Online streaming has come a long way since the early versions of Netflix and Hulu first appeared just over a decade ago. There is now a huge variety of choices when it comes to apps, including services that enable live TV viewing, on-demand platforms that permit TV show and movie streaming and those that offer both.
Streaming live TV has become increasingly popular as people look to move away from traditional cable options. The main players include fuboTV, which gives subscribers access to over 100 live TV channels, while the similarly priced YouTube TV lets viewers record unlimited content to watch whenever it suits them. AT&T Watch TV has a live streaming service for those on a budget, while Hulu + Live TV combines the best of both worlds with live streaming and a huge on-demand catalog.
The on-demand market continues to be dominated by Netflix, which provides a great user experience in addition to a huge content catalog and fantastic original programming. But there are plenty of contenders to its throne, including Amazon Prime Video, the market’s newest player Disney+ and Hulu’s on-demand service.
We researched the best live TV and on-demand streaming services currently available to help people looking to cut the cord on cable. We compared the top four live streaming services based on price, the number of channels they provide, the type of content they offer to subscribers, the number of simultaneous streams they allow and the amount of cloud storage they have.
To evaluate each service’s channel offerings, we used TiVo’s quarterly Video Trends Report, which asks 3,330 respondents, “Which channels would you be interested in including in your TV package?” The more people wanted a channel included, the higher it ranked. Here’s how they compared:
We also evaluated the top four on-demand streaming services available to subscribers based on price, size of their content library, how much original content they have and the number of simultaneous streams available.
To compare their libraries, we looked at their overall size as well as the quality of the movies and shows they have. For that, we turned to IMDb’s lists of the top 250 TV shows and movies, which combine user ratings and popularity to determine its rankings. We then counted how many titles each streaming service had in both lists.
|Number of movies*||3,751||1,216||22,869||677|
|Number of shows*||1,566||1,346||1,980||163|
|Movies in IMDb Top 250||33||7||21||14|
|TV Shows in IMDb Top 250||73||64||53||4|
*According to data from JustWatch.com (01/12/20)
The best live TV streaming services for 2020
|AT&T Watch TV||YouTube TV||fuboTV||Hulu + Live TV|
|Best for||Skinny bundle||Sports and user experience||Channel selection||On-demand library|
|Number of channels**||41||90||108||69|
|Cloud DVR storage||None||Unlimited (stores for nine months)||30 hours||50 hours|
*Pricing per month plus taxes for length of contract. Additional fees and terms may apply. Pricing varies by location and availability. All prices subject to change at any time. May or may not be available based on service address. As of 01/31/20.
**Channel selection varies by location
Best skinny bundle: AT&T Watch TV
|✔ Cheapest live TV streaming service ✔ Some news channels ✔ Excellent channel lineup for the price||✘ No sports or local channels ✘ Only one stream at a time ✘ No cloud DVR storage ✘ Poor user experience||Watch TV has a better channel lineup than Philo ($20/mo.), but it comes without perks like DVR storage and simultaneous streams.|
At just $15/mo., AT&T Watch TV is a quarter of the price of most live TV streaming services. It can afford to be so cheap because it skips out on the most expensive channels for TV providers: sports and news.
Aside from the occasional NBA and MLB games on TNT and TBS, you won’t get any live sports with Watch TV, and CNN is the only news channel it carries. But aside from the lack of sports and news, its channel selection is surprisingly impressive, with popular channels like Discovery, History, AMC and Food Network.
You also won’t get any of the bells and whistles that come with most services — no DVR storage, no simultaneous streams and a limited on-demand library. (If you want some of those extras, Philo has them all for just $5 more per month.)
Works with: Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast and Apple TV
Best for sports and user experience: YouTube TV
|✔ Delightful interface and navigation ✔ Unlimited DVR storage ✔ Three simultaneous streams ✔ Solid option for sports fans||✘ Missing A&E, History, Comedy Central, Lifetime, Nick and NFL Network||Other streaming services have better channel lineups, but YouTube TV closes the gap with its outstanding user experience.|
YouTube TV gives subscribers an innovative channel-surfing experience that enables them to browse what else is on without having to scroll away from the channel they are watching. It also stands out in helping users find new shows to watch with powerful search tools that recommend both live and on-demand content.
On top of that, YouTube TV offers unlimited cloud DVR storage with recorded content expiring after nine months. It also permits viewers to watch a maximum of three simultaneous streams — more than any provider but Sling’s Orange + Blue package.
