In this article:
- Top live TV streaming services compared
- Live TV streaming services we also tested
- How to shop for cord-cutting live TV services
- What streaming TV services won’t give you
- Don’t care about live TV? More cord-cutter staples
- Is an indoor or outdoor antenna a viable option?
- Conclusion: Try it yourself
Cutting the cable cord is a popular way to save money, but you may find you need to supplement your Netflix or Disney Plus with live broadcasts as well. Enter live TV streaming services.
These cancel-anytime live TV bundles give you the ability to watch local and national news as well as live sports and events. All you need is a streaming device or smart TV.
Unlike on-demand platforms, live TV streaming services offer you a live channel lineup, but without a monthly contract unlike cable. The best services start at $40 a month, which can help save you money on a cable subscription, while more expensive services such as YouTube TV are closer to $70. Whichever you choose, you can stream live channels such as CNN, NBC, ESPN and Fox on a host of different devices. It’s easy to get started. You don’t even need a technician to stop by your home.
Read more: Cable vs. Streaming Services: Which Is Cheaper? We Do the Math
What’s the downside? Pricing and channel availability are two things that are still in a state of flux. For instance, FuboTV increased by at least $5 this month, Sling TV has gone up by as much as $10 in the last few months, Hulu Plus Live TV in December, and DirecTV as well. In addition, sometimes less popular services are simply phased out — AT&T TV Watch TV, TVision or PlayStation Vue, for example.
Welcome to the brave new world of live TV streaming over the internet. If you need help deciding on the best streaming service or streaming bundle, read on. We’ll continue to update this best streaming service list periodically as things change (which they frequently do).
Top live TV streaming services compared
|DirecTV Stream||FuboTV||Hulu Plus Live TV||Sling TV||YouTube TV|
|Base price||$75 per month for 65-plus channels||$75 per month for 100-plus channels||$70 per month for 80-plus channels||$40 per month for 30-plus (Orange) or $45 for 40-plus (Blue) channels||$65 per month for 85-plus channels|
|ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC channels||Yes, in many markets||Yes, in many markets||Yes, in many markets||ABC, Fox and NBC only in select cities (Blue only)||Yes, in many markets|
|Simultaneous streams per account||20 (in home, 3 outside of it)||3||2 ($15 option for unlimited)||1 (Orange), 3 (Blue)||3 ($20 adds unlimited and 4K streams)|
|Family member/user profiles||No||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Cloud DVR||Yes (20 hours, unlimited for $10 a month)||Yes (250 hours, 1,000 hours for $17 a month||Yes (unlimited)||Yes (50 hours, 200 hours for $5 a month)||Yes (unlimited)|
|Fast-forward through or skip commercials with cloud DVR||No (Yes with $15 option)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
YouTube TV has more top channels than any competitor at this price and it’s one of only two with local PBS stations. The basic $65 YouTube TV service also has the best cloud DVR of the bunch, including both unlimited storage and a generous nine months to watch recordings (most rivals offer 30 days). The interface is no-nonsense, though a little drab, and yet it offers most of the features a cable service can give you. The service is also the only one to offer surround sound on live broadcasts.
As of 2023, YouTube TV will also be the exclusive home of NFL Sunday Ticket though pricing has not been announced. In addition, the video streaming service has a $20 monthly upgrade that lets you watch 4K livestreams, of college football in particular. Given a lack of 4K content otherwise, it’s not a great value for that alone, but it does add an unlimited number of simultaneous streams (up from three) and offline DVR downloads.
While Sling TV is cheaper, if you want the best service available and don’t mind paying for it, YouTube TV is the one to get.
Note: YouTube TV is offering the first three months for a $10 discount at $55.
Top channels not available: A&E, History, Lifetime, MLB.
At its new price of $45 in five markets (plus ABC) — and $40 in others — Sling TV Blue now costs up to $20 more than Philo. In its favor, Sling TV has better channels, more options and a comparatively better live TV streaming interface, so it’s worth the extra money in our opinion. Sling is still cheaper than most other streaming services, let alone cable. Right now, your first month is just $20.
Sling used to be able to offer lower prices than premium services like YouTube TV and Hulu Plus Live TV, because it had very few local stations. However, with the addition of ABC in some markets, it’s only CBS which is now the holdout (though availability of local Fox and NBC is very limited). Instead, Sling offers two different $40-ish-per-month live TV streaming channel packages, Sling Orange and Sling Blue. While a number of live TV channels are common to both, the two differ significantly with other channel offerings: Orange is basically the ESPN/Disney package, while Blue is the Fox/Discovery package and offers more channels overall. You can also opt for Sling Orange & Blue, the two combined, for $55.
In addition to an affordable price, Sling TV has two new feathers in its cap: an upgraded DVR (increased to 50 hours); and a new interface (as seen above) which makes the service a lot more fun to use.
While Sling doesn’t have a free trial as such it does offer a cut-down version now called Freestream with a number of included channels.
Top channels not available on Sling Blue: CBS, Animal Planet, Disney Channel, ESPN, Nickelodeon. ABC, Fox and NBC are available in select markets.
Top channels not available on Sling Orange: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Animal Planet, Bravo, CNBC, Discovery Channel, Bravo, Fox News, Fox Sports 1, FX, MSNBC, USA Network.
If you want the best mix of live streaming and on-demand then Hulu Plus Live TV is it. Its channel selection may not be as robust as YouTube TV or FuboTV, but it’s Hulu’s significant catalog of on-demand content which helps set it apart. Not only does the $70 service include Hulu basic but also Disney Plus and ESPN Plus, plus a new unlimited DVR. Exclusive Hulu titles such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Only Murders in the Building give it a content advantage no other service can match. If you’re counting costs, though, YouTube TV is still a marginally better TV streaming service choice than Hulu Plus Live TV.
As of Dec. 8, 2022, Hulu Plus Live TV includes the ad-supported version of Disney Plus, while the existing ad-free bundle increased to $83 for new subscribers.
Top channels not available: AMC, BBC America, MLB Network, NBA TV.
DirecTV Stream is the equal-most expensive service at $75, but it does have some pluses including the flipper-friendly ability to swipe left and right to change channels. The service also offers unlimited DVR capability to new users, while existing subscribers need to pay an extra $10 a month.
For cord-cutters who want to follow their local NBA or MLB team, DirecTV Stream’s $99 Choice package is our live TV sports pick because it has access to more regional sports networks than the competition. Additionally DirecTV Stream includes channels some other services can’t, including almost 250 local PBS stations.
Top channels not available in base package: MLB Network, NFL Network, Travel Channel.
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Live TV streaming services we also tested
- Philo: This $25 live TV streaming service offers a variety of channels, but it lacks sports channels, local stations and big-name news networks — although Cheddar and BBC news are available. Philo offers bread-and-butter cable staples like AMC, Comedy Channel, Nickelodeon and Magnolia Network (formerly DIY), and specializes in lifestyle and reality programming. It also includes a cloud DVR and optional add-ons from Epix and Starz. We think most people are better off paying extra for Sling TV’s superior service, but if Philo has every channel you want, it’s a decent deal. Read our Philo review.
- FuboTV: There’s a lot to like about FuboTV — it offers a wide selection of channels and its sports focus makes it especially attractive to soccer fans or NBA, NHL and MLB fans who live in an area served by one of FuboTV’s RSNs. It’s also a great choice for NFL fans since it’s one of three services, alongside YouTube TV and Hulu, with NFL Network and optional RedZone. The biggest hole in Fubo’s lineup is the lack of Turner networks, including CNN, TNT and TBS — especially since the latter two carry a lot of sports content, in particular NBA, NHL and MLB. Those missing channels and the price increase to $75 (plus additional RSN fees), make it less attractive than YouTube TV for most viewers. Read our FuboTV review.
How to shop for cord-cutting live TV services
Each of the TV streaming services above offers a different mix of channels, so your first step should be choosing one that carries your “can’t miss” cable channels and shows. And some of the most important channels are locals, namely ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. Not every service offers all of them in every area, but the best streaming service for you will include the majority of what you love to watch, so it is worth shopping around.
The live TV streaming service lineups are in constant flux as networks scramble to secure access to popular channels (ones with highly watched original shows and regional sports networks are especially in demand). There’s also the chance that a certain cable channel could disappear from a certain service after a network contract expires, which is what happened in 2020 with the regional sports networks.
These negotiations lead to other changes, too. Over the past few years, Sling TV, Hulu (multiple times), Philo and DirecTV Stream have all raised their prices. Google and Roku resolved a contract dispute which prevented users from downloading the YouTube TV app, while users lost the use of Disney channels for two days due to a different dispute.
Broadly, each of these streaming services can be broken down into two main groups: Budget, with prices ranging between $25 and $50 and few or no local channels; and Premium, with prices from $65 and up including local channels and supercharged cloud DVRs. That’s right, all of the services allow you to record and play back shows, just like a traditional cable or satellite DVR, but they often come with restrictions.
Read more: Top 100 Channels Compared Across Hulu, Sling TV, YouTube TV, FuboTV, DirecTV Stream and Philo
Next, there’s the multistream question. If you want to watch more than one program at the same time — for example, on your living room TV and on a bedroom TV, or the main TV and a tablet or other devices — you’ll want to make sure the video streaming service you’re watching has enough simultaneous streams. Sling Orange only allows one stream at a time, and if you try to watch a second, it’s blocked. Other services have higher simultaneous stream limits.
Keep in mind that, especially if you do have more than one person watching at once on supported devices, you need to make sure you have fast, reliable broadband internet. A 100Mbps download service will cost around $50 to $60 a month, and sadly that’s where the savings of cutting cable can get swallowed up.
Here’s a live TV streaming shopping list to consider:
- Does the service offer your “must-have” channels? See CNET’s comparison of the top 100 channels here.
- Does it offer local channels in your area?
- How good is the cloud DVR?
- Does the interface make it easy to browse for shows?
- Are there enough simultaneous streams for you and your family?
- Is your internet connection up to snuff? See CNET’s guide to improving streaming quality here.
What streaming TV services won’t give you
Streaming TV services are great, but there are some things they can’t do compared with a traditional cable box.
First, it’s worth looking at the channels that you can’t get with any of these live TV streaming services. For example, only two of the services are able to offer PBS: YouTube TV and DirecTV Stream.
With sports now returned in full force, fans will want to make sure they can find the sports channels to follow their teams. Most services carry ESPN and local channels for NFL football, but if you follow a professional baseball or basketball team, you might need its specific channel — called a regional sports network or RSN — to watch regular season games. RSN coverage varies widely for each service. Sometimes, even if you live in the right area, you may be mistakenly blacked out due to an IP address error. If this is the case, you can fix this by signing up for a sports-friendly VPN.
Every live TV service’s video streaming is a few seconds to a minute or more behind
the “live” stream you’ll get from your local cable TV or satellite provider. That means you could get a preview of scores or big plays from Twitter, phone alerts or phone calls from friends slightly before you see the action on screen.
If you’re used to 5.1-channel surround offered by cable or even OTA, then you may be disappointed that YouTube is the only service to offer surround sound on live broadcasts. The other services include stereo sound only on live channels, though 5.1 audio is available on some on-demand material.
Don’t care about live TV? More cord-cutter staples
In 2023, streaming fans have more choices than ever, including NBC/Comcast’s Peacock, AT&T’s HBO Max, Apple TV Plus and Disney Plus. While Peacock differs in that it has live news the other services lack traditional live channels — focusing instead on back catalogs and new original programming — but they can still eat into your entertainment budget.
Netflix: One of the first streaming TV services, Netflix is so popular that it’s become a generic term for streaming in the same way as “Magic Marker” or even “Coke” in the South. And then there’s the ever-popular “Netflix and chill.” Ad-supported plans now start at $7 a month, and the service offers thousands of TV shows and movies, including original TV series like The Crown and Stranger Things (be aware you may need to trade up to the $9 plan to watch some content). Then there are Netflix original movies like Oscar winners Roma and The Power of the Dog.
Amazon Prime Video: The “other” major streaming service, which is included as part of a $139 annual Prime Membership or $15 a month. The interface isn’t as user-friendly as Netflix, but the service also offers shows not on its rival, including original content like The Rings of Power, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Expanse. Amazon Prime also has the ability to add premium channels (HBO and Showtime and more), making it a potential one-stop shop.
Disney Plus: One of the biggest streaming services to launch in some time, Disney has gathered a mix of movies, TV shows and exclusive content, including Loki, Andor and She-Hulk, starting at $8 a month. Read our Disney Plus review here.
Paramount Plus: Previously CBS All Access, Paramount Plus costs $5 a month or $10 monthly for ad-free streaming. The service offers live TV (in some cities), sports and on-demand content from CBS, MTV, BET, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and Paramount Network, plus its Paramount Pictures movie studio. Paramount Plus also offers exclusive originals such as Star Trek: Discovery, Picard and the Good Fight.
Vudu and Movies Anywhere: Digital libraries (or lockers) that incorporate legacy UltraViolet content and streaming movies and TV that are only available for purchase, such as new releases.
Peacock: Now live nationwide, Peacock is NBC’s answer to Paramount Plus. Its main claim to fame is that its basic tier, with 7,500 hours of content, is free. Peacock Premium unlocks more content for $5 a month while an ad-lite version called Peacock Premium Plus is $10 monthly.
It’s also worth investigating free, ad-supported services such as Roku Channel, Amazon Freevee, Tubi, Pluto and Crackle, which offer a wealth of content. Read CNET’s roundup of free TV services here.
Is an indoor or outdoor antenna a viable option?
If you have a TV in your house — that is, a screen that incorporates a tuner — you’re part-way to cutting the cord already. An affordable indoor antenna hooked up to your TV will let you watch free TV over the air from any channel you receive in your local broadcast area. Antennas cost as little as $10. See our comparison of indoor antennas here.
You can also add a hardware DVR such as the TiVo Edge for Antenna if you want. Then you can record those live TV antenna channels, play them back and skip commercials, just like on a standard cable TV DVR. Here’s CNET’s roundup of the best OTA DVRs for cord-cutters.
A solid, lower-cost alternative to live TV streaming services is the combination of an antenna for live local channels and an on-demand service such as Netflix or Hulu. That way you’ll still be able to watch live programming and also have a choice of on-demand content.
Conclusion: Try it yourself
Streaming live TV services are still in flux. Since launch, every service has increased its prices by at least $5 a month, TV channel selections and cities with local channel access are changing all the time, and reports persist about some services losing money, or even closing in the case of T-Mobile’s TVision. While streaming is undoubtedly the future, and cable the past, it will be some time before both prices and the services offered settle in.
That said, if you want a cable-like experience both at home and for on-the-go devices, without the dead weight that a cable subscription brings, a streaming service is worth a look. There’s no contract to sign, and if you don’t like the service you’re on, you can easily switch. So whether you’re looking for a basic package such as Sling TV or want to pay more for a deluxe experience from the likes of YouTube TV, there should be a streaming TV service to suit you.
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