It may come as a bit of a shock to anyone deeply entrenched in YouTube, TBP and other P2P sites, but it is possible to watch a lot of TV shows and films online in the UK totally legally.
Some are even free.
It’s a fairly depressing exercise hunting them all down, though. Many services are only available in the US, have shut down or are on an extended hiatus.
Nevertheless, here are 15 services (eight free, seven paid for) that you can use to view TV programmes or films. If you know of any more that are legal and easily available in the UK, let us know in the comments below.
Free Online TV / Film Services
About: Offers live streaming of BBC1 and BBC2 plus 7-day programme catchup service.
- Well-established service offering access to a wide range of BBC TV programming.
- Wide range of platforms supported for either streaming or downloading content, including PC, Mac, iPhone, Nokia devices.
- Shows from BBC HD are available to download in high definition.
- Rights management issues means some programmes aren’t available to watch live or archived.
- Streaming service can sometimes appear jittery (this may be due to broadband connection)
About: ITV’s relatively new version of BBC’s iPlayer catchup service.
- Good selection of programming across ITVs main channels.
- Long catchup time available.
- Requires Microsoft Silverlight, a technology not (yet) ubiquitously installed on most users computers.
- Interface isn’t as slick or compelling as some other services.
About: Offers a selection of programming from Channel 4 including archives.
- 30-day catchup service for most of Channel 4’s output.
- Huge range of archived content much of which is free to download.
- Generally high quality video.
- Archive content is of high quality but can take a long time to download.
- You’ll have to wait until July to get the archives on Mac and Linux.
About: Channel 5’s catchup service offering streams and downloads of recent shows.
- Offers access to a lot of Five’s programmes.
- Allows series downloads.
- Uses Windows Media Player and hence isn’t Mac compatible
- A lot less content is free because of distribution/rights deals and the high number of US imports Five carries
About: Free ad-supported Internet TV streaming service.
- Good source for independent video and film.
- Various officially licensed clips from major broadcasters (eg BBC)
- Not as much mainstream content as on other platforms.
- Video player feels a bit clunky.
About: The Internet Movie Archives feature videos that have passed into the public domain.
- Features full-length movies, shorts and international films.
- By nature, no copyrighted material is available.
- Site is quite basic and can be slow to access.
The legality of this service has been called into question, though obviously defended by its CEO. It was included in good faith. In fact, a higher quality service worth trying is TVCatchup.com although it is worth noting that TVCatchup faced its own legal battle in a former incarnation and had to be reinvented. It should also be noted that “Colin” who posted the following comment three times below — “For the author Andy Merrett to leave out www.tvcatchup.com in his list is astounding as this service is the dogs gonads and savour to many who cannot receive freeveiw TV in the UK” — is in fact a staff member or moderator for said service, hence he is hardly likely to be unbiased. I actually have no loyalty to either Zattoo or TVCatchup – I prefer iPlayer myself.
About: Watch various UK TV channels live from your desktop.
- Software available for Windows and Mac.
- Allows a variety of British channels, including main terrestrial, to be watched over broadband connection.
- Video quality is fairly poor.
- Choice of channels is limited.
About: Streaming video service offering a variety of archived TV and films.
- Interesting collection of oddball / independent films, music, documentary style shows, cartoons.
- Watch from a web browser, no software required.
- Social networking aspect allows others to recommend content.
- Very little mainstream content.
Paid Online TV / Film Services
About: Apple’s movie/TV show rental and purchase service bolted on to the very well-established iTunes.
- Provides seamless iTunes experience (good if you like iTunes, that is)
- Huge range of mainstream titles from British broadcasters and Hollywood studios.
- High definition downloads available.
- Works across PC, Mac and Apple mobile devices.
- You are effectively tied in to iTunes.
- Some titles are only available to rent.
About: Offers both live and archive TV programmes on demand.
- 31 Sky channels available to watch, included selected live.
- Available for a fairly competitive monthly subscription (or pay-per-programme) to non-Sky subscribers, or for free to Sky satellite customers.
- Works across PC and Mac
- TV On Demand not fully available on Mac yet.
About: Microsoft’s entertainment and movie portal for Xbox users.
- Offers a growing collection of on-demand movies.
- High definition available.
- Instant streaming mode for those with fast enough broadband connection.
- Only available to Xbox owners.
- Rental only, no purchase.
About: Online version of the DVD rental service.
- Offers near-immediate streaming of titles.
- Works on fairly low-speed broadband lines (1Mbps actual speed)
- Limited selection of titles currently available.
- No high definition option.
- Can’t watch without being connected to the Internet.
- Available time to watch is variable dependent on film.
About: TV and movie streaming and download service.
- Increasing range of titles available from big name movie studios.
- Range of instant streaming options to suit variable connection speeds.
- Competitive pricing.
- Free content is topped and tailed with ads.
About: Part of 4oD, Film4 on demand offers pay access to a range of Film Four and other films.
- Offers a decent range of films to rent at competitive prices.
- Not currently available to Mac or Linux users.
- No high definition.
About: Online movie rentals started by the mobile phone manufacturer.
- Range of films available to rent or buy.
- Two versions – one for PC, one for Samsung Mobile
- Not available on Mac or Linux.
- Fairly expensive to buy/rent compared to other services.
Disclaimer: This list has been compiled in good faith based on the information I had to hand. Please do your own research and don’t blame Tech DIgest or myself if subsequently a service becomes legally questionable. It’s happened to plenty of other services that were once considered legitimate. This also isn’t an exhaustive list. I’m well aware there are other services available.