I just switched onto ESPN and Virgin informed me that their channel is free for now, but at the end of the month I will need to subscribe to their XL package to continue viewing it. That's all well and good, but I'm already an XL subscriber and my TV doesn't know this (look no further if you want to understand why Virgin is the basket case that it is...).
One of the most important but never heard of elements of providing a TV service to the more-than-fifty-per-cent of UK viewers who are foolish enough to pay for their TV is CA or conditional access.
Basically it's like the logging in bit on a website, only for telly. Your set top box does it every time you switch it on - but some, such as Virgin, still aren't clever enough to know what basic package I'm on.
There are companies like Irdeto and NDS who make hundreds of millions from CA, or the ability to secure a video signal; and they generally do a rotten job of it. Most of Holland, Belgium and Spain have Sky in controvention to more laws than I can imagine.
So why not replace this with the same login as you get on the web ? Well, there's no reason, actually, it's just that the technologies haven't converged.
To log into any of the major TV companies in the UK's web services you don't need a CA card or anything more sophisticated than a username and password.
The set top box is dying and the CA industry will die with it. Hopefully, then my service; provider will know who I am and what package I have with them. Indeed, I hope they will even tell me what shows I've seen and what I might like instead of the hugely clunky interfaces they present me with now.