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- After you cut the cord, you’ll have more than a dozen options for streaming services you can use, all with varying channel lineups, on-demand offerings, live TV programming, and price points.
- Think about your favorite TV shows and channels, and then try to find the best streaming service — or two or three — that meet those needs, while staying in your budget.
- We break down the best streaming services to help you choose. Our top picks include Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Sling TV, Hulu TV, DirecTV Now, Fubo TV, HBO Now, Starz, and more.
Depending on how much you love TV, cutting the cord may be a difficult choice. For example, if you have a Homer Simpson love of TV, the suggestion of cutting the cord would cause off-the-chart, red level panic … at least if there were no backup plan.
Streaming TV is that backup plan. With streaming TV, you’ll still receive many of your favorite channels and programs, just without the big bills of cable and satellite TV. After all, the average monthly cable or satellite TV bill costs $85 to $100, according to USA Today.
Think of a streaming TV service as a skinny version of traditional pay-TV services from cable and satellite providers. You won’t receive all of the channels and perks you receive with a cable or satellite subscription, but you’ll save some money on your overall bill, as long as you have all of the equipment you need.
Streaming services also allow you to start and stop the service at any time, whereas not all live TV allows that. Some satellite and cable TV providers also still require you to sign a long-term service contract, and most streaming services don’t force you into a contract. We’ve broken down the 15 best streaming services to help you make the right choice for your particular needs, but first, a word on how streaming services work.
How do streaming services work?
Whereas cable TV signals enter your home through a dedicated line and satellite TV signals enter it over the air, streaming TV services enter your home through your internet connection.
You need reasonably fast internet speeds of at least 25 to 50 Mbps to use streaming services, and if your TV is not a smart TV, you need a streaming stick or box like the Roku Streaming Stick, Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, or another streaming stick (You can read all about the best streaming sticks and boxes here).
Streaming services typically costs less than a full TV subscription, even though they offer many of the same channels and on-demand video options. Some streaming services also offer live TV functions, though not all do.
The New York Times says the best way to figure out whether streaming services are for you is to ask yourself which shows and channels you’re most interested in watching. List all of your favorites, and then look for a service that matches your list.
What kinds of TV shows, movies, and videos do streaming services offer?
Streaming services come in many forms. Some, like Netflix, offer only pre-recorded, on-demand shows and movies, while others, like YouTube TV, offer live TV programming. Others offer both live TV and on-demand shows.
Live TV: A live TV streaming service carries popular channels you’re already familiar with through your cable or satellite TV subscription. Live TV streaming services have current TV shows available as they air and they often offer some on-demand content, too. Examples include Sling TV, Hulu Live TV, YouTube TV, and DirecTV Now.
On-demand: On-demand streaming services give you the option of watching old TV shows and movies that may have debuted anywhere from a few days before to a few decades ago. These services don’t give you access to specific channels, but access to specific shows. If your favorite show is on AMC at 9 p.m. on Sunday, you cannot watch it live with an on-demand streaming service. Examples include Netflix, Hulu (non-live version), and Amazon Prime Video.
Channels as streaming services: Just like you can add HBO, Showtime, Starz, and other premium channels to your cable or satellite TV service, so, too, can you add these channels to your streaming services. Their most popular content often isn’t available on other streaming services, so these channel-specific services act like add-ons. Examples include HBO Now, Showtime, Starz, ESPN+, and CBS All Access.
As content providers start running their own streaming services, they may pull their content from other services. If Company X starts its own streaming service, pulling a popular sports channel and a popular kids channel off all other streaming services, are you going to subscribe to Company X’s service, canceling your other subscription?
As we outline the 15 best streaming services below, understand that these services are constantly changing. They are adding and losing programs and channels, changing prices, and offering different sign-up perks. So continue checking back for the latest information.
