For many of us, streaming is just how we watch TV online these days, whether that's the latest TV shows or classic movies we've seen a hundred times. Gone are the days of rushing home to catch your favourite TV shows when they aired or setting up your VCR (showing my age now) — instead, we binge box sets online whenever it suits us.
So the question isn’t so much whether you should stream TV, but rather which streaming platforms should you subscribe to?
Which streaming platforms should I subscribe to?
According to our research, 80% of UK households watch TV online via a streaming service, paying an average of £15.30 a month on subscriptions in 2021, up from £12.50 in 2019.
With so much content being online these days, choosing the right TV streaming service is vital to make sure you’re getting the most for your money.
Not sure of which streaming platform to subscribe to? Find out what's on TV in the coming months and which streaming services will give you access to your favourite shows and movies, and which are the best value for money for you.
TV streaming platforms
Some streaming platforms have become so ubiquitous with TV that you’d be hard-pressed to not know about them. How many of us haven’t heard of Netflix by now? But each platform has its own host of shows and films and will suit different viewers. So which platforms should you subscribe to?
Netflix is the platform that is synonymous with streaming, reinventing how consumers watch TV and opening up the TV streaming market to competition from an increasing number of other services.
The biggest appeal of Netflix is their wealth of original content. It’s grown significantly from the early days of 'House of Cards' and 'Orange is the New Black' in 2011 and 2013. Netflix is now constantly producing original TV shows and movies that are available exclusively on the streaming service. Far from indie or small-budget productions, Netflix Originals have featured some major Hollywood stars including Sandra Bullock, Gwyneth Paltrow and Henry Cavill.
Even though Netflix has lost some of its back-catalogue of shows in recent years to other streaming platforms, the sheer volume of original content is enough to keep its nearly-150 million subscribers entertained.
Netflix TV shows you should watch
- Stranger Things
- The Crown
- Sex Education
- Tiger King
- The Witcher
- Dead To Me
- Grace and Frankie
- The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
- Good Girls
Amazon Prime Video
The second major player in the streaming game is Amazon Prime, a company known more for its next-day delivery than its delivery of high-quality original content.
The key selling factor of Amazon Prime Video is that it is included in the Amazon Prime membership, so those that look to save on the shipping costs of their online Christmas shopping were automatically given access to Amazon’s exclusive TV shows.
Amazon Prime TV shows you should watch
- The Wheel of Time
- The Marvelous Mrs Maisel
- The Boys
- Star Trek: Picard
- Alex Rider
- Tales From The Loop
- The Expanse
- The Man in the High Castle
NOW was created and is owned by Sky TV, offering customers access to Sky’s massive library of TV shows that they can watch online and at their leisure. Sky’s exclusive deal with major US networks makes it the only place to see major TV shows such as Game of Thrones, Chernobyl and Westworld.
Sky has even begun creating its own original TV shows and movies, using its position as the largest TV provider in the UK to distribute content to a huge audience.
NOW gives viewers the flexibility to gain access to Sky TV without having to take out a more costly broadband and TV subscription.
NOW shows you should watch
- Mare of Easttwon
- The Flight Attendent
- White Lotus
- The Nevers
- Your Honor
- The Affair
- A Discovery of Witches
- Brave New World
- Big Little Lies
- The Walking Dead
- Catherine The Great
- Perry Mason
Disney Plus is set to take on Netflix as one of the biggest names in the streaming game. Following its launch in the US, Canada and Australia in November 2019, Disney Plus became available internationally on March 24th 2020.
Disney Plus allows users to access every single movie and TV show produced by Disney in its 80 year history. Every. Single. Disney movie. EVER!
And if that weren’t enough to convince fans to part with their cash, Disney is also the owner of major movie franchises including Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar; all of which have plenty of original content planned for release in the coming years.
Add to that Disney’s recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox, Disney Plus is also the new home of shows like the Simpsons and huge movies like Avatar.
Check out our guide on How to watch Disney+ in the UK for more details.
