Are you paying over the odds for your TV package?
You can make big savings by ditching pricey subscriptions in favour of other options
“By abandoning the live telly we never watched, we were able to justify spending money on the services we actually do watch without feeling even a twinge of guilt.” Photograph: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg
Sometimes, when Pricewatch wants to terrify its children it tells them tales of what television was like in the bad old days.
In the 1970s in the west of Ireland, people had access to one channel and that did not start broadcasting until 5pm in summer, with an extra hour allowed in winter.
When it started, broadcasting didn’t really matter because what was on offer for children (and for adults) was – almost always – woeful. There were endless panel shows featuring men with cigarettes in their hands talking about farming – if memory serves – and apart from the odd Harold Lloyd or Laurel and Hardy short and the very occasional cartoon, it was no place for young folk.
There were no remote controls, the idea of pausing live television was as far-fetched as sending men to Mars and the notion that thousands of hours of movies and television programmes could be streamed on demand was so outlandish that no one anywhere in the world had even begun to imagine such a thing.
How the world has changed. Today mainstream television channels broadcast 24 hours a day, hundreds of channels are beamed into homes across the country and multiple streaming services compete for our attention while even more illegal services give people without scruples free access to movies and television shows that have yet to be legally released in this country.
But with all the choice comes great confusion and sometimes great cost. A person with broadband access, a Virgin or Sky account and a Netflix subscription could handily spend more than €120 every month on television. A person with an interest in sport would have to spend much more than that by subscribing to multiple services to ensure they can watch football, golf, tennis and all the rest.
Many people who pay big money for their television habits will not be getting good value for money.
Value for money was on Pricewatch’s mind last May when we decided to practise what we preach. For years and years we had paid a provider for a service we almost never used, and so, after doing some sums, we called them and made a deal.
The provider – their identity is irrelevant – was charging us just under €100 a month for a package that included (excellent) broadband, a landline – that has never been connected to the outside world – and a television service offering more than 100 channels, most of which were useless.
Initially we tried to strip out two of the three elements, and asked if we could kill the TV and the landline. That proved impossible as the company appeared unwilling to allow us abandon a landline that no one ever called. We were, however, able to axe the telly package and by doing so we saw our monthly outgoings fall to under €60.
That is a not-too-shabby saving of about €500 every year, and all thanks to a single phone call.
Fast-forward five months and what have we missed by dropping the television from our bundle? Very little. Because the Pricewatch television is smart and has players from RTÉ and TV3 – or VMT as it is now called – on its home screen. The All4 app gives us Channel 4 and E4 content and, were we so inclined, we could use a virtual private network (VPN) to give us access to the BBC channels on the television.
By making savings by abandoning the live telly we never watched, we were able to justify spending money on the services we actually do watch without feeling even a twinge of guilt, because the €40 a month saving we made almost covers the €10.99 a month that Netflix costs and the €30 we pay for Sky’s Now TV entertainment and movie packages.
Netflix – for all its faults and its sometimes tired content – is still very good and routinely throws up gems. That is why it is increasingly popular and now used by more than 500,000 Irish households.
On the cheap
Now TV is not as well-known but is arguably better. It effectively replicates many of the subscription services offered by its parent business on the cheap and without the need to sign up to a lengthy contract. It also allows us to buy a weekend or even day pass that will allow us to watch particular sporting events. We have never done such a thing but it’s nice to know we can.
Pricewatch knows we could probably get most of the material found on both platforms for less – or for free, let’s be (dis)honest here – but by our reckoning it is worth paying for good content. That is why we also pay our TV licence, which costs €160 a year or just over €13 a month, without grumbling too much.
While this is the road Pricewatch is currently travelling, there are other routes people take to cut the cost of their telly habits and there are also countless ways the really ruthless can access almost all the television in the world for nothing
The first thing you would need to do is circumvent the need to spend anything – including the €160 TV licence – would be to get rid of your television set. You must have a licence if you have a box in your house that is capable of receiving broadcast signals, but if you stream television on a laptop or a tablet or a monitor without a television tuner – as long as it is not hooked up to Vodafone TV or Eir Vision – then you don’t have to pay a licence fee. There was talk of rolling out a “broadcasting charge” to replace the licence fee but, after howls outrage from the public, the plans were shelved.
If you don’t watch a huge amount, you could rely on the app FilmOnTV, available for both iOS and Android, to get access to live channels from all over the world including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. If you go over a set allowance, you will have to take out a subscription for €15 monthly.
Other streaming services can be accessed via an Android box, which typically cost about €100. It would be remiss of us not to point out that many such services are in a legally grey area and the streams can be flaky and disappear in the blink of an eye.
And of course there is Saorview, the national digital terrestrial television service. To get the service you just connect a suitable aerial to your Saorview approved TV and tune in to all the free-to-air Irish channels – and, depending on the box, free access to all the UK free-to-air channels too.
