Free to view TV

ByDuncan Heaney

With a free-to-view TV service you won’t have to commit to a contract or pay any monthly subscription - but you will get more channels than you will with free-to-air TV.

With a free-to-view service you won't be restricted to just the main digital terrestrial channels because you don't want to pay a monthly subscription. Here's our simple guide to free-to-view digital TV.

What is free-to-view?

Free-to-air channels are channels that are available to anyone with a digital set-top box. The difference between free-to-air and free-to-view channels is that the latter can be watched free of charge and do not require a subscription fee, but they are encrypted, so can only be accessed by certain TV services or in certain areas.

So, while you can access only free-to-air channels via Freeview, you can access both free-to-air and free-to-view channels via a service like Freesat.

A range of free-to-view channels are also supplied by pay-TV providers like BT (, Sky ( and Virgin Media ( However, access to free-to-view channels with these providers often comes via a subscription service that you will have to pay for, even though you won't be paying for the free-to-view channels themselves.

Why should I get free-to-view?

If you want to watch TV in the UK, you need to pick a digital TV option. Going for free-to-view will increase the range of channels you have to choose from the standard options you get with standard Freeview.

Depending on the provider you choose, you can have anything from the 100-plus channels available from Freesat, up to the 240-plus channels available from Freesat from Sky.

You may also get access to on-demand movies or a catch-up TV depending on the provider you choose and the hardware you are supplied with.


What do I need for free-to-view?

Depending on the TV provider you choose, you will need to invest in some new receiving equipment to watch free-to-view. However, the cost of the equipment and its installation is often included in the price of the package. Your options are:

  • Freesat - This is similar to Freeview as it requires a set-top box, albeit a Freesat one. However as programmes are transmitted via satellite rather than via TV aerial as with Freeview, you will also need to have a satellite dish installed. This can be done by an engineer for a fee, but if you live in a rented or listed property get the green light to do so before going ahead with it.
  • Freesat from Sky - The ultimate free-to-view experience with Sky comes with over 240 channels and the option to upgrade to any Sky package at any time without any more hardware having to be installed. Installation of a Sky mini-dish and set-top box is included in the price of the package.
  • BT Vision+ - BT offers two types of set top box: YouView and BT Vision+. Selecting the BT Vision+ TV Essential  package or the TV Unlimited Extra - only available to BT Infinity customers - gives you access to 18 of the free-to-view channels, including FOX and Comedy Central. BT TV is a pay-TV service, meaning you will have to commit to a contract and pay a monthly subscription as well as an activation fee if you opt for it.
  • Virgin Media - As with BT Vision, this package is a pay-TV service, so an installation fee, contract and monthly cost all apply. The entry-level Virgin Media TV M+ package offers the offers 100 channels, including the standard Freeview options. Users also get a TiVo box, which lets you pause, rewind and record TV, and access a range of catch up and on demand services.

How much does free-to-view cost?

This depends on which service you choose.

If you want to get Freesat then you'll have to make a one-off payment for the set-top box, but may have to pay more for installation and connection. There is also the cost of the satellite dish to take into account, if that equipment is not already available to you.

If you go for Freesat from Sky, you'll pay a fair bit more in terms of a one-off payment, but it does give you a Sky HD box, mini-dish, viewing card and installation. There are no monthly payments after that, but you can upgrade to a full Sky package if you desire.

BT Vision+ and Virgin Media TV require a monthly subscription, but also an activation or installation fee and committing to a lengthy contract. To subscribe to BT Vision you must have a BT landline and be a BT broadband customer, while to get Virgin Media TV you will need to take a landline from the provider too.

The best way to find out which is right for you is to compare the different options. Doing so will let you see much each option will cost you, and highlight any special offers or deals running that can save you money.


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