/ Technology

Are you paying too much to watch TV?

A family watching TV together

In our recent survey, we asked Which? members about their experience with their TV provider. We found that more than half pay for a TV package. Are you a Sky subscriber or a Freeview fan?

With costs ranging from £160 to more than £1,000 a year, subscription television services can represent a significant chunk of your household income. New customers are tied in to a 12 or 18-month contract, costing from £14 to £65 a month, or up to £100 with premium channels in a broadband package. That’s even without a premium TV box or extra box for a different room.

Pay TV, such as Sky’s satellite packages and Virgin’s cable TV services, offers a huge array of programmes, blockbuster films and biggest sports fixtures. We found that four in ten of you have premium sports channels and three in ten have premium movie channels.

It seems that there’s a real appetite for TV out there. Seven in 10 told us they watch more than 15 hours of TV in a week. Over four in 10 watch catch-up services like BBC iPlayer, and more than three-quarters watch recorded digital TV.

Not only are we spoilt for choice, we’re no longer tied to watching TV at specific times, as subscriptions come with the kit to let us easily record, catch-up with, and view TV on demand. We can watch what we want, when we want – without a single VHS tape in sight.

Turning up the prices

Sky, Virgin Media, BT, and TalkTalk have all increased their prices in the last six months. Some customers are paying £6 to £82 a year more, and those with extra sports channels are bearing the brunt of it. But even at a time when many of us are feeling the squeeze, our latest Quarterly Consumer Report found that we’re more likely to cut spending on clothing, entertainment and even food/groceries, than our TV subscription.

Many said they were annoyed that new customers receive better offers and loyalty doesn’t seem to count. Despite this, seven in 10 have stayed with their provider for longer than three years. But some savvy members told us how they call their provider every six months and negotiate a better deal.

Switch over to save

If you’re forking out a lot money every month and you’re not satisfied with your TV provider, why not call them to ask for a better deal? You might get a discount – if not, you might be able to switch.

If you’re not watching some of your premium channels, consider reducing your package and the monthly cost to boot. You can slash the cost of movies, too – Sky Movies Collection costs £19.50 a month, but Lovefilm and Netflix online movie streaming services start at £5 per month. If most of what you watch is free telly on Freeview or Freesat, you could avoid monthly TV subscription fees altogether with a set-top box.

How do you stay tuned to your favourite shows and do you opt for a pay TV service?


You pay for what you get. In our case that’s TV when we want as we want. If that costs £ 50+ a month then so be it. HD, several hundred channels ( most of which, it has to be said, go unwatched as they contain absolute drivel) and a very good ( not perfect but getting there) Menu based 2 channel recording system, all to provide us with several hours of watchable programmes per week.

Sky TV caters for my deafness by subtitling about 1/3 of its film output, The latest On Demand service, a lot less than 1/3. Room for improvement there but that’s true of all channels with the exception of good old BBC. They are simply the best as far as accessibilty for deaf viewers is concerned

To us, Free view is an inferior system best left for the odd time when two programmes are being recorded simultaneously on Sky and we want to see another on the terrestial feed via the local traqnsmitter.

Neither Love film nor Netflix replied to my question re subtiotled output…. so I make do with the ‘On Demand’ offerings from Sky

Steve says:
5 August 2013

We have Sky at the cheapest package mostly because we couldn’t get Freeview in our last house and I thought Sky+ was very innovative. I can switch on sports for events like the Lions Tour but I don’t watch football. I’d had no problems until I added an HD pack to watch the sports and found out I’d been tied into a 12 month contract. Sky service is expensive at 5.1p per minute with most calls only starting after 15 minutes. Fortunately there is help on the internet with websites providing 0800 numbers. When I had a problem I looked at the Sky forum and its clear that there are lots of issues with the service and with customer services. If I can get out of my contract I think I would look at a PVR. I’m trialling Lovefilm (the DVD we had was subtitled but the on demand stuff wasn’t). I think on demand services are the way to go togther with limited recording of the main channels but that may be a generational thing. My daughter watches and likes the more obscure channels.

We are quite satisfied with freeview and do not need to pay for expensive services which still bombard you with crass adverts – itv etc on freeview is bad enough.

We have a Humax Freeview PVR and find that there is far more on there than we ever have time to watch. There are odd series which are only available on the Pay TV channels but most of these have DVD releases which we can rent via a LoveFilm subscription (£10 per month).

That only leaves Pay TV sports events which would be nice to have on occasion. However, if there is a major football match which I want to catch I can usually guarantee that the local pub will be showing it and I can enjoy it there with a pint.

