Pay-TV bills are rising as high as £100 a month in the UK, as competition to snag customers – and content – heats up.
With Netflix and Amazon Prime now competing directly for TV shows, TV companies are facing a challenge: on the one hand, they have to bag the best stuff for their own channels; on the other hand, they have to win over new customers. As a result, prices are on the up – and the market is becoming fragmented.
Want to watch Game of Thrones every March? You’ll need Sky Atlantic. Love football? You’ll need Sky Sports, but also BT. Need the new Ripper Street season now rather than next year? Amazon Prime Instant Video is your only hope. And then, of course, there’s House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black, both of which are on Netflix.
The Guardian pegs a total subscription to all of them at around £800 a month, but for the top tier packages from Sky, Virgin Media and TalkTalk, customers are looking at more than £1,000 a year. Regardless of rising production costs and high competition, that’s a lot of money for anyone.
It mostly comes down to the TV providers’ strategy: if you can’t beat them, join them. Rather than take on Netflix in a House of Cards bidding war, they are increasingly teaming up with the Internet TV service, offering it as part of their own product. YouView (backed by BBC, Channel 4, Sky and others) is now offering Netflix through its set top box to BT customers (pictured above), with TalkTalk set to do the same soon. Virgin took the same route a while ago with its own boxes.
Virgin currently offers Netflix free for several months, while BT will add Netflix’s monthly fee to its customers’ bills, to try and make it simpler to manage their payments. But many customers are simply confused, says Charlotte Davis of comparison site Simplify Digital:
“There are so many things to take into consideration, especially with certain things like six-month half-price offers. Viewers need to be aware of offers that expire halfway through the contract.”
For providers, the aim is simple: sign people up. Upselling bundles that include streaming services, such as Netflix, and other premium content or services, such as faster broadband, will ensure that viewers are not just using their services but are locked into a contract too.
Davis points out to the Guardian that now is a good time to compare packages and consider switching: “There are some very competitive packages to get people to install before Christmas. If you’re savvy you can get a really good deal. When it gets to February prices will start to go up again.”
For others, though, cutting contracts with providers is a much cheaper (and simpler) solution. The price of Netflix is £6.99 a month (in HD). NOW TV costs the same and gives you live and on-demand access to all of Sky’s pay TV channels, including FOX (for The Walking Dead and American Horror Story: Freak Show) and Sky Atlantic (for The Knick, Mad Men and Game of Thrones). Amazon Prime Instant Video, meanwhile, is the cheapest at £5.99 a month.
But the most valuable part of a VOD subscription service? They are contract free.
Sky tells the Guardian that they offer TV packages from just 70p a day. A combined NOW TV, Netflix and Amazon Prime subscription costs a total of 66p a day – but that can be lowered to zero on a month by month basis. Finished House of Cards? Scrap Netflix, try Ripper Street on Amazon. Finished that? Drop Amazon and pick up The Knick on NOW TV. You’ll still face a licence fee at the end of the day, but so do the contract signers – and that gives you all the Freeview channels, now to mention BBC iPlayer and the wealth of content on 4oD.
The bottom line is this: it’s a good time to be a TV viewer. For those who want a pay-TV contract, costs are rising, but so is choice: companies are keener than ever to tailor a service to your tastes. For those who prefer the streaming route, though, the ability to chop and change every 30 days frees you up to stream whatever you want with lower bills.
That stills leaves you with the awkward question: What’s worth watching on Netflix UK? Is Amazon Prime actually any good?
Whether you choose pay-TV or not, your friendly neighbourhood VOD magazine is here to tell you what’s on where – and what’s worth watching.
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