Column: Alan Hayman regrets the decline of his once-loved Virgin Media group, now merging with O2 to form a new tech giant

“VIRGIN Media is merging with O2. You do not need to do anything”, said the email.

That sounded reassuring, unlike those fake messages from the tax man, demanding the urgent payment of my life savings.

Not doing anything is well within my grasp.

Actually, I had a hunch the folk at Virgin would be getting in touch with their big news at some stage, so was not completely surprised.

I was a big fan of Virgin Media when they started up back in the day, so it was sad to see they now need to merge with a rival firm.

With great bargains for those who haggled, ultra-fast broadband speeds and free callouts if faults developed, what wasn’t to like about them?

Like Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Airlines, Virgin Media had a cheeky way of tweaking the tails of their bigger rivals (yes, I mean you, BT).

And they were on the spot when required.

For some years, they had a shop in Colchester's Culver Street where a bright young saleswoman offered the latest phone handsets and practical help with firing them up if bemused customers needed it.

That shop, and indeed Sir Richard himself, are long gone.

The Bearded One sold the firm to a hard-nosed American outfit called Liberty Media.


Gazette columnist Alan Hayman

Their bean counters started closing and outsourcing Virgin call centres.

That was when the rot set in as far as good service went.

The media watchdog Ofcom found that in 2020, Virgin Media and Mobile customers faced longer waits to get through to a call centre than customers of any other firm.

That wasn't good, especially when people were stuck indoors and needing home entertainment to stay in a good mental state during the Covid lockdowns.

This dismal performance was overseen by the Liberty Media boss, Mike Fries.

According to the Sunday Times, he was rewarded with a cool 52 million dollars last year.

That’s roughly a million dollars a week.

Nice work if you can get it. Maybe I’m in the wrong job?

Anyway, unless the service improves, it’s unlikely we will stay with the new telecoms giant, to be known as Virgin Media 02 after the merger.

Our current contract runs until well into 2022, so there's no need for quick decisions.

By then, the new high-speed 5G phone network will be rolling out across East Anglia in a serious way.

And hopefully, the rival firms that want new business will have tempting 5G offers to dangle in front of customers thinking of switching.

Price comparison sites make changing to a new provider beguilingly easy, apart from the risk of meeting talking meerkats and tubby Welsh opera singers posing as moustachioed Italians.

Anyway, look out UK media giants.

A fickle and demanding broadband tart in the form of an ex-Virgin customer may be coming your way with cash to spend sometime next year.