Cheapest ways to legally watch films and TV online
Got a serious streaming addiction? Find out how save money on Netflix, Amazon Prime, NOW TV and more. You can even watch some shows for free online!
Alright, so you probably don't need us to tell you how great Netflix is. But what if we told you that you could be saving serious money on your streaming subscriptions? Yeah, now you're listening.
We're also well aware that you can stream films and TV without a monthly subscription, and guess what? You can save money on that too!
What's on this page:
If you're a serial film addict, the subscription services easily give you the best bang for your buck.
For a relatively small monthly fee, you'll get unlimited access to each service's respective offering. And given that the estimated total length of everything just on Netflix is estimated to be about three and a half years, this should comfortably fill some of your free time at uni.
But what does each streaming service have to offer, and how can you save money on each one? Allow us to enlighten you…
Amazon Prime Video
Standard price: £5.99/month, or £79/year as part of Amazon Prime (£39/year for students); other titles available at additional cost
Number of films: 18,000+
Number of TV series: almost 2,000
Popular titles: The Grand Tour, Mr. Robot, Sons of Anarchy, Vikings, Outlander
Research has shown that Amazon Prime's selection of films is almost three times as big as Netflix's, but when it comes to settling down with a bowl of popcorn, you're usually after quality – not quantity.
Fortunately, Amazon Prime delivers on this front too. It boasts a whole host of blockbusters, including The Lego Movie, Interstellar, The King's Speech, Spotlight, Apocalypse Now and Amélie.
The selection of TV shows is somewhat less vast, but there are still plenty of treats on offer – The Man In The High Castle, Parks and Recreation and The Walking Dead are just a few of the big hitters.
When you're deciding what to watch on Amazon Prime, just make sure that what you choose is actually part of the service. A lot of the titles you'll see listed aren't included in your subscription, and you'll have to pay extra to either watch or rent them.
How to save money on Amazon Prime Video
As long as you've got a valid .ac.uk email address, you're entitled to Prime Student membership. It's almost exactly the same as standard Prime membership, except rather than costing £79/year, it only costs £39/year!
Not only does this get you access to Prime Video, but it also unlocks Prime Music, Prime Photos, and perhaps best of all, free delivery on all Prime-eligible products!
Weirdly, the only thing missing from Prime Student is access to the Kindle library, despite this arguably being the most useful part for students…
But the money saving doesn't stop there. If you're eligible for Prime Student, you should also be able to get your hands on a free six month trial of the service!
And even if your .ac.uk email address no longer works, standard users are still entitled to a free trial of Prime Video, which lasts a month before reverting to the standard price of £5.99/month.
Note that as Prime Student can't be bought as a gift (unlike standard Prime, which can), using any gift card tricks to get Prime Video will still work out more expensive than just getting a Prime Student membership.
Standard price: £5.99/month (Basic), £7.99/month (Standard), £9.99/month (Premium)
Number of films: 4,500+
Number of TV series: 2,500
Popular titles: Stranger Things, Breaking Bad, Making a Murderer, Mindhunter, The Crown
Just as Google has become a by-word for any kind of online search, Netflix is now pretty much the go-to term for a streaming service. ‘Amazon Prime Video and chill' just doesn't have the same ring to it, you know?
While Netflix's selection of films is certainly nothing to be sniffed at (The Shawshank Redemption, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Pulp Fiction and Fight Club, to name just four), it's their catalogue of TV shows that has really helped establish it as the popular choice.
Despite having the rights to stone-cold classics like Breaking Bad, The Killing and Dexter, Netflix's original content is arguably the best of the bunch. Narcos, Stranger Things and BoJack Horseman are among the critically acclaimed titles that Netflix has produced in-house.
Unlike Amazon Prime, it's a lot cheaper to buy a Netflix subscription with a gift card. Why? Because where there's a gift card, there's a discount to be had.
Zeek is an online marketplace where users can sell gift cards that they don't want. They can go for up to 20% less than their value – a £20 gift card for just £16, for example. Plus sign up via this link to get £3 free credit!
Netflix vouchers are among the more popular ones on Zeek, so don't expect savings as big as 20% – but if you ask us, any discount is a good discount.
It's also worth keeping an eye out for gift card sales. Shops (Tesco especially!) will occasionally run offers on gift cards, meaning you can once again get a whole chunk of Netflix credit for less than it's actually worth. Check out our deals section to see if there's a sale on now!
And last but not least, new Netflix subscribers can also get a one month free trial. So many options!
Standard price: £7.99/month (Entertainment Pass), £9.99/month (Sky Cinema), £39.99/month (Sky Sports)
Number of films: 1,300+
Number of TV series: 1,400+
Popular titles: The Wire, Game of Thrones, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, Westworld, The Affair
With a relatively small selection of titles, NOW TV has very much gone for the ‘quality not quantity' approach.
