As the nights draw in and we’re drawn towards our TVs, it’s a good time to consider how much you’re forking out for your viewing pleasure.
Sky customers can pay more than £900 a year for their TV services alone, according to new research by Freesat, the subscription-free satellite TV service backed by the BBC and ITV.
But its analysis has found at least 95 per cent of the most popular shows across Sky and Virgin are actually available on free channels, with only a few unique to the provider – such as Game of Thrones – pulling in big audiences among their customers.
Game of TV providers: Game of Thrones is one of the few programmes among the UK’s most popular that appears on paid-for TV
The One Love Manchester tribute concert, Britain’s Got Talent and the Great British Bake Off were the most watched shows across both platforms between June and August – and all aired on free-to-watch channels.
And of the 300 most-viewed programmes most watched by Sky customers, only five per cent were on paid-for channels. Among Virgin customers, this figure dropped to one per cent.
Earlier this year, Freesat put the amount the average pay TV customer spends a year at £670, with some Sky customers paying well over £900 a year. However, viewing figures showed that it was programmes on the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 that Virgin and Sky customers were most likely to watch.
In fact, only one show among Sky TV’s top ten most viewed over the summer required a Sky subscription – Game of Thrones.
What we watched: These were the most-viewed programmes between June and August
If you are a GoT fan, there are two ways to save on the cost of watching your gory favourite as each new episode is broadcast without resorting to illegal streaming. If you haven’t reviewed your existing TV package or TV, broadband and phone bundle for some time, it’s possible you could switch to a cheaper Sky deal that still gives access to the Sky Atlantic channel that airs the programme.
Or you could switch to Sky-owned contract-free Now TV and buy the ‘Entertainment Pass’, that includes 11 on demand channels, including Sky Atlantic, Sky One, and 250 box sets. It costs £7.99 a month, and you’ll need either a smart TV, streaming stick or games console to access Now TV, or you’ll need to buy the Now TV set-top box for £14.99.
Vix Leyton of Broadbandchoices.co.uk says: ‘Sky has all the bells and whistles that come with Sky Plus and Now TV is a more stripped down package that gives you access to the Sky Atlantic shows, such Ray Donovan and The Deuce.’
If you’re not bothered about having Sky Atlantic, there are lots more options to watching your favourite Sky shows than simply paying for a Sky deal.
The table below has a round-up of Broadbandchoices.co.uk’s top TV and broadband bundle options on offer from other providers as well as Sky’s most attractive deals.
Broadbandchoices.co.uk’s top TV and broadband bundle options
|Provider and package
||Offer end date
||Speed (up to)
||Initial monthly cost
||First year cost (inc line rental)
|TalkTalk TV with Fast Broadband and Sky Sports
||Flexible Sky Sports TV boost, no long-term commitment – remove at any time
||Pay as you go
||First 12 months at £52.95, £61 from month 13
|Now TV Entertainment Pass + Sky Cinema + Brilliant Broadband Combo
||Get Sky Atlantic and Sky Movies
||Pay as you go
||First 12 months at £29.98, £42.97 from month 13
|Sky Sports Bundle Complete Pack + Broadband Unlimited
||Get All Sky Sports Channels
||Pay as you go
||First 12 months at £58.00, £68.99 from months 13-18, £70.99 from month 19
|BT Starter + Unlimited Infinity 1 + Weekend Calls
||Exclusive offer: Includes BT Sport + £125 BT Reward Card + £50 cashback
||First 12 months at £33.49
|Virgin Media VIP TV Bundle
||Sky Sports, BT Sport and Sky Movies all in one place!
||Day, Eve & Weekend
||First 12 months at £90, £53.49 from month 13
|Sky Original Bundle + Broadband Unlimited
||New big screen drama every month on Sky Atlantic!
||Pay as you go
||First 12 months at £38, £48.99 from months 13 to 18, £50.99 from month 19
|Sky Box Sets Bundle + Broadband Unlimited
||New big screen drama every month on Sky Atlantic! Discover over 350 Sky Box Sets plus over 50 channels in HD
||Pay as you go
||First 12 months at £49, £59.99 from months 13 to 18, £66.99 from month 19
|Sky Complete Bundle + Broadband Unlimited
||New big screen drama every month on Sky Atlantic! On Sky Atlantic! Entertainment, sports, movies and Sky Box Sets – all in HD
||Pay as you go
||First 12 months at £92.50, £103.49 from months 13 to 18, £110.49 from month 19
|Source: Broadbandchoices.co.uk, 24 October 2017
But if you’re not looking to move your broadband, here’s a quick guide to where you can find access to top Sky channels outside of Sky.
