Considering alternatives to cable? Here are the best live TV streaming services for your buck

Nov 21, 2019

There are a lot of options when it comes to streaming — the U.S. alone has more than 200 services available — but few of them are actually meant to replace your cable or satellite TV. In other words, they don’t stream live TV. 

There are eight streaming services that do (down to seven once PlayStation Vue officially shuts down in January 2020). They cost anywhere from $15 to $135/mo. (looking at you, AT&T TV NOW), but most packages fall around $50/mo.

If you already use a service like Netflix, Hulu or Prime Video, you probably already have everything you need to stream live TV. Most of the services we list here work with every major streaming device, smart TV and gaming console around. For more information, we wrote about setting up your TV for streaming here.

fuboTVYouTube TVHulu + Live TVAT&T Watch TVLocast
Read reviewRead reviewRead reviewRead reviewRead review
Starting price*$55/mo.$50/mo.$55/mo.$15/mo.Free
Best forChannel selectionSportsOn-demand librarySkinny bundleFree streaming
Allconnect® score7.67.36.66n/a
Number of channels**108906941~50
Simultaneous streams23211
Cloud DVR storage30 hoursUnlimited (stores for nine months)50 hoursNoneNone

How we found the best live TV streaming services

To evaluate each live TV streaming service’s channel selection, we used data from a recent survey from TiVo, which asked 3,330 adults, “Which channels would you be interested in including in your TV package?” The more people wanted a channel in their lineup, the higher we scored it. Here’s how the seven most popular live TV streaming services compared:

After evaluating each service’s channels, we then looked at more supplementary features like how many hours of DVR storage you get and the number of accounts that can stream at the same time. 

Finally, we spent about a week watching each service on an Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick and Roku Streaming Stick to get a feel for the user experience. We looked for things like uninterrupted streams, easy navigation and a functional mobile app.

That left us with four factors to grade the services on: channel lineup, the value you get for the price, extra perks (like DVR and simultaneous streams) and user experience. We then calculated each overall score to weigh channels and value more heavily than extra perks and usability.

AT&T WatchTVPhilo TVSling TVYouTube TVHulu + Live TVfuboTVAT&T TV NOW
Read reviewRead reviewRead reviewRead reviewRead reviewRead reviewRead review
Starting price$15/mo.$20/mo.$30/mo.$50/mo.$55/mo.$55/mo.$65/mo.
Channel lineup4.
Extra perks17.56.786.56.34.2
Overall score66.

Best channel lineup: fuboTV

When fuboTV launched in 2015, it was primarily a service for soccer fans in the U.S. looking to keep up with the game overseas. Since then, it’s expanded beyond soccer to the larger sports world, even calling itself “the world’s only sports-focused live TV streaming service.”

That’s a bit misleading. Among streaming services, FuboTV actually has one of the worst channel lineups for fans of American sports, but it excels at almost everything else. That comes at a price, though. FuboTV starts at $55/mo. — one of the more expensive streaming services around.

For more information, you can read our full review here.

Works with: Amazon Fire TV, Android TVs, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku, Samsung smart TVs (2015-19 models)

Starting price: $54.99/mo.

  • Live TV packages available
  • 100+ channels with 30+ hours of DVR storage
View plans

Starting price: $54.99/mo.

  • Live TV packages available
  • 100+ channels with 30+ hours of DVR storage

Best all-around channel lineup

FuboTV has more channels that viewers want by a wide margin. Out of the top 100 channels respondents said they wanted most in TiVo’s survey, fuboTV included 60 of them. No other service had more than 51.

fuboTVHulu + Live TVYouTube TVSling Orange + Blue AT&T TV NOWAT&T TV
Cartoon Network
The CW
Food Network
Disney Channel
Nat Geo
Comedy Central
Animal Planet

You’ll get local channels like CBS, Fox and NBC, plus cable classics like Discovery, FX and A&E. With 108 total channels, fuboTV is the best live TV streaming service to replicate the breadth of cable or satellite TV. 

