These days, missing a TV show isn’t a problem for most of us. All of the UK's major broadcasters offer a catch-up TV service, and a lot of them are free. Since streaming hit the mainstream with companies such Netflix and Amazon Prime offering a huge choice for a fairly low monthly fee the major British channels have really upped their game to offer complete box sets, all available for free, so it's definitely worth a look to see what's on offer.
What is catch-up TV?
Catch-up TV is exactly as its name implies – you can ‘catch up’ on TV shows that you have missed. This is great news for all of us who like to keep up with our favourite TV shows but don’t like to arrange our lives around them. When first launched it was more commonly known as 'on-demand' television.
Catching up on your devices
Catch-up TV is available on websites through your laptop or computer, or through apps installed on your devices. Anything from your mobile phone or tablet to a games console can have TV catch-up apps installed. Smart TVs and your entertainment boxes from Virgin, Sky, Freeview and similar might also have them available – although depending on the brand the amount of programming availability can vary.
If you don't have a device to play any catch-up services you can get a fairly low-cost device purely for streaming, for example Roku boxes start at around £30, and Amazon Firesticks are available for around £50. You can install a range of free catch up-services such as BBC iPlayer and Channel 4's All4, as well as subscription apps like Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime, and a whole host of niche channel apps and even free vintage movie apps.
More high-end digiboxes are also available, such as the Manhattan T3-R which allows you to pause, record or rewind over 85 TV channels as well as access all the major streaming apps.
These devices will need access to the internet to work.
Which catch-up platforms for which channels?
Missed something on terrestrial TV? This is what on-demand channels are available for each channel.
New BBC programmes are available free of charge (or rather, included in your TV licence fee) for up to 30 days after they are first aired. You can find them on the BBC iPlayer. iPlayer has categories for documentaries, comedy, and even films so it should be easy to browse around to find what you missed. The BBC also offers complete boxsets of its popular shows like Killing Eve, Waterloo Road, Call the Midwife, Luther and much more, so it's easy to catch-up with quality programming you might have missed the first time around, or perhaps want to rewatch. You can even download episodes to watch later - perfect if you're going on holiday somewhere remote and would like to take some entertainment with you.
Find out how to get the most out of the BBC iPlayer
ITV programmes are available free for streaming for 30 days on the ITV Hub. There is also a section for full series box sets of hit shows like Vera, Broadchurch, Liar and Cold Feet. You can stream ITV live, meaning your tablet or laptop can easily become a portable TV wherever there is an internet connection.
Channel 4 and E4
Channel 4 and E4 programmes are available free on ALL4, previously named 4OD, for at least 30 days. Sign up for My4 and you can add series to your favourites and keep track of what episodes you've watched and make it easier to not miss new seasons. All4 also includes a Box Sets section featuring complete series without a time limit. It includes hit US shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ER and Seinfeld as well as homegrown British classics Shameless, Black Books, The Inbetweeners and a whole lot more.
For those looking for something a bit different Channel 4's Walter Presents section streams award-winning television from around the world. Programmes are available from Germany, Denmark, Sweden, France, Belgium and more, perfect if you have a Scandi noir itch to scratch. Walter Presents programmes featured include Stockholm Requiem, Deutschland 83 and 86 and Locked Up. Not sure where to start? VODzilla has compiled a list of some of the best Walter Presents programming.
Channel 5 programmes, including 5 USA, 5 Star and the children’s channel Milkshake, can be watched free at My5, previously Demand 5, and are available for a minimum of seven days.
Catching up on Sky programmes
You might be surprised to learn you can catch up on Sky programmes even if you don't have Sky, albeit for a fee. Now (previously NowTV) is a subscription service run by Sky and while you won't get the huge range available on a Sky package the cost is a fraction of the price and with no contract so you can cancel whenever you like. You just buy one of five TV passes (entertainment, cinema, kids, Sky Sports and Hayu (reality TV)) and start watching instantly.
The Entertainment Pass costs less than £10 a month and lets you watch new programmes from Sky 1, Fox, Sky Atlantic and more. As well as brand new episodes usually shown on Sky it includes a large boxset section so there's plenty of binging to be done, and when a new series arrives they will often upload all the previous seasons as boxsets so you can catch up with what you've missed.
The no hassle subscription means it's easy to have a pass for a few months while a show you love is streaming, or during your favourite sport's season.
Sky Go or Now?
Sky customers have access to the Sky Go subscription service, and even if you aren't a Sky customer you can subscribe to it separately. It has a bit more choice than Now, but it can also be more expensive, depending on what package you want. It does get a little confusing when it comes to figuring out which is best, but it'll really depend on what you want to watch and how much you want to spend.
Using your TV set boxes
If you have a digital TV set, you don't have to be a slave to the programming schedule. Catch-up TV is available from most popular subscription services:
YouView is available as part of a broadband bundle from BT, TalkTalk and Plusnet. It is also available on some Sony smart TVs and on the standalone YouView box, available to buy online and through major highstreet shops. It gives you access to catch up TV from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, as well as over 70 TV and radio channels.
If you’re with Virgin Media, you can watch catch-up TV from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5. The on-demand service is free with all Virgin Media packages, and there are premium channels you can add to your bundle.
TalkTalk TV offers catch-up TV from all the terrestrial broadcasters, as well as from channels like FX and Sky. You will need a TalkTalk set-top box and subscription to their service for access. You can boost the channels you receive on a monthly basis, so can get extra channels with no ongoing commitment.
Sky+ or Sky Q
With Sky+ or Sky Q you can access all the terrestrial channels' on demand services, as well as the premium channels included in your Sky package.
Freeview and Freesat
The latest Freeview and Freesat boxes allow you can watch catch-up TV from most of the major broadcasters such as the BBC and ITV.
TV streaming devices
You can also watch catch-up TV using a device that plugs into your TV's HDMI port. Popular devices include the Amazon Fire TV Stick, Google Chromecast and the Roku Express, and they won't break the bank either – all three are less than £50 each.
And don't forget you can also watch catch-up TV via games consoles such as PlayStation and X-Box, so when it comes to settling down and watching your favourites, these days you really are spoilt for choice.
Freeview? Cable? What are the different types of television service?
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