There was a time when you needed an aerial to get access to live TV, but that has long passed - today you can access a whole range of TV content directly on your smartphone, be it live TV or VOD (video on demand). We’re going to show you the apps you need to download to get access to live TV and catch-up content.
How to watch individual channels on Android or iOS
All of the major distributors of live TV in the UK have their own application that you can download to get access to their live and VOD content. Please find below a list of each of these apps, along with the terrestrial channels that they cover. All of these apps are free to download on iOS and Android:
- BBC iPlayer for iOS and Android - BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, CBBC, CBeebies, BBC Scotland, BBC News, BBC Parliament, BBC Alba and S4C
- ITV Hub iOS and Android - ITV1, ITV2, ITVBe, ITV3, ITV4 and CITV
- All 4 iOS and Android - Channel 4, E4, More4, Film4 and 4Music and shorts
- My5 iOS and Android - Channel 5, 5 STAR and 5 USA
- UK TV Play iOS and Android - Dave, Yesterday, Really, Drama and Home
Each app should include a section to watch live TV, and a section to search for past content. Please be aware that programmes that have aired recently are sometimes kept for a limited amount of time - each website should declare their own individual timeframe.
These apps can also allow you to access more content outside of TV shows - iPlayer gives you access to BBC sounds and all of the BBC radio channels, for example.
How to watch multiple channels on Android or iOS
If you’re looking for a one-stop shop for all TV channels, and to have access to a standard TV guide, there are ways to do this.
If you already have a premium TV package such as Sky, Virgin or BT, then these providers actually have their own companion app to access all the channels that you pay for in your package. All of them include real-time TV guides, the option to access both live and VOD content, and of course shows on those premium channels that you pay for. These apps are:
You should be able to sign into your corresponding app with the email address you have registered with your TV package - but double-check with your provider first to see if there’s a device limitation.
If however you don’t pay for your TV and are looking for an app that covers multiple channels, we have two recommended free options for you to choose from.
Freeview has created an app that functions as a nicely laid out TV guide - letting you know what is on, as well as displaying on-demand content across all the major distributors.
Once you’ve had a browse of what is currently on offer, in both the live and on-demand sections of the guide, you can select the content you wish to watch and the app will then open up the correct application on your phone and play it for you.
Please note that whilst this app is great for browsing what’s on TV right there and then, it works as a hub for all the other individual apps. So for example, if you wanted to watch Coronation Street on ITV1, you’d still have to download the ITV Hub to access it.
There is another option if that’s not for you...
TVplayer provides you access to live TV from several of the distributors all in one app. You’ll have access to BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4 and 5 - as more specific channels such as CBeebies and BBC Four too.
Unlike the Freeview app, this does allow you to watch content directly through the app, which will help save space on your device. The free version of the app only includes live TV - you’ll have to upgrade to the paid version to access the VOD content that they have.
There is one exception to this - and this is the case on all apps, including the premium ones - you can only watch BBC content through iPlayer. This is due to the laws surrounding TV licenses with its channels.
You’ll notice on the app store that there are other apps that advertise as providing live TV, but the two above are ad-free, and work without bugs or lag. We recommend trying both of these first before trying any other alternatives.
What you’ll need to access TV apps
First of all, you’ll need to register to use any of these apps, so ensure that you’re happy to provide your email address and name where necessary.
Watching TV on your phone is also quite a demanding function for your device, so you’ll either need a stable internet connection or a good amount of data to spare. You won’t be able to just tune in like you would with a TV set.
We also advise having your battery life as high as possible - you’ll be sure to see it drain quickly when watching the telly.
If you’re looking for the best SIM-only deals to support your TV watching when you’re out and about, make sure you take a look at our top picks. And if you're keen, here's how you can watch TV on your PC or laptop.