Here are the best streaming services:
- Best live TV streaming services: Sling TV, Hulu TV, YouTubeTV, DirecTV Now, PlayStation Vue, and AT&T Watch TV
- Best on-demand streaming services: Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video
- Best channel-specific streaming services: HBO Now, Showtime, Starz, ESPN+, and CBS All Access
- Best affordable live TV streaming services: Fubo TV and Philo TV
Best streaming sticks and boxes: Roku Ultra, NVIDIA Shield, Apple TV 4K, Google Chromecast Ultra, Roku Streaming Stick, and new Amazon Fire TV
Read on in the slides below to check out our top picks.
The best streaming service for original shows
Why you’ll love it: Netflix delivers an enormous catalog of on-demand content — including a lot of your favorite TV shows and movies — ad-free.
Netflix has come a long way from the service that would mail DVDs to your home. This popular streaming service hasn’t yet jumped on the live TV bandwagon, but with its success in delivering on-demand TV shows and movies, it probably doesn’t need to.
Netflix has invested heavily in original programming, giving you new shows that you can’t find anywhere else, like “Stranger Things” and “Orange Is the New Black.” Granted, not all of the original programming is as good as those two options, but there are a lot of genres covered. You can also find a god number of international shows on Netflix.
Netflix has a few different subscription tiers, including $7.99 for SD video on one screen, $10.99 for HD video on up to two screens simultaneously, and $13.99 per month for 4K video on up to four screens simultaneously. You get a free trial month to test Netflix before you have to pay.
Pros: Good price point for all of the on-demand and original programming you’ll receive, great price if the entire family is using it across multiple screens
Cons: No HD quality video on lowest tier, no live TV channels
The best streaming service for Amazon Prime subscribers
Why you’ll love it: Amazon Prime Video carries quite a few popular on-demand shows, including some exclusive options like “Preacher” and “Vikings,” as well as Prime simulcasted Thursday Night Football from the NFL.
Amazon delivers many original shows, such as “The Man in the High Castle” and “The Romanoffs.” It also has many popular TV shows and movies that aren’t on other services.
Many shows are free with the subscription, but you also can rent movies and TV shows through Amazon Prime as an add-on to your monthly cost. You can also add premium channels like HBO, Starz, and Showtime to your Prime Video app with add-on subscriptions.
Best of all, Amazon Prime subscribers get Prime Video as one of many perks, including two-day shipping on Amazon purchases, select music from Prime Music, unlimited photo storage, and more.
We highly recommend that you sign up for an Amazon Prime membership to get access to Prime Video instead of subscribing to the service and paying for it separately, which costs more at $12.99 a month.
Pros: Original content options, big library of on-demand movies and TV shows, multiple perks
Cons: Very limited live TV options, some programs cost extra
The best streaming service with originals and live TV
Jeff Dunn/Business Insider
Why you’ll love it: Hulu has had a popular on-demand TV service for several years, providing access to archived TV shows, but it now has a live TV service, too.
The new Hulu with Live TV provides access to the same Hulu on-demand TV shows and movies viewers already like, but you’ll also get a series of live television channels.
Hulu with Live TV has a nice collection of channels, including the Disney-owned channels, History, HGTV, FX, Bravo, A&E, and more. It is missing AMC, the Viacom channels, and Discovery, though.
If you already love Hulu, you’ll probably want to give its live streaming service a shot. Because it is relatively new, this service may undergo quite a few changes over the next 12-18 months, so keep checking back for new features and channel additions.
Here’s something else to watch with Hulu: Disney’s pending acquisition of 21st Century Fox will give Disney a 60% ownership stake in Hulu. This could mean big changes for Hulu going forward.
Pros: Reasonable price for what you receive, includes the already existing on-demand Hulu service in the price
Cons: Missing some key channels like AMC and Nickelodeon
The best live TV streaming service that’s like satellite
Why you’ll love it: DISH Network’s Sling TV is one of the lower-priced streaming services, thanks to its different tiers and channel offerings.
Sling TV has Orange and Blue tiers or you can order the two tiers combined in the Complete tier. Orange provides Disney-family channels like ESPN, while Blue has FX and Fox Sports. Several channels overlap between the two services as well, such as AMC and HGTV, which makes choosing between the two confusing.
