On Demand TV & Streaming | Everything You Need To Know

By Charlotte Whyatt - Mon 23rd Oct 2017 Guides

We run through all you need to know about the UK's various on-demand and streaming services.

Amazon Fire TV On Demand Selection

What is On Demand?

On-demand refers to the idea of being able to enjoy all kinds of films and TV shows whenever you like via an online connection.

It's an activity which has exploded in popularity over the last few years owing to its incredible convenience (no more waiting until you get home to enjoy Game of Thrones) and the prevalence of powerful portable devices like smartphones which allows you to access the internet almost anywhere.

You can find on-demand content on a huge variety of different platforms, all of which you’ll have to pay for in some way.

How does On Demand work?

On-demand requires an online connection to work which it uses to stream content over to your selected device.

It's slightly different to downloading as it works in real-time and you don’t actually receive a copy of whatever it is you’re streaming on your device. Instead, the content remains on a separate online server and simply travels over to your device via your internet connection whenever its selected.

On Demand providers

All of the UK's major TV providers including Sky, Virgin Media, BT and TalkTalk offer separate on-demand platforms and you’ve also got independent streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video which are available on all kinds of devices like smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, game consoles and streaming sticks.

Netflix On Demand

Netflix is one of world's leading on-demand platforms offering an absolutely huge selection of popular films and TV shows across all kinds of different genres.

Over the last few years they’ve also become renowned for their excellent selection of original content, a majority of which has received acclaim from audiences and critics alike.

While Netflix's library of TV shows is excellent, where they do fall down slightly is their film selection. It's not terrible by any means, but you won’t be able to enjoy any of the latest DVD releases like you would with a service like the Sky Store or Virgin Movies.

Amazon On Demand

Amazon Prime Video is priced at only £5.99 a month and boasts an equally massive film and TV library which features a number of critically-acclaimed original shows and UK exclusives like US hacker drama Mr Robot.

Subscribers are also able to rent or buy TV and films titles which aren't available to stream under your normal subscription package, a neat little feature which isn't currently offered by Netflix.

All of this content is very fairly priced, more or less equal to what you’d find on the high street, and there's usually a few great deals on which allow you to snap up certain content for reduced prices.

NOW TV On Demand

The Sky owned on-demand service is a brilliant alternative to one of its pricey TV packages allowing to you to enjoy a wealth of on-demand content for a small monthly fee.

NOW TV can be accessed in a number of different ways like via a specific NOW TV set-top-box, through your PC or Mac's online browser and an app which is available to download for free on your iOS and Android smartphones and tablets along with laptops, smart TVs and games consoles.

Their pricing works a little differently to other streaming services requiring you to buy individual Sky Sports, Sky Cinema, Entertainment and Kids passes which then permit you access to the corresponding content. The only NOW TV pass to not feature any on-demand content is the Sports pass.

A major part NOW TV's appeal is how flexible these passes are. They can be bought on a one-off basis or extended to a pay monthly contract so you keep on enjoying NOW TV’s content for as long as you like.

As it's owned by Sky, NOW TV’s Entertainment pass allows you to enjoy premium Sky content like Game of Thrones and Twin Peaks: The Return on-demand which a lot of similar services don't allow you to do.

Sky Cinema’s selection of on-demand movies on NOW TV is impressive, encompassing a wide range of genres and striking a great balance between offering brand-new DVD releases and classic favourites. They also offer a brand-new premiere every single day so you’ll always having something exciting to watch.

One advantage of buying the separate NOW TV set-top-box is that you’ll also have access to catch-up apps like BBC iPlayer, 4OD and ITV Player.

Sky On Demand

Exactly what kind of on-demand content you’ll be able to receive from Sky depends on which Sky TV package you’ve got.

Certain channels within every package will be available as part of Sky's catch-up service which allows you to enjoy a great mix of content from these channels from over the last 30 days. Other catch-up services like BBC iPlayer, Demand 5 and ITV Player are also available with every Sky TV package.

The Sky Box Sets Bundle is one of Sky's most fully comprehensive TV packages as along with hundreds of premium TV channels you’ll also receive on-demand access to over 300 boxsets.

Equating to thousands of hours of high-quality entertainment, you’ll find an impressive selection of brand-new and classic shows from both the UK and US across all different types of genres.

The on-demand selection for both the Sky Box Sets and Variety bundles also contains over 4,500 episodes of popular children TV shows making them an excellent choice for families.

The Sky Cinema package can be bought and added on to any Sky TV package for an extra monthly fee and offers 11 dedicated film channels as well as a huge on-demand library containing over 1000 different brilliant films.

A new premiere is added every single day and while a lot of it is newer than anything you’d find or Netflix and Amazon, if you’re looking to rent or buy the latest DVD releases you should head to the Sky Store.

Here, everything is excellently priced and features a constantly revolving deal-of-the-week so you can enjoy some great content at a nicely discounted price.

Virgin Media On Demand

As with main competitor Sky, what you’ll be able to find in Virgin Media’s sizeable on-demand library depends on which one of their TV bundles you’ve bought.

Excellent for anyone working on a budget, both their Player and Mix bundles come with access to Netflix, all of the major catch-up services like BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD and Demand 5 and Vevo which allows you to watch over 250,000 official music videos and live concert performances in glorious HD.

Stepping up to the Full Home and VIP bundles you’ll also find Netflix, these catch-up services and Vevo included along with Virgin’s TV boxsets and a free download of the Virgin TV Kids app.

Although it might not be quite as comprehensive as Sky’s, Virgin’s boxset library features a fairly large selection of brand-new critical smashes, old favourites and excellent exclusives like MMA drama Kingdom and gory zombie comedy Ash vs the Evil Dead.

