Your search for the best live TV streaming service on the market is probably because of the shift in the way we consume television and other types of content nowadays. Print news, shopping, late-night shows and even mainstream news channels are feeling the disruption of online platforms.
Internet-based streaming services have advantages that cable companies are unable or unwilling to match. The most important being the ease of subscription and cancellation. Online TV services do not levy cancellation fees. They do not bind you with a contract. This flexibility is a huge plus for anyone who has had the misfortune of tangling with their cable provider. It also helps that streaming services do not require you to rent equipment like cable companies do.
Which brings us to today’s question: Is live TV streaming the best cord-cutting option, or are there better alternatives? The best way to answer this question is to take a look at the best live TV streaming service and rate them against your average cable package. We can use several metrics to make comparisons and find out if cord-cutting is a viable option for you.
Reasons why you are shopping around for the best live streaming service
If you’re reading this, you have probably had days when you wished you could cancel your cable subscription on the spot. Nothing would be more satisfying than punctuating your cancellation with a few choice words for the cable company and the uncooperative representative on the other end of the phone call, right? If only it were that easy.
There is a reason why many people put up with the antics of their cable provider. It’s the large amount of content that keeps you hooked. Yet you still look forward to parting ways with your provider. Could it be because:
- The pricing of your cable package plus the monthly fee for the cable box does not sit well with your bank account
- You watch very little of the content in your expensive cable package
- You feel like you are paying for channels that you don’t want and never watch
- You wish you could replace the unnecessary channels with better ones that are not available in the package you pay for
- You scored yourself a great deal on an internet connection and you don’t see the need for cable when you can stream content instead
Whatever your reasons, now you are looking for an alternative. Before you cut the cord though, you should figure out if the alternative is actually a better option. You will need to find out if the best live streaming service can match the content that comes through that cable box.
Is cord-cutting as good an option as it sounds?
Sticking it to your cable company only works if you get a better deal than the one you currently have. So how do you evaluate whether or not you will come out ahead when you cut the cord? Here are some considerations you should weigh as you search for the best live TV streaming service.
1. Pricing: Forecasting the cost of the best cord-cutting options
You need to forecast how much money you’ll be spending on your prospective live TV streaming service. This requires a little research on your part.
First, you need to note the prices of the different streaming services that are available to you. Keep in mind that the subscription fees of all streaming services; live TV or otherwise, go up periodically. So account for an increment every year or two.
2. Pricing: Unlimited internet or a plan with a data cap
Next, you need to factor in your monthly internet fees. Find out how often and by what percentage your internet provider revises their subscription fees. Use that information to estimate how much you will be paying in the future.
Ideally, you should have an unlimited data plan if you are looking to switch to live TV streaming. If you have a data cap, not even the best live TV streaming service will be a viable cord-cutting option. So you need to factor in the price of an unlimited internet plan with good speeds.
3. Pricing: Comparing the cost of the best cord-cutting options to your current cable plan
Add the two figures discussed above and you will get an idea of how much an internet streaming service will cost you in one or two years.
Now, you already know how often your cable company revises its subscription fees. If they raise their prices by, let’s say, five percent every 18 months, calculate how much you’ll be paying in two years.
Compare the two sets of figures and see if you’ll save money by canceling your cable subscription. The numbers you come up with are tentative. They only serve to give you an idea of what to expect when you finally cut the cord.
4. Your viewing habits are a factor in the search for the best live TV streaming service
You may be the kind of person who watches sports and little else. You may be the kind of person who hates sports. Or you may be an AV club enthusiast who loves channels that offer the kinds of shows that ushered in the ‘Golden Age of Television’.
Chances are also high that you are the kind of person who likes a little bit of everything: A little sports TV, a little news, a few prestige shows and a couple of wildlife channels. So it follows that the best live TV streaming service for you may not be the best live streaming service for someone else. The best streaming service for sports will be completely useless to a person that can survive on a Netflix subscription and nothing else.
As you look for a live TV streaming service that works for you, take a close look at the channels that each service offers. Make sure that your choice has the kind of content you want, to a large extent.
5. Get some idea of the landscape in which live TV streaming services operate
Take a good look at the ecosystem of live streaming services. A ‘disruptive’ streaming service like Netflix is facing headwinds now that companies like Disney are pulling a bunch of their content from the platform.
