One of the hallmarks of cord cutting in 2021 is the online liner TV service. Streaming TV services take the place of digital cable TV and IPTV, such as AT&T or Verizon. Below is a listing of all the services I’ve been able to find in both the mainstream, and a little bit off the beaten path. I’ve also gone out of my way to find services that serve people whose first language is not English.
Unlike other sites, I don’t provide some of the finer details of the service. Rather, I give my impressions of the service, the benefits, and the drawbacks. The last thing I would want to do is unfairly influence your decision for a service. Commercials, online ads and emails do enough to confuse matters. My hope is that I keep information straightforward and leave the decision to you.
What to Look For
There are many things one can compare when people look at online services of this type. Cost, content, channels, DVR, screen numbers, sound quality, devices–the list goes on and on. Each of these things are subject to change and change frequently. So rather than give you all the info in one place (something I wish I could do), I provide links to each service, and express my views in hopes that it helps you make a better decision as an informed consumer.
When you’re looking at these sites, consider these things.
- How many screens can you watch at the same time? If you have a big family or just need a lot of screens going, some services make you pay for the ability to view programming on more screens.
- Cost is an obvious criterion. For the most popular services with the most variation and the highest-value channels, expect to pay $50-$70.
- Where are you going to watch the service? If you own a smart TV, Roku, iPad, Android phone or some other non-PC device, check to see if they work with the devices you want. TV: it isn’t just for the living room anymore!
- What programs do you watch, and what channels do those programs air on? Do you like sports? There may be clear winners based on your preferences. If you absolutely must have the Lifetime networks for Dance Moms reasons, make sure the provider you get has it!
- How much DVR do you need? Most services offer nice, large DVR services, but there are practical limits. If you find that you use DVRs for binge watching, make sure the service can support your usage habits.
- Do you really need the linear? Linear TV is nice when you want to see a line-up of popular shows, get the latest broadcast shows when they air, and for live events. But if you are more interested in binge watching shows, consider an on-demand style streaming video service.
- Most services offer a free trial. Is the trial long enough for you to get a real feel for the service?
Finally, recognize that there may be reasons to buy more than one service. For example, if one service has The Weather Channel, which is an absolute must have, it may or may not be worth the cost to buy a service that has the things you want, and a different service with limited programming that has The Weather Channel.
The Big Players
Providers in this section are the most popular, offer competitive prices, and are most likely to have the services you would want to replace traditional cable, or IPTV.
Hulu + Live TV
Hulu + Live TV is two services wrapped into one. Hulu is an on-demand streaming service which is similar to Netflix. The on-demand streaming service comes in commercial and non-commercial flavors. As an add-on, Live TV brings 65+ channels along with local channels for some major networks. In my area, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and a regional Telemundo station (but not our local station) are carried. The local independent stations are not carried, and PBS is also not carried. I also observe that they pad their TV channel line-up by including some services which are publicly available, and services which are free elsewhere on the internet, such as Dabl.
The strength and biggest allure of Hulu + Live TV is the ability to bundle the service with ESPN+ and Disney+. Combine on-demand programming hosted on Hulu, with live TV and DVR along with Disney+ and ESPN+ programming, and the average consumer would save $20-30/mo by combining services.
YouTube TV is a service I subscribe to, so there will be inherent bias.
YouTube TV is Google’s answer to live streaming. Their offering is much like other services: get lots of channels, watch on-demand titles, online DVR. What makes YouTube TV stand-out from the rest is their claim of unlimited DVR (which has some limitations) and the ability to share YouTube TV with up to 5 other Google accounts via Google Family. The channel line-up is extensive and is arguably as large as Hulu’s. Where they differ is the padding. While YouTube TV also pads their lineup with a few channels that can be watched for free, they do it less than some others might. For my area, they have all major local networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox), and also carry one local PBS network, and national feeds of some digital sub channels. Their sports line-up is considered to be one of the better offerings by many reviewers on the internet. The single biggest glaring omission for YouTube TV is the obvious opportunity to bundle with YouTube Premium and YouTube Music. Instead of offering a cost-saving bundle to get buy-in, YouTube TV chooses to ignore other offerings. If you want commercial-free YouTube and commercial-free music, you’re on your own!
Sling TV has always been a unique offering because they claim (and deliver) on the principle of a la carte programming. Rather than offer a big package with premium add-ons like other players, Sling TV gives people options. Pick from two TV packages (orange or blue–which one the rabbit hole is, I don’t know.) Sling TV is notable for having options for people whose first language is not English. Sling TV offers services for Spanish speakers, and for people seeking services from South Asia, the Middle East, Europe and others.
