TV on demand, also known as video on demand, is a revolutionary digital television service that lets you watch hundreds, even thousands, of TV shows and films whenever you want.
You can watch entire seasons of your favourite shows or catch the year’s most popular big screen releases right in your living room without ever leaving the house.
All major UK broadcasters make their output available to watch online, via services such as the BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My 5. All of these are free to watch and allow you to catch up with TV programmes you’ve missed. More channels and series may be available through your set-top box, however.
The window you get to watch a particular show before it is pulled from the service varies between broadcasters. This can range from seven days after the show was first broadcast to up to 30 days after.
To learn more about free on-demand services, check out our guide 'How to watch catch-up TV online'.
Through your TV subscription and other services — like Netflix and Amazon Prime — you have a wide range of options for paid on-demand TV.
Sky Go gives viewers access to hundreds of TV shows and films in an instant at no additional monthly cost for Sky TV customers. You can stream live TV or access programmes from the on-demand library from up to two devices, including tablets, mobiles or games consoles. If two devices aren't enough for you, you can upgrade to Sky Go Extra for an additional fee which also allows you to download shows and movies to watch online.
NOW, on the other hand, is Sky’s standalone, internet TV on-demand service that can be accessed using a computer, smartphone, streaming stick or games console. NOW offers a huge library of content on a pay-monthly basis, including all 11 Sky Cinema channels, which offer new premieres every day of the week.
It’s also the only way to watch Sky Atlantic — and, therefore, HBO shows — outside of a Sky contract.
Netflix is an online TV on-demand service that gives you unlimited access to thousands of movies and TV shows — including original content like Black Mirror, Dead To Me, The Witcher, Sex Education, etc — from an impressive range of genres for a flat monthly fee.
Available in HD or UHD resolutions, Netflix content can be accessed using a wide range of devices, such as computers, smart TVs, games consoles, tablets and smartphones, making it truly on-demand, even on the move.
It's also easy to watch Netflix on TV.
Amazon Prime Video is another internet TV on-demand service, with a vast catalogue of films and TV episodes. Like Netflix and NOW, this too is available on a monthly subscription (although an annual subscription works out to be cheaper), as well as a pay-per-view basis for quick and easy rentals.
TVPlayer lets you stream live and on-demand programming across Freeview and, if you subscribe to TVPlayer Plus, pay TV channels, including Comedy Central, MTV, TLC and Nickelodeon. You can register up to five devices — such as mobiles, tablets and Apple TV — and stream on two simultaneously.
Nowadays, every major TV provider offers some kind of on-demand TV through its set-top boxes.
Virgin's set-top boxes, the Virgin V6 and the older TiVo, are both digital video recorders (DVRs) that enable you to record, pause and rewind live television to relive those unmissable moments over and over. Aside from access to live channels, you can catch up with programmes that have already aired and access thousands of hours of TV on demand.
Tired of missing out on your favourite series? With the V6 or TiVo, you can set up ‘Wishlists’ for specific shows, directors and actors and it will automatically record them for you to watch at your leisure, or use the powerful new SeriesLink+ to group entire series together across multiple platforms, including recordings and on-demand programmes.
YouView is an Ofcom-endorsed set-top box that gives you unfettered access to an extensive array of digital terrestrial television channels, radio stations and on-demand TV services using a broadband and/or aerial connection. If you sign up for TalkTalk or BT, you'll get a YouView box.
What’s more, it also doubles as a Personal Video Recorder (PVR), enabling you to record live television. You can also watch all the major catch-up TV services, including BBC iPlayer, All 4, ITV Player and My5.
Generally speaking, all you need is a broadband connection fast enough to handle streaming video and a device to watch it on. Check out the best broadband deals currently available.
If you're watching BBC content on-demand, though, you'll need to make sure you have a TV licence, even if you're not watching live television.