Who Watches the Watchdogs?

September 20, 2009Written by Sebastian Moss


Watchdog, the BBC television series that investigates viewers’ reports of problematic experiences with traders, retailers, and other companies around the UK, recently aired an episode that claimed to confront the issue of the PlayStation 3’s “yellow light of death”. Before the program was shown Sony issued an extremely comprehensive and, understandably defensive statement regarding the show.

The six-page document, found on GamesIndustry.biz, disputes the accuracy of the report:

I have serious concerns as to the accuracy of these allegations and the likely tone of the Watchdog report…

– Ray Maguire, Senior Vice President and Managing Director on Sony Computer Entertainment UK.

He continued:

The information that you have provided suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the technical issues and a mis-characterisation of SCEUK’s Out of Warranty repairs policy.

This Thursday’s Watchdog, which also investigated a man who conned cancer sufferers and a woman who took thousands of pounds from children, decided to use the PlayStation as its center piece for the show, focusing on a possibly “inherent” problem in the console and Sony’s lack of support for hardware failure sufferers.

After briefly mentioning Sony’s one year guarantee, the BBC proceeded to show how Sony was over charging for its out of warrantee repair system (£128), claiming that the company acted out of ‘greed’ – even though they admitted that the service was operated at a loss by Sony. An alternative offered by Watchdog was to use an unauthorized third-party repairer who would fix the console for a cheaper price. In one segment of the program, Iain Lee, comedian and Microsoft gaming columnist, paraded outside Sony’s London Head Quarters waving a sign saying:

“PlayStation Repair Action Team – SONY charge a fee – let Watchdog repair it for free”

Watchdog then proceeded to fix eleven PlayStation 3’s in the back of a van, saying how their process was far cheaper, and that all they had to do was to reheat the console so that the soldering melted back on (while Sony uses equipment that costs “tens of thousands of pounds”). Four of the PlayStations broke before the show even aired.

Ann Robinson, Watchdog’s expressionless presenter, made several quips about Sony’s Corporate avarice, while simultaneously saying that the PS3 now costs £400 (a price point which it has not been at for over a year). She also warned how the failure rate of PS3s could be far higher than the 12,500 affected in the UK (which is half of one percent), an unfounded and damaging statement.

Millions of viewers tune in to Watchdog every week, basing many of their consumer purchases on the information given in the program. Sony expressed “serious concerns” over the content of the show, warning:

“If the report is broadcast in what appears to be its current form, SCEUK will scrutinize its accuracy and will take all necessary steps to protect its reputation and that of the PS3.”

Meanwhile, the BBC did not seem to take the matter as seriously, ending the show with a humorous song about the “highly expensive” PS3’s “yellow light of death.”

UK residents can watch the show through BBC iPlayer, or, ironically, through their PS3.

PSLS has contacted the BBC and Watchdog for an official response.