with a speed test of 30 Mbps or faster should suffice, so is Virgin Media actually telling the public that its entry level 50 Mbps service is not up to the task of handling two streams and a bit of web browsing? In some of our own testing of a mixture of and Wi-Fi and Ethernet devices we have managed to stream five HD streams on a connection that only manages 19 Mbps download speeds.
The issue of latency and packet loss on the DOCSIS based services is interesting as our broadband quality monitoring shows highly variable performance for Virgin Media connections and generally a higher level of jitter compared to xDSL based services and we have seen similar in the various Ofcom reports over the years too.
The faster wireless hub than Sky or BT, given the existing Sky Hub is just 802.11n and the Virgin Media hub is 802.11ac then it can only have been upheld over the BT Home Hub which also offers 802.11ac and even though the Virgin Media tested and presented data the ASA considered 'the testing adequate to support the claim, especially in relation to their comparison with Sky’s and BT’s services due to the limited device and operating systems used and because it did not reflect typical consumer situations'.
Broadband advertising is a difficult area as get too techie and most people stop paying attention, and given the current Virgin Media Wi-Fi sharing during a party TV adverts we look forward to someone counting the number of people in the advert and testing with multiple devices how the latest Virgin Media hub and VIVID 200 copes, especially if there are some Periscope users present. A 200 Mbps download speed will likely cope with the number of people, the issue will be around the router CPU/memory load and Wi-Fi congestion issues, e.g. those who've left their Mi-Fi switched on and other networks in the area.