Great for fans of international soccer

FuboTV is unique in its selection of international sports channels. It’s the only streaming service that carries beIN Sports, a network of eight different channels that air soccer matches from the biggest leagues in the world, including the Premier League, La Liga, Ligue 1, Champions League, Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana. It also has 11 different channels from the TUDN network, which air soccer matches from around the world in Spanish. 

Exceptional user experience

In addition to its excellent channel lineup, fuboTV was also one of our favorite services to use. The guide will feel familiar to anyone who’s ever had cable. It shows about five channels on the left, with the upcoming two hours of programming to the right. 

The only thing we didn’t like was that you’re not able to browse and watch at the same time. (Most services leave a small window open with your current channel while you surf the guide.)

Where fuboTV really stood out was with its sports categories. You can pick whichever sport you’re interested in, and fuboTV shows all the games that are coming up. This might not sound like a big deal, but it cuts out a ton of scrolling time when you’re trying to find your game.

Only service with 4K sports

FuboTV has been on the cutting edge with 4K streaming. It’s currently the only service that carries channels entirely in 4K, with FOX, FS1 and the Big Ten Network. If a marquee sporting event is being played on one of these channels — including the NFL, MLB, NBA and NCAA sports — you’ll probably be able to watch it in 4K with fuboTV. You can find a full list of fuboTV’s 4K schedule here

Missing key channels for American sports

While fuboTV brands itself as “the world’s only sports-focused live TV streaming service,” the truth is it’s actually one of the worst for Americans. That’s because it’s missing two of the most important channels: ABC and ESPN. 

Without these, you’ll miss Monday Night Football from the NFL, the College Football Playoff, some of the MLB playoffs and almost every marquee NBA game, including the Finals. There’s virtually no American sport that doesn’t broadcast games on these channels. 

LeagueWhat fuboTV hasWhat fuboTV’s missing
NCAA sportsFox, CBS, Big Ten Network, Pac-12 NetworkABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ACC Network, SEC Network

You’ll have better luck watching your local team’s games — fuboTV carries most of the regional sports networks in the country — but you’ll miss out on many of the nationally televised matchups. 

Mediocre extra perks

FuboTV does not impress when it comes to the extra perks it adds on, with only 30 hours of DVR storage and two simultaneous streams, both of which are around average. If you live in a house with eclectic viewing habits, YouTube TV offers three streams and unlimited DVR storage. 

You can also upgrade to 500 hours of DVR storage through fuboTV for an extra $10/mo., or add a third stream for $5/mo. 

Best for sports: YouTube TV

YouTube TV review scoring

YouTube TV launched in five markets in April 2017, and quickly became one of the most popular live TV streaming services around. According to estimates from MoffettNathanson, YouTube TV has around 1.5 million subscribers, behind only Hulu + Live TV. 

With the best user experience by far, generous extra perks and the most comprehensive sports lineup around, YouTube TV is an excellent option for most people.

For more information, you can read our full review here

Works with: Roku, Google Chromecast, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Xbox One, Android TVs, Samsung smart TVs (2016 and newer), LG smart TVs (2016 and newer), Vizio smart TVs (select models), Hisense smart TVs (select models), Sharp smart TVs (select models)

Starting price: $49.99/mo.

  • Live TV package available
  • 70+ channels and unlimited DVR storage
View plans

Starting price: $49.99/mo.

  • Live TV package available
  • 70+ channels and unlimited DVR storage

Best-in-class interface and navigation

Unsurprisingly, YouTube knows a thing or two about streaming videos on the internet. Whereas most live TV streaming services use the same bland imitation cable TV design, YouTube TV is one of the only ones that actually innovates the channel-surfing experience.

We loved how you can see a preview of what’s playing when you stop on a channel in YouTube TV’s guide. Want to see if it’s still halftime of the game you’re watching? You can check in on the status without actually changing the channel. 

