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Watch catch-up TV online

How to watch catch-up TV online

Thanks to catch-up TV, you’re no longer beholden to a set TV schedule. Here’s how you can watch TV programmes on your own terms using online catch-up services.

The increase in broadband speeds and shift to digital TV have made it easier than ever to watch catch-up TV online. As more people than ever before are ‘cutting the cord’ and getting rid of TV, channels are offering more TV shows online.

More catch-up TV benefits everyone, though: Even if you have a TV plan, you no longer have to plan your life around TV schedules, thanks to catch-up TV and on-demand shows. Instead, you can watch TV whenever it suits your schedule.

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What is catch-up TV?

Catch-up TV are programmes that are made available online by TV channels — like the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 — so you can watch them whenever you want to.

Typically, currently-airing series are only available from the past 30 days, but there are lots of exceptions. Some series may be taken down sooner, based on the platform you’re using, the TV content itself or where the programme comes from.

Catch-up TV limited to 30 days

On the other hand, some programmes may be available for longer than 30 days. The BBC, for example, extends the catch-up limit if a programme has been repeated on TV. Older series that aren’t currently airing are frequently available, too, and these usually stick around for longer than 30 days.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to how long a TV programme will be around, so before you set aside time in your diary to catch up on your favourite series, check the channel’s website to see when it expires.

Similarly, although most series are available to stream online through catch-up TV services, not all of them are. Programmes from overseas, for example, sometimes have licencing restrictions that prevent channels from putting them online entirely or may be limited to certain devices or platforms.

Do I need a TV licence?

Generally speaking, you do not need a TV licence to watch catch-up TV online, aside from two exceptions.

If a programme is currently airing live and you’re watching it online at any point during its live broadcast, you need a TV licence. For example, if a new episode of “Broadchurch” is airing on ITV from 9pm until 10pm and you visit ITV Hub to start streaming it at 9:55pm, you would need a TV licence; however, if you waited until 10:01pm, you would not need a TV licence.

The above rule applies to every channel other than BBC channels. Thanks to recent changes in the law, you now need a TV licence to watch anything on BBC iPlayer, including iPlayer exclusives, recent catch-up TV episodes and older series.

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Catch-up TV online

Most of the major broadcasters in the UK have free catch-up TV online. Here’s a rundown of what you need to know about each.

BBC iPlayer

BBC iPlayer logo

Channels covered: BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, BBC Radio 1, CBBC, CBeebies, BBC News, BBC Parliament, BBC Alba and S4C

Shows you can expect: Call the Midwife, Top Gear, Clique, EastEnders, Taboo, Robot Wars, popular sports, children’s programming, etc.

How long most programmes are up: 30 days

Are programmes available offline: Yes, certain programmes can be downloaded for up to 30 days

How to watch: Computers, smartphones, tablets, smart TVs or game consoles

Link: BBC iPlayer

ITV Hub

Channels covered: ITV, ITV2, ITVBe, ITV3, ITV4 and CITV

Shows you can expect: Britain’s Got Talent, Broadchurch, Coronation Street, Inspector Morse, The Only Way is Essex, popular sports, children’s programming, etc.

How long most programmes are up: 30 days

Are programmes available offline: Only if you’re subscribed to ITV Hub’s paid service

How to watch: Computers, smartphones, tablets, smart TVs or supported game consoles (Xbox One and Xbox One S)

Link: ITV Hub

All 4

Channel 4 logo

Channels covered: Channel 4, E4, More4, 4seven and 4Music

Shows you can expect: Homeland, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Hollyoaks, Come Dine with Me, Father Ted, 8 Out of 10 Cats, Made in Chelsea, The Big Bang Theory, etc.

How long most programmes are up: 30 days

Are programmes available offline: Only through the Android and iOS apps

How to watch: Computers, smartphones, tablets, smart TVs or games consoles

Link: All 4

My 5

My5 logo

Channels covered: Channel 5, 5USA, 5STAR and Spike

Shows you can expect: NCIS, Home and Away, GPs: Behind Closed Doors, Person of Interest, Dance Moms, Neighbours, children’s programming, etc.

How long most programmes are up: Between seven and 30 days

Are programmes available offline: No

How to watch: Computers, smartphones, tablets, smart TVs or games consoles

Link: My 5

Quest TV

Channels covered: Quest

Shows you can expect: How It’s Made, Supertruckers, Deadliest Catch, Outback Truckers, Chasing Classic Cars, Mighty Ships, Wheeler Dealers, Treehouse Masters, etc.

How long most programmes are up: Seven days

Are programmes available offline: No

How to watch: Computers, smartphones, tablets or smart TVs

Link: Quest TV

UKTV Play

Channels covered: Dave, Yesterday, Really and Drama

Shows you can expect: Red Dwarf, Taskmaster, Storage Hunters, Have I Got News for You, QI, Ghost Adventures, Megatruckers, Most Haunted, Cheaters, etc.

How long most programmes are up: 30 days

Are programmes available offline: No

How to watch: Computers, smartphones and tablets

Link: UKTV Play

Catch-up TV through providers

Man holding remote and mobile

Most TV providers off their own forms of catch-up TV through set-top boxes and apps. Typically catch-up programmes are available for a much shorter amount of time through set-top boxes, usually just seven days.

You can watch programmes away from your home through these provider apps:

  • Virgin Media: Virgin TV Anywhere
  • Sky: Sky Go
  • BT: BT TV App
  • NOW TV: NOW TV App

If you’re after premium pay TV channels, it depends on the provider and channel. Sky Sports and BT Sport both have their own apps, and most Sky TV content — including films from Sky Cinema — are available on Sky Go and NOW TV. Additional pay TV catch-up content is available through NOW TV, depending upon your pass.

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