Best for films
Sky Cinema has all the latest releases, so if you’re serious about movies, it’s the one to go for. This service is not exclusive to Sky, and is available via all pay-TV providers, although you need BT Infinity fibre-optic broadband to get live channels with BT.
The cheapest way to access the Cinema channels (there are 11 in total) is via Now TV (£9.99 per month), but you do lose out on the bells and whistles of other packages – such as the ability to record. There are also fewer channels outside of movies – although you can use on demand.
You can compare Sky Movies versus Now TV here.
Best for sport
There are two options for sports fans: BT Sport and Sky Sports. Which to get depends entirely on which sports you want to watch. For example, if you are looking for golf or F1, then Sky is your only option.
Similarly, if you want Champions League or Aviva Premiership rugby, it’s BT only. BT Sport is a £3.50 add-on for broadband customers – you must have BT broadband to watch BT TV.
Premier League is split between both, but not equally. Sky has more games by far, but BT has first pick for some big ones.
Sky introduced new flexibility into its sports packages earlier in the year, letting you subscribe to individual channels (from £18 per month in most cases), so if Premier League is all you care about, you have the option to just take that, compared to other providers who currently only offer the full package.
Quick money saver: Compare TV, broadband and phone deals
As we explain here, navigating your way through the TV, broadband and phone maze can be a tricky task.
In fact, many customers might suspect that the big gun providers deliberately make it awkward to tot up the cost of exactly what you want and compare it.
To help you work out the right deal for you and get the best possible package at the keenest price, This is Money has teamed up with Broadband Choices to offer readers a tool here to compare TV, broadband and phone deals quickly and easily.
TalkTalk and Now TV are super-flexible. TalkTalk is 30-day rolling contract, while Now TV lets you choose between a day, week or month pass. These are definitely the lowest-risk options if you’re not sure you want a full year of super-expensive sports.
BT Sport is available with most providers, but can only be bought directly from BT or Virgin Media. To get it on Sky or TalkTalk, you have to order it from BT instead of your provider.
Currently, the only provider to offer all sports channels directly (as in buying them in one place with one bill) is Virgin Media, but it is worth weighing up all your options before committing to this.
‘We had spent £3k on TV, which felt obscene’
Thomas Gunn has saved money by ditching Sky for Freesat
Thomas Gunn, a 35-year-old civil servant living in Birmingham, cut his bills by switching from Sky to Freesat.
‘We were paying over £50 per month for a TV package with Sky, which we’d had for around five years. When our daughter was born, we felt we should review our finances and worked out we’d spent well over £3,000 on TV – which just felt obscene.
‘I still love TV and films but can watch on demand and record tonnes of stuff on my Humax HDR-1100S HD Box. The Freesat free mobile app is helpful too.
‘While we haven’t spent the extra money on any specific large purchases, reconsidering our expenses has helped us re-evaluate our priorities and our approach to childcare.
‘It’s also allowed us to save more for our daughter’s future. Changing to Freesat alone won’t make you rich, but it can be a significant step towards freeing up money for more important things…even if we did spend a lot of it on baby wipes and nappies.’
Best for entertainment
Freeview and Freesat are, unsurprisingly, the cheapest – once you have the box (or tuner in your TV), you’re good to go.
You get far fewer channels than pay TV providers but the ones you get are some of the most popular. For example, as well as all the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 spin-offs, with Freesat you get channels such as Dave, Really, The Food Network and CBS Drama.
Most other Sky entertainment channels are available on other services (including Sky One, Arts, and Living). As a rule, if you want the maximum number of channels, then Sky or Virgin Media have the most comprehensive offering. If you want affordable packages with box sets and a few more channels than standard Freeview, BT, TalkTalk or Now TV are your best bets.