YouTube TV also made it easier to find on-demand content than any other live TV streaming service by employing useful tags that actually work. When we tried “adventure” on YouTube TV, it showed us a relevant mix of live and on-demand content. When we tried the same on Sling and AT&T TV NOW, our results were limited to videos with “adventure” in the title. 

Generous extra perks

YouTube TV has the best extra perks in the game. You’ll get unlimited DVR storage that doesn’t expire for nine months, plus three simultaneous streams — more than any other service includes in its base plans. 

Best service for sports

Along with Hulu + Live TV, YouTube TV is the best live TV streaming service for sports fans. There are a few differences between the two — YouTube is better for the MLB and NBA, Hulu for college sports — but for most people, either will work just fine.

LeagueWhat it hasWhat it’s missing
MLBESPN, ESPN2, Fox, FS1, TBS, MLB Network
NCAA FootballESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, Fox, ABC, CBS, ACC Network, Big Ten Network, SEC NetworkPac-12 Network

YouTube TV also excels when it comes to your local MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS team’s games. It carries all the major regional sports networks, including Fox Sports and NBC Sports, plus NESN in Boston and YES and SNY in New York. 

Missing some popular channels

YouTube TV ranks in the middle of the pack when it comes to its channel lineup. It rates out as better than AT&T TV NOW and PlayStation Vue, worse than fuboTV and on par with Hulu + Live TV and Sling Orange + Blue. Here are some of the most popular channels YouTube TV is missing:

  • A&E
  • BET
  • CMT
  • Comedy Central
  • Cooking Channel
  • Hallmark Channel
  • History
  • ION
  • Lifetime
  • MTV 
  • Music Choice
  • NFL Network
  • Nick

  • Nick Jr. 
  • Paramount Network
  • Science
  • TV Land
  • VH1
  • Weather Channel

If none of these are deal breakers for you, YouTube TV more than makes up for their absence with its user experience and extra perks. But it does have more gaps than some of its competitors. 

Best on-demand library: Hulu + Live TV

Most people know Hulu as the ad-supported alternative to Netflix, but it actually stands out as one of the best all-around live TV streaming services, too. It has more of the top-end channels than any other service, one of the best sports lineup in the game and it comes with Hulu’s on-demand service, too. 

For more information, you can read our full review here

Works with: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku, Xbox One and 360, Nintendo Switch, Samsung smart TVs, LG smart TVs, Android TVs

Starting price: $55/mo.

  • Live TV packages available
  • Great for live sports
View plans

Starting price: $55/mo.

  • Live TV packages available
  • Great for live sports

Excellent overall channel selection 

For most people, Hulu + Live TV will have every channel they need. The only streaming service that had more in the top 25 and 50 of TiVo’s survey was fuboTV, which costs $10 more per month. 

Hulu excels at the very top end of that list, too. Out of the 10 channels that consumers said they want the most, Hulu includes nine — ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, Discovery Channel, FX, A&E, TNT and TBS — more than any other live TV streaming service. The only one it’s missing is HBO, which is only included in AT&T TV NOW’s plans

Great for live sports

After the demise of PlayStation Vue, Hulu + Live TV has grabbed the crown (along with YouTube TV) as the best streaming service for sports. It has nearly every channel you need to watch each of the four major American sports — the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL — plus the best collection of college sports networks around.

LeagueWhat it hasWhat it’s missing
NCAA sportsESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, Fox, ABC, CBS, ACC Network, Big Ten Network, SEC NetworkPac-12 Network

In addition to carrying most national games, Hulu also has nearly every regional sports network for your local MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS team’s games. The only markets it’s hit or miss on are New York, Los Angeles and Boston. If you live in these areas, fuboTV and AT&T TV NOW have better local coverage. 

