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5 August 2020
Over half of UK households are signed up to at least one streaming service, while millions spend £100s/year on digital TV subscriptions. Yet there are loads of ways to slash the cost, and these tricks are even more important in the current lockdown. So whether you're a Netflix addict, Sky TV customer or just want to make the most of Freeview, here are our best tips to save.
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Let's start with some TV MoneySaving fundamentals:
Streaming sites have become a huge deal in the world of TV watching – stats from BARB (The Broadcasters' Audience Research Board) earlier this year, show that more than half of UK households now use at least one of the big ones.
But the good news from a MoneySaving point of view is that many offer free trials, giving unlimited access for a set period. So you can binge on Good Omens, Outlander, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel and other big series such as Chernobyl to your heart's content – plus watch popular films like Frozen 2, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Toy Story 4 and Avengers: Endgame.
If you really want to max it, you can hop from free trial to free trial – just remember to cancel before each trial's up. Unfortunately, Netflix got rid of its 30-day free trial last year – see the MSE News story for full info – but there are others you can still take advantage of.
Important: You'll usually have to enter debit or credit card details, and the subscription will auto-renew, so mark it in your diary to cancel if you don't want to continue.
If you only watch certain channels on catch-up, you may be able to avoid paying the £157.50 annual fee. If you watch live TV, or anything on BBC iPlayer, you'll need a licence, but you won't for other catch-up sites. See our Do I need a TV licence? guide for full details.
Plus if you decide you do need a TV licence, make sure you don't pay by quarterly direct debit – that costs an extra £5/year.
If you're not bothered about watching certain shows or having hundreds of extra channels, Freeview may be the best option. Newer TVs have basic Freeview built into them, giving over 70 TV and radio channels (if you have an older TV, basic Freeview boxes start from about £10). And as the name suggests, there's no subscription to pay.
Within those 70 channels you'll have plenty of choice, including popular shows such as the BBC's Killing Eve, Taskmaster on Dave and Come Dine With Me on Channel 4.
To get the most out of Freeview though, you could consider a YouView+ box, which lets you record, pause or rewind live TV or record whole series. These start at around £70 for a box with 500GB of memory (which records up to 250 hours of TV).
Even if you've exhausted the free trials offered by the likes of Amazon Prime Video and Now TV, it's possible to stream big box sets and films online without paying. We've rounded up 50 of the best box sets below, as well as 30 free films you can currently stream online.
We've rounded up some of the biggest box sets available to stream for free right now – from British classics such as Doctor Who, Father Ted and Jonathan Creek, to big American shows such as ER, Dawson's Creek, Scrubs and 90210.
Some have over 10 series to work through, so you may find there's enough here to ditch the paid-for options such as Netflix, Now TV and Prime Video. We've also found a decent selection of films available to watch for free.
|Ashes to Ashes||iPlayer||1-3|
|Call The Midwife||iPlayer||1-9|
|Dawson's Creek||All 4||1-6|
|Death in Paradise||iPlayer||1-9|
|Derry Girls||All 4||1-2|
|The End of the F***ing World||All 4||1-2|
|Father Ted||All 4||1-3|
|French and Saunders||iPlayer||1-6|
|Fresh Meat||All 4||1-4|
|Friday Night Dinner||All 4||1-6|
|Gavin and Stacey||iPlayer||1-3|
|The Inbetweeners||All 4||1-3|
|The IT Crowd||All 4||1-4|
|Life on Mars||iPlayer||1-2|
|Line of Duty||iPlayer||1-5|
|Peep Show||All 4||1-9|
|Peter Kay's Car Share||iPlayer||1-2|
|The Thick of It||iPlayer||1-4|
|Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps||iPlayer||1-9|
|Waking The Dead||iPlayer||1-9|
It's worth noting these aren't always available for as long as box sets – some are only online for a few weeks, others for months. However, the BBC currently has a selection of 'silver screen classics', which it says will be available on iPlayer for over a year.
