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On demand TV

By Phil Wilkinson-Jones | Wednesday, June 30th 2021

TV is changing and the ability to watch what you want, when you want, is now high on the list for most people when it comes to choosing our TV provider. So what do the various providers offer in terms of on demand TV? Let’s take a look.

What is on demand TV?

On demand refers to any TV service that isn’t broadcast live as a traditional linear channel. It may be that the service is delivered via a set top box, an app on your phone or on a website, but the defining feature is that you choose when to watch the content.

You may have heard the phrase ‘catch-up TV’ – this is a way of watching programmes and films that have been shown on a traditional channel in recent days, but using an on demand service, such as the BBC iPlayer, to do so.

Virgin Media TV on demand

There are a number of on demand services available through Virgin Media’s set top box, as well as its own Virgin Media Store. You can also scroll back through the TV guide and click anything with the catch-up symbol to see various options for watching it.

  • Virgin Media Store – The Virgin Media TV store allows you to buy and keep, or rent, a mix of new movies, classic films and TV box sets.
  • Netflix – You’ll need a separate subscription, but you can access Netflix through Virgin TV, either via its own designated channel or via the app.
  • Pluto – Pluto is free and shows a range of dramas, reality TV shows, lifestyle and kids programming.
  • BBC iPlayer – The BBC’s on demand service lets you catch up with the best of the Beeb’s live TV channels, plus there’s box sets, films and all sorts of treasures from the BBC archives.
  • ITV Hub – The ITV Hub allows you to catch up with the most popular ITV shows, mostly from the past week but in some categories a bit further back.
  • All 4 – All 4 is the place to find Channel 4, E4 and 4Music content on demand. There are hundreds of box sets available as well as catch-up TV from the past month.
  • YouTube – The video sharing service YouTube is available as an app on Virgin Media TV. There’s an increasing number of original programmes available on YouTube Premium or you can just watch cat videos for free.
  • Virgin TV Kids – Virgin TV Kids gives you access to extra channels but also loads of kids shows on demand and a partner app.
  • Box sets – Customers with any of the Bigger Bundles or the Ultimate Volt bundle can access Virgin Box Sets, which includes shows exclusive to Virgin Media.

Sky TV on demand

Sky offers a substantial amount of on demand TV but not all of it comes with the standard TV package, Sky Signature. There are a number of extras that you can choose to bolt-on to your package.

  • Ultimate On Demand – This is an add-on that combines Sky Box Sets and Netflix and now comes as standard with all Sky TV bundles. You get 500 box sets (all in HD) to choose from as well as a Netflix subscription, and can watch it all through your Sky Q box.
  • Sky Cinema – The Sky Cinema add-on gives you access to 1,000 movies on demand, all in HD. These include the premieres shown every day on Sky Cinema and Sky Cinema Originals the same day as their theatrical release. It also comes with a 20% discount on any Sky Store rentals.
  • Sky Kids Pack – The Sky Kids Pack contains more than 5,000 episodes of top kids shows as well as eight live channels and access to the Sky Kids app.
  • Sky Store – If you prefer to keep your subscriptions to a minimum and just pay for what you watch, Sky Store is a great place to rent or buy new movies, old classics and TV box sets.
  • Disney+ – The home of Disney classics, Pixar, National Geographic, Star Wars and Marvel, offers hours of on demand entertainment and can be bolted on to your Sky subscription and watched via Sky Q.
  • 60 catch-up channels – Sky stores everything on certain channels for a rolling 30-day period, allowing you to scroll through and watch anything you’ve missed without having to use up precious recording space on your Sky Q box.

BT TV on demand

BT is the only provider that allows you to watch both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video via its set top box. Its range of Entertainment packs come with NOW TV Entertainment as standard, whereby you can watch the channels live or choose to watch your favourite shows on demand. BT also supports a range of free catch-up services and has its own TV store, which is similar to that of its rivals.

  • BT TV Store – The BT TV Store is a collection of films and TV box sets on the BT Player, which can be accessed by pressing the BT Player button on your remote. You can also watch your purchases on the website or mobile app.
  • BT TV Kids – This is an add-on that gives you access to thousands of kids’ shows on demand as well as seven live channels.
  • Britbox – A collaboration between ITV and the BBC, Britbox brings you classic TV to enjoy when you choose.
  • Netflix – You’ll need a separate subscription but BT’s set top boxes (they vary depending on the package you’ve got) allow you to watch Netflix directly through them so there’s no need to switch to another device.
  • Amazon Prime Video – At the time of writing, BT is the only TV service of its kind that supports Amazon Prime Video (you can’t watch it on Virgin or Sky). It requires a separate subscription but has a selection of movies plus plenty of its own original shows.
  • BBC iPlayer – The iPlayer lets you catch up on the best of the BBC’s output and on occasion will even let you watch a full series before it’s been shown on a live channel.
  • ITV Hub – The ITV Hub lacks the in-depth archive of the iPlayer and there’s no HD function, but there’s still plenty here to keep you entertained including top dramas and documentaries.
  • All 4 – All4 has the best that Channel 4, E4 and 4Music have to offer, including box sets of classic shows.
  • Sky Cinema – You can add NOW TV Cinema to your BT TV package, and as well as 11 movie channels (for fibre customers) it also offers 1,000 movies to watch on demand.
  • Sky Sport – You can add NOW TV Sport to your BT TV package, and as well as enjoying live action, you can also watch anything you’ve missed, along with a range of documentaries, news programmes and edited highlights.

