Cable TV channels used to keep you tethered to traditional pay TV. But a number of online video streaming services can give any cord cutter with an internet connection unprecedented TV-watching freedom.
Subscription streaming video services, such as Amazon Prime and Netflix, have been around for years. Newer video streaming services, such as AT&T TV Now and Sling TV, are designed to replace a typical cable-TV package.
Because the content you get with these cable-replacement services, especially local channels, can vary by region, you should go to each company’s website, plug in your ZIP code, and see which channels are available in your area. These video streaming services have been adding more local broadcast channels, such as ABC and CBS, but they’re not always available in smaller communities.
If you’re missing some local channels, consider adding an antenna to get free over-the-air broadcasts. When we tested 10 indoor models, our testers found that sometimes the picture looked even better than what they were getting from cable.
All the cable-replacement services offer some type of free trial period, so you can try before you buy. Because most require a credit card number, you’ll have to keep track of when the trial period ends and cancel if you don’t want to continue the service.
Prices for many packages have been rising, as detailed below. Because the details can change often, it’s important to check the latest offers before signing up.
AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now)
Monthly bill: $55 to $145
What you get: AT&T TV Now, the new name for the service formerly known as DirecTV Now, should appeal to anyone who wants DirecTV service but not the satellite dish. The company recently changed its cheapest plan to $55 from $65 per month—while also cutting HBO from the package. Presumably, this move was related to a new HBO Max subscription service, which launched in May 2020 at a price of $15 per month.
AT&T has also let DirecTV Now/AT&T TV Now and U-verse TV customers know that it’s dropping the NFL Network. That programming will still be available to regular DirecTV satellite TV subscribers.
And there’s a problem for new subscribers: You can no longer add the AT&T TV channel to your Roku device. Those who already have the app can keep using it as long as they don’t delete it. In a website post, AT&T said it’s trying to work out a deal with Roku and hopes to have the issue resolved soon.
AT&T now has two promoted plans. The $55-per-month AT&T TV Now Plus plan has about 40 channels but no HBO. The $80 AT&T TV Now Max remains unchanged, with about 60 channels, and HBO and Cinemax, plus a number of sports channels, including regional sports.
Both plans include a free cloud DVR with 20 hours of free storage, and two users can stream at the same time. You can get a third simultaneous stream for an additional $5 per month.
The company also offers several other step-up plans, from $93 (65-plus channels) to $135 (125-plus channels) per month. An $86 Spanish-language package, with more than 50 Spanish and 40 English channels, is also available.
AT&T has cut back on its promotions, which had offered a free Apple TV or other streaming device if you prepaid four months for the services.
AT&T also says it will no longer be promoting the AT&T TV Now or AT&T WatchTV services, instead focusing on its new satellite TV replacement service, called AT&T TV, which is now available nationally.
What you don’t get: Live TV still isn’t available in some smaller markets, and the new plans eliminate some popular networks that were available under the older plans, including A&E, AMC, and Discovery.
Monthly bill: $65 to $80
What you get: This sports-centric service offers a mix of live and on-demand channels from broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC in most markets), cable channels (A&E, AMC, Bravo, Cartoon Network, CNN, Discovery, FX, MTV, Syfy, TBS, and USA), and sports networks (BeIn Sports, FS1, Golf Channel, and NBA TV). The service also now has ESPN (ESPN, ESPN 2, and ESPN 3, plus the SEC and ACC networks in certain markets), which was surprisingly lacking for a sports-focused service.
With the addition of TNT and TBS from Turner, you also get NBA and NCAA basketball, Major League Baseball, and PGA golf, plus a robust roster of regional sports networks for local-team action, including MLB and NHL games. However, these stations are currently missing because of a spat with WarnerMedia. (See “What You Don’t Get,” below.) The service comes with a free cloud DVR, plus a 72-hour “look back” feature that lets you replay most programs that appeared in the previous three days.
Perhaps more than any other service, Fubo has been continually rejiggering its plans and channel lineups. The most recent move is to kill the $85-per-month Ultra plan and replace it with the $80 Elite plan. Essentially, you get the basic Fubo Family plan (see below), plus the 45 extra entertainment channels in the Fubo Extra add-on, a cloud DVR, and the Family Share Max add-on, which lets up to five users stream at the same time.
Fubo is now migrating subscribers of its Standard plan—which has 100-plus channels and 30 hours of DVR cloud storage, for $60 per month—to its $65 Family plan, which is basically the Standard plan with the Extra package and three simultaneous users. However, that plan’s cloud DVR now has 250 hours of storage instead of 500 hours. There’s also a $30 Español package with 32 Spanish-language programs and the same amount of storage. As the name suggests, the $65 Family Plan with Showtime package adds that premium network.
Fubo offers several add-on plans. These include a three-user Family Share option, for $6 per month, and Family Share Max, which allows users to stream up to five screens at one time at home, and two on the go. (You can purchase both plans.) There are two DVR packages: DVR 250 offers 250 hours of cloud DVR storage for $10 per month, and DVR 1000, a $17-per-month add-on, offers 1,000 hours of storage.