At $25 for Orange or Blue, though, Sling TV is one of the lower-priced streaming options. At any tier, you can add themed channel packages for $5 or $10 per month if you need more channels.
Sling gives you the chance to personalize your channel lineup, which is nice, but plan on spending some time going through all the options to figure out what you really want.
Pros: Inexpensive basic streaming service, ability to personalize your channel lineup more than with other services
Cons: Some people will find the multiple options very confusing, all of the add-on options add to the cost in a hurry
The best live TV streaming service for YouTube fans
Why you’ll love it: YouTube TV has a nice collection of channels for the price, including Disney channels, ESPN, AMC, SyFy, and FX. However, it’s missing HGTV, Nickelodeon, and Food Network.
YouTube TV live streaming is one of the newer full-service streaming services available, and it underwent significant changes throughout 2018. We’re guessing the changes will continue into 2019, so check back for the latest information.
First of all, YouTube TV is not available everywhere in the United States, which is disappointing for those who don’t live in a large city. YouTube TV is only offered in areas where YouTube has secured local channel programming. Its local channel lineup is changing constantly, so check back with the service.
Pros: Simple service with no confusing tiers or add-ons, reasonable price point considering the channel lineup
Cons: Missing a few popular channels, not available everywhere, service is still undergoing changes
The best affordable live TV streaming service
Why you’ll love it: If you want your streaming service to cost less per month than a single trip for the family to Starbucks, Philo TV is made with you in mind.
Philo’s channel lineup is basic. It has no sports programming, but it gives you some popular lifestyle channel options, like HGTV, Food Network, OWN, Discovery, and Hallmark.
It also has AMC, A&E, and Nickelodeon. You can pick from one of two tiers with Philo, but they’re both extremely inexpensive, coming in at or below $20 a month.
Pros: Excellent price point for a reasonably good channel lineup, really good for lifestyle TV channels
Cons: Not made for sports fans, no local channel options
The best live TV streaming service with soccer and other sports
Why you’ll love it: Fubo TV is one of the least known streaming services, but it’s worth considering for those who love entertainment and non-traditional sports programming.
Fubo has two tiers, as well as special tiers aimed at Latino and Portuguese viewers.
You’ll find a lot of sports programming on Fubo TV, but you won’t find ESPN as part of this service. However, Fubo does have nearly every other traditional channel that carries American sports programming, including the NFL Network and NBA TV. Fubo also shows plenty of sports that are popular worldwide, such as professional soccer.
Fubo’s entertainment and news network lineup is solid, too, but it doesn’t have Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel.
Pros: Plenty of sports programming channels, good mixture of news and entertainment channels too
Cons: Not the best service for kids programming, no ESPN
The best streaming service that’s like satellite TV
Why you’ll love it: If you want a streaming service that’s more like a cable or satellite service, but with a lower price and fewer channels, DirecTV Now is an intriguing option.
Like full-pay-TV services, DirecTV Now has multiple pricing tiers, allowing you to pick the best option for your needs. The lowest pricing tier costs $40 monthly with 65 channels, while the highest tier runs $75 per month with 125 channels.
This service has one of the most extensive channel lineups for streaming services. But it’s upper pricing tiers are expensive enough that you aren’t going to save all that much from what you were paying before you cut the cord.
DirecTV Now is one of the few live TV streaming services to offer Viacom-owned channels, like Nickelodeon and MTV, on its lowest-priced tier.
Pros: Very good channel selections throughout multiple pricing tiers, more overall channels than most streaming services
Cons: At the pricey upper tiers you may be better off sticking with your current service
The best affordable streaming service for AT&T subscribers
Why you’ll love it: AT&T Watch TV has a 30-channel live TV lineup, and it is one of the least expensive options among streaming services.
AT&T Watch TV isn’t going to appeal to sports fans, as its only channels with any live sports are TBS and TNT. Its live children’s programming is highly limited, too.
But it has plenty of great entertainment channels, such as A&E, AMC, Discovery, Food Network, and HGTV.
As an added benefit of Watch TV, subscribers to AT&T Unlimited mobile receive Watch TV at no extra charge.
