How do you watch TV if you don’t pay for Sky? Here are the ways you can watch the same and new content elsewhere and save money.
My recent post on why it was time to ditch Sky and Virgin TV subscriptions was really popular, and I’ve had lots of questions about the cheaper alternative ways to watch TV. So here’s a little more detail on your options.
You might think that by dropping Sky, Virgin and other pay TV services you’ll miss out on some of the channels you enjoy. Well, you can actually get most of them elsewhere – and for less money
My TV set up and savings
I haven’t had a TV subscription from the likes of Sky or Virgin since early 2014, but I’ve still been able to watch channels such as Sky Atlantic, Fox and Sky One (more on this below).
Right now I’m paying £1.20 a month for a NOW TV Entertainment pass. This offer lasts for three months, and after than I’ve got a couple of free passes to apply. And I’m sure more offers will come along that mean the most I’ll pay over the year will be around £25 to £30.
My Freeview is via a four-year-old YouView box, which I got for free with a previous broadband contract from BT. I’m still paying just £39 a year for Amazon Prime thanks to a renewed Totum card, while I split the £8.99 Netflix cost with my sister.
I’ve also just picked up a 12-month free Apple TV +, though I won’t be paying for this as well as the other services after the trial.
Overall it means I’m paying £10 a month on average. I’ve never been one for the full movies or sports subscriptions, so it’s not fair to compare what I’ve paid against the top price brackets that do include them.
Even so, I’m confident I’ve saved at least £20 a month vs the basic TV Sky package. That’s £240 a year, and £1,440 over the last seven years. At least.
if you’re ditching Sky or Virgin you’re probably most concerned about these channels – from BBC One through to Sky Atlantic.
This is the main way to get your Sky channels for less. You get to pick and choose which elements you sign up for. So a monthly entertainment pass will cost £8.99 a month, while the Kids pass and Hayu reality TV pass are both £3.99 a month. To get full HD you need to pay an extra £3 a month, which is one payment no matter how many different passes you get.
I only the Entertainment pass, but I never pay full price. In fact I’m often able to get passes for a fraction of the price.
Channels on the Entertainment Pass include Sky One, Sky Atlantic, Sky Crime, Sky Comedy and Fox. You can also get UKTV channels such as Gold. Unlike with the full Sky subscription box sets are included here at no extra cost.
I’ve written in more detail about NOW TV here, as well as shared the latest offers.
Freeview & Freesat
Most channels are free to air, which means even if you are watching them via Sky or cable they aren’t part of the monthly fee – and you can continue to watch them without paying a penny.
Freeview needs an external aerial and Freesat requires a satellite connection. As long as you’ve got one of these (and the box/TV to receive the signal) you’ll get free access to hundreds of channels including the most popular ones – BBC, ITV and Channel 4 – and favourites such as Dave and The Food Network. Here’s a full list.
You can still record these free channels with the right box. This YouView box is just £130 at the moment. Spread that cost over four years (though it’ll probably last longer) and it works out at £2.71 a month. I think it’s worth paying this vs sticking with Sky.
If you only have access to TV via the internet then you can still watch all these channels for free via the TV Player service.
iPlayer, All 4, ITV Hub and My5
There’s an amazing back catalogue of free TV to watch on these services. Really, it’s huge.
Often you can watch programmes that are also on the likes of Netflix and Amazon, except on iPlayer and the others it won’t cost you a thing. You can also watch the channels live and download programmes to your phone for offline viewing.
TV Player also has a premium option where you can pay £6.99 a month to get access to 30 more channels including the History Channel and Discovery.
All the Sky Cinema channels are available from NOW TV. Passes cost £11.99 a month, though as with the Entertainment pass there are deals to bring the price down which I’ll share on this page here.
This film service is geared at film buffs with a decent selection of classic, indie and world cinema that changes every month. You also get a free cinema ticket every week as part of the subscription. More on how this works on my cinema deals page.