FuboTV was among the first streaming sites to offer sports in 4K; it has been showing Thursday night NFL games on Fox in 4K with HDR via the Fox Sports app. For 4K HDR content, the company recently expanded the list of supported 4K streaming players to include Amazon Fire TV 4K and Amazon Fire TV Cube, Apple TV, Chromecast Ultra, and Roku’s Premier, Premier+, and Ultra models.
This spring, FuboTV completed a merger with the FaceBank Group, a celebrity- and sports-focused virtual entertainment company, which saw FuboTV become a wholly owned subsidiary of FaceBank. In turn, FaceBank has been renamed FuboTV.
What you don’t get: Now that it’s getting ABC/Disney and ESPN, FuboTV’s biggest missing elements are Fox regional sports networks, and the Yes Network, home to Yankees games.
More recently, FuboTV has been unable to reach a deal with WarnerMedia, so channels such as Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, CNN and CNN en Español, HLN, TBS, TCM, and TNT have left the service—for the moment, anyway. The loss of TBS and TNT, which show MLB and NBA games, could be tough for a sports-centric service.
Additionally, it looks like new subscribers to Fubo’s Standard plan won’t get the NBA TV channel as part of the package. Instead, it will be available either as part of the FuboTV Extra, $6 per month, or Sports Plus with NFL RedZone, $11, add-on packages. The latter now costs $2 more per month than previously.
Hulu + Live TV
Monthly bill: $65
What you get: Hulu + Live TV offers about 70 channels, including the major broadcast channels—ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC—in a growing number of markets. You also get cable channels such as A&E, the Cartoon Network, CNN, Disney, Fox News, FX, TBS, and TNT, among others. The lineup includes CBS Sports, ESPN, and Fox Sports, plus some regional sports networks.
But as of Dec. 18, 2020—almost a year after the company raised the price of the Hulu + Live TV service from $45 to $55 per month—it began charging current and new subscribers $65 per month.
The service has ads in the Hulu video-on-demand part of the bundle. To go ad-free, you now have to pay $71 per month.
The basic service lets you create six separate profiles—though only two people can use the service at a time—and includes a cloud DVR with 60 hours of recording time. Both plans combine everything you get with the regular Hulu service with the additional channels available on Hulu + Live TV.
Hulu has cut the price of several add-ons. For example, both the enhanced cloud DVR, with more storage and the ability to skip commercials, and unlimited screens at home, which each cost $15 per month, are now $10 each per month. A combination of the two, which was $20 per month, now costs $15. A second option, without ads, is now $61, a $10 increase. Both services combine everything you get in the regular Hulu plan with the additional channels available on Hulu + Live TV.
Hulu + Live TV is now available on most Roku streaming players and all Roku TVs, as well as many LG and Samsung smart TVs. The service is supported on Amazon Fire TV devices, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, PlayStation and Xbox game consoles, and Android and iOS mobile devices. You can use voice commands on Amazon Alexa-powered devices to watch shows on Hulu. The company continues to add local TV affiliates.
What you don’t get: Most streaming devices are now supported, but right now the network doesn’t include AMC or Viacom (Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon). It also doesn’t have BBC America, MLB Network, NBA TV, NFL Network, or PBS.
Monthly bill: $30 and up
What you get: With recently updated pricing, Sling’s Orange package is now $30 and includes about 30 cable channels but no broadcast TV. It supports one user at a time. Sling Blue, also $30 per month, supports three users and has a different mix of about 40 channels, including local broadcasts and regional sports. (Among other differences, Sling Orange includes ESPN.) A combined plan costs $45.
Themed add-on packs cost $5 per month, and you can add some premium channels, including Showtime, $10, and Starz, $9. Sling is currently running a promotion that gives you $10 off any of the main Sling services, but only for the first month.
Sling is also pushing a new promotion, called the Total TV Deal, which combines seven Extra programming packs—around genres such as sports, news, Hollywood, and comedy—plus a cloud DVR with 50 hours of storage for an extra $20 per month with either Orange or Blue, or $25 if you get both. Sling has also updated pricing for Sports Extra for Sling Orange customers. It now costs $10 per month, the same as for Blue subscribers.
Another Sling TV promotion, called the “4 Extras” deal, lets you subscribe to Kids Extra, Lifestyle Extra, Comedy Extra, and News Extra all for $12, or half the cost of getting them separately.
In addition to the $29-per-month NBA League Pass, Sling now also has a lower-cost NBA Team Pass, a separate plan that lets you get out-of-market games for a single NBA team. Team Pass costs $18 per month on top of a Sling Orange, Sling Blue, and/or Spanish-language services plan. Sling TV’s latest promotion is a free Amazon Fire TV Stick when you prepay for two months of Sling service.
What you don’t get: Sling lacks ABC and CBS, and Fox News is available only in some markets. And Sling doesn’t offer HBO Max. Also, Sling subscribers outside of several major markets can no longer get NBC on-demand channels. Sling had provided on-demand NBC channels in markets where the live NBC channel wasn’t available.
