For decades, both BT TV and Sky TV have been central landmarks on the British television landscape. From driving new trends to producing the best new content, it’s safe to say that the lion’s share has come through either one or both of these institutions of British television. And while they’ve both had a tendency to be a little complacent over the years, competition has forced them to fix up and look sharp – with customers reaping the benefits.
While they are two of the biggest telcos in the UK, they are by no means the same. Sky has been and remain the market leader, with the most extensive range of programs and options around. Put simply, if there’s anything worth watching on UK TV, Sky is likely to have it. BT TV, on the other hand, has sought to capture your attention by streamlining the options available – and of course streamlining costs. Read on to check out which provider is right for you.
Who are BT TV and Sky TV?
Aside from being some of the biggest and best-recognised names in UK TV, who are Sky and BT? BT is part of the BT Group, which was formerly British Telecom. Originally the state telecommunications company, BT was privatised in the 1980s. BT provides telephone, television and broadband services across the country, with more than 18 million customers in total.
Sky TV is part of Sky UK, officially the largest pay TV broadcaster in the country and one of the biggest in Europe. With more than 10 million subscribers, it has a base that few can match. Sky’s stable includes a number of associated networks, including Sky Sports, Sky Cinema, while Sky membership will also provide access to Sky Go – which is Sky’s content arm for watching on smartphones and other mobile devices.
One important difference between the two providers is the way in which they broadcast. Sky comes via satellite, meaning you’ll need to have a dish installed. Conversely, BT TV comes via broadband – meaning that you cannot take BT TV without doing so in a broadband bundle.
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Both BT TV and Sky TV have loads of excellent content. Sky TV comes with more than 350 channels covering a variety of genres including sport, entertainment, news, reality, drama and music. BT’s entry-level package comes with just over 80 channels, with the biggest package netting you around 140.
On the whole, Sky offers a lot more than BT – but of course this comes at a cost. BT’s channel count and content list may be comparatively limited to that of Sky, but much of the core channels are the same. BT has still kept rights to the big-ticket items whether it be in relation to sport, TV or otherwise.
Where the two stand out from the rest of the pack however is in relation to sport. BT TV and Sky TV, with their associated BT Sport and Sky Sport channels respectively, are the two biggest names in televised sport in the UK. While they’re known for their comprehensive football coverage, they’ve also branched out into a number of other areas recently – meaning pretty much whatever you like to watch, they’ll have it covered.
The Sky Sports package – which must be added on to the standard package – shows all the top channels like Main Event, Sky Sports Football, Sky Sports Formula One, Sky Sports Action, Sky Sports Cricket and Sky Sports Golf. All the best sporting action in the world is available, from Premier League to cricket, golf, motorsport, NBA and the rugby codes.
BT TV has recently seen the value in acquiring sporting content and have made great in-roads in recent years. Any BT TV package comes with BT Sports. While they don’t have the extensive sporting coverage of Sky, they’ve still got all of your favourites, including the Premier League and Champions League, FA and League Cups. For lovers of other sports, BT have cricket, rugby union, rugby league, tennis and loads more.
Movies and TV Series
These days attending the cinema can be prohibitively expensive. BT and Sky give you excellent movie options, both on an included and an on-demand basis. Sky, with its superior range of channels, is more likely to give you access to a greater array of movies than BT. However, BT TV lets you bolt on Netflix, which will boost your potential movie library significantly.
Can’t find a movie that suits the occasion? No problem, both have an extensive on-demand library. BT TV gives you access to the BT TV Store, which has an extensive range of films and box sets. Similarly, Sky Cinema has thousands of movies on demand.
With the standard Sky package having more than 200 channels more than BT TV, there is of course a lot more variety. While many of these channels will include box sets, movies and sport (as we looked at above), Sky also has loads of additional programming such as news, sports news, reality TV, kids programming, documentaries and game shows.
Ways to watch away from home
Aside from loads of new players entering the market, the other major factor which has changed the TV landscape in the UK recently has been its availability on different devices including smartphones, laptops and tablets. So what do these providers have on offer?
