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Streaming vs. cable: Which TV service is better?

Joe Supan

Jul 31, 2023 — 5 min read

Streaming TV is cheaper option when compared to cable TV, but if you want live channels, it'll cost you a bit more.

With more than 200 services currently available, we are firmly in the streaming era. Most streaming services even now offer a live TV subscription option to ensure you still get access to the sports and news, or anything else you want to watch in real-time. But is streaming cheaper than cable TV? We did the research to find out.

Is it worth cutting your cable?

To get live TV channels, you’ll need to subscribe through an old-school cable TV provider or try a live TV streaming service like fuboTV, Hulu + Live TV or YouTube TV. Streaming services generally position themselves as cheaper alternatives to cable. This is somewhat true.

Outside of a few “skinny bundles,” most streaming packages with live channels are just as expensive as cable TV. We still consider streaming TV a cheaper alternative in the long-term, however, since price increases tend to be less severe with streaming services than they are with cable TV. 

The main benefits of cable TV are its higher channel count and potential bundle discounts, but more and more internet providers are beginning to do away with these discounts and the channel count for streaming TV services is still quite good. 

How we compared cable and live TV streaming services

Every cable and live TV streaming service trumpets the number of channels they offer as proof of their quality. But in almost every case, those raw numbers are propped up by a lot of fluff.

Every cable and live TV streaming service trumpets the number of channels they offer as proof of their quality. But in almost every case, those raw numbers are propped up by a lot of fluff.

To gauge the true quality of each provider’s channel lineup, we utilized an annual report from TiVo, which asked 3,330 respondents, “Which channels would you be interested in including in your TV package?” The more people wanted a channel, the higher it ranked. We then used these rankings to compare the channel lineups of each cable, satellite and live TV streaming service.

We also considered contracts, pricing, contract length and video quality. Overall, cable TV has a hard time competing with the new streaming TV services.

Our methodology

Cable vs. live streaming

Across the board, cable TV packages offer better channel lineups than live TV streaming services. While both YouTube TV and fuboTV are missing a handful of channels in the top 25 most highly rated channels, the only ones the cable providers don’t have are HBO and SHOWTIME — premium networks that can be added on for an extra fee.

DIRECTV, on the other hand, is one of the few streaming services that offers a channel lineup competitive with cable TV.

Cable vs. on-demand streaming

Netflix is one of the original on-demand streaming services and still remains one of the most popular, with about 240 million paid subscribers. Most services charge around $7 to $10 a month to view with ads, but that fee can jump considerably if you decide to watch without ads. 

Is it better to bundle with cable or a streaming service?

While the prices shown above are for TV only, most cable providers offer heavy discounts if you bundle with internet service. That said, there are often a number of hidden costs with cable TV that streaming services don’t have.

Even with the added fees associated with cable TV, you’ll still end up paying more for a live TV streaming service in most cases. Keep in mind, though, that’s only for year one. Consumer Reports found that advertised rates generally go up 3-4% in year two, along with “broadcast TV fees” and “regional sports fees.”

You can also bundle services with some internet providers and receive a free promotional period for an on-demand service. For instance, Verizon often offers a free subscription to Disney+.

Cable vs. streaming costs

Charging about $80 to $120 a month, cable TV often tacks on extra fees to that monthly cost, including equipment fees, broadcast fees and more. They are enough to run a good monthly bill up by $20 to $30 in some cases. Bundling internet and cable can save you $10 to $20/mo. with most providers, but not all. 

The difference between cable and streaming is that the monthly charge streaming services advertise is what you pay – there aren’t any hidden fees.

So, is cable or streaming the better option?

If you’re looking purely at the quality of channels offered, cable provides better packages than live TV streaming services. You’ll get more channels in total and the option to save by bundling with an internet plan.

Streaming also comes with several benefits you won’t get from cable.Part of the appeal of streaming is that you don’t have to pay for a bunch of channels you never watch, so you can save money by not adding on the extra available channel packages.

Aside from DIRECTV, you’ll also never have to commit to more than a month at a time with a live TV streaming service. Most also come with plenty of DVR storage and the ability to stream on a few different devices at once.

So while streaming services might not have as strong of a channel selection as traditional TV providers, in the debate of “is streaming better than cable tv”- there’s a good chance you’ll have a better experience overall with streaming. Also, if you aren’t interested in live TV, on-demand streaming services like Netflix can save you a bundle every month and still provide you with a wide variety of movies and shows to enjoy.

Satellite TV is always an option as well, but it can be more expensive than streaming services, depending on the provider and package.

Our recommendation for choosing the best TV package

If you’re in the market for a new TV service, we recommend making a list of the channels you want the most and comparing them across the cable and satellite providers in your area and a few streaming services. If the price and channel lineups are comparable, the streaming service will provide better perks and flexibility.  YouTube TV and Hulu Live are great streaming services to check out and compare to cable providers like DIRECTV or Xfinity

For more of the latest news on streaming and TV, check out our Resource Center and follow along with our experts on Facebook and Twitter.

Joe Supan

Written by:

Joe Supan

Principal Writer, Broadband Content

Joe Supan is a principal writer for Allconnect and CNET. He has helped build the proprietary metrics used on Allconnect’s review pages, utilizing thousands of data points to help readers navigate these complex… Read more

Robin Layton

Edited by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband Content

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