All you need to know about ways to watch your top TV show
From free to air, streaming services and contract free – we run the rule over television
Watching a news feed on a tablet device. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Are you still paying for a television service? Many of us forget the monthly toll it takes from the household budget. Perhaps it’s time to ask how often do you watch it? Are there channels you never stop at? And could you live without it? You have options.
If ever there was legislation that failed to keep pace with the change in technology, it’s the TV licence. These days, it’s perfectly possible to ditch the €160 charge and yet still watch as much, or as little, TV as ever. That’s all thanks to the growth in streaming television services, plus a growing appetite for watching TV when and where you want, instead of being at the mercy of schedules.
On one hand, this is good news for consumers. Not only can they get rid of costly television contracts, they can also cut out the licence fee. On the other, it’s not so good for those relying on funding from the State. Out of the pot, funding goes to An Post, which gets commission for collecting the fees; the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, which gets 7 per cent of the net revenue; TG4, which gets €4.245 million; and RTÉ, which gets the rest.
There is one catch to that though. You cannot have a TV set in the house, (ie one that is capable of receiving broadcast signals). If you have one, even if it’s not connected to anything, you have to pay up. There have been incidents where inspectors have secured warrants and Garda assistance to search a house for a set.
Likewise, if you only have a monitor but have a service such as Vodafone TV or Eir Vision connected to it, you also have to pay up.
What’s not covered by the current legislation? Tablets. Laptops. Monitors without a television tuner or one of the previously mentioned broadcast services connected to it. That’s a lot of devices out there that could access TV programmes free of charge. And when you consider that many people are moving away from linear TV to something a little more flexible, it’s a figure that’s only going to get bigger.
Evasion rates for the licence are somewhere in the region of 14 per cent and there have been efforts to address this. Not so long ago, there was talk of a “broadcasting charge” that would replace the licence fee. The idea being that the new charge would cover all devices, including radios, and allow the Government to close the loophole that enables people watch television online without having to pay the licence fee.
If implemented, it guaranteed that almost every house in the State would require a TV licence. Evasion would be next to impossible, since most people have some combination of television, smartphone, tablet or radio in their homes. But after a huge outcry, the Government dropped plans for the controversial charge.
So if you want to cut the cord, what are your options?
The cheapest is just watch everything online. There are plenty of ways to do that, considering all the Irish channels have a website with a player that streams “live” television – or rather, live with a few seconds of a delay, and an app to cover smartphones and tablets.
RTÉ’s channel – RTÉ One, RTÉ 2, RTÉ Junior and RTÉ News Now – are all available live through RTÉ Player. TV3, or Virgin Media Television as it’s now known, has 3Player, with both live and catchup television. TG4 has its own player too that covers everything from live television to children’s programmes. They’re all free of charge. If you want UK content, Channel 4 and E4 offer free of charge content through All 4.
But you will sacrifice other things. BBC iPlayer, for example, isn’t available outside the UK unless you have a VPN set up. Its international version was closed down a few years ago. ITV has a subscription service called ITV Hub, but rights issues mean they restrict it to UK only. Again, unless you have a good VPN that will give you a UK address.
As you would imagine though, there’s also an app for that. Namely FilmonTV. Available for both iOS and Android, FilmOn TV offers live channels from all over the world, including the UK. BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 are all available, streamed live directly to the app. You get a certain amount of viewing time free for each channel, after which you have to sign up for a subscription on the website, at a cost of about €15 monthly.
However, a VPN like Express VPN will only set you back $13 a month (€11) – or less if you choose to sign up for six months or 12 months – so it may be worth investing in that instead.
The best thing about the internet is that it has brought with it plenty of streaming television services. From Netflix to Amazon Prime, there are options, as long as you do not mind stumping up for the monthly fees.
The removal of geographic restrictions for content while in the EU means you can take these services with you when you travel.
Netflix has been pumping a lot of money into original content and has everything from House of Cards and Stranger Things to Black Mirror. Plus add in the children’s content (Peppa Pig on loop) and the back catalogue of films and there is plenty to see. Netflix also allows you to download content and offers a 4K option if you have upgraded your television.
Although fresh content is added frequently, users also need to be aware that it also disappears. There are few things more frustrating than Netflix losing the rights to a series when you are in the middle of it.
Amazon Prime Video is one of the service that makes sense for Irish users to have. Like Netflix, it has some of its own original content, including Jeremy Clarkson and Co in The Grand Tour although there were recent rumours about its future.
Contract free – at a cost
Another option for contract-free television is Now TV. A relative newcomer to the Irish market, Now TV offers services on a daily, weekly or monthly basis which are split into packs. These cover sports, movies, entertainment and children’s television. You pay for as much, or as little, as you want and can cancel it any time.
For watching, you can choose between an app or a physical device that allows you to stream to your set or monitor.
If you want Irish TV channels you will need either a Saorview box – in addition to a television licence – or access to players, as there is no RTÉ or TV3 channels included in the regular line-up.
The grey areas
There are plenty of ways to get subscription-free television. Some are above board, others less so. Online streaming can be a slightly murky world. It involves an Android TV box and a media player app that can be configured to pull in slightly suspect streams from around the web. You pay for the box – usually under €100, connect it to your television and you are ready to go.
The dangers? The legality of it all is one thing to consider. Plus the streams it accesses can be shut down at any point. If you aren’t technically minded enough to fix the problems as they arise, it might be more trouble than it’s worth.