YouTube TV is a standout all-around live streaming service for sports fans. Some of its rivals excel in certain areas, such as fuboTV’s solid international sports coverage and Hulu’s strong college football viewing options, but YouTube TV has most sports fans covered with just a few channels missing from its lineup.
YouTube TV leads the way when it comes to giving viewers access to popular American sports, including local MLB, MLS, NBA and NHL matchups. It carries all the major regional sports networks, including FOX Sports and NBC Sports as well as Boston’s NESN and New York’s SNY service. However, it lacks NFL Network, NHL Network and PAC-12 Network coverage.
Read our full review for more information about YouTube TV.
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)
Best channel lineup: fuboTV
|✔ Excellent all-around channel lineup ✔ Great for fans of international sports ✔ Exceptional user experience||✘ One of the most expensive live TV streaming services ✘ Missing ABC and ESPN||FuboTV isn’t a good option for fans of American sports, but it has one of the best overall channel selection of any service.|
FuboTV has transformed from a service that was primarily for soccer fans into a strong streaming TV option with a decent sports line-up. When the channel launched in 2015, it was largely aimed at U.S. soccer fans who wanted to follow overseas games. It has now expanded to wider sports coverage and calls itself “the world’s only sports-focused live TV streaming service.”
That statement is not quite accurate — there are other sports-focused streaming services available and fuboTV actually has one of the worst channel line ups out there for fans of American sports. That’s because it lacks access to both ABC and ESPN, which means missing out on Monday Night Football, the College Football Playoff, most of the MLB playoffs and nearly every marquee NBA game.
Having said that, fuboTV is an excellent option for international sports lovers. It’s the only streaming service that provides access to beIN Sports, whose eight channels cover soccer all over the world, including the Champions League, Copa Libertadores, La Liga and the Premier League. It also has 11 channels from the TUDN network, which carries soccer matches in Spanish. fuboTV’s sports categories feature enables viewers to quickly find upcoming games by sport.
Furthermore, fuboTV is the only service that carries sports coverage entirely in 4K streaming, with channels including the Big Ten Network, FOX and FS1. It brings subscribers near enough any marquee sporting event in 4K. You can find a full list of fuboTV’s 4K schedule here.
But beyond sports options, fuboTV’s 100+ channels ensure the most well-rounded selection of any live TV streaming service, albeit with omissions like ABC, ESPN and HBO. FuboTV also has more channels that made TiVo viewers’ top 25, 50 and 100 most wanted than any live TV streaming service other than AT&T TV. This comes at a price, however — its $55/mo. price tag makes it one of the more expensive streaming options on the market.
Read our full review for more information about fuboTV.
Works with: Amazon Fire TV, Android TVs, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku, Samsung smart TVs (2015-19 models)
Best on-demand library: Hulu + Live TV
|✔ Solid channel lineup ✔ Great for live sports ✔ Includes Hulu on-demand||✘ Poor user experience ✘ Only two simultaneous streams ✘ One of the most expensive services||With plenty of news, sports and family channels in addition to its on-demand service, Hulu + Live TV provides a solid experience overall, but it comes with a higher price tag.|
It may not be the cheapest service on the list, but Hulu + Live TV delivers great value by being more than simply a live streaming service. It is one of the all-around best streaming services — only fuboTV and AT&T TV have a wider selection of channels than Hulu + Live TV, and it’s one of the best choices for sports viewing.
The service also provides access to thousands of titles available on Hulu’s on-demand streaming service. No other live streaming service can match its library of thousands of shows and movies, which includes original content like The Handmaid’s Tale and Castle Rock.
In addition, Hulu + Live TV comes with 50 hours of unlimited DVR storage and two simultaneous streams, which can be upgraded to 200 hours and unlimited streams for an extra $14.98/mo.
For more information about Hulu + Live TV, 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
Best on-demand streaming services of 2020
|Best for||Original and licensed content||Value||Largest show and movie library||Family content|
|Number of titles||5,000+||2,500+||25,000+||800+|
|Offline watching available||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
*Pricing per month plus taxes for length of contract. Additional fees and terms may apply. Pricing varies by location and availability. All prices subject to change at any time. May or may not be available based on service address. As of 01/20/20.
