How to watch catch-up TV online

In today’s digital world, missing your favourite TV programme isn’t a big deal. Thanks to catch-up TV, you can simply watch it when you want, where you want, so there’s no need to fit your life around the TV schedules. We look at how catch-up TV works, who offers it and how you can get it.

In today’s digital world, missing your favourite TV programme isn’t a big deal. Thanks to catch-up TV, you can simply watch it when you want, where you want, so there’s no need to fit your life around the TV schedules. We look at how catch-up TV works, who offers it and how you can get it.

Holly Niblett
From the Digital team
4
minute read
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Posted 26 MAY 2021

What is catch-up TV?

Catch-up TV refers to programmes that are made available online by TV companies so you can ‘catch up’ on shows you’ve missed.

All major UK broadcasters, including the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, have catch-up services that allow you to watch your favourite shows at your leisure. Faster broadband speeds and advances with digital TV have made it easier than ever to watch content on different devices.

Catch-up TV is available online through your laptop or PC, or using apps installed on smartphones, tablets, smart TVs and even games consoles.

Although most programmes are available through catch-up services, not all are, so don’t bank on being able to watch everything you want at a later date. Also, there may be occasions when you can’t watch certain programmes on some devices because of platform rights.

Do I need a TV licence to watch catch-up TV?

If you’re watching BBC iPlayer, you’ll need a valid UK TV licence to access catch-up and on-demand services. You’ll also need one if you’re watching live TV on any other channel, even if you’re streaming it on a laptop or smartphone.

For instance, if a new episode of Midsomer Murders is airing on ITV from 8pm until 10pm and you go to the ITV Hub to start streaming it at 9.50pm, you’ll need a TV licence. But if you wait until 10.05pm to watch the episode on catch-up, you won’t need one as it’s no longer airing. You’ll usually be asked whether you have a licence before you’re allowed to stream live.

If you only ever watch on-demand or catch-up programmes on services other than BBC iPlayer, you won’t need a TV licence.

How can I watch catch-up TV online?

Most of the UK’s main broadcasters offer a free catch-up TV service that you can access online or through their hub:

BBC iPlayer

BBC programmes are available to watch on BBC iPlayer and are included in the cost of your licence fee. Typically, new shows are available for at least 30 days after they’re first aired, with many now becoming available for a year or more.

Channels include BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, BBC Radio 1, CBBC, CBeebies, BBC News, BBC Parliament, BBC Alba and S4C.

The iPlayer offering is separated into categories including entertainment, comedy, documentaries and films, and offers box sets of popular shows and all-time classics like Killing Eve, Luther and The Royle Family. You can also download episodes to watch later – handy if you're on a plane or holidaying somewhere remote that doesn’t have good Wi-Fi reception.

ITV Hub

ITV programmes are available to watch any time for free on the ITV Hub, and are usually available for 30 days. 

Channels include ITV, ITV2, ITVBe, ITV3, ITV4 and CITV, or you can search by category, from comedy and soaps to factual series and films.

Catch up with programmes you’ve missed or watch full-series box sets of hit dramas like The Bay, Marcella and Unforgotten. You can also stream ITV live, if you have a TV licence.

If you want to skip the adverts, you can sign up to ITV Hub+. This is a paid service that lets you watch with no ad breaks and let’s you download shows for viewing offline.

All 4

Channel 4 programmes are available free on All 4 for at least 30 days, so you can catch up with the likes of Gogglebox, Hollyoaks and Made in Chelsea. Channels include Channel 4, E4, More4, 4seven and 4Music.

With My4, a service found within All4, you can add series to your favourites listings and keep track of which episodes you've watched, so you don’t inadvertently skip any.

All 4 also has a box sets section featuring complete series of classic UK and US shows like The Inbetweeners and The West Wing. And if you’re looking for the best foreign shows, Walter Presents streams award-winning TV from around the world.

Channel 4’s premium paid-for service All 4+ lets you stream up to 1,500 shows without adverts.