For everything Sing TV excels at, they suffer from a lack of local channels (which can be taken care of with an antenna or the purchase of another service.) I also find it challenging to line up the services I want. I personally prefer a thick (thicc?) package that gets 99% of what I want. Most people will find the choices refreshing and a cost-saving measure, however.
Philo is unique in that it is cheap. At the time of writing, Philo costs less than other services, at $20 a month. Philo can be stand-alone, but it is also good to provide additional services if a different service also meets your needs. For example, when I first discontinued cable, I ended up comparing my cable package against YouTube TV and Philo together. While there are some channel overlaps, Philo carries several services that are less often offered on a beefier service. If a service is complete, but missing a few key channels, Philo is a good service to check!
The biggest complaint of Philo tends to be the nature of their guide, and the lack of local channels.
There are a lot of good things to say about fubo. The service is a favorite among people who like sports as they offer north of 40 sports channels in some cases. They have historically offered three tiers of service, each with more channels and more features. This makes fuboTV a great service to scale. It is important to pick a package that not only matches your channel needs, but also your features. For example, each service tier offers a different number of screens, and a different DVR capacity. For most TV markets, the service only carries some local channels. If you live in a rural area, this might be a dealbreaker.
DirecTV Stream (Formally AT&T TV)
If you aren’t new to the Streaming TV game, you may remember DirecTV NOW. DirecTV Stream is the latest incarnation of the service. In terms of channels, their offerings are comparable to YouTube TV, and they also offer international services. It is discouraging however to see the number of premium channels mixed among the list of channels included in a package. The service itself may not be a hindrance but shopping the service can be an issue.
What makes DirecTV Stream stand out in a negative way against other services is the feeling of having to pay for additional services. For example, paying extra for DVR service when others offer unlimited DVR feels off when compared to the price jumps. That said, the service has historically looked good, operated well, and has been reliable.
One other important note is that AT&T TV offers a device that can be purchased which is tailored to the service, which is not dissimilar to how cable TV and more traditional IPTV works. For some, this will be a selling point, especially if the buyer doesn’t already have a TV streaming device like a Roku or Chromecast.
FrndlyTV markets itself as a family-friendly service that focuses on spiritual programming, family-focused secular programs, and outdoors programming. The service is easily one of the cheapest, and if you are looking for a simple DVR service with a small selection of safe channels without a great deal of variety, this service is for you. This is also a service that works well as an accessory to other services.
This service is a curious and uncomfortable offering. The channel lineup consists of international networks of various sources, home shopping, and entertainment/kids networks of dubious origin. The strength of the service is the offering of Korean programming, digital sub channels that aren’t regularly carried on other providers and select Sony properties. There may be interest in some of the programming by the more stalwart conservatives. The price point for the service makes it ideal as an accessory service if the content is your cup of tea.
If you are a fan of conservative news, KlowdTV may be a desirable option. Uniquely, it juxtaposes conservative news sources with some of the most notable world-renowned neutral sources. The service is notable for the cheap cost, the international availability of packages, and the eclectic mix of targeted channels. How many services have channels dedicated to horse aficionados? Also notable is the free tier.
Among the major services, and the cheaper fill-out services, VidGO is less known, and has a well-rounded channel line-up for the cost. Cheaper than other competitors, but not as cheap as Philo, VidGO offers some local channels and channels targeted towards Spanish-speaking audiences as well as English. It is not as well programmed as some services but has many big channel names. Notably, the service carries some big-name Spanish-language networks which other services simply don’t. If you speak Spanish, or need fewer big-name channels with the same general features as the bigger packages, VidGO is for you.
These are international-focused streaming TV providers for some of the larger groups in the US where English is not their first language. You may also wish to check-out fuboTV, Sling TV and VidGO for additional Spanish and international programming options.
YuppTV and Hotstar
YuppTV is an a la carte Indian/South Asian streaming TV provider. The service itself offers subscriptions for individual channels which are offered internationally, from South Asia, or originate in the United States. YuppTV offers a bundle of service with Hotstar which offers live sports TV programming and on-demand services. While they are technically separate products, live TV programming is offered together.
Listed for being the most prolific Chinese-targeted service, KyLin offers set-top boxes, and IPTV offerings targeted towards Chinese speakers from the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan.
This provider offers select channels targeted towards various European and Asian audiences, including Filipino, German ,Hungarian and Chinese.
Viet Channels carries US and Vietnam-based live networks, offers DVR services and also offers on-demand programs. Select channels are available for free to all.
While it is easy to focus on the big names, there are so many more services available in the pay arena. Combine this with the free offerings, and it is easy to see the shocking degree of available services. The advent of IPTV and over-the-top television has brought so much more diversity than was possible with cable TV. Review this information, search for yourself, and expand your horizons!