Fortunately for us, subscription TV isn’t necessary because we have a Freeview box plus hard drive recorder and access to iPlayer. We do pay under £5/month to LoveFilm for two DVDs/month. The real problem is finding time to watch the stuff.
Luckily we don’t care about sport so don’t feel compelled to pay through the nose for programmes that used to be free – before Sky carved up the market.

I have always been vehemently opposed to commerical broadcasting particularly when Sky and its acolytes removed fixtures from terrestial viewing.

My fundamental objection is to the theft of life that goes with TV and adverts. I see programmes on BBC made in th US that last 21 minutes including all opening and closing credits. So for 30 minutes of viewing time one wastes 9 minutes. Criminal.

As for me everything on commercial channels goes to HUmax PVR so we can watch and skip through the adverts. However that does still kill the mood in films etc.

I cancelled my SKY subscription several years ago. I found over the years that as I reduced the amount I paid SKY (by removing various package options) I realised the amount of money I had wasted over the years. I now have Freeview and a Humax Freesat PVR and find the choice of free channels is enough. After all I personally think there is no substitute for watching a feature film in the cinema. A television is a poor substitute for the “Big” screen.

Robin Redbreast says:
20 March 2013

Just cancelled SKY and looking forward to Freesat and free time at no cost. Got to be the way to go for the masses – just regret having wasted a fortune over past 10 years.

Peter L. says:
21 March 2013

I have got shot of my Virgin Media TiVo 1TB PVR, having used it for over a year. The basic use for me was to record TV, I had to add extra time to both the start & finish of a progamme in the hope of of getting it all. this used up a lot of the 100 hours HD capacity on the hard disc, & there is no way to edit the start & end of the programme. My Freeview+ has up to 259 hours HD capacity on the hard disc & will start & finish right on time. The high standby power consumption has already been noted, the Virgin advisor told me I could turn it off, despite the small print stating it must be left on.

Steve Mortimore says:
26 March 2013

I’m with Talktalk and their service has been terrible. I’ve been bombarded with mailshots (and still am – one arrived today) for their pay tv package. Seven days ago i tried to sign up on-line but through no fault of my own couldn’t. I phoned them and after hours of waiting got through to someone who after 20 mins couldn’t deal with me and cut me off. I emailed a complaint, have never heard anything. I got a ref number and when I quoted that it didn’t mean anything to the next person I spoke to. I got put through to two other people none of whom could deal with my request. I have lost count of the number of times I have given my personal details and explained that I simply want to buy their pay tv service. The last operator said ‘I swear on my life I will call you back tomorrow (sunday)’ and I haven’t heard anything. I filled in their on-line feedback form telling them what I think and nothing. As a Talktalk customer and trying to buy something from them for seven days and wasting hours I give up. I’ll try a different provider. All we want to do is to be able to pay for a few movies as our local Blockbuster has closed.

I had a full Sky package many years ago including Sky Sports 1, 2 & (3 for free). I only watched golf on the sports channels and a few documentaries on the Discovery channel. When the price increased to a level I thought unacceptable for my level of viewing, I cancelled my subscription. Year after year since then I wait in hope of ‘golf on demand’ where I could subscribe either to a golf channel covering all the top tournaments or a pay per tournament on demand. I’m still waiting.

I’m sure there are many sports fans who would like me be willing to pay to see their chosen sport only but are not willing to pay to see all and every sport along with the basic entertainment packages. Sky/Virgin, please realise that you are turning away many potential customers by the way you price sports events. Not everybody is willing to pay for all types of sports events if they only have an interest in one. It is time for a true ‘on demand’ TV service.

John says:
22 April 2015

Just recieved notificaction of increase of Sky subscription in June , usually September .
I contacted Sky with view to cancelling my contract . I feel that Sky grossly pays football to much
money and expecting subscribers to pay more to cover costs.
They should allow sport subscribers to opt out of watching football.
I was offered a reduce rate for the next 10 months which i accepted .

Patricia says:
8 March 2018

Like Abueloeddie, we like to watch a variety of channels in our own time, and prefer subtitles (there are some programmes whose plots I cannot follow without them). We also FF the adverts. I wish I understood NOWtv better; its website is no help at all – but I suspect that the premium service we require comes with the premium pricetag we are currently paying Sky. I think it might take a long time for the Sky savings to pay for the set-up costs for Freeview, PVR, and NOWtv, added to low monthly charge of NOW and TVPlayer – probably not worth it.

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