Includes Hulu on-demand

Hulu + Live TV has one trump card that no other service can match: It includes a world-class on-demand streaming service. You’ll have access to Hulu’s entire library of shows and movies, including award-winning originals like The Handmaid’s Tale and The Looming Tower. Hulu + Live TV includes the ad-supported version of Hulu ($5.99/mo. on its own), but you can also upgrade to Hulu (No Ads) + Live TV for $11.99/mo. Keep in mind, you’ll still have to sit through the commercials on live programming. 

Mediocre user experience

Hulu left a lot to be desired when it came to interface design and navigation. It wasn’t easy to figure out where the live TV portion of the service was, requiring several clicks from the home screen. And once you get there, channel-surfing was more frustrating than on any other service.

You can only see about four channels at a time, and only in the current time slot. If you want to see what’s coming up later in the day, you have to click on a channel and arrow over. And even then, you’re still limited to the next immediate time slot. 

Decent extra perks

Hulu + Live TV comes with 50 hours of DVR storage and two simultaneous streams. But unlike many services, Hulu’s DVR storage never expires, so you can keep those shows you’re saving for as long as you want. If you want to increase those amounts, you can upgrade to 200 hours and unlimited streams for an extra $14.98/mo.

Best skinny bundle: AT&T Watch TV

AT&T Watch TV review scoring

AT&T WatchTV is the skinniest of the skinny bundles. For only $15/mo. — the same price as HBO NOW — you’ll get 41 total channels. Granted, you won’t get many of the channels that actually necessitate live TV, i.e. sports and news. 

But supplemented with a TV antenna or Locast (see below), WatchTV can be a perfectly adequate live TV option for a price that’s well below the competition.

For more information, you can read our full review here

Works with: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast

Starting price: $15/mo.

  • Live TV packages available
  • 35+ channels and 500 hours of DVR storage
View plans

Starting price: $15/mo.

  • Live TV packages available
  • 35+ channels and 500 hours of DVR storage

Bare bones channel lineup

WatchTV has the most limited channel lineup of any live TV streaming service. That’s how it can afford to charge just $15/mo. But that doesn’t mean it’s completely devoid of popular channels.

It has 13 of the top 25 most popular channels in TiVo’s survey — only one fewer than the $50/mo. AT&T TV NOW — including Discovery Channel, A&E, TNT, TBS, History, AMC and Food Network. 

You won’t get much in the way of live sports, local channels or cable news networks, but for the price, WatchTV arguably offers more per dollar than any other service.

Limited device compatibility

Right now, AT&T WatchTV is only available on Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV Sticks and Google Chromecast. That leaves out the 32.3 million people who use Roku, plus the countless others who use their smart TVs or game consoles to stream. 

No DVR storage or simultaneous streams

AT&T WatchTV is the only live TV streaming service that doesn’t offer any DVR storage or simultaneous streams. If this is important to you, Philo ($20/mo.) includes unlimited DVR storage and three simultaneous streams. That said, it’s channel lineup is also slightly worse than WatchTV’s. 

Best free live TV streaming: Locast

Locast is like a TV antenna for the streaming era. The nonprofit service streams your local TV stations like ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, The CW and PBS — all without charging you a penny.

For many people, that might be all the live TV they need. According to The Hollywood Reporter, 44 of the top 50 telecasts in 2018 would have been accessible for free via Locast or a TV antenna. That includes events like the Super Bowl, the Oscars and the Olympics. 

Put simply, if Locast is available in your area, you should be taking advantage of it. 

For more information, you can read our full review here

Works with: Android TVs, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Google Chromecast

Only available in 17 cities

Locast is currently only available in 17 U.S. cities, but it’s been expanding to new markets consistently since it launched. Here’s every city you can get it today:

  • Atlanta
  • Baltimore
  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Dallas
  • Denver
  • Houston
  • Los Angeles
  • New York
  • Philadelphia
  • Phoenix
  • Rapid City
  • San Francisco
  • Seattle
  • Sioux City
  • Sioux Falls
  • Washington, D.C

Live TV streaming FAQs

What is the best live TV streaming service for sports?