|Angriest Man In Brooklyn||Rakuten||No end date given|
|Anna Karenina||My 5||Until 20 May 2021|
|A Simple Plan||iPlayer||For four months|
|The Blair Witch Project||iPlayer||For one month|
|Bright Young Things||My5||Until 20 May 2021|
|Bringing Up Baby||iPlayer||For "over a year"|
|Citizen Kane||iPlayer||For "over a year"|
|Control||Rakuten||No end date given|
|Cosmopolis||Rakuten||No end date given|
|Dallas Buyers Club||Rakuten||No end date given|
|Dangerous Liaisons||iPlayer||Until 1 September|
|The Duchess||iPlayer||Until 17 August|
|Everyone Says I Love You||Rakuten||No end date given|
|The History Boys||iPlayer||Until 8 August|
|Howards End||All 4||Until 1 September|
|The Immigrant||Rakuten||No end date given|
|The Inbetweeners 2||All 4||Until 5 August|
|The Iron Lady||All 4||Until 21 August|
|The Jackal||iPlayer||For five months|
|King Kong||iPlayer||For "over a year"|
|Lara Croft Tomb Raider||iPlayer||For three months|
|Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life||iPlayer||For three months|
|Let Me In||My5||Until 23 September|
|Man On The Moon||iPlayer||For four months|
|Monster||My5||Until 28 October|
|The Ninth Gate||Rakuten||No end date given
|Paranormal Activity||iPlayer||For two months|
|Poltergeist||iPlayer||Until 30 August|
|Primary Colours||iPlayer||For four months|
|Rush||iPlayer||Until 9 August|
|The Salesman||iPlayer||Until 25 August|
|The Shining||iPlayer||Until 23 August|
|Summer In February||Rakuten||No end date given|
|Super||Rakuten||No end date given
|Twelve Monkeys||iPlayer||For four months|
|Two Night Stand||Rakuten||No end date given
|x+y||iPlayer||Until 10 August|
In some circumstances you won't need to get your own licence, even if you've moved into your own digs. TV Licensing says you may be covered by your parents' licence if your 'out-of-term address' (ie, your parents' address) is covered by a TV licence, you only use TV-receiving equipment powered solely by its own internal batteries, and you haven't connected it to an aerial or plugged it into the mains.
See our Do I need a TV licence? guide for full details.
Free TV licences are now limited to those over-75s receiving pension credit. The BBC says 1.5 million households could be eligible to keep their free licence – but an estimated 600,000 of these have yet to claim pension credit so could lose out.
Pension credit is a tax-free benefit aimed at retired people on low incomes. It's means-tested, but for those who qualify it can be worth £1,000s a year. As well as a free TV licence, you could qualify for a council tax reduction, free dental treatment and more. For full details, and how to check if you're eligible, see our Pension Credit guide.
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Some pay over £1,000/year for a digital TV subscription with the likes of Sky, Virgin, TalkTalk or BT TV, yet it's often possible to cut the cost. See our Digital TV Deals guide for full help, but to get you started:
Switching from a TV contract to Freeview can save many a small fortune, so weigh up if what you're paying is really worth the extra. After all, there are now lots of places to watch programmes on demand for free (or just the cost of the licence fee) – from BBC iPlayer and All 4, to the less traditional video found on YouTube or even Facebook and Instagram.
Even if you do watch enough TV to make it worth paying for, switching to cheaper services could save you cash.
There's no point paying for channels you won't watch, so decide what you want and make sure you're on the right package. As channels are usually bundled up into much larger lists, such as 'entertainment' or 'sports', you may find you're paying for access to 20, even though you only really use one.
Also, if you're a keen footie fan, only sign up to the sports channels for the duration of the football season. Cancel for the summer and you'll save a wad of cash. Some providers may insist on 30 days' notice, so set a reminder.
TV packages are notoriously complicated, often with many optional extras and a variety of bundles. Choosing one can be hard, but weighing up each decision carefully could stop you shelling out £100s/year for add-ons you don't need. Our Digital TV Deals guide has full help, but in brief:
Always keep a note of when each contract ends and make a note in your diary to ditch and switch, or haggle, around a month before your promo deal finishes, as you'll likely see your prices are suddenly hiked.
If you choose to stay with your digital TV provider, you can still save money. In a nutshell, call up and ask for a better deal. Say you're paying too much or rivals' deals are cheaper. If that doesn't work, tell it you're leaving. You'll usually get put through to companies' super-powerful hidden deals departments. For more tips and tricks, see Haggle with Sky & more.
In our February 2019 poll, 84% of MoneySavers who said they tried haggling with Sky were successful, and for Virgin Media it was 76%. David told us:
After reading your tips on haggling with Sky I called them and ended up with a £30 a month reduction without losing any of my channels/extra boxes. A £360 a year saving from a 10-minute phone call is fantastic!
Subscriptions to Sky aren't cheap, with the basic package starting at £22/month – and many pay a whopping £30 extra every month to access Sky Sports channels. But if you only watch the occasional match or event, you'll likely be better off buying daily, weekly or monthly Sky Sports passes via Now TV instead.
Passes start at £5.99 for the mobile month pass, which gets you access to five channels on your smartphone for a whole month. Or you can pay £9.98 for a day pass (it's £14.98 for a week), which lets you watch 11 channels on any device.
The same principle applies to Now TV's 'Entertainment' pass – if you only pay for Sky to watch a particular show (eg, The Walking Dead), you could save by cancelling your Sky subscription and buying a Now TV pass, which you can cancel when your series has finished (and start up again when a new series begins).
If you're a Sky customer with Sky Go Extra, you can use a console (including Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4) to stream Sky TV, which may work out cheaper than buying an additional Sky box for your home.
Sky Go Extra costs an additional £5/mth, or it's included if you upgrade to Sky Q Experience for an extra £13/mth.
Streaming's become an increasingly popular way to watch TV – and there are tons of ways to save:
If there are specific shows or films you want to watch, check which services have them, then weigh up what the best – and cheapest – option is for you.
To help you, there's a clever free online tool, JustWatch, which catalogues what shows and films are shown on different streaming services. It includes more than 20 in total – including free ones such as All 4 and BBC iPlayer.
Many streaming services let you share your account with others, which can be a great way to save money if you all chip in – though exact rules vary:
Similarly, Apple TV+ is £49.99 upfront for a year, but if you opt to pay monthly you'll end up paying £59.88 over the year (£4.99/mth).
Many Netflix users are on its £8.99/mth standard package. Others pay £11.99/mth for premium. But if you don't need all the bells and whistles – eg, if you only watch on one screen or aren't really fussed about HD – then switching to Netflix's £5.99/mth basic package could save you up to £72/yr.
To do this, log in to Netflix, go to 'Account' and then under 'Plan Details' hit 'Change plan'. You'll be switched to your new plan right away, but won't get money back – you'll just pay less the next time you're billed, so do it as close to your next billing date as possible.
For lots more tips and tricks to save, see our 18 Netflix Hacks.
A number of MoneySavers report being offered discounts when they try to cancel their Now TV passes online – for example, MSE Kelvin tried it and was offered a three-month Sky Cinema pass for £2.40/mth (normally £11.99/mth).
So if you're happy to continue your subscription, it's worth starting the cancellation process to try to bag a discount. Make sure when you're asked why you're leaving that you say it's because you 'can't afford' the service.
Let us know if you've successfully tried this trick with any other streaming service.
MSE Chris D says he often buys a weekly pass, and plans his viewing carefully beforehand, as the passes expire exactly seven days after you activate them.
So if he wants to watch a match on a Saturday afternoon, he'll check what's on the following Saturday, and may wait until right before kick-off to buy his pass – that way he can watch a match that's on earlier in the day the following week too.
Apple's new video subscription service launched last year, and Apple said customers who have bought a new iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac or iPod Touch since 10 September 2019 (direct or from one of its authorised resellers) can get one year's Apple TV+ for free. You'll need to claim the offer within three months of first setting up your new device – simply sign in with your Apple ID and go to the Apple TV app to view the offer.
You'll have to pay once the trial is up, so make a note to cancel if you don't want to keep it. Your trial will end as soon as you cancel (and you'll lose access to Apple TV).
If you're keen to watch films and box sets on Now TV, you'll need to pay for two separate passes: Entertainment (£8.99/mth) and Sky Cinema (£11.99/mth).
Yet MSE Jenny's top tip is to alternate between them each month, so you can binge box sets one month and films the next. That way you're never paying for both passes at the same time.
The beauty of most streaming services, from a MoneySaving point of view, is that you can dip in and out of subscribing as often as you like, as there's no minimum contract term. That means if you know what's on when, you can ensure you're only paying while it's showing the stuff you want to watch. To help plan, most tell you when something is due to be taken off.
For example, Netflix will tell you if a programme is being removed within the next 30 days. Open up the info on any series or movie and click the 'Details' tab – it'll say something like 'Availability Until 01/01/2021'.
You can swap Tesco Clubcard vouchers* for credit to use at Now TV, including on Entertainment, Sky Movies and Sky Sports passes. Best of all, you'll triple the value of your Clubcard vouchers, so 50p becomes £1.50 in Now TV credit – in fact, it's one of our top ways to boost your Clubcard points' value.
It's worth looking out for discounted gift cards, as you'll essentially be getting a discount on the cost of your subscription. For example, Tesco has previously offered 20% off £10 Now TV gift cards (making them £8).
Buying gift cards comes with a risk though – they're easy to lose and companies can go bust before you spend them. So make sure if you do this you spend them straightaway.