Cheaper alternatives to Sky TV and Virgin Media

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 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

Entertainment channels

if you’re ditching Sky or Virgin you’re probably most concerned about these channels – from BBC One through to Sky Atlantic.

NOW Entertainment

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 £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 One (and its forthcoming replacement 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, 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 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 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

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 £6.99 a month to get access.

Film channels

Now Sky Cinema

All the Sky Cinema channels are available from NOW. Passes 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.

MUBI

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.

Sports channels

Now Sky Sports

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) 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.

BT Sport

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.

Eurosport

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.

Andy’s podcast

Listen to Cash Chats, Andy’s twice-weekly podcast. Episodes every Tuesday and Friday.

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.

Netflix

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, 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.

Andy’s YouTube

Watch new videos every week on the Andy Clever Cash channel, plus a regular live Q&A

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.

Disney +

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.

Britbox

Also costing £5.99 a month this is mainly just a back catalogue of old BBC, ITV and C4 content, though there are original shows added more frequently now.

Andy’s YouTube

Watch new videos every week on the Andy Clever Cash channel, plus a regular live Q&A

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 using NOW TV Entertainment passes which came with discounted NOW smart sticks. After selling the sticks it’s working out at around £2 per pass. I’ve skipped a few months this year and I’ve enough cheap passes to get me to the end of the year. It means the most I’ll pay over the year for NOW Entertainment will be around £20.

I’ve never been one for the full movies or sports subscriptions, but with more football shown this year I have forked out around £80 this year for different passes.

My Freeview is via a five-year-old YouView box, which I got for free with a previous broadband contract from BT. I’m no longer using Amazon Prime, while I paid £59 for a year of Disney+ and use my sister’s Neflix.

My free Apple TV + trial (which was ultimately 18 months long) ended last month. I expect to sign up for another month (at £4.99) later this year to binge a few new shows.

So this means I’ll likely have spent around £165 this year on a huge range of TV services. That’s just under £14 a month on average. Remove the sport passes and it drops to just £5.40 a month!

Compared to the basic TV Sky package that’s easily £20 saved a year. That’s £240 a year. Every year. Huge!

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 too.

14 thoughts on “Cheaper alternatives to Sky TV and Virgin Media

  1. My French mother-in-law likes to watch her French TV shows so we manage to do this using an IPTV box and annual subscription. Unfortunately these are only live broadcasts. Do you know of any box where we can record these French broadcasts for viewing at our convenience?

    1. Hi Chris, sadly I don’t. There will be ways to screen record videos online, though that’ll need to be done in real time to a computer

  2. Unfortunately there is no real alternative if you want to watch F1 in 4K

  3. I have been with Sky for ever since they started. I have all three servies, but I think I am paying over the odds at £80 a month now. I use my broadband and hardly watch TV. I hardly use the phone. All my time is on the internet so I am wondering what am I paying so much money for. Would it be better to change? And again, it would be mostly for my internet. Any suggestion, anybody. Thanks in advance. len

  4. My aerial is through virgin box will it work with now box without arial

    1. Is it just the cable TV input? If so that won’t work with Freeview. If you also have a roof aerial though for terrestrial TV it’ll work with your TV or a Freeview recorder.

      But that shouldn’t matter. NOW TV is all about signal coming via your broadband. So it doesn’t use an aerial at all (there were some older boxes that had this feature but they’re no longer available).

  5. Is there any equivalent box to Virgin which records, pauses etc?

    1. Yes, you can get boxes for Freeview or Freesat that’ll record those channels. But for premium channels from Sky you’ll only be able to watch ondemand via NOW TV, not record.

    2. Absolutely. The Manhattan T3-R is a Freeview Play box which records, does series links, pretty much what the Virgin and Sky boxes do. It also has all the catchup services and lets you collate what you’re currently watching through these online services on one screen – regardless of the originating channel. Very useful. As long as you have a working TV aerial you’re ready to go:

      https://manhattan-tv.com/freeview-play/manhattan-t3r-recorder

  6. Thinking of ditching Virgin, however the ability to record series is great. Does Now TV or anyone else offer this facility. I’ve only seen it on Sky & Virgin

    1. Sadly not. But you can buy a box to record Freeview channels. That helps prioritise what you watch on catch up and what you can leave for later. You get used to it pretty quickly. We actually only record things on channels with commercials now to fast forward through the ads!

  7. Coming to the end of my NUS TOTUM student card deal. Have you found any way to renew this if you’ve ceased being a student?

    1. I was actually emailed with a link to renew… worth keeping an eye out for this

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