Whether you pay for several different streaming services or have signed up for a bumper TV, films and sport package through your broadband and TV provider, there may be ways to bring down the cost of watching your favourite shows – while still having far more programmes and movies to choose from than there are hours in the day.
“Many people are still stuck with the idea that they need one of the pay-TV companies like Sky or Virgin Media for everything,” Or Goren, the editor of the website Cord Busters, says. “But you definitely don’t need those expensive contracts any more, or their equipment. For most people these days, a smart TV will probably be enough.”
If you bought your TV before about 2016 and it has an HDMI port, Nick Baker, the TV and broadband editor at Uswitch, says: “You can effectively make your normal TV a smart TV quite affordably, with a Roku stick, Chromecast or Amazon Fire Stick.”
Amazon Fire TV Sticks start from £29.99, while Google’s Chromecast costs from £24.99 (both let you shout at the telly when you want to change the channel).
You will also need a TV licence to watch the BBC, which costs £159 a year.
You need broadband, too, but a mid-range service is usually enough, Goren says. There are multiple providers offering broadband (with a phone line) for about £20 a month.
Start from scratch
“There’s never enough time to watch everything, so there’s no need to pay for everything,” Goren says. “You don’t need all the streaming services. The first thing to do is cancel them all. Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video. Cancel them,” he says. Streaming services generally have no cancellation fees, and no setup charges if you choose to come back at a later date, so you are usually free to come and go as you please.
Once you have a clean slate, take a look at what you want to watch, and limit your new subscription to your priorities. “You’ve heard about this big new show on Netflix or Disney+ or whatever, and you really want to watch that, so choose that service. Just subscribe to the one you want to watch something on today,” Goren says. “Keep that service for a month. Then, when you feel like you’re done with Netflix, and there’s not much at the moment that you want to watch but there is something you’re interested in on Prime Video, sign up to that instead – but cancel Netflix.”
Review in a few months’ time, when you may have inadvertently begun to build up an unnecessarily big pile of streaming services all over again.
In recent months, hundreds of thousands of households have cancelled their subscriptions to Netflix or Amazon Prime Video because of the cost of living crisis.
Use a service such as JustWatch to find out which streaming service has what you want. Enter the name of the movie or series, or a favourite actor or director, and it will list all the different ways in which you can watch them. (For Christmas viewing, Elf is currently available to rent for £3.49 from Amazon Prime Video in HD, and streaming for Sky and Now subscribers. It’s a Wonderful Life is included for Amazon Prime Video subscribers, or £1.99 to rent for non-subscribers; it’s free on the ad-supported streaming service Plex.)
“It’s also possible to set an alert so you can restart your subscription when your favourite shows are coming back,” Leo Brahm of JustWatch says. “If you are a Stranger Things fan, and that’s all you really need Netflix for, you can cancel at the end of a season and set an alert for when the next one starts, then resubscribe to the streaming service when the new season arrives.” You can even set it to alert you when a movie or show you would like to watch becomes available somewhere for free.
Free trials and discounts
There are various deals out there. For example, Amazon Prime Video is currently offering 30 days free for new subscribers; after that, it costs £8.99 a month. Students qualify for a six-month free trial, although you will need to provide proof of student status – either an .ac.uk email address, NUS membership card or another document from a list on the site. Student Prime rates continue for a maximum of four years, and your account is then automatically charged at standard Amazon Prime rates.
For movie lovers, the cinephile streaming service Mubi, which has a collection of films from around the world, offers a seven-day trial, then costs £10.99 a month (£6.99 for students).
Meanwhile, the British Film Institute’s BFI Player is free for 14 days, then £4.99 a month.
Compare the costs of committing
If you know you always watch all of the sport all of the time, or you want to see new movie releases as soon as they are out, then a longer contract may be worth it. “It’s likely to be more affordable if you’re going for prime packages,” Baker says. “Sports and movies will be more expensive when you get them individually. Bundling it all in is definitely easier and will save you money on an 18-month contract.”
Nonetheless, this does mean you are locked into what can be a higher monthly subscription fee – which, right now, many would rather avoid. Virgin Media’s 18-month sports package includes broadband, BT Sport and Sky Sports (but you would have to pay extra for Netflix) and costs £72 a month.
If you are using these channels on a more occasional basis, Goren says, “flexibility still wins”.
Monthly subscriptions, while they may cost more on a one-off basis, give you the flexibility to dip in and out of different streaming services, and picking and choosing according to the events you want to follow may work out less expensive. The BT Sport monthly pass (£25) means sports fans can opt in when they want, while Now offers Sky Sports for £33.99 a month, with no contract.
Watch for less with ads
Netflix launched its Basic with Ads plan when the number of subscribers dropped for the first time in a decade because of increased pressure on household finances. This ad-supported plan is £4.99 a month. However, some of the shows on the ad-free packages are not available. Netflix says viewers will see an average of about four minutes of adverts in each hour; there’s no option to skip or fast-forward ads but they won’t be shown on kids’ profiles.
Freevee is Amazon’s free ad-supported streaming service. Fans of the soap Neighbours may have heard of it because, from 2023, viewers will be able to “re-explore the lives, loves and challenges” of the Ramsay Street residents. Other past TV shows include 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation. At the time of writing, it offered classic films such as Reservoir Dogs, as well as plenty of movies you may not have heard of.
Freeview Play, meanwhile, claims to give viewers “95% of the nation’s favourite TV, all for free” (BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, My5 and a few others). Most recent TVs and recorders have Freeview Play built in. If you have an older TV, you can buy a set-top box (about £125) to access Freeview Play.
• All prices and details correct at the time of writing.