As it's owned by Sky, NOW TV boasts exclusive rights to some of the very best shows around. This includes all of Sky Atlantic's (or, more accurately, HBO's) most popular titles, such as Game of Thrones, Westworld and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.
Their film offering isn't bad either, but that's probably not a surprise given that it's basically just the back catalogue of Sky Cinema.
On the downside, if you're working to a budget (which we always reckon you should ) you'll have to make a choice between film and TV. NOW TV charges a separate monthly fee for each service, plus a massive £39.99 a month for Sky Sports.
How to save money on NOW TV
However, as the deals often only apply if you purchase one of the 12 month passes, you should probably consider whether or not you'll use it for a year.
Make sure to take a look at our deals section, too. It's fairly common for the NOW TV streaming boxes to be on offer with several months of service included, and that should save you a few quid!
If you're already a NOW TV customer, try phoning them up and saying that you want to cancel your subscription. As with many other companies, this could prompt them to offer you a cut-price deal in order to persuade you to stay. Just make sure you know how to haggle!
Finally, as you'll find with most other streaming services, there's a free trial of NOW TV on offer to new customers (sadly just 14 days long, though!).
If you're not a super streamer, but just like to indulge in the odd film here and there, pay-per-view (PPV) services could well be the option for you.
With a lot of sites you can also pay to download the titles forever – great if you think you it's going to become a classic.
Using iTunes isn't without it's drawbacks, though. You'll need to download the iTunes software before you can buy or rent, and whatever you get can only be watched through an Apple device.
How to save money on iTunes
iTunes always has sales on, and even outside of the offers, lesser-known films can cost significantly less than the blockbusters. Sometimes rentals are available for as little as 99p, and there's usually a fair number of films for sale at just £3.99.
But however much it costs, make sure you get some gift cards first! Head back up to our section on getting a discount on Netflix for a recap on how to bag some cheap gift cards.
Google Play Movies
Like iTunes, Google Play Movies offers a huge selection of films and TV series. However, unlike iTunes, Google doesn't restrict you to just viewing your downloads on their operating system. Google Play Movies is available on Apple devices, as well as Android phones and tablets.
You can also watch through your laptop and, if you have a games console, your downloads should be accessible through the ‘Purchased' tab on your YouTube app. Now that's what we call compatibility.
How to save money on Google Play Movies
If you're an Android user, you'll want to get your hands on Google Opinion Rewards. As payment for answering a few very short surveys about your shopping or viewing habits, the app gives you some credit for the Play Store.
Each survey tends to pay no more than about 40p, and there isn't always one available to complete, but it's a great little way to earn some pennies to put towards your next film purchase.
There isn't currently a version of Google Opinion Rewards for Apple devices in the UK, but it has recently been released on the App Store in America. It's not clear if they're planning to roll it out to the UK, but it's worth watching this space.
Failing that, check out our deals section. Google often sell their Chromecast with some Google Play Store credit to boot, so it could be worth checking if they're running this kind of offer first (although obviously you shouldn't spend extra for the Chromecast if you don't need/want one!).
Google Play Movies is also no stranger to a sale, and there's literally always something on offer. And yes, you can use vouchers on the Play Store, so you should use the cheap gift card trick here too!
The streaming service has a massive back catalogue just waiting to be watched, including all of your favourite picks. You can stream Rakuten TV through all Android and iOS devices, as well as your computer, but it's only supported by Xbox in the world of games consoles, .
That said, you can download content to watch offline. While you can also do this on iTunes and Google Play, not all streaming services offer it as a feature, so its value shouldn't be overlooked.
How to save money on Rakuten TV
Rakuten TV is one of the few streaming services that runs offers with cashback sites like Quidco and TopCashback. Percentage-wise these are some of the best discounts you'll get through a cashback site, with offers often as high as 20%.
Beyond cashback, Rakuten TV also has a section on its site dedicated to special offers. These aren't just your usual offers, though – you can often get bundles that include a film/TV series, along with an extra goodie. We're talking Xbox Gold membership, your very own Chromecast, and more.
This is obviously far from money saving if you don't need what they're offering, but if you do (or know somebody who does), you could save yourself a few quid!
But before you check out their deals, check out our deals! We often have offers on Rakuten TV, so if you want to save money, that's where to go.
TalkTalk TV Store
One of the bonuses of TalkTalk TV Store is that if you don't want to stream the film, you can download it and watch it later on, so this is perfect if you're planning any long train journeys or going anywhere without WiFi.
But remember, both Netflix and Amazon Prime also let you download things to watch offline, so if you're planning on getting a few episodes or films, it might be better value to sign up to one of them for a month!
How to save money on TalkTalk TV Store
TalkTalk TV Store often has deals running where titles will be available for as little as 99p. Obviously this limits your selection a little, but who knows – maybe your favourite film is in the sale, or perhaps a hidden gem is just waiting for you to discover it?
