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 post on why it was time to ditch Sky and Virgin TV subscriptions is always 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
Entertainment & film channels
First up, let’s cover the channels you might be watching right now via Sky or Virgin as you’re probably most concerned about these channels – from BBC One through to Sky Atlantic.
This is the main way to get your core Sky channels for less. You get to pick and choose which elements you sign up for. So a monthly entertainment pass will cost £9.99 a month, while the Hayu reality TV pass is £3.99 a month. To get full HD and to watch on more than one device at the same time you need to pay an extra £5 a month. This is one payment no matter how many different passes you get.
I really 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 Max, Sky Atlantic, Sky Crime and Sky Comedy. You can also get UKTV channels such as Gold and all the box sets for those channels.
I’ve written in more detail about NOW TV here, including the ways to get it for less.
Now Sky Cinema
All the Sky Cinema channels are available on a separate pass from NOW. Passes also cost £9.99 a month, though as with the Entertainment pass there are deals to bring the price down which I’ll share on this page here.
Freeview & Freesat
Most channels you watch are probably 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 box is just £120 at the moment. Spread that cost over four years (though it’ll probably last longer) and it works out at £2.50 a month. I think it’s worth paying this vs sticking with Sky.
If you only have access to TV via the internet then Virgin Media, BT and Sky now (or soon will) offer cheaper devices that let you watch free channels – though you’ll still need broadband with those companies.
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.
Discovery+ is an option for some other channels you’d normally get on Sky such as Discovery, Animal Planet and TLC – though the likes of HGTV, Quest and Food Network are also on Freeview. It costs £3.99 a month to get access, or £6.99 if you add Eurosport.
A big draw for people with Sky and BT is often the ability to watch sport, but you can get access to these channels on a monthly basis – and without the need for a long contract.
Now Sky Sports
Once more NOW TV is your option to watch Sky’s sports 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) and month (£33.99), while there’s also sometimes 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.
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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.
Often these are extra costs on top, so signing up for these might be as well as some of the more direct Virgin and Sky replacements – though personally I’d always suggest you sign up as an alternative, then mix and match, rather than have them as well.
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 £9.99 which gives you HD quality and the ability for two people to watch on different devices at the same time. The top level £13.99 tier upgrades to 4K (where it can) and allows four simultaneous uses of the account. There are occasionally deals and discounts.
Amazon Prime Video
If you’re a frequent Amazon shopper then there’s a good chance you’ve got this. A full year at £79 which works out slightly cheaper than the standard £7.99 a month price, but both those prices are increasing in September 2022.
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.
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Apple TV +
There’s only new and original TV shows on Apple’s entry to the streaming service. It costs £4.99 a month, though there are often deals to get a few months for free – even if you’ve had the service before. In fact, since it launched, I’ve not paid a penny but had access for almost two years!
Disney+ costs £7.99 a month or £79.99 a year, though there are ways to pay less.
Big shows 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 and The Walking Dead.
There are so many other streaming services you could go for. I’ve shared the best deals here, but these include:
- BFI Player
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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).
My total on NOW TV in the last year has been just £61. That’s about 10 months of entertainment and Boost, two of Cinema and four of sports. I’m not saying you’d be able to get these deals (or that I would again), but these have been some cracking savings.
Netflix has been a constant as it’s shared with my family. My sister used to pay for this, but I took it on in after nabbing a pretty rare deal. It works out at about £4 a month, though I’ll be pausing it soon.
I don’t have Apple TV+ right now but I’ve got a voucher for four months free which I’ll activate soon, on top of the free five months I had earlier in the year. I also managed to get a year’s free Prime Video and three months free Disney+ via O2. I’m about to cancel the latter and only pick it up occasionally.
My Freeview is via a six-year-old YouView box, which I got for free with a previous broadband contract from BT so I’m not paying anything there.
So this means I’ll likely have spent around £153 this year on a huge range of TV services. That’s just £12.75 a month on average.
Compared to the basic TV Sky package that’s easily half of what I’d be paying, if not much, much more.
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 like an Amazon Fire Stick or Roku which plugs into an empty HDMI socket on your TV and connects wirelessly to the internet. You’ll usually need a power supply too.