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On demand TV

By Phil Wilkinson-Jones
Tuesday, April 9th 2019

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 V6 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. Good integration on the box means that Netflix programmes show up when you use the general search function.
  • Sky Cinema – The Full House Movies and V.VIP TV bundles include Sky Cinema, which features more than 1,000 movies available on demand as well as the live channels.
  • Curzon Home Cinema – Curzon Home Cinema has a selection of new and classic independent films. It’s free to sign up for an account, you then pay for what you watch.
  • 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 Collection – Virgin’s Kids Collection add-on gives you access to extra channels but also loads of kids shows on demand and a partner app.
  • Box sets – Customers with the Full House or V.VIP bundle can access Virgin Box Sets, which includes shows exclusive to Virgin Media.
  • Desi – The Desi app pack features on demand Asian entertainment from two apps – Eros Now, the home of Bollywood, Hindi and regional Asian movies, and Voot, which mixes original productions with shows from MTV India and exclusive behind-the-scenes content.

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 Entertainment. To access most of Sky’s on demand content you’ll need to add one or more add-ons to your package.

  • 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.
  • Ultimate On Demand – This is an add-on that combines Sky Box Sets and Netflix. 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.
  • Sky Kids Pack – The Sky Kids Pack contains more than 5,000 episodes of top kids shows as well as 11 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.

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. It 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 nine live channels.
  • 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 Sky Cinema to your BT TV package, and as well as 11 movie channels (for fibre customers) that means more than 1,000 movies available to watch on demand.

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.
  • My 5 – 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. What exactly that is depends on which NOW TV passes you subscribe to.
  • 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.
  • TalkTalk TV Store – Like its rivals, TalkTalk has a TV store where you can buy or rent films and TV box sets that aren’t included in your subscription.

EE TV on demand

EE supports a lot of on demand apps on its TV platform, which help to bolster its relatively basic TV service. These are the apps it lists as being the most popular – the full list is available on EE’s website.

  • NOW TV – NOW TV offers on demand content with its Sky Cinema, 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.
  • BBC Sport – The BBC Sport app offers an alternative way of watching sporting events being shown live on the BBC’s ‘red button’ service and on its website.
  • 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.
  • Rakuten TV – Rakuten TV is a paid-for service with a large collection of new films, old films and TV series.
  • TVPlayer PLUS – TVPlayer PLUS gives you access to 31 premium TV channels that aren’t on Freeview, including Eurosport, Discovery Channel and HISTORY.
  • Hopster – Hopster is a learning and entertainment platform for pre-school children, with no adverts and programmes including Postman Pat and Ben & Holly.
  • The Box Plus – The Box Plus offers a selection of on-demand music and entertainment shows as well as seven live music channels.
  • BBC Three – No longer a live channel, BBC Three is still producing hard-hitting documentaries, short films, animations and some of the most original British drama and comedy.

Plusnet TV on demand

Plusnet’s TV offering is a fairly basic one. It’s not available to order online – you have to phone up and already be a Plusnet fibre broadband customer. In terms of on demand TV it offers the most popular free catch-up services plus Netflix.

  • BBC iPlayer – The best of the BBC from the past 30 days, films, box sets and archive material including documentaries from Louis Theroux and Sir David Attenborough.
  • ITV Hub – Catch up TV and on demand programmes from ITV including top dramas, reality TV and documentaries.
  • All4 – Catch up TV from the past 30 days as well as a huge selection of box sets including classic comedies Father Ted, The IT Crowd and Peep Show.
  • My 5 – The place to watch on demand content from Channel 5 but also 5USA, 5STAR, 5Spike, Paramount Network, PBS America and others.
  • Netflix – Requires a separate subscription. Top TV and films from the US, UK, Europe and beyond, including Netflix’s own original movies and series.

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 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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