Big turn-off? TV packages can really drive up household expenses

Apple TV+ has joined the TV-on-demand market. But be choosy about what you sign up to

Steven Spielberg speaks during an event launching Apple TV+. Photograph: Noah Berger/AFP/Getty Images

Steven Spielberg speaks during an event launching Apple TV+. Photograph: Noah Berger/AFP/Getty Images


Can too much choice be a bad thing? Well, in the case of what to watch when your day is drawing to a close – or when you’re on your daily commute – sometimes having too many viewing options means you just end up spending more, deriving little benefit from the extra choice you’ve given yourself.

While some will delight at the news of Apple’s impending arrival of its new streaming service to the Irish market, others will recall those halcyon days when the only option was Where in the World on RTÉ1 or Home and Away on RTÉ2.

Because, while our choice may have been muted in days gone by, so too were the costs. You bought a television, and potentially an aerial, paid your TV licence and off you went.

Now our choice – and let’s be honest, the quality – of much of what we get to watch has increased exponentially. But surely there must come a point when people will lift a hand and say “enough”?

Let’s consider the average household. They will probably still have cable television, perhaps as a package with broadband from Sky, Eir or Virgin, and pay about €70 a month for this .

Now add Netflix (€10.99 a month for a two-screen package), and maybe they wanted to watch The Marvellous Mrs Maisel or The Grand Tour and so added Amazon Prime as well for just €2.99 a month for six months but forgot to cancel it, so are now paying a further €5.99 a month. Maybe they like watching the latest movies, too, so they get a Sky Cinema Pass with Now TV for €15 a month. They also don’t like to miss particular Premier League matches so will fork out €10 a time via Now TV to watch them. And then the teenager asks for a Hayu subscription so they can keep up with the Kardashians and the Real Wives, which adds a further €5.99 a month.

Without even thinking about how they pay to listen to music, this household is already paying almost €130 month for their internet and television needs, or €1,535 a year.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. YouTube Premium (€9.99 a month), Mubi (€3.99 a movie), Sky Sports (€25 a month) and Eir Sport (€29.99 a month) are all available in Ireland.

Limited hours

But how much television can a family realistically watch? While it’s now unusual not to see someone watching Game of Thrones or Stranger Things on their phone while on the 46A or Luas, there are still only a limited number of hours in the day.

Netflix, after all, home of the binge, says its subscribers watch an average of just 50 minutes a day.

And now, into this overcrowded space, comes yet another choice. As part of the hardware maker’s move into services, Apple has just launched its new television service, Apple TV+, which will include original programming such as The Morning Show, featuring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, as well as shows from TV giants such as Oprah Winfrey.

It’s expected that the new service will be available on smart TVs from Samsung this spring, with Sony and LG to follow. While Apple has yet to say how much it will cost, it’s unlikely to be less than €10 a month.

It’s also launching a separate news and magazine subscription product, Apple News+, which will give subscribers access to more than 300 magazines.

So what’s the average punter to do? Sign up to yet another service for their “must see” TV? Or maybe take a more considered approach and only keep what they actually watch.

If, for example, you’ve been spoiled by Netflix in being able to watch exactly what you want, when you want, and no longer have to do with the confines of traditional TV, why not cut the cord altogether and get rid of your cable television service? You will always be able to catch up on certain programmes online via the various player services that are available – although remember that you’ll still have to pay for your TV licence.

Slim down

Or if you still like TV – but only the channels you actually watch – why not ditch your current service and slim down your package. “Skinny bundles” are the latest direction cable companies are taking, trying to hang on – or attract – younger customers by selling a shrunken offering. Virgin’s Freedom TV package for example, offers just 20 channels – but costs just €20 a month.

Or better yet, go one step further and ditch your cable company in favour of “free” television via Saorview. Yes, you can expect to incur set up costs of about €200-€300, but once it’s up and running you will never get a monthly bill from a cable operator again, saving you about €600 a year.

And thanks to new innovations such as the internet connected Saorview Connect, which offers you much of what your cable company does – if not quite the same number of channels – it’s becoming an increasingly attractive option. Latest figures show there are about 660,000 users of Saorview in Ireland.

When presented with ever more options, it’s easy to get sucked in by the hype. If you’re a magazine or news fiend, for example, Apple’s new News+ offering might sound very attractive. It is set to launch in Ireland later this year and will cost about €8.80 a month (€106 a year). But there is already a (better?) alternative. By joining your local library and downloading the RB digital app on to your mobile phone or tablet, you’ll can get access to 456 magazines – today and for free.