PLAYING THE FIELD TO WATCH SPORTS
Earlier this summer Irish Times sports writer Malachy Clerkin wrote a piece that highlighted just how complicated and costly watching sport on television has become for someone who is a “sporting ecumenist” who holds “neither beef nor bias for any sport [and wants it all.”
He started with Sky Sports – an introductory offer costs €50 a month, climbing to €70 after six months. That will cover a lot of the soccer, some golf, hurling and football and a decent chunk of American football in the dead of night on Sundays.
It is, however, no longer so good for rugby, with most Champions Cup and Pro 14 games on BT Sport and Eir Sport. The good news, he wrote , is that people who sign up to that package get more soccer, including more English Premier League, Champions League and Europa League games. The first three months cost €1 a month after which the cost rises to €27.50 a month.
The Virgin Sports Media channel will cost another €20 a month while horse racing fans will probably have to sign up to Racing UK and pay another €31 a month.
When these subscriptions are added up, it comes to €1,782 a year.
But he wasn’t done. He added streaming service elevensports.com into the mix. “After pulling off the coup of signing up the UK and Ireland rights to La Liga and Serie A a couple of days before Cristiano Ronaldo signed for Juventus, they’re also the only place you can go next month to watch the USPGA Championship, the year’s last golf Major,” he wrote. If they charge just €15 a month the sports fan’s bill climbs to €2,000 a year.
HOW I SAVED A COOL €3,000
It is the easiest €3,000 I have ever saved, writes Paddy Logue.
I haven’t looked back since the day almost five years ago when I cancelled my Sky subscription but kept access to more channels than there are hours in the day to watch them.
It might sound like a dodgy “get rich quick” online ad, but such a cost-saving may be right in front of your nose as you read this.
We had first signed up to a Sky television service when we moved house back in 2006. The Chorus satellite TV guys came around and said a signal could not be picked up in our new neighbourhood, so we were happy when Sky said they could hook us up. They duly fitted us out with two Sky boxes, a loop to a third television from one of them and a satellite dish at the end of the garden. For many years we happily watched whatever channels we wanted upstairs and downstairs. And in blissful ignorance €60 or so spirited itself out of our bank account and into Sky’s every month.
But as time went on little annoyances began to creep into our relationship with the television provider. Their customer service department kept contacting me and threatening to cut off our service because one of the boxes was not hooked up to our telephone line (it was but they couldn’t tell that it was). Through this connection they had hoped to sell me extra pay-per-view services. Eventually they left me alone about this issue, but the trust was gone. I asked them, but they flat out refused, to give me, a long-standing customer, the discounts and offers afforded to people signing up for the first time. This really got to me.
By the time 2013 came along, I was well and truly resentful of the €60 monthly bill. A simple cost-benefit analysis prompted me to phone Sky and cancel the service. So did we resort to playing Pontoon and charades every night instead? Of course not. In fact, we barely even noticed. We continued, and continue to this day, to enjoy all of the free-to-air channels piped in through the Sky dish and into the two boxes that we got back in 2006. So that’s all the main BBCs, ITV, Channel 4, Sky New, CNN, Channel 5, and many more. We even kept the “Red Button” service that is not available to Irish viewers in certain cases.
In the meantime we have acquired a Samsung smart TV in a January sale for €300 and signed up to Netflix for €6.99 a month (which is now €9.99 per month). We do not have the Irish channels through the Sky boxes, but we get what we need by streaming them on the players and by plugging the laptop or phone into the television.
By the end of 2018 we will have saved about €3,600 and, subtracting €300 for the television and another roughly €400 for Netflix, we have saved the guts of €3,000 by simply lifting the phone and saying “please cancel my subscription”.
Eir: Eir Vision TV is only available if you bundle it with broadband and phone, and if you do opt for it you’ll get the Eir Sport pack included for free, which you can watch through your Eir box. Its TV Essential and Broadband, which also includes off-peak calls, costs €54.98 per month for 12 months after which it costs €74.98.
Sky: The big satellite player. It gives you access to Sky Atlantic, and the Sky Q 1TB box comes as standard. You will also get access to the Sky Go app. The no-frills TV option gives you 50 channels for €29.50 a month. Add broadband and the price climbs to €59.50 a month.
Virgin TV: The other big player in the market. It is available as a stand-alone TV package or as part of a bundle with broadband. As with Sky there are multiple options and different prices. Its Freedom TV offering gives access to 20 channels for €20 a month, and the contract runs from month to month. Its Full House deal, meanwhile gives you access to 114 channels for €35 a month. Sign up to TV and broadband bundle and you pay €49 per month for 12 months, then €89 a month after that. It should be noted that it has the fastest broadband commonly found on the market.
Vodafone: TV is only available if bundled with broadband. Customers can opt for a broadband and TV package, or one that also includes home phone. Its TV & Simply Broadband plus calls gives you 60 channels and looks attractive at €25 a month, but that jumps to €75-€85 per month after six months.