By Marc Shoffman | Tuesday, January 29th 2019
From sports to drama, BT and Sky often go head-to-head – both on and off the television. They regularly wrangle over broadcasting rights for football as well as when it comes to sharing each other’s content. So how do you choose between the two?
As well as looking at the channel choice and the various bolt-ons available, you also need to consider the technology on offer and even the service reputation of each. This can be somewhat confusing so we have laid out the key differences for you here so you can decide who's ultimately best for your household - Sky or BT.
BT offers four TV packages that you can only take in addition to a BT broadband deal. Its Classic package offers up to 80 Freeview channels including Dave, Film 4 and E4. You also get a YouView+ Box that lets you pause and rewind live TV plus you can record up to 300 hours of your favourite shows.
BT’s Entertainment package offers more channels with up to 100 such as E!, Universal and Gold, plus the same YouView+ box. The Max package will get you 141 channels such as Discovery, Nickelodeon, DisneyJunior and MTV with 21 in HD. Existing BT customers also get access to a similar package called Max HD.
Both provide access to ultra HD or 4K BT Sport and US channel AMC which was the network behind award-winning classics such as Breaking Bad and Mad Men. There is also a YouView+ HD box that doubles your recording capabilities to 600 hours. If you don’t need to do any recording, you could go for the Starter + BT Sport package. This gives you a YouView box with up to 80 channels and can access BT Sport on the TV, online and on the app.
There are plenty of extras you can pay for to boost your service. You can add bolt-ons such as BT Sport or on-demand kids or music channels if they are not already included in your deal. There is also access to Netflix and other streaming services such as BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub.
The Entertainment and Max deals come with a BT TV app that lets you watch and record TV on the go while all the packages have access to the BT TV store where you can rent or buy movies and boxsets. If you take BT Superfast Fibre (previously BT Infinity) you will also be able to add Sky Cinema and Sky Sports.
In the early days of Sky TV you would be offered an Original or Variety bundle. But now these have been merged into one base package dubbed Sky Entertainment. This gives you access to much of the best exclusive content Sky has to offer on channels such as Sky One, Sky Living, and Sky Atlantic. You also get channels that would usually be a premium on other providers as standard with Sky such as Fox, Gold, MTV and Discovery. There are also the usual free-to-air channels thrown in such as BBC and Channel 4.
Unlike BT, Sky doesn’t provide access to Netflix, but that is the only real limitation. There are plenty of other paid-for add-ons. You can get Sky Cinema, which promises a new premiere every day as well as more than 1,000 movies on demand. Sky Sports now has ten dedicated channels covering the Premier League, football, F1 cricket and golf. It will even let you swap them around once a month.
You can also pay extra to binge on its Box Sets add-on with more than 400 shows and new ones added every week.
Parents can also keep their children occupied with a kids' add-on featuring 11 channels including the Disney Channel and Nick Jr. There is also an app offering 4,500 episodes on demand.
BT’s TV packages come with a YouView box as standard that lets you pause and rewind live TV. You also get seven days of catch-up TV on BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Channel 4 and Channel 5.
Classic and Entertainment users get 300 hours of recording space but you get double that on the Max offering. The YouView box lets you record two live channels at the same time. But you can only watch one live channel while another is recording. You could however still watch a recorded programme while two are recording in the background.
In comparison, Sky comes with a Sky Q box that, similar to YouView+, lets you pause, rewind and record TV. But it goes a bit further and lets you record three shows while watching a fourth. You can store up to 500 hours of TV with its 1TB box or 1,000 with its 2TB version, which also lets you record six shows while watching a seventh.
Cost and channels are important factors in choosing between these two TV giants but customer satisfaction is equally important as you need assurance that any issues will be dealt with well.
BT does seem to struggle with customer satisfaction. The latest Ofcom data for 2017 shows it had the most complaints per 100,000 customers for pay TV at 13, compared with Sky which had the fewest with just one.
The main issues with BT were complaints handling, followed by billing, pricing and charging, and faults, service and provision.
Both providers approach the issue of HD channels differently. BT provides HD as standard on its Max packages while Sky Entertainment customers must pay extra each month.
Both also provide a solution for when people in the same house want to watch different programmes at the same time.
BT will provide a maximum of two extra YouView boxes if you pay an extra subscription fee. You can choose whether you want the standard or recordable box.
You don’t necessarily need this though if you are happy to watch on your mobile, tablet or computer through the BT TV app. This extra is only available on the Entertainment or Max packages.
In contrast, for a bit extra each month, Sky offers the Sky Q Mini box. This connects wirelessly to the main box but can be put in a different room of the house. You can connect up to four Sky Q Mini boxes and watch on two TVs at the same time with the 1TB box, or three TVs at the same time with the 2TB box. But beware the cost; one Sky Q mini is just £20 per month extra, but for every extra box on top you will be charged an extra £99. There is also a Sky Q app that lets you download and watch programmes on the move.
Alternatively, you can watch Sky on a mobile, tablet or PC using its Sky Go service. This is available on two registered compatible devices for standard customers, but you can use up to four with Sky Multiscreen.
Both also offer apps that let you set recordings when away from home.
Aside from extra channels and boxes, both have their own rental service. You can rent or buy movies and boxsets in the BT TV Store, while Sky Store will let you buy and keep a movie on your devices or get the DVD or Blu-ray sent to your home.
BT has built a strong position in the market due to its sole rights to broadcast the Champions League.
This means football fans, who are key buyers of digital TV services, may be more likely to favour BT Sport, where they can get both the Premiership and Champions League games, compared with just the matches you may get on Sky Sports.
You can also get BT Sport on Sky but it tends to work out cheaper from the provider itself.
But BT lets itself down when it comes to access. You can only get BT TV with one of its broadband packages, rather than using another provider as Sky will allow. This can be an issue if BT broadband is particularly slow in your area as that will also affect the quality you are receiving if streaming or watching through the BT TV app at home.
Sky TV, in comparison, is a separate product to broadband so you have more flexibility and can choose a different provider for broadband if you want.
If you are not a football fan then Sky trumps BT for quantity and quality. There is a wider range of add-ons for more than just football fans. It also caters for movie buffs and the kids.
You also get channels that aren’t available on BT such as Sky Living and Sky Atlantic. This is due to change in 2019 as Sky has agreed a content-sharing deal to let BT offer these channels, but we are yet to see how much that will cost.
Overall, BT is worth considering for sports fans but if you want an all-round package with more viewing options, as well as the freedom of choosing your own broadband, then Sky is most probably the way to go.