Last time, we looked at the television services available through your aerial or a satellite dish, and noted that these days, they are all hybrid services that optionally offer channels or programmes through the Internet. They may be subscription channels that you watch live in the same way as any other channel, catch-up or video on demand (VOD) where you choose what you want to watch and when. BBC 3 is an example of the latter, as it is only available through BBC iPlayer and does not have a schedule.
There are new services and more choice
Today we are going to look at the ‘pure play’ Internet-only services available for a subscription or pay per view (PPV). The most popular are:
Shows come and go
Unlike recordings you make at home, online services are free to remove programmes from their line-up at any time. Pay attention to the ‘available until’ dates to avoid the disappointment of getting into a series that is pulled when you’re part-way through watching it. Some American networks like HBO only put programmes up for quite a limited time. In the UK, it is films on iPlayer that are often quite restricted.
When it comes to originals, the programme-making budgets of the international players dwarfs that of the UK, and they use it to make unique content to differentiate themselves from the competition. But beware of being too influenced by an attractive film or two or big-name series when choosing. Once you have watched those, what else is there? Most services have films and TV shows, and they compete strongly for content they don’t own. Again, you sometimes see shows being poached by another service – when Disney+ started last year, for example, a number of Disney shows disappeared from their previous homes – so check that you may cancel at any time in case you want to swap ships.
Watch out for hidden costs
Costs vary from £5 to £12 a month excluding sports. See the summary below. The problem comes with services like Amazon and NowTV that do PPV too. You might think your subscription entitles you to the company’s entire offering (especially when they use words like ‘unlimited’), but that is not the case: you have to pay extra for many popular films. When you get to the end of watching one of the films they used to entice you to subscribe, what you see listed under ‘You might also like…’ are all PPV items.
Is the family included?
Some services allow you to watch on more than one device at the same time and some don’t. If you have family members who might want to watch something different from you (teenagers in their bedrooms, for example), watch out for that.
|1, 2, 4|
Amazon Prime Video
One year free with some Apple devices
Entertainment £9.99, Sky Cinema £11.99, Sports from £9.99 p.m. +£3 for HD. Also sport day passes, Kids, hayu
|2 (3 with NowTV Boost)|
|Unlimited at same premises|
Note that all 4K streaming currently suspended because of Covid-19
Correct as of summer 2020 E&OE
You may have the player already
Once you have chosen a service, you need to check what equipment you need to watch it on. It is hard to find a device without Netflix, and your smart TV, set top box or Sky Q box may already have the service or let you add it. So might a games console like the PS4 or Xbox One or even your Blu-ray player. If not, check the websites and the summary below to see what kind of box you need, and get one that supports a good number of services to give you flexibility in future. They tend to cost £30 to £50. You could also use a computer, but that is less convenient when sitting on the couch in the TV room.
Correct as of summer 2020 E&OE