Sky Go is Sky TV which can be taken with you wherever you go – on your device, of course. Better yet, it’s free. Once you’ve got a Sky TV subscription, simply download the Sky Go app to your phone, tablet or laptop. Sky Go is perfect for travelling and can be used through Wi-Fi, 3G or 4G on any of these devices. Although the standard package does not allow you to download shows to watch later – that can be remedied by upgrading to Sky Go Extra.
Sky Go Extra lets you download shows to watch later while also letting you stream on more than one device at the same time. Sky Go can be used throughout the EU at no extra cost. However, once you leave Europe, you won’t be able to access it – other than any programs you’ve downloaded, of course.
BT TV App
Much like Sky Go, the BT TV app gets you access to all of your favourite programming while you’re on the move. The app – which is free for BT TV subscribers – lets you watch all of the content that you’d be able to watch from your TV from your smartphone, tablet or other device. Halfway through a show when on your way to work? The app links with your BT TV box, letting you pick up exactly where you left off. You can also program your BT box to record a show from the app, for instance if you’re coming home later than you expected. As with Sky Go, you can’t use the BT TV app without a BT TV subscription.
What’s in the box?
As any fan of UK TV knows, it’s not only which program you have access to – but the device which enables you to get there. The humble set top box has seen some significant development in recent years, with evolved functionality and improved capacity.
BT TV gives you three boxes to choose from: YouView, YouView Plus and YouView Ultra HD. The box you get will depend on which of their packages you choose. YouView lets you rewind and pause live TV, while the YouView Plus box gives you 300 hours of standard-definition recording. If you go for the maximum, you’ll not only be able to store 500 hours but you can also watch in brilliant 4K Ultra HD.
Conversely, each and every Sky package comes with the Sky Q box. Why pay for more than 300 channels when you can only watch one? The days of missing out are long gone. You can record three shows at once while watching a fourth, while there’s up to 500 hours of storage. Still not enough recording capacity and storage space? Then upgrade to the 4K HD version, letting you record six channels while watching a seventh (no, really) and record up to 1000 hours.
As these packages are quite different – and as BT will require you to also sign up to their broadband – it’s not exactly an apples and apples comparison. The one thing that both have in common is that contracts run for 18 months. Check out our specific BT TV and Sky TV guides for the different packages on offer.
BT TV Classic starts out low per month for the first three months, before increasing thereafter. BT TV Entertainment will set you back a few quids more per month for three months too. Their Max 4K deal is the most expensive among the bunch.
Sky TV trends towards the more expensive side of the scale, although it’s comparatively cheaper than it used to be. Each plan comes with a set-up fee. Sky’s plans are set up on a mix-and-match basis, meaning that there are effectively around 15 different combinations you can take.
Sky TV Entertainment is the cheapest among the plans. Followed by Entertainment + HD and Entertainment + Kids, Entertainment + Sky Cinema HD, and Entertainment + Sky On Demand. At the pricier end of the scale are Entertainment + BT Sport, and Entertainment + Sports HD + Kids as the most expensive.
Can I dip my toe in?
A great way to get an idea if a subscription is right for you is to dip your toe in the water with a free trial. BT TV does not offer a free trial, although occasionally they’ll have special offers like three free months of BT Sports. All of their TV contracts run for 18 months. Sky also doesn’t currently offer a free trial, although keep an eye out for the limited-edition specials which they run from time to time.
The Verdict: Which one is right for me?
There’s no right answer to this question – you’ll need to get a better idea of exactly what your household wants and needs when it comes to TV (and in some cases phone and broadband). The best place to start is to get an idea of whether your house is eligible. Due to Sky’s reliance on satellites, it’ll be available pretty much everywhere in the UK – with a few exceptions. BT’s reliance on broadband means that nine in ten UK houses will be BT eligible.
All in all, budget is likely to be a major concern – put simply Sky is much more expensive. With 300+ channels and loads of on demand content, Sky simply has a lot more to offer, although BT TV has done remarkably well by streamlining their offerings around your favourites. Other than budget, consider your existing telecommunications demands. Do you want a satellite dish on your house (a Sky requirement)? Or are you unwilling to change your broadband to BT (a BT requirement)? By answering these questions – and reading our guide thoroughly! – you’ll be able to find which one suits you best.