TV On Demand: A Comprehensive Guide

In the last two years, the television industry has become flooded with new ‘on demand’ services which are trying to corner the market. From the introduction and on-going popularity of BBC iPlayer, Demand Five, ITV player and 4OD, to the relatively new Netflix, Love film and SkyNow, there is a vast array of options for those who wish to have complete control over theirdigital TV viewing. This guide outlines the highlights and the disadvantages of these TV on-demand services and examines whether they are worth the subscription fee.

BBC iPlayer
Highlights – BBC iPlayer houses a comprehensive selection of the most popular BBC television shows, with a huge variety of areas covered. Drama, news, history, comedy, entertainment and children’s TV. They all get their own sections on the easy-to-navigate BBC iPlayer, which is available through a Red Button service on many televisions now and is preparing to be built into all Samsung televisions from now on. iPlayer requires no extra satellite dishes or installations; everything is viewed through a smart TV or capable Freeview box, desktop PC or tablet, smart phone or laptop computer connected to your broadband router. Also available on other proprietory systems such as Sky HD, Virgin Tivo and Youview.
Disadvantages – Programmes on BBC iPlayer are only accessible for a certain amount of time, which can mean that full series’ of certain shows can’t be watched in full.
Cost – Technically free. Watching content on BBC iPlayer does not require a TV license, as long as the programmes being watched are not live, just a reasonable broadband connection.

Highlights – Originating in America, Netflix was recently launched in the UK to mixed opinion. The service can be downloaded as an app to a new SmartTV or can be accessed through a games console such as an Xbox or a Playstation. HD content is available, and the content is a varied mix of films, television shows and documentaries, both old and new. Series of classic television shows and old movies sit alongside the cutting-edge dramas of today, with content from both sides of the pond.
Disadvantages – Though there are new films and shows being added all the time, there is still largely a complaint that the majority of the content on Netflix is not very popular. 90s teen flicks, episodes of Rugrats and horror films which went straight to DVD are prevalent at this time.
Cost – Various subscription fees available, the lowest being £5.99 per month. Free trials are available.

Freesat “free time”
Highlights – A relatively new service, Freesat is an alternative to Freeview and has an extensive on-demand service which focuses on catching up on television missed in recent weeks. The service is one of the fastest growing of its kind, with more than 500 hours of programming added every week. Soaps, documentaries, quiz shows, films and entire series of dramas are available to watch with the installation of just a free time capable Freesat box.
Disadvantages – Currently only features content from BBC and ITV.
Cost – No subscription, just the cost of a free time capable Freesat box and the installation fee (self installation possible for the capable DIYer).

One of the latest services, Youview comes via a dedicated box, utilises Freeview for its linear television content (so an aerial required), offers seven day “scrollback” through the TV guide and free on demand content laid out in an easy to search manner.
The Youview service also offers on demand paid content with options of Pay & Play, or a monthly Sky Movies Pass.
For Youview On Demand and scrollback content, a reasonable broadband connection is required, 2MB/S or better is recommended. Boxes available from shops, Talktalk and BT as an alternative to BTVision.

Sky Digital
Highlights – One of the most popular providers of digital TV in the country, Sky Digital also has a broad on-demand service. Showcase (pick of the week , formerly Sky Anytime) sends chosen programmes, including movies and TV shows, over-the-air to Sky+ boxes, storing them to be viewed at a later time. The On Demand service via broadband includes all of the movies which are featured on the seemingly all-encompassing Sky Movies package, as well as BBC iplayer, ITV player, (Channel 4od coming 2013) and Demand 5.
Disadvantages – Showcase downloads commence automatically overnight and take up a proportion of the memory of the box, turning off On Demand does not restore the available memory.
Cost – No extra cost to a monthly Sky subscription, but certain shows and movies have a rental fee and are only available for a certain amount of time.

Update July 2013 – Sky release price of their Now TV box, £9.99
The newly launched Now TV box, will retail at £9.99 and make available free internet services such as BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, BBC and Sky news apps, plus no doubt more to come in time. The box should connect to most modern TVs.
NOW TV will offer access to Sky Sports and Sky Movies on a pay per view basis, plus internet services such as Facebook and Spotify.

Virgin Tivo
Virgin Tivo, the main competitor to Sky HD, offers a fairly similar channel selection, with Catch up via a seven day reverse programme guide and extensive on demand services. Recommended programmes are stored on your hard drive for instant viewing as with Sky HD. Also available on your Tivo is BBC iplayer, Youtube and a catalogue of films and events for rental.
With the Virgin Tivo service, there is no problem with how much you view on demand, as you are connecting to Virgin’s own cable network and generally benefit from fast download speeds.
Disadvantages – You need to be in reach of Virgin’s cable network and it is a subscription service

Independent internet boxes
There are several popular independent Internet Protocol Boxes available for on demand television. Boxee is amongst the most popular.


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