Our comprehensive lowdown will tell you everything you need to know, from the best streaming services to the unmissable TV shows
With social-distancing measures in place, now is the perfect time to explore the amazing range of TV streaming services on offer. For an affordable price, you can get access to hundreds of box sets, movies and theatre productions – all from the comfort of your sofa.
What is streaming?
Times are tough in the UK at the moment, with the entire country in lockdown and our usual avenues of social interaction cut off. This extends from pubs, cafes and restaurants, to gyms, swimming pools and cinemas. In the absence of such stimulation, being asked to self-isolate can feel like an additional hurdle – what’s one to do if encouraged to not go outside?
Fortunately, times like this have a tendency to bring out the best in people. Whether it’s friends sharing virtual movie nights via Zoom, or Joe Wicks getting the nation’s kids on their feet with his virtual P.E. lessons, there are plenty of reasons to be joyful at the moment. And if you’re finding yourself with more time on your hands, this is the optimum moment to make use of your current streaming subscriptions, or even sign up to some brand-new ones.
So, what exactly is streaming? Essentially, depending on the provider you choose, streaming enables you to browse a massive choice of new movie releases and TV shows on demand, allowing for optimum bingeing while you’re sheltered inside. Forget the old days when you’d have to watch one episode of a new show each week – with platforms like Netflix and NOW TV, every episode of every show is made available at once. That means access to the latest cutting-edge entertainment is easier than ever – but time management may have just got a little trickier.
The majority of streaming services set a monthly subscription, allowing you unlimited access to the best entertainment (note that the services belonging to the terrestrial TV channels are free). And, fortunately, the release of Disney+ in the UK has coincided with the strict social laws around the coronavirus pandemic – so, if you’re looking to immerse yourself in nostalgic pleasure in these dark times, Disney+ has you covered. From classic animations to the more recent Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbusters, it seems like many of us around the country will be relying on the service to lift our spirits.
All one needs to do is identify the streaming service of their choice (a full list is outlined below) and sign up online. Once done, you can bring the magic of the movies into your own home, and/or dip in and out of the latest TV box sets at your leisure. And don’t feel compelled to have to watch an entire TV show or movie in one go – when you finish an episode or film, you can come back later and automatically pick up where you left off.
Best of all, this on-demand content can be enjoyed on any of your devices that’s connected to the internet. So, you need not worry about members of your household wanting to watch different things – from comedy in the front room to science-fiction in the kitchen, the sheer range of content, and the ease of use, frees people from getting on top of one another.
The intuitive nature of streaming means you can swiftly line up the next movie or TV series when you’ve finished your current one. You’ll be emailed suggestions based on your viewing history, and when a particular piece of entertainment ends, a trailer will launch for something in a similar vein. In short, when everything is getting a bit on top of us, we can rely on streaming technology to, at the very least, take the hassle out of what we watch.
What streaming services are available?
You can catch up with a wide range of Channel 4 content via its online portal – everything from Made In Chelsea to Hollyoaks, The Windsors to The Great British Bake-Off (pictured). Many full series are available, and you can also watch live TV.
Prime Video favours populist movie hits and a massive variety of TV box sets, all of which are ready to rent or buy when you sign up. Plus, you get to enjoy Prime Originals in the form of movies and TV shows, represented by the likes of anarchic superhero satire The Boys, and new Star Trek series Picard, starring Patrick Stewart (pictured) in his signature role. You can watch Amazon Prime Video content on your mobile device, smart TV, PC or games console, or download content for offline use on various devices, including iOS and Android phone. The cost is £5.99 a month.
Available through your iTunes account, Apple TV works off a box that is connected to your own television via an HDMI cable. Simply plug in, connect to iTunes and enjoy what it has to offer, with a vast catalogue of film and TV, and access to apps including Netflix. (Access to said apps is, of course, subscription dependent.) Both HD and 4K Apple TV devices are available, depending on how crisp and clear you like your image and sound. In recent months, Apple has stepped up its game and launched Apple TV+, challenging the likes of Netflix and Amazon with its own original content like The Morning Show, starring Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell and Reese Witherspoon. A seven-day free trial is available on Apple TV+, after which it fetches £4.99 a month.
If you missed your favourite BBC programme this week, iPlayer is the place to go. As well as enabling you to catch up on shows from the previous week, across all of the Beeb's channels, it contains entire series of some programmes. You can search by channel, category or alphabetical order, make playlists, and receive recommendations based on content you've watched previously. iPlayer even lets you watch live TV on any of your devices.
The British Film Institute allows streamers access to a rich variety of content, from archived black and white educational films to acclaimed feature-length dramas from all over the world. You can try a 14-day free trial, and then make the decision to sign up properly for just £4.99 a month, with the option to cancel at any time. Either that, or you can pay as you go. Plus, BFI members get to enjoy special discounted rates.
Want to revel in all things British? Well, BritBox is our homegrown answer to the behemoth that is Netflix. BritBox gives users access to a multitude of the greatest UK TV shows, ranging from comedy to drama and beyond. Films and documentaries are also available. Enjoy a 30-day free trial, after which it’s £5.99 a month.
