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Picture the scene: a cosy night in front of the telly, feet up, and if it’s payday, maybe even a takeaway. But an hour of surfing repeat-stuffed channels, scrolling jaded romcoms and googling film reviews and you’ve lost the will to live. If this sounds like you, it’s high time for a review.
TV, once cheaper than a night out, can now bring a pretty hefty monthly bill. If your package is addling rather than entertaining you, and you’re paying dearly for the privilege, it’s time to switch or ditch.
If it feels like you are paying €30 plus a month to annoy yourself, you could just take the nuclear option – cancel your subscriptions altogether and treat yourself to a monthly takeaway or two.
After three decades of paying for telly, we may have forgotten that some of the best things in life are free. Hello Saorview, Ireland’s free television service from RTÉ. Pair it up with Freesat, the UK equivalent, and the two combined give you a selection including RTE, TV3, TG4, BBC 1, 2 and 4, UTV and other ITV stations, Channel 4, Sky News, BBC News, some free-to-air movie channels, Discovery and over 100 other channels. That’s a wild night in, without the monthly bill. For those with dawn-rising toddlers, there’s even CBeebies.
Some newer TVs may have the tuners built in, removing the need for a set-top box
So how does it work? It’s a case of installing an aerial and dish to the outside of your house with a cable to a set-top box, says Saorview reseller Michael Hickey of freesat.ie. He supplies and fits everything needed in Leinster for €299 and offers a special price of €259 to senior citizens who, he says, copped on to the savings ages ago. “There are no bills, you are not tied to a contract, you own the equipment from day one.”
Set-top box functionality that you take as standard with the major suppliers may require additional spending, however. For example, opt for Saorview Connect to pause and rewind live TV and to record and access the RTÉ Player from €349. The system is compatible with old TVs so there’s no need shell out for anything “smart”. Some newer TVs, however, may have the tuners built in, removing the need for a set-top box. With a basic satellite subscription package costing €30 a month, you’ll save €60 in the first year and €360 every year after.
So you’ve saved a wodge by cancelling your TV package but feel your life needs a little spicing up? You could add some pick’n’mix, depending on your interests. You’ll need a smart TV, though – one that connects to the internet.
If free TV just isn't enough
If you want to go the subscription route, Netflix is the first port of call for many, and the streaming service adds TV, films and documentaries weekly. Popular releases last year included Marriage Story and The Irishman and new episodes of Stranger Things and The Crown. There’s a ton of old stuff there too, depending on your taste.
You can watch as much as you want on an unlimited number of devices – just sign into your Netflix account from any internet-connected device with the Netflix app. Plans start at €7.99 per month with no contract. Pay €11.99 to watch on two screens at once.
Amazon Prime video is a cheaper alternative. This has movies, TV shows and Amazon original content. Check out their free trial to whet your appetite with prices rising to €2.99 a month thereafter. Available series include Fleabag and Grey’s Anatomy, and Amazon originals such as The Marvelous Mrs Maisel and the film Brittany Runs a Marathon. For the kids, there are some animations of Julia Donaldson’s classics.
For Disney fanatics there’s a couple more weeks to wait for its streaming service, Disney+, set to launch in Ireland on March 24th
Next up is Apple TV+, which is Apple’s answer to Netflix, except all the content is original and commissioned by Apple. The Morning Show, staring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, is the current big draw. The service is available on the Apple TV app, available only on your iPhone, iPad, Mac and other Apple device. Android users miss out. It’s €4.99 a month, with a seven-day free trial. Buy a new iPhone or other Apple device and you’ll get Apple TV+ free for a year. Family Sharing allows up to six people to share one subscription.
For Disney fanatics there’s just a couple more weeks to wait for its streaming service, Disney+, set to launch in Ireland on March 24th. Subscribers will be able to access the company’s catalogue spanning the Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic brands. It will cost €6.99 per month or €59.99 a year if you sign up on disneyplus.com before March 23rd. You will immediately be billed the €59.99. You can start streaming the next day.