The Virgin Kids app features hundreds of hours of premium children’s content from channels like Nick Jr, Milkshake and Cartoonito as well as age-appropriate games and colourful picture books which can all be downloaded to enjoy offline so they’ll never be bored on long journeys again.

Available to attach to every package for an extra monthly fee is the Sky Cinema bolt-on which again gives you unlimited access to over 1000 different fantastic films.

To rent or buy a greater selection of much newer films and TV shows, you should visit the Virgin Media TV Store which is available with every one of their individual TV packages.

BT On Demand

BT offers three different TV packages, Starter, Entertainment and Max, all of which come as standard with seven-day catch-up services like BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD, Demand 5, Milkshake and UKTV Play.

To receive some fantastic on-demand content with BT you’ll need to attach some of their individual bolt-ons to your TV package.

The AMC channel can be added for no extra charge and is accompanied by a sizeable on-demand library containing many of their own critically-acclaimed shows.

Sky’s NOW TV service is available with BT but unfortunately, here it only supports the on-demand section of the Sky Cinema pass. You won’t be able to access the normal range of 11 live film channels but can enjoy over 1000 brilliantly entertaining films across a huge range of genres anytime you like.

If you’re not a NOW TV customer and would like to enjoy a similar range of great films, the Sky Cinema bolt-on makes for an excellent addition to your TV package.

Another option for film and TV is Netflix which allows you to select which one of their three types of plan you’d like to go for no matter which BT TV package you’ve got.

Although you need BT’s Infinity broadband in order to receive live children’s tv channels, both this and standard BT broadband allows you to purchase BT’s Kids bolt-on and give your children on-demand access to over 1000 episodes of their favourite TV shows.

Pressing the BT Player button on your remote will automatically take you through to the BT Store which, like the Virgin Media and Sky Store’s, contains a nicely varied collection of newer films and TV shows for you to buy or rent.

TalkTalk On Demand

As with BT, TalkTalk’s two TV packages, TV and TV Extra, both automatically come bundled with catch-up players like BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD, Demand 5, Milkshake and UKTV Play.

In order to add more on-demand content to your package, you’ll need to buy some of TalkTalk’s bumps. They’re very flexible and can easily be either added to your package or cancelled entirely via your YouView box so you don’t have to spend anytime waiting around on the phone.

The Entertainment bump gives you access to a wider selection of both live Entertainment channels and quality on-demand content from these channels which includes MTV and Comedy Central.

You’ll also get access to TalkTalk’s Film Club which features a rotating on-demand library of around 20 films. Five are added each week as another five leave, and while it doesn’t carry any of the latest blockbusters there should always be something enjoyable for you to watch.

Contained within the Sky Cinema bump is exactly the same 11 live film channels and excellently varied on-demand library containing over 1000 films that’s found within the Sky Cinema bolt-on offered by other providers.

You could get the PictureBox bump for only £5 month and have access to 60 revolving films on-demand. Like the TalkTalk Film Club, they’ll be films which have been out for a little while but it’s always nice to have an alternative.

The Kids bump is a sure-fire way to keep children of all ages entertained with over with 200 episodes of popular children’s TV shows from channels like Nickelodeon and Disney available on demand.

Netflix and NOW TV apps are also available but you’ll have to pay for their subscription separately and you’re able to rent or buy an excellently varied selection of much newer films and TV shows from the TalkTalk Store.

Freeview & Freesat On Demand

Along with 60 standard channels, Freeview allows you to enjoy all kinds of content from five of the UK’s major catch-up services, BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD, Demand 5 and UKTV Play. You’ll also have access to both Netflix’s and Amazon’s extensive library of films and TV shows as long as you’re paying their separate monthly subscription fees.

While Freesat gives you access to a considerably more live TV channels and radio stations, it’s selection of on-demand content is practically identical.

It contains all of the same catch-up players, Netflix and Amazon along with apps like YouTube, BBC News, BBC Sport and Curzon Home Cinema which allows you to rent a wide selection of independent and arthouse films.

The best broadband speed for On Demand streaming

The exact broadband speed you’ll need in order to stream content on-demand does vary a little bit depending on which provider you consult and what format you intend to stream in.

The suggestions offered up by most providers tend to be the minimum speeds required to be able to smoothly stream their content so it’s recommended that you aim for something a little bit higher than that.

In order to stream SD content, you should have a broadband speed of around 3Mbps to 5Mbps, to stream HD content, you’ll need a speed of between 5Mbps to 10Mbps and to stream in 4K Ultra HD your broadband should be able to comfortably reach speeds of 25Mbps.

  Standard Definition (SD) High Definition (HD) Ultra High Definition (UHD or 4K)
BBC iPlayer 1.5Mbps 2.8Mbps N/A
Netflix 3Mbps 5Mbps 25Mbps
Amazon Prime Video 0.9Mbps 3.5Mbps 25Mbps
NOW TV 2.5Mbps 5Mbps N/A

The difference between On Demand and Catch-Up

Catch-up services are those which are mostly free to use and carry a nice selection of shows from the last seven days. Some, like 4OD, also allow you to enjoy older boxsets which have previously been show on that specific channel.

On-Demand platforms however, require you to pay a monthly subscription fee in order to use them but do carry a much larger variety of content from all kinds of different providers and time periods.

On Demand price

Netflix offers three packages priced at £5.99, £7.49 and £8.99 a month, whereas Amazon Prime Video is only £5.99 a month.

The NOW TV passes range from £2.99 a month for the Kids Pass to £9.99 for the Sky Cinema Pass.

Sky, Virgin Media and BT’s TV packages tend to vary quite a bit in price due to the special offers and deals which are frequently in place, but generally speaking prices can reach anywhere from just £30 a month to way over £60.