Pros: Low-priced service with popular channels, thousands of on-demand options
Cons: Very limited sports and kids programming
The best streaming service for ESPN fans
Why you’ll love it: Sports fans may be intrigued by the ESPN+ streaming service, as it carries sporting events that you can’t see anywhere else, including on your cable or satellite subscription.
ESPN+ contains a lot of Major League Soccer games, PGA tournament early rounds, pro boxing, pro tennis, and mid-major college football and basketball. ESPN+ will begin carrying UFC events as well in 2019.
Additionally, ESPN+ provides on-demand access to ESPN original programming, such as its impressive 30 for 30 series.
However, ESPN+ doesn’t duplicate what you’re viewing on ESPN or ESPN2, such as NFL and NBA games. So don’t subscribe to ESPN+ thinking you can cancel your cable subscription and still receive normal ESPN programming.
You’ll need one of the other streaming services in our list for that. ESPN+ is more of an add-on sports package.
Pros: Inexpensive means of watching live sports programming for teams and leagues you can’t find elsewhere, UFC and boxing fans will love it
Cons: Doesn’t duplicate what you’re receiving on ESPN
The best streaming service for HBO fans
Why you’ll love it: Fans of HBO original shows will want to sign up for the HBO Now streaming service.
HBO Now’s best feature is its on-demand access to HBO original programming, as well as a large number of movies with no commercials.
However, as HBO Now only focuses on HBO programming, it’s meant to be an add-on to another, full-lineup streaming service. At $14.99 per month, many people may find it easier to just add HBO to their current package, as the price for streaming directly from HBO is not discounted.
Pros: Great way to gain access to on-demand HBO programming
Cons: Expensive considering you only receive HBO programming, more of an add-on to another streaming service
The best streaming service for Starz fans
Why you’ll love it: The Starz streaming service works a lot like the HBO Now, giving you access to Starz original programming on-demand as well as live Starz channels.
The Starz streaming service is meant as an add-on to other services, as it only offers Starz channels. Because it’s a little difficult to find the Starz premium channel as part of full-service streaming packages, fans of Starz will appreciate this option.
You can get access to plenty of hit movies and TV shows like “Outlander.”
Pros: On-demand access to Starz original programming and movies, lower price than HBO or Showtime streaming services
Cons: Doesn’t carry any channels other than Starz
The best streaming service for Showtime fans
Why you’ll love it: You can stream Showtime separately from your current cable or satellite package, or you can purchase a Showtime streaming subscription to add onto another streaming package.
You’ll have access to all of Showtime’s original programming on-demand, as well as the current Showtime schedule. However, many people may find it easier to just add Showtime to their current package, as the monthly cost to stream directly from Showtime is not discounted.
Pros: Full access to Showtime’s original programming library as well as live channels
Cons: Easier to just add Showtime to your current package, more of an add-on package
The best streaming service for CBS fans
Why you’ll love it: If you’re a fan of CBS programming, the CBS All Access subscription is built with you in mind with more than 10,000 on-demand episodes of past CBS shows, such as “The Big Bang Theory,” “Survivor,” and “NCIS.”
CBS All Access contains original shows, too, that are not available on CBS, including “Star Trek: Discovery” and “The Good Fight.”
With your subscription, you can stream your local CBS broadcast station (depending on where you live), which gives you current CBS shows and sports, as well as CBSN, the 24-hour CBS news channel.
Pros: Access to CBS shows on-demand and some original programming not available elsewhere
Cons: No non-CBS programming, more of an add-on service than a stand-alone streaming service
Check out our guides to the best streaming sticks and boxes
A media streaming device can transform your so-called dumb TV into a smart one that plays shows and movies from Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Prime Video, and other streaming services.
There are plenty of streaming devices out there to help you connect the latest and greatest video streaming services to your TV, and they’re not all created equal.
We’ve done the research to find the best streaming sticks and boxes to turn your dumb TV into a smart one that can access videos from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, and more.
Here are our top picks for the best streaming sticks: