When it comes to watching the biggest TV shows and box sets via a TV package, you've a number of different options. You can opt for a satellite or cable TV service which includes channels showing the series you want, buy a special add-on giving you box sets on demand or opt for a streaming package such as Netflix.
Where can I find the biggest box sets?
TV box sets have become a cultural phenomenon in recent years. Shows such as Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and The Crown have drawn a huge fanbase and helped make 'binge watching' - devouring multiple episodes in one sitting - a thing.
By the same token, some people also love to watch these as soon as they're released and to share their love (or hate) of them on social media with other first adopters.
Some of the most popular TV series are mainly associated with one provider - Westworld, for example, is a flagship show for Sky and its streaming service Now TV, while House of Cards is a Netflix show. Other shows - particular older ones - may be offered by multiple providers.
A specialist search engine such as JustWatch UK can help tell you which streaming services offer certain shows.
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What do the main digital TV services offer?
What you'll be able to watch if you subscribe to a digital TV service depends on what package you get. As a general rule, you'll be able to watch some big series if you subscribe to the right channels but will have to pay extra to have full on-demand access to box sets. Here's a quick overview:
- Sky TV offers a wide range of packages, all of which include Sky Atlantic and Sky One, which offer shows such as The Affair and Modern Family. Depending on your subscription, its Sky Box Sets option offers a massive 350 box sets to work your way through, such as The Walking Dead, Madam Secretary, Billions and Game of Thrones. You can also buy the first four seasons of House of Cards from Sky Store and all the series of Breaking Bad and Mad Men (some of which you can watch on Sky Atlantic and on demand).
- BT TV has three main packages, all of which include AMC, a channel exclusive to BT in the UK which has earned it box-set bragging rights - highlights include Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Fear the Walking Dead. If you want more, Netflix is available as a bolt-on to BT TV (where you can watch House of Cards). You won't be able to watch The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones however.
- Virgin Media offers a big choice of TV packages. Its mid-level option Mix TV includes Sky One and Fox (where you can watch The Walking Dead), while the Full House package gives you access to a library of box sets, including Criminal Minds, The Halcyon and shows from Sky such as Game of Thrones. You can also get Netflix on your Virgin Media box if you have a subscription, where you can watch House of Cards, Breaking Bad and Mad Men.
- TalkTalk TV has a fairly limited box set offering in its basic packages, though its TV Plus Box comes with Sky One and Fox so you'll be able to watch The Walking Dead. But its add-on Boosts, available on a rolling monthly contract, offer more, in particular its PictureBox boost which includes over 50 US box sets such as Suits. TalkTalk TV boxes let you access your Netflix subscription (where you can watch House of Cards, Breaking Bad and Mad Men). You can buy all series of Game of Thrones on the TalkTalk TV Store.
What do the main streaming services offer?
If you're mainly after box sets, then online streaming offers a very cost-effective alternative to pay TV - you can access a huge library of TV shows, often for a fraction of the price.
Here are some of the main options:
- Netflix is the granddaddy of streaming services, and the one which has done most to establish streaming in popular culture. Netflix boasts an impressive TV back-catalogue including Narcos, House of Cards, Planet Earth and The Crown, though its film selection is a little more limited.
- Now TV is owned by Sky. Its Entertainment package gives you access to box sets including biggies like Game of Thrones and Westworld, plus access to live channels including Sky Atlantic.
- Amazon Prime Video has 1,000s of films and TV shows to choose from - highlights include The Walking Dead and Vikings. It's less hot on new releases though.
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For more on online streaming, see our Watch TV and Movies Online guide.