For a whole generation of people, Netflix, to a lesser extent Amazon Prime – and, let's face it, the legal grey area of streaming – have become television. The old linear model where it was up to the viewer to catch their favourite show at a given time seems to be on the way out. For many of us, it is long since gone.
And good riddance, readers might well say, particularly if they are wearily familiar with the phenomenon of scrolling through the more than 100 channels available on the traditional platforms and still not finding anything they want to watch.
All these streaming services present an obvious challenge to traditional broadcasters – broadcasters such as Sky – so it’s no surprise that it has responded to the challenge with its own answer to Netflix.
Sky's NowTV promises viewers streaming of movies, sport and TV shows without a contract or a dish. It's proven fairly popular in the UK, but how does the latest offering from Rupert Murdoch compare with the Netflix juggernaut? We put the two big players to the test.
Netflix has the familiarity factor, and many people will already be set up; Virgin Media customers can now get it on TV through channel 300. Saorview and Sky customers can simply hook up their laptop through a HDMI port or get Netflix through Roku or an Apple TV. They can also access it handily enough if they have a smart TV.
If you want to set up NowTV on your own telly, you need a NowTV box, which will set you back €40. Alternatively you can watch it by hooking up a laptop to the TV via a HDMI port.
If something technical can go wrong for me, it will, but I had no trouble linking the box to the TV: NowTV practically set itself up. Both set-ups are really straightforward, even for technophobes. Just as well: the frustrating days of desperately grappling with cables and picture instructions that make no sense are gone.
Netflix score: 9/10
NowTV score: 8/10
People will endure technical frustrations or the odd glitch if the content is unmissable. How do they compare and, crucially, who offers the best value for money?
Netflix is the Beyoncé of original content, slaying all in its wake. You could say it is "the new HBO". But Now TV has a large amount of programming from Sky Atlantic, which in turn takes about 40 per cent of its content from HBO. So how does "the new HBO" compare with the old, original HBO?
There's absolutely no shortage of brilliant original and licensed shows from Netflix, across genres including comedy, documentary and drama. They've picked up a slew of awards including Oscars, Baftas, Emmys and Golden Globes. There are too many hits to list here, but Master of None, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Crown, A Series of Unfortunate Events, House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, Sense8 and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are among the programmes that could all claim to be innovative and unmissable TV.
NowTV's entertainment package has more than 250 box sets on demand, including the new Twin Peaks, The Young Pope, Game of Thrones, Outcast, Oz and Gomorrah. The jewels in NowTV's crown are Game of Thrones and Veep, but both shows are, to put it kindly, pushing on. Big Little Lies, starring Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, is enjoyable and worth a look, while Silicon Valley is one of the top American comedies of recent years.
At time of writing, some of the biggest HBO draws – Divorce (written by Ireland's own Sharon Horgan), The Leftovers and Westworld – are conspicuously absent from NowTV.
Surprisingly, NowTV easily beats Netflix for arts and music programming, thanks to the former's link with the very good Sky Arts channel. Netflix has the clear edge with documentaries: the full Planet Earth series, Making a Murderer and recent hit The Keepers are on its chart.
Overall, however, it’s hard to justify the €15 price tag for NowTV’s entertainment package, which doesn’t include movies, when Netflix offers (better) TV and movies (albeit a poorer selection) for €8-€12.
Netflix value for money: 9/10
NowTV value for money: 6/10
A common complaint about Netflix: its selection of movies is relatively poor. Netflix is increasingly – much to the chagrin of traditional studios – focusing on its own original movies, with the big-budget Brad Pitt vehicle War Machine released last month and getting poor to middling reviews. On the other hand, with stand-up specials by comedians such as Louis CK and Amy Schumer, it has conquered the comedy market.
There has been some improvement in recent years, but anyone looking to Netflix for the most recent and familiar movies would be disappointed.
NowTV, on the other hand, really shines here. It has a solid selection of Pixar classics including Finding Dory and Inside Out. Rainy-day box sets include Star Wars, Star Trek, The Karate Kid, Rocky and Back to the Future. Recent releases include Ghostbusters, Midnight Special, Demolition, and Florence Foster Jenkins. Best of all, the €15 pass includes access to all the Sky Cinema channels, which, over the course of my subscription, included The Danish Girl and Jurassic World. If you're considering a streaming service primarily for movies, NowTV deserves your money.
Netflix has a few sports documentaries, but they have made it clear that they’re not getting into live streaming. The sports package from NowTV, however, is arguably its biggest attraction. For €15 a week or €50 for the month, viewers can get access to Sky Sports, meaning they could tune into a tournament or league game – the 2017 Lions tour, for instance – without an annual subscription. It’s more expensive than a regular subscription and so may be best for people who only want occasional sports access.
Netflix value for money: 1/10
NowTV value for money: 7/10
Ease of use and reliability
Netflix is fairly familiar and easy to understand: you sign up and get access to all the TV and movies.
NowTV's offering, built around three separate packages, can take a little getting used to, and it's far too easy to accidentally buy a month pass when you didn't mean to; a simple "Are you sure you want to buy this?" warning wouldn't go amiss. NowTV did have some glitches while I was using it, with difficulty logging into my account, content failing to load and then crashing, the NowTV player needing updates that don't work and push you to customer support, Google Chrome suddenly not supporting NowTV (which was not flagged to users and required a call to figure out). It's possible these are just teething problems, but they're frustrating, and NowTV needs to get on top of them if they expect people to stay with the service. A serious weak spot.
Both services are fairly easy to navigate and search.
Netflix: 33/50 (without set-up: 24/40)
NowTV: 33/50 (without set-up: 25/40)
PRICES PER MONTH
Netflix – TV & movies
Sign-up fee: zero
€7.99 – watch on one device
€9.99 – watch on two devices
€11.99 – watch on four devices
Terms: payment per month. No contract. Cancel any time
Sign-up fee: zero. People who want to watch on their TV need to shell out €25 for a standalone box, but that box can also be bought as part of a bundle which includes a box and either a two-month free pass for Entertainment or Movies for €40. Alternatively, an HDMI cable from computer to TV would do the trick too.*
Entertainment – €15
Movies plus Sky Cinema – €15
One day Sky Sports pass – €10
One week Sky Sports pass – €15
One month Sky Sports pass – €50
Terms: payment per month. No contract. Cancel any time. Watch on four devices.
(A Sky TV package of movies, sports and 270 channels, including the likes of RTÉ, BBC, Channel 4, would cost €63.50)
*This article was edited on June 19th, 2017