My5

By signing up to My5, you can watch channels including Channel 5, 5USA, 5Star and 5Select for free. Typically, programmes are available for between seven and 30 days.

That means soap fans can catch up with the latest goings-on Down Under in Neighbours and Home and Away, while shows on Milkshake! will keep the kids occupied with episodes of Peppa Pig, PAW Patrol, Fireman Sam and more.

UKTV Play

UKTV Play is a free on-demand service that lets you watch entertainment and documentaries from Dave, Yesterday and Drama on your TV, mobile, tablet or laptop for up to 30 days.

You can also binge on box sets of British classics including Auf Wiedersehen Pet, The Bill, Lovejoy and Red Dwarf.

How can I watch catch-up TV on my smart TV?

Most smart TVs now come with catch-up apps pre-installed, allowing you to watch BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and other streaming apps from the comfort of your sofa. LG, Samsung, Sony and Panasonic are among the big brands that tend to include them on their TVs, so you can enjoy great TV content all in one place and watch it on a big screen.

Alternatively, you can turn a normal TV into a smart TV by getting a streaming stick that you plug into your TV, like the Amazon Fire TV and Roku devices. You’ll need access to the internet for these to work. You can install a range of free catch-up services like BBC iPlayer and All 4, as well as subscription apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

Can I watch catch-up TV through my existing TV package?

Most providers of subscription TV offer their own form of catch-up TV through set-top boxes and apps. As part of your TV package, you’ll have access to a vast range of catch-up TV.

Programmes aren’t usually available for very long through set-top boxes, typically just seven days, although some may be around for longer.

Catch-up services are available on:

  • Virgin Media: Catch up on programmes from the past seven days by looking through your on-screen TV guide and finding shows with the catch up symbol.
  • BT TV: Watch TV catch-ups through your BT TV box. Access a vast library of new and classic on-demand content, as well as BT Sport and US drama channel AMC, exclusive to BT TV customers.
  • Sky: Catch up on TV from the last 30 days on up to 60 channels, including Sky Sports, Sky Atlantic and Sky One, as well as shows on BBC iPlayer and All 4.
  • NOW: With Sky’s streaming service, a host of TV catch-up content is available to view without being tied into a contract. What you get access to depends on the type of pass you buy.
  • TalkTalk TV: Get catch-up TV from all the terrestrial broadcasters, including the BBC and Channel 4, for at least seven days. You’ll need a TalkTalk set-top box and subscription package to access it.

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Frequently asked questions

How much data does watching TV online use?

Most broadband providers in the UK now offer unlimited broadband deals, so it won’t matter how much data you use up if you watch TV over the internet. But some do have caps or other restrictions and in those situations, it could be easy to eat into your data allowance if you’re streaming or downloading content. Always check the terms and conditions of your package, to be certain.

What broadband speed do I need for streaming catch-up TV?

You’ll need a reliable broadband connection to stream TV shows. While it doesn’t have to be superfast, a speed of at least 3 megabits per second (Mbps) is necessary for standard streaming. If your broadband connection is slower than this, the picture quality may be poor and you’ll be slowed down by screen buffering.

If you’re not sure what your broadband speed is, you can check it for free using our broadband speed test.

It could be worth upgrading to a fibre broadband package if your standard connection keeps dropping out.

How soon after a programme finishes is it available on catch-up?

It can vary from straight after it airs, to a few hours after. Many shows, including soaps, dramas and documentaries, will be available to watch just after they’ve finished on TV, but some live programmes like I’m a Celebrity and sports matches can take longer to appear.

How long are programmes available on demand?

Typically, you can view programmes for up to 30 days after they were originally broadcast. But there can be tighter restrictions on certain content because of the rights the broadcaster holds.

Some programmes will be available for longer than 30 days. The BBC is one provider that is making more programming available for a year or more, including some new episodes as well as some repeated shows and older series that aren’t currently airing.

It’s always best to check the channel’s website to see when programmes expire, so you don’t miss out.

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