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Pay TV: Just not worth it

Felicity Hannah

How much do you really need a pay TV package? More Britons have them than not and new figures suggest that we think they’re pretty essential to our daily lives.

When asked by Santander, almost half of households (47%) said they would cut back on evenings out ahead of their subscription TV deal, 30% would choose it over clothes and personal grooming and more than a quarter would pick TV packages ahead of holidays or big-ticket purchases like cars.

Committed telly addicts will go further. One in nine would cut back on utilities to keep their TV package, on in 11 would spend less on their wedding and one in 25 would cut spending on their children (ie birthdays and after-school activities) to keep plugged in, research for the Santander 123 account shows.

For a good few years, we’ve paid upwards of £20 a month (£26.50 at the moment) for a Sky TV package ourselves. When I talk about saving money, I often question whether I watch all the channels we pay for and whether I really need them.

I thought that it was worth the expense because we watch some of the big-budget US shows like ‘Mad Men’, ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Game of Thrones’. Surely programmes of that calibre are worth the expense? Especially as unwinding in front of the box after a stressful day is still a lot cheaper than heading out for a meal or to the cinema.

But when we moved house we decided to cut back by ditching our Sky package. Doing so will save us £318 a year, so it’s not an insignificant amount. But will we miss the extra channels now they’re turned off?

Expensive habits

If that sounds like a ridiculous amount to pay for the telly, clearly some people are paying far more.

The basic Sky entertainment package is £21.50 a month and £5 extra gets you an additional 52 channels. Add another £16 a month and you can get movies. £21 extra for sports and £10 on top of that for the HD pack.

If you order all those together, you get a discount but you’ll still end up paying £63.25 a month - more than £750 a year on TV. And that’s not even the most you can pay. I added a few more sports channels and Sky multiroom and the price rose to £94.50 a month, or £1,134 a year.

With 15 million households signed up to Pay TV packages, it means as a nation we’re passing hundreds of millions to get a bit of extra entertainment – despite there being more than 50 channels available for free thanks to the advent of digital TV and freeview.

Even poor reception isn’t an excuse for paying, given the advent of FreeSat offering 150 channels free. You’ll need a dish and a decoder box to access them, although you can use your existing Sky dish if you have one of those.

So what are we missing after switching off the box?

It’s been a week since we cut off our Sky habit and I’ve realised that most of the channels we watched regularly were available on Freeview anyway.

When you’ve had a paid-for package so long, you sort of forget that a large portion of the best channels are available for free or under the licence fee.

There are lots of BBC channels available and we’re paying for them so we may as well enjoy them. Admittedly, that’s easier if you don’t mind ‘Doctor Who’ repeats.

The main thing we do miss is the ability to record, pause and rewind as we view. However, this technology isn’t something you need to pay a subscription for. A PVR (personal video recorder) will let you do all that and basic ones are available for less than £100 (although the swankier models cost far more).

Whether our Sky-free resolve will weaken when there’s a new series of ‘Dexter’ is yet to be seen. But eventually, all these programmes come to a free or BBC channel, so it’s not like we’ll never see a decent show about a US serial killer ever again.

Filling the void

While we don’t have the ability to record, pause and rewind live TV, we’ve started plugging a computer into our set. That way we have access to BBC iPlayer, 4 On Demand and Netflix, which we pay £5 a month for.

That really ought to be enough entertainment to keep anyone going and we’ve cut our spending from over £300 to £60 a year.

Do you pay more than your licence fee for TV? Do you think it’s worth it? Are people wasting money or is it a small price for so much entertainment?