UK cable subscription prices seem to rise every year. In 2016, Sky raised prices £2 per month, while both Virgin and BT continue to be costly services to use for those that want quality TV. Thankfully, it’s easy to shirk the cable company, go all-in on a high-speed internet service, and enjoy free and low-cost cable alternatives in the UK. Whether you want live TV or want to opt for a purely on-demand option, there are cheap alternatives that can easily help you cut the cord.
Read on to learn more about:
- Free cable alternatives in the UK
- Low-cost streaming services and options
- Where to find more information about cord-cutting in the UK
Free Cable Alternatives in the UK
Thrift is king when it comes to cord-cutting in the UK. While your friends in the US may get to enjoy a far larger bundle of cheap streaming options, like Philo, fuboTV, and Sling TV, UK residents are not out of the woods.
Given the popularity and quickly growing demand for cable alternatives on this side of the Atlantic, there are more options for UK residents than in most other countries. Even better is the fact that a growing number of those available options are completely free. Here are some of the best ones we’ve found.
Streaming service Tubi TV is somewhat of a rare gem in the on-demand streaming world. With thousands of TV show episodes for UK residents, Tubi TV is a free streaming service with a sizable content library. Tubi TV is supported through video-based advertisements on all of its videos. The service has strong support from both independent filmmakers and large producers and copyright holders as well, including Paramount Pictures, MGM studios, and Lionsgate.
There are upsides and downsides to TubiTV. Besides the fact that this service comes free-of-charge to users, it also contains some highly respectable content. There are over a dozen different categories to choose from, including a very large selection of TV shows and movies for children.
The real negative comes in the way of what content you’ll get to enjoy in the UK. While Tubi TV has a large library, much of the content is lower-tier as far as quality. Aside from the healthy kids section, you’ll find only a smattering of known content, with a much larger selection of B-movies and TV shows.
Nevertheless, for a free service, Tubi TV can scratch a very necessary TV viewing itch. In order to watch any content, Tubi TV users will first need to register for an account, which can be done via email or by signing in through Facebook.
Tubi TV is also available on a large number of devices and operating systems, including Android, iOS, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, PlayStation 4, Chromecast, TiVO, Samsung smart TVs, and of course right from your Mac or Windows computer.
As the name suggests, Freeview is just that: a free TV service. Freeview allows you to use a TV antenna attached to your house to receive free over-the-air (OTA) TV channels. The service also has a selection of digital streaming channels for those who purchase certain devices listed on the Freeview website. The service is a joint venture between some of the bigger names in UK TV broadcasting: BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Sky.
Freeview’s OTA channels are available for anyone with a digital tuner (either built-in to a modern TV set or with via a set-top box), and an aerial (TV antenna). Some of Freeview’s channels are sitll lower-quality analog, while others do come in HD quality. Importantly, note that you do not need separate analog and digital antennas to receive Freeview channels over-the-air. Some installers and suppliers have falsely claimed that this was necessary, causing confusion and unnecessary spending on the part of consumers.
Should you want some additional options, Freeview also now has on-demand digital broadcasts that can be used through the service’s apps. This opens up more TV viewing options, all of which are still free. The only cost for these additional services (Freeview Play, Freeview HD) is in the hardware needed to access them.
If you’re interested in Freeview, we recommend spending a bit of time on the service website. Freeview provides helpful guides on how to find and setup your aerial, as well as more detailed information regarding their expanded services.
Click here to learn what Freeview channels are available in your area.
Freeview’s on-demand services are available on a short list of smart TVs, iOS devices, and Android devices.
TVPlayer is one of those services that typically elicits a “how is this free” reaction. However, this live TV and on-demand streaming service offers over 75 free-to-air TV channels for no cost. That list of channels includes BBC One, BBC Two, CNN, TruTV, Channel 4, Channel 5, several ITV channels, the Travel Channel, the Food Network and more.
Unlike Freeview, TVPlayer is a much less complicated service. There’s no aerial required. All you need is a computer, or an associated app. You can even watch TVPlayer’s content directly from their website without having to sign in. As with many other free services, TVPlayer is ad-supported.
TVPlayer does combine their free service with a low-cost paid service. The subscription is monthly, so there’s no locked-in contract. The paid service expands the channel lineup by adding in 34+ premium channels. For £5.99 a month, subscribers also get access to more popular networks such as Discovery Channel, History Channel, TLC, National Geographic, Cartoon Network, Spike, Viceland, EuroSport 1, Eurosport 2, and several other distinct options.
Interestingly, TVPlayer even offers a 30 percent discount to students, bringing that cost way down. To get the on-demand streaming from TV Player, you’ll need to purchase a subscription. Paid users also get the an ad-free experience.
Whether you use TVPlayer for free or sign up for a subscription, you can still access the service via its apps. TVplayer is available on iOS, Android, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, XBox One, Roku, Freesat, EE TV, Human H3, and Windows or Mac computers.
Although slightly less known than Freeview and TVPlayer, UKTV Play offers on-demand streaming for catch-up TV shows. UKTV Play provides these streams for free from 10 distinct TV networks, some of which are usually only available through a cable TV subscription.
Using UKTV Play, you can watch catch-up programs from the following networks:
- Good Food
UKTV Play also offers a “Boxsets” option that lets you watch all episodes from specific shows, such as Red Dwarf, or by genre, such as Comedy and Drama. All of this is available so long as you sign up for a free account on the UKTV Play website. The service also includes a helpful TV guide so that you can see what is playing on different channels and at what time.
You can access UKTV Play on a large variety of devices, but operating system functionality is limited. There are apps available for Amazon Fire TV, iOS and Android. However, UKTV Play lists a small selection of Android devices that will not work with the app, even when using the proper Android version.