Disney Plus TV shows you should watch
- The Mandalorian
- Falcon & The Winter Soldier
- The World According to Jeff Goldblum
Apple TV Plus
Apple has long been a name associated with technology and gadgets, and following its success in the world of music streaming with Apple Music, Tim Cook and the gang have invested a lot of money in creating their own original content on their streaming service, Apple TV+.
Initially launching with just a handful of TV shows and documentaries, Apple TV+ is set to grow its catalogue of content in the coming months and years, relying on complementary 1-year subscriptions –– available to anyone who purchases a new Apple product –– to grow a faithful following.
Apple TV Plus shows you should watch
- The Morning Show
- Ted Lasso
- Central Park
- Mythic Quest
- Defending Jacob
- Little Voice
- The Banker
You can still get three months of Apple TV+ for free when you purchase a new Apple product.
In a joint effort to keep UK audiences appeased and British eyes on British TV shows, BBC and ITV have created the Britbox streaming services. This allows viewers to access all the original UK content that they are used to watching via traditional TV services.
Britbox TV shows you should watch
- Downton Abbey
- Gavin & Stacey
- The Vicar of Dibley
Hayu is the online home of reality TV, with their biggest stars of course being the Kardashians. Owned and operated by NBC Universal, hayu is an incredibly popular platform for those looking to binge reality TV and enjoy the guilty pleasures of life without restrictions.
Hayu TV shows you should watch
- The Kardashians
- Revenge Body
- Million Dollar Listing
- Vanderpump Rules
How can I stream TV?
Now that you know which streaming platform(s) you should be subscribing to, how are some of the best ways to watch TV shows online?
Whether you choose to get a subscription to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, NOW, Apple TV+, Britbox or Disney Plus, each of those services have dedicated apps available on both Apple and Android devices.
What's the minimum broadband speed for streaming?
To stream TV, you will need decent high-speed internet, a generous data allowance and a streaming device.
Typically, for videos in standard definition, you only need a speed of around 1.5Mbps, although 5Mbps is ideal. If you’re unsure of your internet connection, check out our broadband speed test to see if yours is fast enough.
If you’re streaming to a device with a mobile connection, make sure you’re on Wi-Fi or that you have enough data in your plan. Streaming can really eat into data allowances if you’re not careful. According to Netflix’s figures, one hour of streaming standard definition video uses up around 1GB and one hour of HD video uses roughly 3GB of data.
Even if you’re on Wi-Fi, your home broadband may have a usage cap. If you stream a lot of videos, you might want to consider switching to a different broadband plan.
What devices can I stream TV on?
Nowadays, pretty much any device that connects to the internet is capable of streaming videos, although most services have some restrictions in place on the number or type of devices you can use to stream content.
You can stream video on your TV using any of the following:
- Smart TVs
- Blu-ray players
- Certain smartphones
- Certain set-top boxes
- Certain games consoles including PS5 and Xbox
Depending on your set-top box and TV, the easiest way to stream video to your TV is typically a dedicated streaming device like a Roku, Fire Stick, Apple TV, Chromecast or NOW TV box. Although you still have to pay for some individual services, streaming devices are quick and easy to plug into your TV.
You can use multiple devices on your TV as long as you have enough HDMI ports or other inputs — which is good since, again, some of these devices don’t allow you to stream certain services. Before deciding which streaming service or device is right for you, it’s important to understand the various restrictions in place.
For example, if you have the NOW TV app on your iPad, you can’t connect it to your TV and watch it on the larger screen.
For a full rundown on what streaming devices support what services, check out our guide to turning your TV into a smart TV.
Streaming live TV isn’t as ubiquitous as on-demand TV — for now. It’s steadily growing in popularity, but the options are still more limited than streaming catch-up TV.
So far, only BBC, ITV and Channel 4 allow you to livestream TV. Some streaming services like TVPlayer, NOW TV and Amazon Prime let you livestream TV too (if you subscribe to the right channels).
Premium channels are a bit easier to stream live. Both Sky Sports and BT Sport have dedicated apps so you can always watch your favourite matches no matter where you are.
To find out more about how to stream live TV, read our guide to how to watch live TV online.