There's no better discount than getting something for free, and luckily for you, there are plenty of ways to watch films and TV for absolutely no cost whatsoever.
And before you say it, yes, there are loads of ways to stream for free that aren't strictly legal. But because we don't want to get you (and, more importantly, ourselves) into trouble, we'll stick to the legal options.
BoB is intended as an online learning resource (it's genuinely useful as one, too), and it has an archive of over two million TV and radio broadcasts. This includes films, and believe us when we say that we're yet to find a major title that isn't on there.
Breaking Bad? Game of Thrones? The Harry Potter films? They're all on it. The picture quality isn't as good as you'll find on a paid-for streaming service, and the episode selection can be slightly hit and miss, but when you're not paying a penny and it's completely legal, who cares?
BoB uses your university's login service to confirm you're a current student, and to find exactly what you're looking for, make sure to select ‘Title only' under ‘Search options'.
iPlayer also allows you to watch a selection of the films that have been on the BBC in the past 30 days, as well as some iPlayer-exclusive documentaries. And now the Beeb has even started adding some of its old content to the service too, meaning you can get your Louis Theroux fix without having to pay for Netflix.
As for All 4, while it doesn't tend to have any films for you to watch, it does have the complete box sets for most of its popular shows, past and present. This means every single episode of Peep Show, Catastrophe and Misfits, as well as some golden oldies like Dawson's Creek.
Similarly, UKTV Play has most of the shows that have been on the UKTV channels (that includes Dave!) in the past few weeks, as well as a fair few box sets to add to the equation. If you love Taskmaster (and let's face it, who doesn't?), this is an absolute treasure trove.
Just make sure you're keeping in line with TV licence rules, especially if you're exploiting the TV licence loophole! You wouldn't want this legal way to stream TV and film to land you in jail, now would you?
If they do, ask them if they would be so kind as to let you log into their Sky Go account on your laptop (bonus tip: this also lets you watch love whatever Sky channels they have live). Should they say yes, you'll have your hands on an impressive selection of titles.
Anyone on the Box Sets or Complete package will have access to Sky's on demand service, a selection that contains over 350 box sets. Sky Cinema subscribers also have a selection of over 1,000 films to stream, so it's worth asking if they have that too.
Everyone knows that you can use streaming services on your laptop, but it's hardly the most sociable or comfortable way to do things.
If you're keen to watch your flicks on the big(ger) screen, you've got a few options: get a streaming device to plug into your TV, hook your computer up to the screen using an HDMI cable, or go via your games console.
Each method has its own pros and cons, so let's quickly run through the best cost-effective options.
Amazon Fire TV stick
Don't be fooled by the name – the Amazon Fire TV stick can stream a lot more than just Amazon's own content. In fact, with the notable exception of NOW TV, this little device has an app for pretty much every streaming service you can think of.
Price wise, although the RRP is £39.99, Amazon almost always has some kind of offer on it. Prime members also get free delivery, so if you haven't got an account, get your free six month trial now!
Chromecast was the first major streaming stick to hit the market, and as it's made by Google, you know you're getting a quality product.
It's easily the cheapest stick out there, but Chromecast is let down slightly by the fact that it doesn't support Amazon Prime.
The beauty of streaming through your games console, be it a PlayStation, Xbox, or one of the Nintendo offerings, is that you won't need to buy any additional kit that'll take up your precious HDMI sockets.
However, if you don't have a console (and you don't intend to start gaming) it's probably the least cost effective way possible to start streaming.
It's also worth noting that not all services are available on all consoles – for example, NOW TV isn't available on the Wii.
This is very much the back-to-basics approach to streaming through your TV, but hey – if it works, it works, right?
All you have to do is get an HDMI cable (which, if you don't already have one, are cheap as chips on Amazon) and plug it into your laptop.
Most modern laptops have an HDMI socket, but for some MacBooks and Microsoft Surface Pros, you'll need one of these special adapters (also cheap).
If you've got a desktop computer rather than a laptop, this can be a little more complicated. You'll have to move the unit to wherever your TV sits, and considering how much of a faff this is, you're probably better off going with another option.
Roku also offers a higher-end streaming device, but we've gone for the cheaper model because it's… well, cheaper (about a third of the price, in fact!).
The biggest selling point of the Roku Express is that it supports all of the major streaming services, plus a few hundred more.
A quick look at some reviews will reveal more than a few complaints of the software being slow, but that's a compromise you'll have to live with if you want to have all your streaming services on one cheap device.
Before you dive in and buy another device, double check whether you've got a smart TV first. If you do, there's every chance that you're already set up to stream through your tele already!
This method isn't without its drawbacks, though. Smart TVs aren't cheap, so if you don't already have one (and don't need a new TV), it's a huge outlay.
What's more, not all services are available on all devices – NOW TV, for instance, isn't available on Sony and Panasonic Smart TVs.
Got any tips or services we seem to have forgotten? Make sure to let us know in the comments!