Low-Cost On-Demand Alternatives in the UK
Sometimes paying just a little each month does net some great options. While wholly-free options are preferable, they are often limited to lower-quality content, with a few exceptions (such as the BBC). Beyond the paid-for TVPlayer subscription listed above, the following live streaming and on-demand services provide excellent value for the price.
Netflix should be a consideration for anyone looking to fully cut the cable cord. UK residents get to enjoy one of the largest Netflix libraries, despite the fact that Netflix has only been in the country since 2012. With over 6.1 million UK subscribers, Netflix has been working hard to secure licensing agreements for its UK customers, supplementing that its large number of internationally-acclaimed original content.
The benefits to Netflix are well-established. The service offers UK residents thousands of hit movies and TV shows on-demand and from almost any device. Users also get access to Netflix originals that are not available anywhere else, including their new original The Crown, and slightly older originals that helped drive new subscriptions, such as House of Cards. Their plot-driven show Stranger Things is one of this years’ must-see TV shows, making a Netflix subscription almost a requirement.
Thankfully, Netflix allows families and friends to share an account. Different subscription plans allow for a varying number of simultaneous screens playing Netflix content at once. The Basic plan, at £5.99 per month, includes no HD and only allows one active screen. Their next tier, Standard, is offered at £7.99 per month, offers HD streaming, and allows 3 active screens at a time. The highest-cost Premium plan will set you back £9.99 a month and allows for 4 active screen. The Premium plan also provides Ultra HD streaming.
Netflix continues to prove why it’s one of the best on-demand streaming services on the market, and a key cable alternative for UK residents.
You’ll find Netflix available on almost every device you might be using, including Windows and Mac computers, iOS and Android devices, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV, most smart TVs, PlayStation 4 and XBox One, and more.
The BBC has been offering its large array of content online for several years now through its iPlayer service. The iPlayer is available to anyone with a TV License, and thankfully, the TV License is actually fairly inexpensive.
iPlayer offers both on-demand and live TV streaming. You also have access to every BBC channel, including sports broadcasts, documentaries, and on-demand movies. One of the best things about the BBC and its iPlayer service is that all of this programming comes in at HD quality and streams quickly with little to no buffering.
To connect to iPlayer, you’ll need to verify that you have a TV License. However, some UK residents can enjoy free licenses. Anyone over 75 can claim a free TV license. Should you happen to live with an elderly family member, you can hone in on their free license and enjoy the perks of using iPlayer.
A TV License can be purchased in several different ways. If you purchase the License for a whole year at a time, you’ll pay £147, which is equivalent to £12.25 per month. If you choose to pay quarterly, you’ll pay the BBC £38 every quarter, which equates to £152 per year. The BBC also lets you pay monthly, but this is by far the most expensive option, at £24.50 per month or £294 per year. Simply put, if you’re going to get a TV License, put down the money for a one-year subscription. It’s not worth it to pay monthly.
iPlayer is unfortunately limited in its app presence. There are apps available for Amazon Fire TV, iOS, and Android.
Amazon Prime Video
In its effort to own all things digital, Amazon has ramped up its Prime Video service in to the point where it’s a perfectly viable cable alternative in the UK. Not only are there many award-winning originals, but Amazon has now started offering live sports channels, including a small number included free for Prime customers as well.
Amazon has been spending big to make a dent in the Netflix market, and it’s been fairly successful at that. The company has stated that there are millions of Prime customers in the UK, although exact numbers are hard to come by. The Prime Video service continues to be a big draw for new customers, however, even as Amazon Prime itself offers a plethora of other membership benefits.
Prime Video is unique in that you not only get thousands of on-demand options, you can also rent or purchase TV shows and movies. Netflix mostly dropped its DVD-by-mail rental service, and does not provide an option to rent or purchase any content. That makes Prime a slightly better option to get access to newer content on-demand.
Amazon has also partnered with a handful of other streaming services and networks to offer other streaming options for an added price. That includes the ability to tack on US network The Discovery Channel, Eurosport Player, ITV Hub, and an MGM movie channel, among other add-ons.
According to data from JustWatch.com, Amazon Prime video has more free content in the UK than Netflix, making it a superior alternative. Amazon Prime in the UK is available for a monthly £7.99 per month fee (£95.52 per year). At that price, Prime is equivalent to a Netflix Standard plan, but with all of the other benefits included with a Prime subscription.
Coming in at just £4.99 per month, Hayu is the perfect place to binge on reality TV. If you’ve always wanted to get your eyes on some American reality TV content, like Real Housewives of New Jersey, Hayu is going to be your best source. It not only offers popular reality shows but even has a growing library of original content.
Where to Find More Information on UK Cord-Cutting
Cord-cutting in the UK is bigger than ever. You’ll find a large number of communities and forum dedicated to the cord-cutting scene. There are few forums dedicated solely to the UK. You’ll likely find great benefit from the /r/Cordcutters Reddit forum. This forum has over 200,000 subscribers, is highly active, and is well moderated. It’s one of the best places on the web for active discussion related to recent cord-cutting news, especially for UK residents.
Sam Cook is a full-time content strategist by day, a part-time freelance content writer since 2015. In another life, he was a high school English teacher for nearly a decade. Based in sunny New Orleans, he writes long-form educational content on technology, including Insurtech, Fintech, HRtech, and content streaming. He loves whittling down complex ideas within these areas that make decisions easier for buyers. When he’s not reading books with his son Miles and playing video games with the family, you can find him immersed in his growing collection of Euro-style board games.