While Sky and Virgin Media are both fairly popular broadband providers, they're particularly dominant when it comes to TV and broadband bundles – together they're responsible for more than half of bundle customers.
It's perhaps not surprising – the two companies are well known, and both offer a wide range of content across hundreds of channels. But which should you choose when taking out a new deal? Read on to find out how they compare.
Sky is best known as a pay-TV provider, although it also offers broadband, home phone and now mobile phone services. Like BT, Plusnet and TalkTalk, Sky's broadband service is supplied using the Openreach network, while its TV channels come via a satellite dish attached to your property.
In contrast, Virgin Media specialises in broadband, although it also offers pay TV, home and mobile phone options. Unlike Sky, Virgin's services are supplied through its own fibre-optic network, which offers faster broadband speeds but isn't as widely available.
Both providers offer long contracts; typically 18 months. Virgin Media also offers a rolling, 30-day option for its broadband and phone deals.
To help you compare the two providers and establish which would be best for you, we've pulled the key details into the table below.
|Sky TV||Virgin Media|
|Quality & range of TV programmes|
|Value for money|
|Number of TV channels||300+||110-230|
|PVR(s) supplied||Sky Q (1TB or 2TB)||Virgin TV 360 (1TB)|
Virgin Media's strength is its broadband service. Because it runs on fibre cables, it offers the fastest speeds available from mainstream providers – its TV and broadband deals have average speeds of 54Mbps, 108Mbps, 213Mbps, 362Mbps, 630Mbps or an eye-watering 1000Mbps (1Gbps). Virgin Media's packages also include unlimited downloads, and it no longer applies traffic management to downloads or uploads. You can sign up for a Virgin Media broadband deal without paying for a home phone service, although promotional deals mean that this doesn't always work out cheaper in the first year.
Sky offers the typical speeds seen from providers using the Openreach network. Its standard (ADSL) broadband has an average speed of 11Mbps, while its widely available fibre offering has an average speed of 59Mbps. Customers in some areas can access Sky's ultrafast broadband deals, which have average speeds of 145Mbps and 500Mbps. Like Virgin Media, Sky doesn't apply any traffic management, and its packages include unlimited data.
Sky's basic broadband, TV and phone deals don't have any inclusive calls – you'll either need to pay as you go or add a calling plan. The cheapest calling plan provides free evening and weekends call to UK mobiles and landlines and costs £5 a month.
Virgin Media's TV and broadband packages include free weekend calls to UK landlines and Virgin Mobile numbers.
While Virgin Media is well known for its broadband, Sky is the king of pay TV – even its basic package offers more than 300 channels including Sky Atlantic, home to popular shows such as Gangs of London and Westworld. You can pay more to get additional channels, including movie and sports options, or to get extra TV boxes that allow you to watch in more than one room.
All Sky packages come with its new Sky Q 1TB box as standard. This allows you to pause and rewind live TV, record multiple channels while watching another, and access on-demand content. You can also pay extra for a 2TB version of the Sky Q, allowing you to record double the amount of television – up to 1,000 hours of standard definition. Read our to see whether it impressed in our tough lab test.
Virgin Media doesn't have any of its own TV channels, but does offer most of the key channels that you get from Sky. You can even watch Sky Sports or Sky Cinema, although Sky doesn't allow access to Sky Atlantic. Bear in mind that Virgin's TV packages include a smaller selection of channels – for example, Virgin's basic package, called Big bundle, only includes 110 channels. Virgin Media now supplies all customers with its TV 360 Box, which offers much of the same functionality as the new Sky Q box, and has 1TB storage capacity.
Both services have accompanying apps that let you check TV listings and set recording schedules while on the go, and even stream live TV on to your mobile device. You can also download shows so you can watch them offline, and resume watching a show that you'd paused on both the Sky Q and Virgin TV 360 boxes.
As shown above, both Sky and Virgin Media have their own strengths and weaknesses. Your choice is likely to centre on whether the broadband or television aspect of your bundle is more important to you. If you want the fastest broadband then Virgin Media is probably the better option; if you're after the widest choice of TV shows then Sky will likely be the better bet.
But there's more to choosing the best provider than simply looking at what it offers – it's also useful to know more about the customer service on offer, or the value for money. It's also important to remember that Sky and Virgin Media are not your only options. Providers such as BT and TalkTalk also offer TV and broadband services, and some of them have particularly satisfied customers.