Does the service that you consider the best option for late-night have longevity, or does it look like it will lose some of its best features in the long term?
In terms of the sheer volume of content, is there a live TV streaming equivalent of a cable company, except with better prices? Take time to find out before you sever ties with your cable provider.
If you find that even the best cord-cutting options fall short in some areas, find a way to make up for the channels that a live TV streaming service may lack. Just as an example, you should:
6. Check if you have access to local, over-the-air channels
Many cord-cutters replace their cable subscriptions with regular old antennas. This allows them to catch the signals of the free-to-air channels available in their area. Depending on where you live, these local channels can mitigate the limitations of any given live TV streaming service.
No matter where you live, you likely have access to content from broadcasters like CBS, NBC and ABC. Among these three behemoths, you will have a large number of free channels to choose from. The content from the big companies vary from news to lifestyle shows to sports to sitcoms.
The availability of local channels frees you up to choose a TV streaming service that is tailor-made to your specific tastes. When you feel like watching something different, you can fall back to your trusty antenna and the content receives. This is a great option for a cord-cutter who wants niche content, like the kind you would find with the best streaming service for sports.
7. Find out what kind of setup you need for live TV streaming services
We’ve already covered the internet aspect of the setup. Now we address the matter of a streaming device that can pull the content out of the web and into your TV screen. Many people already have a smart TV. If you are one of them, then the operating system that runs your television gives you access to an app store.
That’s where you need to go to find the best live TV streaming app for your unique needs. You might even get lucky and find the best streaming service for sports.
If your TV has an underwhelming smart TV interface, or if it doesn’t have one at all, there are alternatives. You can buy a streaming stick or a set-top box instead. Choose one that gives you access to a well-stocked app store. A good option would be an Android/Google streaming device, or one that carries Roku OS. Google and Roku have a wide array of content (including live TV streaming apps) that is useful for cord-cutters.
A third option is to use a gaming device like a PlayStation 4 or X-Box. This is a cost-cutting measure if you already have one of these lying around. Your average PS or Xbox console gives you access to several streaming services. Since you’re doing your due diligence, you should explore what else a gaming console can do for you. At the very least, you will find a browser that you can use to navigate to the website of a live TV streaming service. Give it a try and see what happens.
Whatever choice you make, you will only have to make a single payment, and that is when you are buying your preferred streaming device. You will no longer have to rent a cable box for a monthly fee. If there was ever a good reason to cut the cord, this is it.
8. How reliable is the service?
Radio waves are robust. They can take almost anything that the elements throw at them, including moderate storms. This is a major reason why cable is much more reliable than an internet connection.
Digital content requires a fast and stable internet connection on the part of the end-user. Content providers also need enormous amounts of bandwidth to render content to a large number of users, at the same time. This becomes more of a challenge during live events where large numbers of subscribers ‘tune in’. The high traffic can cause congestion, which can lead to slow speeds and patchy service.
When it comes to watching an event on cable or online, cable guarantees you a smooth viewing experience. In contrast, even the best streaming service for sports can choke during the big game, if the wrong conditions align to create a perfect storm.
Exploring the best live TV streaming services in the market
Now that you have a list of the preparations you need to make before cutting the cord, let’s take a look at what individual streaming services have to offer. You should judge each individual service by the following metrics:
- The number of channels it offers, local and otherwise
- The overall reliability of the service, in terms of streaming speeds and availability
- The monthly subscription fee
- The number of simultaneous streams that the channel allows for each account
- Whether the service offers a cloud DVR feature or on-demand playback of older programming
- Whether you can skip through commercials
- For sports fanatics, the amount of premium sports content that the service offers
Fair warning: The kind of fan that lives for the NFL draft, keeps tabs on pre-season practice sessions and monitors trades or other off-season goings-on of the NFL should be ready to make some tradeoffs. The best streaming service for sports may have little in the way of unrelated content like lifestyle shows. Buying into a sport-focused streaming service will only benefit specific people.
Make plans to fill the gap with some other source of content. This is where an antenna comes in. It will receive free content from transmission towers near you.
