In 2016, 1.7 million people cut the cord with their cable companies, and nearly 319,000 more bailed just last quarter, with analysts calling it the fastest quarterly acceleration on record for cord cutters. That’s because some people just don’t think it’s worth it, and many others are turning to a new breed of streaming TV services that cost less, don’t lock you into a contract and provide a little moment of glory at the end of each month when your cable bill drops by as much as hundreds of dollars.
And let’s face it, millennialls aren’t making that much, so cutting the cord on cable makes sense.
It used to be that streaming services, like those from Netflix and Amazon, were really just complements to cable TV, mostly because they cost so little and didn’t offer a fair replacement for live TV, especially when it came to sports and news programming.
That’s all changing rapidly, and that also means that the new world of live TV streaming is insanely confusing.
My personal journey into cord cutting is probably similar to yours: For years, I’ve kept cable TV mainly because of my need to watch The Yankees during baseball season along with my addiction to cable news on weekend morning. This meant that I needed my local networks along with the Yankees’ regional sports affiliate, YES. In other words, it meant that I needed a local cable TV subscription and contract.
But now a legion of TV streaming services have arrived, and I’m about to cut the cord, so I did a bit of research. Here’s what I’ve learned in my own experience of leaving the cable TV world for good.
Sling TV was one of the first players in the internet TV world, having launched as a complement to parent company Dish Network’s satellite TV packages. It’s also one of the more affordable basic TV streaming services at just $20 per month. That’ll only get you about 30 channels, though, and you’ll need to be mindful of the occasional regional blackouts because of their relationship with Dish Network. You can jump up to their $40 “Orange + Blue” package that includes about 49 channels, which still makes it a good value. It’s also one of the only TV streaming services available for Microsoft’s Xbox One, along with Android, iOS, Apple TV, Android TV and Chromecast, Roku and Amazon Fire. Because they’ve been around a while, performance is solid, and they’re rolling out DVR services.
DirecTV has been in the satellite TV game for a long time, but it’s clear the executives at this AT&T-owned provider are reading the writing on the wall with their new DirecTV Now streaming option. The service starts at $35 for more than 60 channels, which makes it the standout service in terms of number of channels at its lowest price tier. They’ve been plagued by technical issues since it launched in January of 2017, including some random blackouts and slow app performance. It also doesn’t include cloud DVR service, meaning you can’t record shows, at least for now. You can adad HBO for another $5 per month, and their “Just Right” package with more than 80 channels includes some appealing regional sports networks. It works on Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Google Cast devices. Look for DirecTV to up the ante quickly as they get this service smoothed out. They clearly want to compete in the streaming space.
Sony rolled out streaming TV to their game consoles last year, and they did it right. It’s not the cheapest option, but performance is solid and it includes DVR capabilities (depending on the channel). It starts at $39 for 45 channels, which includes major networks along with FS1, but their “Core” service for just $5 more per month bumps you up to more than 60 channels, including local sports network YES for Yankee fans (if you care about such things). They also offer what’s probably the most cable-like option in terms of channels in their “Ultra” package for $74.99 a month. That one includes premium networks like HBO and Showtime. If those channels aren’t your thing, you can save $20 per month for their $54.99 “Elite” package. Sony just released the “Multi-View” feature for the PS4 that allows you to watch up to three channels on screen at once, which is a nice option for Sports fans. Vue currently works on Sony PS3 and PS4, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, Chromecast, iOS and Android.
YouTube, not happy to already be the site more Americans spend time on than just about any other, recently announced YouTube TV. It’s not out yet, but they’ve made the upcoming service really simple with just one $35 plan that includes 44 channels. Of course, DirecTV has a plan that includes 60 channels for the same price, but YouTube TV’s focus on sports includes 12 sports channels compared to DirecTV’s paltry 2 (ESPN and ESPN2). You can of course buy your way up DirecTV’s plan hierarchy to get them, but if sports is your thing, YouTube TV could be a winner. It also has unlimited DVR functionality, which is a big win if you want to record games and shows while you’re away. It’s also limited in terms of devices, at least so far: Just Chromecast, Android and iOS.
HULU LIVE (COMING SOON)
Hulu, the on-demand subcription service, wants a piece of the live TV streaming game, too, and they’ve announced Hulu Live. It will arrive sometime in 2017, and will cost less than $40 (that almost definitely means it’ll cost $39) and will include live channels from Time Warner, ABC, Fox and CBS. They’re still negotiating for NBC, AMC, Scripps Networks (HGTV, Food Network, Travel Channel) and those elusive regional sports networks. It’ll also include DVR functionality. Even better, Hulu Live will come with access to their already-huge catalog of on-demand programming, which could make it very attractive if you want one service that includes a little bit of everything. Expect it to launch on Apple TV, Chromecast, Xbox One, iOS and Android devices.
This quiet player in the space is great if you’re focused on sports or Spanish. Or both? For $34.95 with their “fubo Premier” package, you get 50 channels, of which 12 are pure sports channels. They’re pretty focused on soccer, so if that’s your sport this could be the service for you. While it includes DVR functionality, it’s limited to just 3 recorded slots at a time. It works on Chromecast, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Android TV.
CHOOSING A DEVICE
If the services aren’t confusing enough, choosing a way to watch them is even more confusing. Chances are decent, however, that you already have something that can watch these services, including the computer on which you’re reading this article right now. However, TV was meant to be watched on TV, so you probably want to get that part of all of this sorted out.
First, game consoles are an excellent choice for streaming live TV. Not only are they more than powerful enough to handle the job, they also play games, and switching from game play to TV is easy since the device is already on. Both Sony and Microsoft’s consoles offer access to most of the services available. Second, your TV may already have access to apps from which you can sign up for these services. This is probably the easiest option. If you don’t have a smart TV with app access, a Blu-Ray player could be a good choice. Many players give you access to apps, they’re pretty inexpensive, and they double as movie and CD players. Finally, if you want a dedicated streaming device, you can go as simple as a $39 Chromecast or as fancy as an Amazon Fire or Apple TV. You’ll want to go with this option if you want to stream 4K video from services that provide it. Keep in mind, however, that Apple TV is not yet 4K capable, but it’s a good option if you have an Apple-centric home and want to keep it compatible with features like Airplay and Apple Music.