The best-value TV bundles

Watching television used to be so simple. Analogue sets all came with the same four channels, and if you wanted more viewing choice you bought a video recorder. Fast-forward to now and the UK has gone digital. There's a vast array of channels to satisfy your viewing pleasure, and some of these can be viewed in high definition (HD) or on demand via the internet.

This all means that figuring out what to watch, when, and how is no longer straightforward. There's a lot more to it than just connecting your TV to an aerial and paying for a licence.

The digital age has spawned an explosion in viewing options, ranging from free-to-view services such as Freeview and freesat to subscription-based services offered by the likes of Sky, BT and Virgin Media. There are also new providers that allow you to pay for films and TV programmes sent to your PC or TV via the internet. We'll look at the costs and the pros and cons of each of these in turn.

Subscription-free services

Every licence payer in Britain has access to free-to-view TV channels. If you don't watch a lot of TV or prefer the more traditional channels offered by the BBC and ITV, subscription-free services will probably suit you.

Freeview is the biggest name in the subscription-free sector, as all new TV sets come with this service pre-installed. People with older sets can buy a set-top box for around £20 to receive over 50 digital channels, 10 HD channels and 24 radio stations on offer, as well as interactive services, via an aerial.

If you want to record programmes and whole series, as well as pause and rewind programmes you're watching, you'll need to buy a Freeview+ recorder. These cost from £20 to over £200, depending on the quality and recording capabilities of the unit. Freesat is offered by Sky, the BBC and ITV, and has around 150 channels to flick through.

As the name suggests, you'll need a satellite dish to run the service, which can cost around £80 to install. You will also need a TV set with freesat built in or a freesat set-top box costing from £70. Freesat is worth considering if you live in an area with a weak Freeview signal.

Pay-for TV

Most of us are familiar with subscription or pay-for TV, largely thanks to the enduring success of Sky. For a monthly outlay of £21.50, customers can gain access to more than 35 paid-for channels and more than 240 free-to-view channels via their TV, internet and mobile phone, as part of its original bundle. Many people opt for Sky because they want the sports or movie channels, but these cost extra.

Sky is not the only TV provider that operates in the pay-for market, as Virgin Media, BT and TalkTalk all have a stake. Each seeks to differentiate itself by offering viewers something different. For example, Virgin Media's TiVo set-top box enables customers to record three programmes at once, compared with Sky's dual recording option.

Virgin also makes great play of the fact that it uses optical fibre cable rather than satellite, meaning no dodgy pictures during stormy weather. Of course, this is only a plus point in areas that have cable laid.

BT and TalkTalk offer a mix of Freeview channels and popular other content, including Sky channels. As with Sky and Virgin Media, they also offer interactive services, including social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and access to on-demand services such as BBC iPlayer.

TV providers typically offer a range of packages at different monthly subscription rates – which one you go for will depend on your budget and what types of channels you like to watch. It is also worth comparing the cost of TV, phone and broadband bundles,as this may well work out more cost-effective.


The table shows the cheapest TV, broadband and phone bundles currently available.



Introductory monthly cost (first six mnths) Typical monthly cost

Line rental (per month)

Total (1st year) costs


Totally Unlimited Broadband with Plus TV and anytime Calls





Virgin Media

Virgin Media Starter Collection






Sky TV original, broadband & calls




£380.75 (inc. £6.95 setup fee)


Sky+HD family, broadband & calls




£479.75 (inc. £6.95 setup fee)

TV Entertainment plus BT Infinity Extra
£13 £21 £13.32 £419.79 (inc. £55 setup fee)

Are bundles good value?

Bundles are a good idea as buying your broadband, TV and phone in one shot is invariably cheaper than separate purchases – and it's less hassle, too. There's a considerable number of bundles on offer from the main providers, most being variations on their core offering.

However, it's best to consider what you want from the bundle and look for one that best suits your requirements.

For instance, if you are a heavy internet user the broadband capability will be of great interest. You should look for bundles that offer speeds of at least 15Mb, as these will have the capacity to provide smooth streaming of video and data. Virgin Media's Free TV and Free TiVo might be of interest, as it offers 30Mb and 60Mb speeds.

If you dip into the internet and are quite content with a standard range of TV channels, but use the phone a lot, it may be best to look for bundles that offer 'anytime' calls. Anytime means you can telephone during the day, evening and weekends rather than at weekends only without incurring extra fees.

On-demand TV

As YouTube shows, watching programmes and films doesn't start and end with a TV. The success of laptops, smart phones and tablets have gone hand in hand with the rise of online TV, which is far less constrained than scheduled television. These days, you don't have to scrutinise the TV pages for fear of missing a particular show, you can watch it at your leisure thanks to on-demand services, such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5, as well as from Sky.

On-demand services allow you to catch up on recently broadcast programmes you've missed, which you can access via a computer, smart TV or other internet-enabled device.

Internet-based packages

While many people will be happy to watch on-demand programmes on their tablet or laptop, perhaps to kill time on the daily commute, others will prefer to relax at home in front of their TV. There are several services catering for this including YouView, which comes as part of a phone and broadband bundle from BT Infinity and TalkTalk or can be purchased as a set-top box from retailers such as Argos and John Lewis.

Once you've installed it, you can watch and record various on-demand channels for free. You can also upgrade to receive extra channels, such as Sky Sports and Sky Movies, paying on a month-by-month basis – which is good if you don't want to be tied into a long- term contract.

Unsurprisingly, Sky has created its own internet- based package. NOW TV allows people who don't want a Sky subscription to view Sky News, BBC iPlayer and Demand 5 for free. Customers who buy the NOW TV box for £9.99 can also pay on an ad hoc basis for films and sports, with a one-day Sky Sports pass costing £9.99 and Sky Movies costing £8.99 a month (for the first three months, then £15 a month thereafter).

Read Moneywise editor Mark King's blog: Why I've given up on Now TV

Online streaming

Years ago, if you didn't fancy what was on TV, you'd have to visit your local video rental store. Now, you can instantly watch films or TV programmes streamed over the internet. Netflix, for example, enables subscribers to watch 'unlimited' films and TV episodes for £5.99 a month, which are streamed to their TV via a number of devices, including a PS3, Wii and Xbox360.

If you don't envisage making full use of the £5.99 Netflix service, you could consider Blinkbox. With this option, you pay for individual films and TV shows, costing from 99p for a 30-day rental. These can be streamed to a SmartTV, Xbox 360, iPad, set-top boxes and TVs connected to a computer.

Lovefilm is the other big player in this market, with its Instant service costing £5.99 a month for unlimited films and TV shows streamed to customers' computers. When you select a film, it's played instantly on your computer, laptop or internet-connected TV.

An online streaming service could complement free-to-air services, such as Freeview and freesat, giving you greater viewing choice for a relatively small extra outlay.


If you are content to watch the main TV channels, then free-to-view services are likely to meet your needs but if you have a particular love of films or are a sports fan, then bundled subscription services will probably prove best. Internet services are ideal if you are on the move a lot, or just prefer the more interactive nature of digital media.