Once more NOW TV is your option to watch Sky channels, and you can get all the sports ones. The big difference here to the other NOW TV passes is this is live viewing only – there’s no on-demand.
Passes are available for the day (£9.99), week, (£11.99) and month (£33.99), while there’s also a mobile phone only option at £5.99 a month.
Again there are always deals to cut the price you pay, and I’ve got a special page devoted to NOW TV Sports Pass offers.
Until recently you could only watch BT Sport if you had a long contract with BT for internet or paid for TV via Sky, Virgin, BT or Talk Talk. However there’s now a month pass that lets you watch via your computer or app without any longer commitment. It costs £25, and there’s more information here.
There are two ways to watch Eurosport once you’ve ditched Sky and the others. You can buy a pass direct from Eurosport for £6.99 a month for £39.99 a year, or you can sign up via Amazon. Catch up is included.
Other streaming services
These are the pay subscriptions that give you extra content you can’t get with Sky, Virgin or Freeview – and chances are you’ve already signed up for one or two.
I’ve already looked at these other services and NOW TV in terms of value for money on the blog if you want to read more about how they compare.
There’s a lot of very good original and old TV on Netflix, as well as award-winning movies that appear here just weeks after the first cinema showings. It’s my top pick if you’re only going to get one service as there’s always something to watch.
It starts at £5.99, though the most popular option is £8.99 which gives you HD quality and the ability for two people to watch on different devices at the same time. The top level £11.99 tier upgrades to 4K (where it can) and allows four simultaneous uses of the account.
Amazon Prime Video
If you’re a frequent Amazon shopper then there’s a good chance you’ve got this, and paid for a full year at £79 which works out slightly cheaper than the standard £7.99 a month price.
If you don’t want the extra Amazon Prime features like free next day delivery you can get a video-only subscription for £5.99 a month. Don’t forget there’s a 30-day free trial for new customers.
There’s still decent exclusive TV and movies here so you’ll likely find something new.
Apple TV +
There’s only new and original TV shows on Apple’s entry to the streaming service. It costs £4.99 a month.
So far there hasn’t been anything regarded as essential viewing on there despite a number of big names.
Launching in the UK on the 24th March 2020 this service will cost £5.99 a month or £59.99 a year.
It’ll include new TV based around Star Wars and Marvel, as well as have a back catalogue of the MCU, Pixar and Disney movies and TV like the Simpsons.
Also costing £5.99 a month this is currently just a back catalogue of old BBC and ITV content. It’s still new and more content from the archives is added all the time.
Working out which services are for you
Do a channel audit
Before making your choice about the services to pay for you need to do a channel audit.
Think about what you actually watch, and whether you’re actually bothered about those channels. Most people will be fine with Freeview the majority of the time, adding on one or two pay subscriptions to boost viewing options.
The TV Tapas method
Of course, there’s the chance that the more of the premium services you sign up for the less you’ll save vs the price you were paying for Sky.
And consider how much time you actually have for TV viewing. Realistically you won’t be able to fully take advantage of all the services at the same time.
I’d recommend a “tapas style” approach where you pick and mix over the year, rather than gorging all at once on more than you can possibly manage.
For example, you could get Netflix for a couple of months and binge the shows you want to watch there.
Once you’ve exhausted the shows, or fancy a change you can then switch to NOW TV for a month or so.
Then perhaps have a break where you focus on programmes you missed on iPlayer and then back to Netflix. Or any combination!
How to watch without a Sky or Virgin box
Most modern TVs are “smart TVs” and come with apps for many of these online services. But chances are it won’t have them all.
So you’ll need to invest in a relatively cheap streaming stick which plus into an empty HDMI socket on your TV and connects wirelessly to the internet. You’ll usually need a power supply to.
There a few to choose from, and the best one for you will come down to what services you use as they don’t all have every app. If you want to avoid more than one then consider a Roku stick or a Google Chromecast rather than a NOW TV stick or Amazon Fire stick.
Or you can always connect your laptop to your TV if you prefer.