The best streaming service for sports used to be PlayStation Vue by a mile, but the company recently announced it was shutting down the service in January 2020. With PlayStation Vue out of the picture, the options are now a bit more muddled. 

For most sports fans, YouTube TV will be the best bet. It has every channel you’ll need to watch MLB and NBA games, it’s only missing the NFL and NHL Networks from the other two major leagues. Unfortunately, there are currently no live TV streaming services that have every channel that airs games from these two leagues.

AT&T TV NOW ($65/mo.) fuboTV ($55/mo.)Hulu + Live TV ($55/mo.) Sling TV ($45/mo.)YouTube TV ($50/mo.)
College football6.
College basketball5.
Overall score7.

If you follow college sports more than the MLB or NBA, Hulu + Live TV is a slightly better option. It has an almost identical lineup to YouTube TV, but with ESPN College Extra instead of NBA TV and MLB Network. 

Can you stream TV for free?

There are several solid options for streaming TV for free. We’d recommend trying the following options:

  • Locast: Streams around 50 live TV channels in 16 U.S. markets
  • TV antenna: While not technically streaming, a TV antenna will get you the same local TV channels as Locast.
  • Free Netflix alternatives: Free streaming services like Hoopla, Tubi and Kanopy provide thousands of movies and TV shows on-demand.
  • Free live TV streaming: In addition to Locast, there are a number of other live TV streaming services like Pluto and STIRR that are entirely ad-supported. 

Is streaming really cheaper than cable?

Unfortunately, you probably won’t end up saving much money by cutting the cord unless you switch to a skinny bundle like AT&T WatchTV ($15/mo.), Philo TV ($20/mo.) or Sling TV ($30/mo.). That’s because most providers offer significant deals if you bundle internet and TV. Here’s how some of the most popular cable and satellite packages compare to streaming services:

fuboTVYouTube TVAT&T WatchTVXfinity (Starter Pro Double Play)Spectrum (TV Select + Internet)AT&T Internet + DIRECTV
Monthly TV + internet cost$55 (TV) + $60* (internet)$50 (TV) + $60* (internet)$15 (TV) + $60* (internet)$90$90$75 year one, $121 year two
Installation feeNoneNoneNoneUp to $60Up to $200Up to $99
Equipment rental feeNoneNoneNone$13/mo.$5/mo.None
TV contract lengthOne monthOne monthOne monthOne yearOne yearTwo years
Number of channels1086941140+125+155+
Estimated year one costs$1,380$1,320$900$1,296$1,340$999 ($1,452 year two)

As you can see, live TV streaming services are typically pretty comparable to cable and satellite bundles. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth switching. 

For one, live TV streaming service subscribers are generally much happier with their service than cable and satellite customers. According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), streaming services as an industry rated 76/100 — on par with the hotel and apparel industries. Traditional TV providers, on the other hand, ranked dead last with a score of 62/100.

With streaming, the user experience is usually a lot better, with fully functional mobile apps, cloud DVR and simultaneous streams. But best of all, if you don’t like your service, you’re free to cancel at any point, whereas most TV providers usually require year-long contracts subject to price hikes. 

What internet speed do I need for live TV streaming?

Most live TV streaming services recommend around 10 Mbps download speeds for buffer-free live streaming. That said, if multiple devices are using your internet connection at once, that number will need to go up even more. If you’re not sure how much speed you’re currently getting, take our speed test below to find out. You can also check out our guide to internet speeds for more information.

Our other live TV streaming service reviews

We’ve written extensively about every live TV streaming service around. For more detailed information, you can check out our full reviews below:

The bottom line

The field has levelled significantly since live TV streaming services first launched a few years. At this point, most of these services share a lot of the same channels. Which one is right for you will probably come down to a few decisive questions.

Is ESPN a necessity? Would you rather have A&E or AMC? Do you need every local channel or can you get by with a TV antenna or Locast?

The volatile nature of streaming services means that these channels and prices will continue to shift, too. To stay on top of the latest updates and news, bookmark our streaming page and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.