This affects all Sling TV subscribers who don’t live in Boston, Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Hartford/New Haven, Los Angeles, Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose, or Washington, D.C. Sling is recommending that these subscribers try using an antenna to receive local NBC broadcasts.
Sling includes some Viacom channels as part of its plans, but others require that you purchase a $5-per-month add-on pack. But the service recently added the Discovery Channel. The cloud DVR is now more widely available and includes more channels and some new features, such as the ability to protect recordings from being deleted.
Sony PlayStation Vue
Note: Sony has shut down its PlayStation Vue service, one of the earliest streaming services to offer live TV. The company had reportedly tried to find a buyer before making the decision. It cited the escalating cost of licensing content and the increasingly competitive market for streaming services, and said it would focus on its core gaming business instead.
Monthly bill: $10 and up (at launch)
What you get: A tiered service that offers some lower-priced plans. The new TVision streaming service replaces the pricey fiber-based internet TVision Home service, which was launched in eight markets last year before shutting down Dec. 30. The cheapest plan, for those who don’t need local TV or sports, is called TVision Vibe. It costs $10 per month. It has 30-odd channels, mainly cable fare such as AMC, BET, Discovery, Food Network, Hallmark, HGTV, and TLC.
The main plan, TVision Live, has about 35 channels mainly focused on news and sports, including live local channels such as ABC, NBC, and Fox, though not CBS. It also provides news (ABC News, CNBC, CNN, and Fox News), sports (ESPN, FS1 and FS2, and NBC Sports), and some cable networks, including Bravo, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, SyFy, TBS, TNT, and USA.
There are two additional tiers of TVision Live. The $50 Live TV+ package adds more sports channels (including the Big Ten Network, ESPNU, NFL Network, and regional NBC sports channels), while the $60 Live Zone plan adds even more sports fare. (Think NFL RedZone.)
T-Mobile hopes to transition TVision Home subscribers to the new service.
Customers of T-Mobile or Sprint can get TVision Live Zone and TVision Vibe free of charge until June 2021. They can also get a TVision Hub—the company’s streaming box—at no charge for each TVision Home television connected to their account. TVision Home customers who aren’t T-Mobile or Sprint wireless customers can get a 20 percent break on wireless service—ask for “Insider Hookup”—while they maintain a qualifying Magenta plan, plus TVision Zone and TVision Vibe free until June 2021.
You can also add premium channels, including Epix, $6 per month, Showtime, $11, and Starz, $9. All the TVision Live plans include a cloud-based DVR that stores up to 100 hours of recordings.
What you don’t get: CBS live broadcasts are missing, and so far, you can’t get HBO Max as an add-on to the service. (You can subscribe to HBO Max separately for $15.) And right now, TVision is available only for T-Mobile and Sprint customers; the service will be rolled out nationally in 2021.
Also, right after the service launched, Discovery Channel executives objected to the way T-Mobile had decided to bundle its channels, claiming the company violated agreements that call for the channels to be carried on all basic tiers. CNET reported that Viacom/CBS and NBCUniversal have also objected.
As a result, T-Mobile may end up rejiggering plan lineups and maybe even its pricing.
Monthly bill: $65
What you get: YouTube TV offers access to more than 85 channels, including all the major local networks, plus the original programming on YouTube Premium. It has a nice selection of channels, including AMC, Bravo, Disney, ESPN, FX, Fox News, Fox Sports, MSNBC, National Geographic, Turner, USA, and some regional sports networks. You also get access to the original programming on YouTube Premium, usually $10 per month.
It has a cloud DVR with unlimited storage and allows up to three simultaneous users and six individual accounts. And thanks to a recent expansion, the service is available in most national markets.
But the company hiked its monthly price from $50 to $65 several months ago. This follows last year’s jump from $40 to $50 per month. The move came as YouTube TV finally reached a deal with ViacomCBS to bring eight of its channels—BET, CMT, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Network, TV Land, and VH1—to the service. BET Her, MTV2, MTV Classic, Nick Jr., NickToons, and TeenNick will be added at a later date.
The company has also reached a deal with WarnerMedia that will let YouTube TV subscribers get HBO Max service as part of a bundle. The service also lets you add premium cable channels, such as Showtime and Starz, and others, such as CuriosityStream and AMC Premiere, for additional monthly fees.
YouTube is also reportedly interested in acquiring the rights to NFL Sunday Ticket when its contract with DirecTV expires after the 2021-to-2022 season.
What you don’t get: Now that YouTube TV has reached a deal with ViacomCBS and WarnerMedia (for HBO and HBO Max), it has filled its biggest content holes, though it still lacks A&E, DIY Network, History Channel, and Lifetime. While YouTube TV reached a deal with Sinclair to keep 19 of the 21 Fox regional sports networks on its service, the bad news is that Fox Sports Prime Ticket and Fox Sports West aren’t part of the deal, and Yankees fans have lost the Yes Network.
Digital and All-Access members can see CR’s top-rated streaming media devices below.
Streaming Devices to Consider
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