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How to get rid of Sky TV and save money on great television

Here are some great alternatives to Sky for TV without the monthly subscription cost

By James Cridland - posted 25 July, 2014

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Sky TV can be expensive.

As at July 2014, a full subscription to Sky, including HD, costs £71.25 a month - that's £855 a year. Even a cheap subscription to Sky+, excluding the movies and the sport, costs £21.50 a month - that's £258 a year. And all those costs are on top of the TV Licence fee, a charge of £145.50 which pays for the BBC domestic TV services, radio, and some S4C programmes.

After you've been with Sky for many years, you can miss the advances on other platforms. And the benefits of Sky+ - one touch recording that records every single episode - are often cited as a good reason to keep Sky+, and the accompanying fees.

In fact, you can get rid of Sky and still keep a large choice of channels - as well as all the benefits from a hard-disc recorder like Sky+. Here's what to look for.

Have you got anything else from Sky?

By offering a bundle including broadband internet and cheaper phone calls, Sky can make it harder for you to move away from Sky. If you went the whole hog and got broadband and telephone calls, you'll need to think about what you do there.

What channels do you watch?

Pop into the bit of the Sky EPG that has your recorded programmes, and take a look at your most-watched channels. If they're Sky brands, particularly Sky Movies or Sky Sports, you're better off staying put with Sky. These are available through Virgin Media, BT or talktalk, but you'd be swapping one large monthly fee for another.

Make your choice of platform

To drop the monthly fee, you've got five choices.

You'll get FreeSat From Sky if you cancel your Sky subscription completely, and pay £25 for a FreeSat From Sky viewing card. You get all of the free-to-view channels available on satellite - here's a list. But your Sky+ box will stop recording - the Sky+ service is actually a £10 monthly cost, incorporated into most Sky bundles. If you think £120 a year is a good deal for this functionality, then that's fine. We'd probably caution against it.

Freesat is the free satellite service, operated by the BBC and ITV. Freesat uses your existing satellite dish, so you can unplug your Sky box and plug a new Freesat one in. It, too, picks up the free-to-view channels available on satellite - here's a list. There are no subscription costs at all with Freesat, so once you've bought the box, you're sorted. A typical Freesat box will offer both HD and SD pictures, and an integral hard-disc recorder. Most boxes also include access to services like the BBC iPlayer for catch-up TV. We'd recommend looking for the Freetime logo for the best experience. A box costs as little as £50 (and with Freetime, around £90). Browse through Amazon's Freesat HD recorders.

Freeview is television through your aerial, rather than through your satellite dish. This picks up a different, and smaller, choice of channels - here's a list. So: why on earth would you want it? First, you still get many of the decent channels: Dave, in particular, is paid-for on satellite but free on Freeview. You can also get HD for all the BBC channels (except BBC Parliament), ITV, Channel 4, 4seven, and Al Jazeera. It works through your aerial, so it doesn't matter if your Sky dish looks ugly or has stopped working. Amazon has a good list of Freeview HD recorders.

YouView is like Freeview, but a little more. A YouView box connects to the internet as well as your aerial, and gets you catchup services from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Dave. There are no subscriptions for the main service: go and buy the box and you're away. You can get the box free with BT or talktalk (and a bunch more channels), but then you're back into paying for your TV using a monthly fee again. You can also pay-as-you-go for movies and other things by using Now TV, the Sky Store or (if you're with BT Broadband) BT Vision. YouView are also threatening a bunch more channels via the internet connection on the box soon. Amazon.co.uk lists a number of Youview boxes on its website: we'd recommend avoiding the cheapest DTR-T1000 box, which is a bit old and slow.

A new television is not cheap; but the latest televisions do contain catch-up apps. Most include BBC iPlayer, the ITV player, 4OD and the Channel 5 player. In our experience, the user experience is unpleasant, and for the price, you're better going to YouView. The same goes for a new, connected, Bluray player.

A Google Chromecast might also be worth looking at. At around £30, it plugs into your television, and you control it using a phone, tablet or laptop. It works with a variety of different apps including the BBC iPlayer, BT Sport and YouTube, as well as Netflix and Google Play's movie and TV service.

A NOW TV box is even cheaper. Controlled via a little remote control, you also get access to the catchup services from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. We find it a little more fiddly than using a phone or a tablet, but for £9.99 you can't go wrong.

Other things to watch out for

Want Dave or 4 Music? These are paid-for on satellite, but free on Freeview.

Want radio? The most choice is on FreeSat From Sky; and comparatively few on Freeview (though you still get all the national BBC channels there).

Want a clear user-interface? We used to really like the Sky EPG; but the YouView interface is even better, merging live and on-demand TV into the one electronic programme guide.

Want lots of HD? There are more HD channels on Freesat than Freeview; and the picture quality is technically better on satellite as well, not that we believe most viewers would notice.

In conclusion

However you do it, junking the Sky box might end up being a good money saver. You'll easily save a couple of hundred pounds a year, maybe much more - and speaking from experience, it's unlikely you'll miss most of the choice of Sky. Good luck - and happy choosing.

More information

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James Cridland
James Cridland — James is the Managing Director of media.info, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. His website is at james.cridland.net, where you can subscribe to his weekly newsletter.