If reality TV is your thing, try Hayu. This streaming service has 350 episodes of Keeping Up with the Kardashians and its spawn of spin-offs, some the same day as they air in the US. There’s a one-month free trial. After that, it’s €5.99 a month.
Now TV is Sky’s streaming service. You can watch on your laptop, phone or tablet using an app, or a €25 stick that plugs into your TV. There are “passes” for entertainment, cinema and kids’ TV, and new customers get a 14-day free trial. After that there’s a monthly charge per pass.
For sports nuts, current deals include a Sky Sports Month pass. That gets you 11 Sky Sports channels for €19.50 a month for five months – effectively 50 per cent off. Day and week passes cost €10 and €15 respectively, and payment is taken instantly rather than when you start watching. The Sports Extra Pass gives you access to BT Sport and Premier Sports.
If all that’s still not enough for you and you’re starting to miss endless channel hopping, then at least make sure you are getting the best deal. Once upon a time it was all about Sky. Now Eir, Virgin and Vodafone are in the game, each with bundles that make it tougher for consumers to make like-for-like comparisons. Before falling for a deal, you also need to make sure it’s available in your area with decent broadband speed by using the checker on providers’ websites.
Researching and comparing offers is a pain – they seem to change by the hour as providers float deals before quickly tweaking them based on customer and competitor behaviour. If you’ve trawled their websites and settled on a good deal, it may well disappear again. Here’s a snapshot of what’s out there.
If you opt for Sky, a basic package at €25 a month for 12 months will get you more than 100 channels not on Freeview, including Sky Atlantic. The price rises to €40 after a year. You get a Sky Q box to record and store up to 500 hours of content and you also get the Sky Go app to concurrently watch on your TV and either your phone, tablet or laptop – but not all at once. You pay extra to watch in different rooms on different devices and to download programmes to watch later. If you don’t have a Sky dish, you’ll need to get one. Sky’s website states “set-up fees apply”, though their details and a helpline to ask were hard to pin down.
New customers can combine TV and broadband for a total monthly cost of €60, rising to €95 after 12 months. If Premier League games and Champions Cup rugby are your thing, Sky Sports Extra including BT Sport will cost you €34 per month.
You must be an Eir broadband customer to avail of Eir TV – so if you don’t need broadband, you can stop reading now. The company’s broadband, TV and home phone package gives you unlimited broadband, free off-peak calls to Irish landlines and about 70 TV channels – some are the free ones though. It’s a 12-month contract and costs €39.98 a month for the first 12 months, rising to €79.98 a month thereafter. There are no set-up or activation fees for new customers.
Your TV package includes Eir Sport, which shows Champions League and Europa League matches, the Rugby World Cup, the Guinness Pro 14 and GAA Allianz Leagues. You get Virgin Media Sport too. New customers also get access to Amazon Prime Video and a one-year free subscription to the on-demand streaming service, Apple TV+.
The basic Mix TV package from Virgin TV gives you more than 50 TV channels, including Virgin Media Sport, Eir Sport 1 and Film 4 for €30 per month with a 12-month contract. You can record four things at once and watch a fifth. Add Sky Sports for €40 per month, Sky Cinema for €20 a month or both for €49.
The company’s Full House 500 bundle gives you 500MB broadband, 100-plus TV channels including Virgin Media Sport and Eir Sport, the Virgin TV Anywhere app, and unlimited calls to landlines and mobiles in Ireland and to 22 countries. It costs €70 a month for 12 months rising to €99. There’s an activation fee of €30. The broadband speed is fast, if it’s available in your area, and the free calls may be a boon to those with family overseas.
Vodafone’s online offer for new TV and broadband customers comes in at a reasonable €25 for the first six months, and from €65 after, depending on the plan you choose. For that you get 84 channels (including the free ones) and Eir Sport 1, free installation and unlimited broadband. The Vodafone TV Anywhere app lets you stream content on your mobile or laptop. Sky and BT Sports add-ons are possible. You can add unlimited anytime calls to Irish landlines and mobiles for free for the first six months with costs kicking in after that.