TalkTalk TV on demand

TalkTalk’s TV service is a fairly basic one but it’s bolstered by an impressive selection of on demand apps that you can access via your YouView box.

  • BBC iPlayer – The BBC’s own on demand service features the best of BBC One, Two, Three and Four plus CBBC and CBeebies. There’s also plenty of hidden gems in the BBC archive section.
  • ITV Hub – ITV’s catch up service features popular shows from ITV, ITV2, ITVBe, ITV 3, ITV4 and there’s plenty for the kids from CITV.
  • All 4 – All4 gives you a month to catch up with some of the best programming from Channel 4, E4 and 4Music. There’s also a load of box sets, featuring new series and old favourites.
  • My5 – My5 features on demand TV not only from Channel 5 but also from 5USA, 5STAR, 5Spike, Paramount Network, PBS America and more.
  • Netflix – It requires a separate subscription, but being able to watch Netflix via your set top box is a nice bonus. Loads of original shows and films, plus big movie releases and big TV hitters from the likes of the BBC.
  • NOW TV – Having access to Sky’s streaming service, NOW TV, opens up a whole new world of on demand content, from Sky Cinema to Sky Sports.
  • Milkshake! – Parents of young children will already be familiar with Milkshake!, which is the home of kids favourites including PAW Patrol, Peppa Pig and Fireman Sam.
  • UKTV Play – UKTV Play gives you on demand content from channels including Dave, Gold, Drama, Really, W and Alibi.
  • S4C – The S4C app features on demand content from the Welsh-language channel including sport, drama, kids shows and more.
  • POP – On demand programmes from the kids channels POP, POP MAX and Tiny POP. Popular shows include Transformers: Rescue Bots, Trolls and My Little Pony.
  • Britbox – Showing classic British drama and comedy, Britbox is a collaboration between the BBC and ITV.

EE TV on demand

EE offers customers Apple TV 4K as its TV offering, which permits access to a range of the best on demand apps, as well as the Apple TV+ app itself that shows original, exclusive drama, comedy and films.

  • NOW TV – NOW TV offers on demand content with its Sky Cinema, Sky Sport, Entertainment, Kids and Hayu passes. In order to watch, you need to subscribe to each one separately.
  • BBC iPlayer – A chance to catch the best BBC programmes from the past 30 days and find exclusive shows not broadcast on the Beeb’s live channels.
  • YouTube – You can use this app to watch your favourite YouTube channels, or cat videos, on your TV.
  • BT Sport Ultimate – BT Sport Ultimate is included for free as part of EE’s broadband and Apple TV package, providing both live and on demand access to Premier League football, the UEFA Champions league and more.
  • Hayu – Hayu is an on demand service that allows you to watch American reality TV shows on the same day they are first broadcast in the US.
  • TVPlayer – TVPlayer gives you access to both the standard Freeview channels and 15 premium TV channels that aren’t on Freeview, including National Geographic, History and Comedy Central.
  • Hopster – Hopster is a learning and entertainment platform for pre-school children, with no adverts and programmes including Postman Pat and Ben & Holly.

Freeview TV on demand

Freeview Play is the Freeview service that combines live TV and on demand, allowing you to access programmes from the past seven days through your on-screen TV guide or to go directly via one of the following apps. As you’d expect, there’s no subscription fees involved with the apps on Freeview Play.

  • BBC iPlayer – The iPlayer features catch up TV, films, box sets and archive material from the BBC.
  • ITV Hub – ITV Hub has a range of programmes from across the ITV channel line-up.
  • All4 – Catch up on programmes from Channel 4, E4 and 4Music from the past 30 days and find old favourites in box-set form.
  • My 5 – My 5 features shows from 5USA, 5STAR, 5Spike, the Paramount Network and PBS America as well as Channel 5 itself.
  • UKTV Play – Catch up TV from UKTV’s free-to-air channels – Dave, Drama, Really and Yesterday.
  • CBS Catchup Channels UK – This on demand player lets you catch up with shows from the past 30 days from CBS Reality, CBS Drama and CBS Justice, as well as exclusive content and box sets.
  • Horror Bites – Catch up on programmes and a wide range of films shown on the Horror Channel in the past 30 days.

Frequently asked questions

Do I need broadband to watch on demand TV?

Yes, on demand services are delivered over the internet so you will need broadband in order to use them. Most recommend a speed of at least 2Mbps, which is well within the capability of even the cheapest broadband services.

Is catch up TV the same as on demand?

In most cases yes, catch up TV and on demand are two phrases that refer to the same thing. One exception is Sky, which uses the term catch up TV to refer to services that allow you to watch content recently broadcast on linear TV channels, with on demand generally referring to box sets and other non-linear content.

Can I watch on demand TV without a licence?

It depends what it is. You need a TV licence to watch anything that is being broadcast live, even if you’re watching it through an on demand TV service – watching live football via the NOW TV app, for example. You also need a TV licence to watch anything on the BBC iPlayer. With everything else, unless it’s being streamed live, you’re ok.

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