TV packages have come a hell of a long way since Sky Television - which later merged with British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB) to become Sky as we know it today - launched the first satellite TV package available in the UK in 1989, which boasted a grand total of four channels.
These days, TV packages come with almost 20 times as many at the very least, and offer a plethora of extra channels, services and features that would have blown the bouffant clad minds of the late 1980s.
However, as you’d expect, the range and variety of TV packages now available can make comparing them, and working out which one is best for you, trickier than peeling a banana while wearing boxing gloves. And that’s where we come in.
What TV packages are there?
Generally, TV providers offer a selection of three or four TV packages designed to appeal to all budgets and tastes. They then offer a variety of extras and add-ons, such as specialist channels like Sky Sports, on-demand services like Netflix, and features like recording, so you can tailor your package to suit yourself.
BT (www.bt.com) offers three varieties of BT TV - Starter, which comes with up to 80 Freeview TV channels and radio stations and allows you to pause and rewind live TV with YouView; Entertainment, which comes with 20 premium channels; and Max, which comes with 25 premium channels and lets you record TV and watch it on your computer, tablet and mobile too.
You can add BT Sport, Sky Sports, Sky Movies, Netflix, extra HD channels, BT Kids and BT Music to any package. However, you need BT Superfast Fibre to be able to get Sky Sports and the extra HD channels as they’re delivered via the internet rather than through your TV aerial.
EE removes the burden of choice - there’s only one EE TV package, and it comes with over 70 Freeview TV channels and radio stations and includes an EE TV box that allows you to pause, rewind and record live TV. It also lets you, your friends, or your family watch different live or recorded stuff on a TV and three phones or tablets at the same time. Plus, you can flick what you’re watching on your phone or tablet onto your TV screen.
You can’t add any extra channels to EE TV, but you can access a range of on-demand services including Wuaki.tv and NOW TV. However, you need to have EE broadband and line rental to get access.
Onto that, you can then add various monthly add-ons - like Sky Movies, Sky Sports, kids' TV channels, HD channels, BT Sport, and Sky BoxSets for 350+ full series of top TV shows.
TalkTalk (www.talktalk.co.uk) keeps it simple with TalkTalk TV - there are just two packages to choose from. The basic TV comes with over 70 Freeview TV channels and radio stations, and allows you to pause and rewind live TV. TV Plus includes 13 extra entertainment channels - not Sky Atlantic though - and allows you to record live TV too.
You can add a variety of extras to either package, including all 11 Sky Movies channels, every Sky Sports channel, Netflix and a bunch of other extra channel and on-demand packages. These are called TV Boosts.
Things are a little more complicated with Virgin Media (www.virginmedia.com), as Virgin Media TV comes in five varieties. Player TV comes with over 70 channels, Mix TV with over 150 channels, Fun TV with over 190 channels, and Full House TV with over 245 channels, including BT Sport. You can also upgrade Full House TV to VIP, which adds on Sky Sports and Sky Cinema too.
You can add all three BT Sport channels, all Sky Sports channels bar Sky Sports News HQ (which comes included as standard with most packages), all 11 Sky Movies channels and Netflix to any package. You can also add other sports channels, an extra children’s channel, international channels, and adult channels.
And, unlike most TV packages, you can sign up to Virgin Media without any commitment - all its services are available on a rolling 30-day basis.
What TV packages are available in my area?
The most widely available TV packages are those done by BT and Sky. BT is the biggest broadband provider in the country, and anywhere you can get BT Broadband with a minimum download speed of 2Mb or BT Superfast Fibre, you can get BT TV. You don’t even need a Freeview signal to be able to get it, although without it you can only get channels delivered via internet and on-demand TV.
Because Sky TV is satellite TV, you can get it just about anywhere, provided you’re allowed to stick a dish on your home. However, if you want to get a Sky TV, broadband and phone package, availability is a bit more limited, as you’ll need to live in an area where you can get Sky Broadband.
As with BT TV, TalkTalk TV is available anywhere you can get its Fast Broadband with a minimum download speed of 3Mb or Faster Fibre Broadband, and a Freeview signal. Ditto EE TV and EE Broadband with a minimum download speed of 4Mb or EE Fibre Broadband.
You’re least likely to be able to get a Virgin Media TV package, due to it using the same cable network as Virgin Media broadband, which only covers around half the country. It’s expanding though, so if you can’t get one now, you may be able to within the next few years.
Who does the best TV packages?
Well, there’s a question. When it comes to price, you’re looking at either BT TV or TalkTalk TV, which you can get with broadband and phone rather cheaply. In comparison, Sky TV, broadband and phone will set you back quite a bit more.
However, when it comes to range of channels, Sky is the top dog for sheer number, while Virgin Media’s the best for getting almost any channel you could want from one provider on one bill. The set-top boxes you get with Sky and Virgin Media TV are far better than those you get with BT and TalkTalk TV too, and when it comes to slickness, Sky’s got things sewn up.
EE TV comes somewhere in between price-wise, and bottom of the pile in terms of channel range, because it doesn’t offer owt extra. However, in Multiscreen and Flick it at least has two features that no other TV package offers.
To help you decide what the best TV package for you is, work out how much you want to spend, then the things you have to have, such as particular channels or features, and then the things it’d be nice to have but ain’t a deal-breaker, like being able to access certain film streaming services. Finally, find out what’s available where you live by chucking your postcode into our checker.
FAQ about TV packages
What is a TV package?
Essentially, a TV package is a subscription TV service you pay for on a monthly basis, and which can be bundled with broadband and home phone, and even mobile phones. With a TV package you can get a host of premium channels, catch-up and on-demand services, and features you can’t get with non-subscription TV services like Freeview and Freesat.
How much are TV packages?
Probably not as much as you think - a basic BT TV, broadband and phone package will cost you around £25 a month all in. How much you pay totally depends on what you want though - throw the likes of Sky Sports into the mix and it rapidly rises. The trick is to work out what you can afford, what you want and what’s available, and then look for the package that best covers all three bases.
Which TV packages include Sky Atlantic?
Sky Atlantic, which is where you can watch the biggest TV series from across the pond, Game Of Thrones being an obvious example, comes as standard with all Sky TV packages. It isn’t included with TV packages from any other provider, but you can get it on a pay-as-you-play basis through NOW TV. You can’t do this through BT TV or TalkTalk TV though - while NOW TV is available on YouView boxes, Sky Atlantic isn’t.