Since its formation in 1990, Sky has become the UK’s leading paid TV broadcaster with over 11 million subscribers in the UK and Ireland alone. This means that more than a third of UK households are paying up to £60 per month for their Sky package, and this is on top of the cost of installation.
Then, if you throw in multi-room, high definition (HD)channels and non-packaged sports channels, subscription fees could rise to almost £100 a month – and this still doesn’t get you the latest movies and sporting events, which you’ll need to purchase separately through Sky’s Box-Office channels.
So can you afford it? If you can’t, now is a great time to explore the alternatives.
Why Sky is not your only option
The good news is things could have moved on since you signed up to Sky and, these days, it might not be your only option. Here’s why:
1. You can get a lot of the channels free elsewhere
Many of the entertainment and terrestrial channels that you watch on Sky are actually available for free with other TV providers, so consider whether it’s worth paying that monthly subscription fee for a handful of programs aired exclusively on Sky’s own entertainment channels such as Sky 1, Sky Living and Sky Atlantic.
2. Sky Movies is not the cheapest, and may not be the best option
Sky offers 12 dedicated movie channels but, if you don’t make full use of them, consider cheaper options such as Netflix and LOVEFiLM.
Sky does get the latest releases before online subscription services like these, but they are shown on its pay-per-view Box Office channels which you can still use without a monthly fee for its movie channel package.
You can also rent the latest movie titles online too, before they’re shown on Sky. Remember also that you can even watch movies free on some channels available through FreeView, YouView and Freesat.
3. Free TV services offer enough channels to keep the kids entertained
If you subscribe to Sky purely for the kids, remember that some children’s channels such as CBeebies are available for free and, when combined with the plethora offered by LOVEFiLM or Netflix, you should find you have more than enough viewing to keep the kids entertained.
4. It’s not just Sky that you can watch on the move
Sky users benefit from its mobile/tablet app, Sky Go website and Sky+ app on which you can watch live TV, catch up on popular series and program your Sky receiver to record while you’re out and about.
But these benefits are no longer exclusive to Sky. Other TV providers now offer similar apps, as well as being able to access TV on demand services such as iPlayer, 4OD, YouTube and more, directly from your TV.
Many of the entertainment and terrestrial channels that you watch on Sky are actually available for free with other TV providers...
5. Sky Sports isn’t just on Sky
For sport lovers, and particularly football fans it’s likely that you will have no choice but to pay for Sky’s sports channels. However, you can save money by purchasing these through an alternative provider. For example, you could pay the one-off fee for a Top Up TV box and just add the Sky Sports package.
6. HD TV is available for free
Sky offers a good range of high definition (HD) channels at an extra cost of £10.25 per month. But some of these channels are available for no monthly subscription with alternative TV providers, so consider if it’s worth paying the extra for the Sky-branded HD channels.
What are the alternatives?
The great news is that, with the digital switchover complete and advances in how and where we watch TV, there are now some fantastic alternatives to Sky which may cost you less. We take a look…
1. Virgin Media TV
Virgin offers a viable alternative to Sky TV, including all of the features of Sky+ HD, and even the full range of channels that are available on Sky.
If you purchase its M+ package, which has the majority of the Sky channels, but not all, you could save yourself around £5 per month and will only lose a small minority of Sky channels.
Virgin Media TV doesn’t require a dish, but this also means that coverage is limited and its services are only available to around 55% of UK households where the relevant underground cables have been installed.
YouView is a relatively new alternative to Sky. As with Virgin Media, it requires no dish and offers a host of great features with no monthly fee.
YouView does require good digital TV and broadband signal to work effectively but for a one-off payment of approximately £250 you will be able to pause, rewind and record live TV and it comes with a small selection of HD channels as well as all of the Freeview channels.
In addition, it also offers linked recording, similar to Sky’s Series Link, and has a unique facility that allows you to go backwards in your TV guide so you can watch programs that you have missed – a facility currently not available with a Sky receiver.
YouView also gives you access to TV on demand with iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD, Demand5 and Sky’s new movie subscription service, NowTV – this has a monthly fee of £8.99 (for the first three months), but offers the latest releases 12 months before Netflix and Lovefilm.
YouView can be purchased through two suppliers, BT and TalkTalk, as part of a package with broadband and telephone services.
With BT, the YouView receiver is free with a monthly subscription fee of £5. Increasing your monthly fee to £12.50 also gives you access to a wide range of TV shows, movies and past sporting events with BT Vision’s TV on demand service.
Purchasing YouView through TalkTalk gives you the opportunity to add various packages of Sky channels. This costs approximately the same as with Sky, minus the extra £10 per month for some HD channels, and the need to have a dish installed.
However, without a dish you will lose some channels available on Sky, and adding Sky Sports with TalkTalk is more expensive than with Sky.
Freesat is a very similar service to YouView, with a one off payment for the receiver starting at around £180. Freesat does require a dish. You can use your existing Sky dish, but if you don’t have one you will need to purchase and pay to have a one installed.
If you are downgrading your Sky to Freeview, you can use your Sky box as a Freeview receiver, but you will lose the Sky+ functionality, which is really where Freesat+ comes in.
With Freesat+ you get slightly more channels than with YouView, and although you can pause, rewind and record live TV, you can’t go backwards in the TV guide to watch programs that you’ve missed.
Freesat does offer the option of additional Sky channels and has the same HD channels as YouView, but only has two of the on demand services - BBC and ITV.
Is Sky the limit?
Although there are a range of options out there, it does appear that the only real way to save money on your monthly TV subscription is to sacrifice channels and/or services – but you may be able to do this without too much pain.
Take some time to assess what TV you would be prepared to live without. If you are happy with Freeview channels, a selection of HD channels, TV on demand and an innovative, user-friendly recording system, then it could be worth considering a YouView box.
Combining this with either Netflix, LOVEFiLM or NowTV, should give you enough viewing to keep all of the family entertained, for less than £10 per month (subject to any promotional prices).
If you simply cannot live without the channels offered by Sky – which may be the case among the nation’s most avid sports fans – at least make a phone call to try and negotiate the best deal on your viewing.
After all, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing.