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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Best Live TV Streaming Service for Cord Cutters in 2023

$70 at Hulu

hulu-plus-live-tv

Hulu Plus Live TV

Best live TV streaming service overall

Cutting the cable cord is a popular way to save money. However, you might still need to supplement on-demand services such as HBO Max, Netflix and Disney Plus with live television. That’s why we’ve put together a list of the best 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 don’t need monthly contract as opposed to cable. The best services start at $40 a month, and this can help save you money on a cable subscription, while more expensive services such as Hulu Plus Live TV are $70 and up. 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

Hulu Plus Live TV streaming app

Hulu Plus Live TV is CNET’s favorite live TV streaming service

Sarah Tew/CNET

What’s the downside? Pricing and channel availability are two things that are still in a state of flux. For instance, YouTube recently announced a $8 increase, FuboTV went up by at least $5 and Sling TV is up to $10 more than it was last year. Yet, change is all part of 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 StreamFuboTVHulu Plus Live TVSling TVYouTube TV
Base price$75 per month for 75-plus channels$75 per month for 100-plus channels$70 per month for 90-plus channels$40 per month for 30-plus (Orange) or $45 for 40-plus (Blue) channels$73 per month for 100-plus channels
Free trialYesYesNoNoYes
ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC channelsYes, in many marketsYes, in many marketsYes, in many marketsABC, Fox and NBC only in select cities (Blue only)Yes, in many markets
Simultaneous streams per account20 (in home, 3 outside of it)10 (in home, 3 outside of it)2 ($15 option for unlimited)1 (Orange), 3 (Blue)3 ($20 adds unlimited plus 4K streams)
Family member/user profilesNoYesYesNoYes
Cloud DVRYes (20 hours, unlimited for $10 a month)Yes (1,000 hours)Yes (unlimited)Yes (50 hours, 200 hours for $5 a month)Yes (unlimited)
Fast-forward through or skip commercials with cloud DVRNo (yes with $15 option)YesYesYesYes

hulu-plus-live-tv

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you want the best mix of live streaming and on-demand, Hulu Plus Live TV is it. Its channel selection may not be as robust as YouTube TV or FuboTV, but it’s almost there — especially with the addition of PBS and Magnolia. Yet, 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 an unlimited DVR. Hulu’s exclusive titles such as The Bear, The Handmaid’s Tale and Only Murders in the Building, plus its massive catalog of broadcast programming, grant it a content advantage no other service can match. Given that Hulu Plus Live TV is now slightly cheaper than YouTube TV, and offers you more, it’s the service to choose for live TV streaming.

01-youtube-tv

Sarah Tew/CNET

YouTube TV has more top channels than any competitor at this price, and it’s one of only two with local PBS stations currently — Hulu will be coming online later in 2023. The basic $73 YouTube TV service has an excellent cloud DVR, including both unlimited storage and a generous nine months to watch recordings (most rivals offer 30 days). The interface is no-nonsense, even if a little drab, and yet it offers most of the features a cable service can give you. YouTube TV is also the only one to offer surround sound on live broadcasts.

sling-tv-3

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

If you’re looking for the cheapest live TV streaming service, and one which is still able to offer a usable amount of channels, then it’s without a doubt Sling TV Blue. Yet, things are a little more complicated than they are for Sling’s competitors. You see, Sling tenders 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, Orange is essentially the ESPN/Disney package, while Blue is the Fox/Discovery package. Meanwhile, Orange & Blue combines the two offerings for $55.

01-at-t-streaming-tv

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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 now includes an unlimited 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 football fans of all kinds. For NFL in particular, it’s one of three services, alongside YouTube TV and Hulu, with NFL Network and optional RedZone. In addition, it’s also suited to NBA, NHL and MLB fans who live in an area served by one of FuboTV’s RSNs. 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. Those missing channels and the price increase to $75 (plus additional RSN fees), make it less attractive than YouTube TV or Hulu for most viewers. Read our FuboTV review.

How to shop for cord-cutting live TV services

Smart TV app menu: Sling TV, YouTube TV, DirecTV, Hulu, Fubo, Philo

David Katzmaier/CNET

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. Some of the most important live 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

Read more: Top 100 Channels Compared Across Hulu, Sling TV, YouTube TV, FuboTV, DirecTV Stream and Philo

These negotiations lead to other changes, too. Over the past few years, YouTube TVSling TVHulu (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. Adding to this volatility is the fact that sometimes less popular services are simply phased out — AT&T TV Watch TVTVision and PlayStation Vue are just three examples. 

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 $70 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. 

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. 

Read more: Streaming vs Cable: Which is Cheaper?

Here’s a live TV streaming shopping list to consider: 

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 currently able to offer PBS: YouTube TV and DirecTV Stream. Meanwhile, Hulu is coming sometime in 2023.

With sports now returned in full force after the pandemic caused a hiatus, fans 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.

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Live TV services can be streamed to wherever you are with apps for every major device

Sarah Tew/CNET

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 MaxApple TV Plus and Disney Plus. While Peacock differs slightly 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.

geralt of rivia holds a sword in a scene from The Witcher season 3

Season 3 of the The Witcher is now streaming and features the final performances of Henry Cavill as Geralt 

Netflix

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” has 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 Black Mirror and Stranger Things (be aware you may need to trade up to the $10 plan to watch some content). Then there are Netflix original movies including 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 on its own for $9 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.

Screenshot of Cassian Andor

Andor is one of the biggest shows on Disney Plus

Disney Plus

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.

Actor Natasha Lyonne in trucker hat and retro shades in TV series Poker Face.

Poker Face is a classic whodunnit in the vein of Columbo and Murder, She Wrote

Peacock

PeacockPeacock 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 — including exclusive shows such as Poker Face and Mrs. Davis — while an ad-lite version called Peacock Premium Plus is $10 monthly.

Paramount Plus: Paramount Plus costs $5 a month or $10 monthly for ad-free streaming. The service offers live TV for Premium subscribers, sports and on-demand content from CBSMTVBETComedy CentralNickelodeon and Paramount Network, plus its Paramount Pictures movie studio. Paramount Plus also offers exclusive originals such as Yellowjackets, 1923 and Picard.

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.

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?

08-amazon-fire-tv-recast

Amazon’s Fire TV Recast DVR is a cord-cutting antenna user’s friend.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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. Quality antennas cost as little as $20. 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 live TV streaming for yourself

Streaming live TV services are still in flux. Since launching, every single service has increased its prices by at least $10 a month, TV channel selections are changing all the time, and some services have even closed. While live TV streaming is here to stay, and cable is increasingly left in the past, it will be some time before both prices and the services offered settle in.

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 Hulu Plus Live TV, there should be a live TV streaming service to suit you.

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