A relatively new kid on the streaming block, CHILI enables you to watch the latest TV shows and movies – including those that would've been at the cinema now if it weren't for the coronavirus – without the need for a subscription. Rental is comparatively cheap (£3.49/48 hours for the likes of Frozen II and Knives Out), and you can even 'purchase' some titles, meaning you can watch them as many times as you like. The service is even cheaper through the Boundless Cinema Society, with Boundless members able to enjoy 17.5% off the usual price.
Arthouse and indie cinema buffs will find movie nirvana with Curzon’s home streaming platform. Although it isn’t cheap – the cost to stream a movie for 48 hours is about the price of an average cinema ticket – the sheer choice on offer makes up for it. There’s also a curated ‘Collections’ section, with films handpicked by the Curzon team. World cinema and offbeat gems are favoured on the service, with recent offerings including The Truth from revered Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda.
It’s been a long old wait for Disney+ in the UK but, finally, we have access to an extensive archive of Disney treasures, old and new. Try not to fight over the plethora of classic back-catalogue animations, up-to-date Marvel blockbusters, Pixar hits and original content like Star Wars spin-off series The Mandalorian. Subscribers can enjoy an initial seven-day free trial, after which it’s £5.99 a month to have all this Disney goodness piped directly into your home.
A free trial is also included in the yearly option, which reaches £59.99 and saves you over 15%.Subscribers can stream all of the platform's content through the Disney+ app (Android and iOS compatible, including tablets), most smart TVs, Roku, Chromecast and gaming consoles (PS4 and Xbox), excepting the Nintendo Switch (which is not compatible with streaming services). Plus, mobile operator O2 is offering new and upgrading customers six months of Disney+ for free when they sign up for a new monthly plan. Those not willing to upgrade can add Disney+ to their current plan and get £2 a month off their bill.
ITV's equivalent to BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub contains a broad selection of content from ITV, ITV2, ITVBe, ITV3, ITV4 and CITV. As with iPlayer, you can catch up on missed shows, view entire series and watch live TV. While the standard service is free, for £3.99 you can watch all of your favourite ITV content ads-free.
Looking for something other than movies and TV? Well, Marquee is new on the scene to curate a host of content for arts and culture fans – exactly what you need in the midst of a social lockdown. Marquee has been established in line with leading UK arts organisations the Royal Opera House and the Royal Shakespeare Company, both of whom will be streaming their productions to fans. There will also be weekly premieres to keep theatre, dance and opera fans happy. A monthly £8.99 plan is available, and you can access content through the Marquee app on a host of devices, including iOS, Android and Amazon Fire TV.
A relatively new player on the streaming scene, MUBI’s selection of curated cinema gems is, perhaps, even more singular and idiosyncratic than Curzon. MUBI bills itself as a curator and publisher, as well as a streaming service, and real care goes into its offbeat selection of documentaries, cult classics and foreign-language features. Either a free basic membership or a monthly/yearly option is available – the latter costs £9.99 a month (£95.88 a year).
Channel 5's wide repertoire of content is available to stream from My5, including the likes of Neighbours, Home and Away, The Yorkshire Vet and Casualty. You'll also find programmes from WWE, The Smithsonian Channel, Reel Truth Crime and more.
The granddaddy of the streaming world, Netflix is your one-stop shop for the latest TV box sets. This includes the likes of the nostalgia-inducing Stranger Things and the arresting true-crime series Mindhunter. As far as film releases are concerned, it’s more of a mixed bag – there’s plenty to choose from, but all-time classics are messily scattered among humdrum fare. However, Netflix’s increased stature in the film industry means it’s now ploughing money into its own productions, which are readily available for customers to stream. This includes the recent Oscar-winning drama Marriage Story, starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. Three different price plans are available, tailored to your lifestyle.
A multitude of passes are available on NOW TV, tailored to taste and viewing habit. So, what’ll it be? The Kids option to keep the little ones entertained now that schools are shut? The Entertainment pass, including over 300 box sets? The Sky Cinema pass that allows you access to a remarkable plethora of movies? Or the Hayu pass that unlocks hours of reality TV? Well, the good news is, you can mix and match all four of these, depending on the package that you choose. Various seven-day free trials are available across each package, and the NOW TV Smart Stick enables you to access a multitude of apps on your own TV, including Netflix, BBC iPlayer and All 4.
If you want to make the most of your 4K telly, then Rakuten TV is the place to come as it claims to have the widest range of 4K HDR new releases from Hollywood. There's also an impressive collection of US TV shows and even a decent smattering of free content. The prices are already competitive, but through the Boundless Cinema Society you can get them even cheaper – Boundless members will receive a massive 42% off the standard cost.
Whether you want to catch the latest cinematic releases, revisit an old classic or get stuck into a TV box set like Game Of Thrones or Peaky Blinders, you'll find what you're looking for at Sky Store. You don't need a Sky package, but you will need to sign up to the service. And through the Boundless Cinema Society, you can get 10% off the usual price of rentals and purchases.