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

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

By James Cridland
Posted 3 February 2017, 8.12pm est
James Cridland
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What are the alternatives to Sky?

Sky TV can be expensive.

As at February 2017, a full subscription to Sky, including HD, costs £80 a month - that's £960 a year. Even a cheap subscription to Sky+, excluding the movies and the sport, costs £22 a month - that's £264 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+ or Sky Q - 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.

But don't worry. If you decide to switch your telephone away from Sky, you can keep your current phone number. Switching broadband should be relatively painless, too.

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.

If HD is important to you, Sky has the vast majority of HD channels available in the UK. Without a monthly fee, Freeview has 15, and Freesat only 13. However, both Freeview and Freesat offer the 'big' channels (like the BBC and Channel 4) in HD quality.

Make your choice of platform

To drop the monthly fee, you've got a number of different choices.

You'll get FreeSat From Sky if you cancel your Sky subscription completely, and pay a one-off £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. In any case, your EPG will be full of channels that you can no longer watch.

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 channels, 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 a Freesat+ box for the best experience, which lets you pause and record live TV. A box costs as little as £90. Browse through Amazon's Freesat boxes. ("Free Time", which you may see here, is an old name for Freesat+).

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 boxes.

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 apps on the box, and extra channels are also available via the internet. Amazon.co.uk lists a number of Youview boxes on its website.

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. Genuinely, unless you really need a new TV, your current one is probably just fine. But if you insist, here's a good starting place.

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. It's a little fiddly to use, but for the price it's hard to beat. Amazon don't sell them because they have some kind of fight with Google; so instead you'll find them in PC World and similar stores.

A NOW TV box is slightly 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 £25 you can't go wrong. It's powered by Sky, and it does also offer you day-passes for Sky Sports channels, so if you want to keep Sky Sports for occasional use, this might be a good plan.

You can also buy a Roku stick or box. These offer the same as a NOW TV box - hardly surprising, because NOW TV boxes are made by Roku - but are not subsidised by Sky and therefore have rather more apps and channels available, like YouTube and other video services. Most are rubbish, but some are OK and useful, esoteric, additions.

Amazon will also try to flog you their Amazon Fire Stick or their Fire TV. It's a decent enough device, and includes catchup from BBC iPlayer, Netflix, ITV, Channel 4 and more. You'll only get the most out of it if you subscribe to Amazon Prime, though: but that might be a good alternative.

And finally, the Apple TV (which, again, Amazon don't stock) may offer something for you if you're invested in the Apple platform. As ever with Apple, it's quite locked-down but you may find new services and channels that you'd like to use.

Extending your choice

It's likely you'll get a lot of options from any of the devices above - from additional TV programmes, catch-up and movies, and new channels.

If you have a Roku box, you might want to search for Roku private channels - these are unpublicised (and sometimes slightly dubious) apps for your Roku. We like XTV which links to live TV channels from around the world, though others are available (some which are charged-for). We'd recommend you avoided the paid-for ones, but the free private channels can work quite well. (Some are run by fans and are donation-driven: we've donated to some of our favourite developers).

The adventurous might want to use services called "smart DNS", which do some clever things with your internet connection to make you appear to be in the US or elsewhere. That enables you to watch geo-locked services that you otherwise can't get. We've had success with Getflix which allows you, among other things, to access Netflix's US catalogue as well as TV channels from across the world. It means a bit of technical fiddling with your router, as well as (for set-top boxes) trying to get apps you shouldn't be able to get.

And if you're even more adventurous, look for Kodi - a free and complex system for media management which you can run on your PC, tablet, or even your X-Box. It comes with a ton of plugins, some of which allow you to access many different programmes and channels. This isn't your grandma's television option, we'll be honest - it's clunky and confusing; but you may find it enables you to access the kind of content you're looking for.

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

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.
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Comments

10 months, 2 weeks ago

All well and good but the Sky product is utterly superb, the breadth of content available beats all the competition, the realiability of the delivery and the kit is first class and the EPG and UI is simply the best!

I've tried (and still have) many other services including the Fire TV stick with Amazon Prime Video et all, iPlayer (and all the other UK catch up players/apps), Netflix (with VPN country hopping), Apple TV, Now TV (pay as you go Sky sub brand), Roku (with a variety of legal extensions), Freeview, FreeSat, Chromecast, even USTVNOW. They all have their merits with regard to variety/uniqueness of content although in their totality none match the Sky offering.

I'd also draw your attention to two areas you overlook in this article, Sport and latest Movie releases, if you want to watch these without massive copyright theft, there is no place better than Sky to see top live sport and the very latest film releases.

I know a lot of people think it's overpriced and instinctively dislike Sky because Mudoch is behind it however, looked at dispassionately in the round, no one else comes close to the variety and quality of their offering.

PRO10 months, 2 weeks ago

I dumped my Freeview PVR for a Amazon Fire TV. Using Smart DNS and a Kodi add-on called Zattoo Box Extended Beta, I subscribe to the Zattoo Switzerland service, which allows you to record 500 programmes and also has a 7 day recall service.

These include most UK channels on Freesat, including all of the main BBC, ITV, C4 and C5 brand extensions as well as Sky News, Al Jazeera English and BBC World News.

I mainly use the service to watch the French channels (the FTA services available on France's version of Freeview (TNT) as I live in a bi-lingual household.

It costs around £8pm depending on the exchange rate, but if you like European tv as well as the most popular FTA UK channels and want the recall and recording options, it's a great product to have if you don't want to pay for Sky+.

10 months, 2 weeks ago

I can never fathom how people find time to watch so much TV they need a Sky subscription. We have Netflix/Amazon Prime and that's more than enough for me alongside the regular catch-up services.
I found it liberating years ago when I ditched my cable TV subscription. I realised I was wasting so much time watching junk on TV and found music and reading left me feeling much calmer and more focused.

10 months, 2 weeks ago

As James says in his post there are many TV streaming products available online and in supermarkets to replace Sky TV. The one product that jumped out from the crowd for me was the Roku 3 TV Streaming Box. Not only did it come with over 1,500 different channels but also all four UK catch-up services. Choosing which channels out of this vast collection to watch is made easy by enabling my family to place our channel choices in our own ‘Home’ group. For us this includes news channels such as BBC News, Bloomberg TV, The Economist (radio), Financial Times, France 24, Time and even Memphis Tennessee’s WHBQ Fox News plus country music from Ditty TV, jazz from the Best of Dixieland Jazz channel, Christian programmes from the Jerusalem Channel and Revelation TV as well as a host of other specialist channels plus Dropbox, Facebook and YouTube. Some of the channels need a subscription like Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer (via the TV Licence fee), Netflix or Now TV but there is no monthly fee for operating a Roku Box: once you have purchased it that is it. The added bonus is that in the summer months, at times of atmospheric interference, I can watch ‘live’ TV via the BBC iPlayer on our Roku Box.

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