Now let’s get into the rankings that will guide you towards the best live TV streaming service:
1. The service with the most channels: YouTube TV
The best live TV streaming channel should come as close as possible to a cable package. YouTube TV leads the pack in this aspect. Everything about this streaming service is simple and straightforward. The app has an intuitive, no-frills design. The YouTube TV interface is just as easy to use when you access the service through a web browser.
To further the idea of simplicity, this YouTube TV has only one package, which eliminates the confusion of add-on content and tiers. Because YouTube TV offers a fixed set of channels for a fixed price, choosing this option frees up your brain for more worthy pursuits.
Here is what you get from this streaming service:
- Local channels from ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, as well as 59 more popular channels
- Unlimited storage in the cloud DVR, with a 9-month waiting period before YouTube flushes old content
- You can skip commercials when you watch content in your cloud DVR
- YouTube TV allows simultaneous streaming from three devices per account
An important selling point of any live TV streaming service is the number of local channels it offers. On this count, YouTube TV delivers. That said you will have to contend with high fees if you choose this service. You will also have to live without channels like NFL network, comedy central, and the History channel.
YouTube TV is a premium service that will cost you more than most other live TV streaming services. If money is no object, then this is easily one of the best cord-cutting options. The app is available on Android, Roku and soon, Fire TV.
2. The Runners up for the service with the most channels: Hulu with live TV
It may not have the wide selection of YouTube, but Hulu makes up for it with the curated content we love from Hulu’s regular app. If you already have a Hulu account, then this is one of the best cord-cutting options you will find. It is also cheaper than most premium live TV streaming services.
Hulu allows two devices to stream simultaneously. Or you could pay extra for an unlimited number of streaming devices.
Is Hulu the best streaming service for sports? No, but it works fine. It may not have the dedicated NFL channels, but Hulu has a good number of sports channels. That said, there are a few downsides to Hulu’s live TV service:
- The interface is jarring for anyone who has never used Hulu before (and for anyone who has, for that matter)
- The storage space for the DVR feature is not as large as that of YouTube
- You will need to pay extra if you want to watch DVR content without ads
- The selection of channels narrower than the one you get from YouTube TV, but you pay less
- Still, this is the second-best platform. It works better if you already have a Hulu account.
3. The best streaming service for sports (for football fans): PlayStation Vue
This live TV streaming service is the perfect solution for the person that just has to watch Sunday, Monday and Thursday football. This is thanks to the inclusion of two dedicated NFL channels (for a small surcharge). Vue holds up pretty well when it comes to the overall channel selection. It has the four basic channels (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC), among 50 other channels.
Vue may not have the widest channel selection, but it has a lot going for it. For one, it has a great interface and an app that is compatible with many platforms. There is a version of the app that works with most smart TV operating systems. The Vue app also works on PS3, PS4, and any smart device that runs on Android or iOS.
The main downside of Vue is its pricing. This is a premium live streaming channel that has fewer channels than other services in its price range. It is not one of the best cord-cutting options, but it is the best streaming service for sports. If you pay a little extra for a few extra sports channels, that is.
4. The best live TV streaming service on a budget: Sling TV
Sling TV beats the competition in terms of value for money. It is the most affordable of the live TV streaming services listed here. For its price, Sling TV also has more channels and a smoother interface than budget services like Direct TV and Philo.
The best cord-cutting options should cost less than a cable package, even when you include the cost of an internet connection. Based on cost, Sling TV is the only service listed here that beats cable by a wide margin. That said, you will have to settle for far fewer channels than you would get with YouTube or Hulu.
That’s where a TV antenna comes in. You will need it for local channels like ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. Sling TV will provide 39 more channels to complement the free to air channels.
Will the best live streaming service help you dump your cable company?
If your goal is to stop paying for channels that you never watch, then yes it will. That said, you will probably need a powerful antenna to access the free to air channels that are available in your area. You will also need to pick a price point that works for you. Whatever streaming service you choose, know that you will have to make a sacrifice. You will either pay extra for more channels or pay less for fewer channels.
That being said, cable is slowly going the way of print media. This means that with time, live TV streaming services will gain more content and you won’t have to choose between cost and content. In the meantime, a good antenna will tide you over.