Best original content and user experience: Netflix
|✔ Large library of original and licensed content|
✔ Easy to navigate
✔ Useful recommendations
✔ Smooth and reliable streams
✘ Originals aren’t as highly rated by critics and users
|Netflix is the default streaming service for a reason: It has the best mix of original and licensed content around, and its technology is in a class of its own.|
The major on-demand streaming providers all create their own original programming in an attempt to differentiate their services. However, this is where Netflix establishes itself as the clear leader in the market. The company invests a lot more in original programming, creating hit shows like Black Mirror and The Crown, movies like Bird Box and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and documentaries such as American Factory, FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened and Knock Down The House. It is the standout choice for people on the lookout for great original content.
Netflix also leads the way in the quantity of original content. It has a total of 1,197 original titles, which is more than 10 times the total of its nearest on-demand streaming rival. In comparison, Amazon Prime Video has 164 original titles and Hulu has 57. Netflix’s strength in this area will become increasingly important as the likes of Disney, NBC and WarnerMedia launch and expand their own streaming services and take their own programs away from Netflix.
Ease of use is also critical when it comes to selecting an on-demand streaming service. Most provide parental controls that enable subscribers to restrict access to age-sensitive content. When it comes to minimizing ads, inexpensive, frustration-free plans abound. Hulu is the only contender whose starting package forces viewers to sit through commercial interruptions.
But ultimately, Netflix gets the nod when it comes to user experience. It leads the pack with 729 4K video titles (although you’ll have to pay more for them) followed by the 116 titles available in 4K on Amazon Prime Video and 82 on Hulu. Disney+ also provides content in 4K, including the entire Star Wars collection and Mary Poppins, but the exact number of ultra-high-definition shows and movies available on the platform has not been officially announced.
Netflix also excels in the recommendations department with its what to watch next suggestions. It uses subscribers’ viewing history information and collects data such as genre, actors starring in the movies, and the time of day to advise their viewing selections.
Netflix enables subscribers to watch a maximum of four simultaneous streams, which can only be matched by Disney+. Hulu and Amazon Prime Video both offer two simultaneous streams.
Best value: Hulu
|✔ Lower price than competitors ✔ Network shows up next day||✘ Less original content ✘ Only two simultaneous streams||Hulu is a great option for fans of shows on ABC, FOX and NBC, but it’s library overall isn’t as strong as Netflix or Prime Video.|
The pricing of all the most popular on-demand streaming services is relatively similar. However, Hulu’s price point of $5.99/mo. is $3/mo. cheaper than both Amazon Prime Video and Netflix ($8.99/mo.) and $1/mo. less than Disney+ at launch ($6.99/mo.).
It not only stands out from a value perspective but also streams new episodes the day after they premiere on network TV. Hulu, similar to Netflix, also gives new subscribers a one-month free trial while Prime Video offers 30 days and Disney+ just one week.
Largest library: Amazon Prime Video
|✔ Huge library of TV shows and movies ✔ Decent original content ✔ Great original comedies||✘ Only two simultaneous streams||Despite it’s enormous library of shows and movies, Prime Video still has fewer popular titles than Netflix.|
All of the leading on-demand streaming services offer huge libraries packed with great content options. Amazon Prime Video has a massive library of over 25,000 titles, Hulu features more than 2,500 titles and Netflix has more than 5,000. Newcomer Disney+ can’t compete on volume yet with fewer than 5,000 TV shows and movies on its platform at launch, but it does have new content in the works through 2020.
Streaming internet requirements
Most live and on-demand TV streaming services recommend that users have download speeds of at least 10 Mbps to guarantee buffer-free viewing quality. However, using multiple devices on one internet connection at the same time will require more speed. If you are not sure what connection speed you currently have test it out here and check out our internet speeds guide for more information.
Our live TV streaming service reviews
We have written extensively about live TV streaming services. For more detailed information, you can check out our full reviews below:
- AT&T Watch TV ($15/mo.)
- Philo TV ($20/mo.)
- Sling TV ($30/mo.)
- YouTube TV ($50/mo.)
- fuboTV ($55/mo.)
- Hulu + Live TV ($55/mo.)
- AT&T TV NOW ($65/mo.)
- AT&T TV ($60/mo. in year one, $93/mo. in year two)
The bottom line
TV fans and movie lovers looking to move away from cable have a huge range of streaming service options available to them. Not only do they have a choice between live and on-demand streaming services but also a wide selection of options within those two categories. The various streaming platforms share similar channel selections and have their own individual nuances and specialty focuses.
This can make determining the best streaming services extremely difficult. But ultimately the decision will depend on whether you are looking to maximize your TV show or movie watching options, or if you require access to specific channels. Either way, the huge amount of choice in the market ensures there is a streaming service to help everyone enrich their entertainment.