After a long day at work, you probably just want to come home, settle into some comfy clothes, and catch up on your favorite shows without any fuss. But between network outages, rising cable company costs, and frustrating satellite dish issues every time there’s a storm, traditional TV service can be more stressful than relaxing.
If you’ve ever wondered if there’s an easier, better alternative, there is: TV livestreaming services, or live TV streaming services.
Livestreaming services bring your favorite shows to you in real time, just like traditional TV — but without the high monthly bills. Once you’ve decided to cut the cord, the only thing left is to choose the livestreaming service that meets your needs.
Best Live TV Streaming Services
These are the best TV livestreaming services on the market right now.
Each does one thing really well, whether it’s catering to the special needs of sports fans or mixing live and on-demand content. Our top pick, YouTube TV, offers the best overall value for streaming TV users.
Best Overall: YouTube TV
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YouTube TV offers the best overall value for live TV fans ready to cut the cable cord for good. Its single plan offers more than 85 channels, better than any other streaming service’s base plan. And that selection includes popular choices not offered by many competitors, including NBA TV, MLB Network, and PBS.
- Up to 3 simultaneous streams and 6 user accounts (profiles)
- Unlimited DVR storage space
- Keep recorded shows as long as 9 months
- Compatible with all major streaming devices, including Roku, PlayStation, Xbox One, Amazon FireTV, and most smart TVs
- More than 20 premium add-on networks, including HBO Max and Showtime
- beIN SPORTS, NFL Red Zone, FOX Soccer Plus, and more with the Sports Plus add-on
- Unlimited streams with the 4K Plus add-on
For up-to-date information on YouTube TV pricing and features, visit its website.
Best Pricing: Sling TV
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Sling TV has the best pricing of any live TV streaming service. Both its plans, Blue and Orange, cost just $35 per month — about half what most competitors charge for base packages. And you can get both packages together for just $15 more per month. A heavily discounted first month — $10 for Blue and Orange and $20 for the combo — sweetens the deal even more.
Of course, pricing is subject to change, and Sling TV doesn’t offer quite as many channels as some alternatives. But it’s a great option for value-seeking users who know what they want.
- Sling Blue features NFL Network, NBC Sports Network, FS1, and FX
- Get up to 3 device streams with channels included in Sling Blue
- Sling Orange features ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPN3
- All plans come with 50 hours DVR storage
For up-to-date information on Sling TV’s pricing and features, visit its website.
Best Overall for Sports Fans: FuboTV
FuboTV is the best live TV streaming service for serious sports fans, particularly those with a penchant for international competition. Each plan includes not just major sports networks like the ESPNs, FS1, and NBC Sports, but also:
- Multiple regional college sports channels, like BIG 10 network
- Multiple beIN SPORTS channels (great for international soccer fans)
- Multiple TUDNxtra channels (also great for international soccer fans)
- NFL Network
- GOLF Channel
Higher-priced plans include even more live sports content and highlights. Plus, FuboTV has an extensive lineup of Spanish-language channels and a nice mix of niche news and content channels, like OWN, Cheddar News, Pop TV, and COMET.
For up-to-date information on FuboTV’s pricing and features, visit its plans page.
Best for Local Sports Coverage: DirecTV Stream
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DirecTV Stream is the ideal choice for hometown sports fans — folks who could care less about what’s happening in the Premier League or LigaMX but follow their local college or major league teams’ every move.
That’s because the three higher-priced DirecTV Stream packages feature the regional sports networks (RSNs) that serve customers’ home cities and states. That includes the Bally Sports regional network (formerly FOX Sports) and market- or team-specific networks like MASN, YES, and Marquee Sports Network.
- Up to 140 channels with the Premier package
- Premium sports networks available for an extra charge, like FOX Deportes
- Simultaneous DVR recordings
- Unlimited cloud DVR storage for $10/mo
- Streaming on up to 20 devices at home
For up-to-date information on DirectTV Stream’s pricing and features, visit its packages page.
Best for People Who Don’t Watch Sports: Philo
Philo is the best live TV streaming service for people who don’t care about sports. That’s is more of a process-of-elimination thing: Philo doesn’t include any sports channels.
If you’re not a fan, you won’t miss them. And this helps Philo keep fees reasonable — as low as $25/mo for 65 channels.
- Up to 3 simultaneous streams and 10 user accounts (profiles)
- Multiple premium add-on options, including Starz and Epix
- 7-day free trial for all new users
For up-to-date information on Philo’s pricing and features, visit its website.
Best Mix of Live and On-Demand Content: Hulu + Live TV
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Hulu + Live TV is a great live TV streaming service in its own right. It has more than 75 channels, including the ESPNs, FS1, and FS2, plus 50 hours of DVR storage.
But Hulu + Live TV’s real value lies in its on-demand content library. As a subscriber, you’ll enjoy access to the same premium shows of the day — and old favorites — you expect from your on-demand-only Hulu subscription.
- Upgrade to 200 hours of cloud DVR storage for an additional fee
- Premium add-ons like HBO Max, Showtime, and Starz
- Upgrade to unlimited screens at home and up to 3 screens on the go
For up-to-date information on Hulu + Live TV’s pricing and features, visit its website.
Best Streaming and Internet Combo: DirecTV Stream
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DirecTV Stream earns a second mention here because it’s the only platform on this list that replicates one key feature of cable: the ability to bundle live TV and Internet service in the same monthly package.
That’s possible because DirecTV is a subsidiary of AT&T, a major Internet utility. If you can get AT&T service in your area, you can bundle TV and Internet to replicate your old cable package — without all the strings that come with.
For up-to-date information on DirecTV Stream’s pricing and features, visit its packages page.
Methodology: How We Select the Best Live TV Streaming Services
We use 7 key metrics to evaluate live TV streaming providers.
Each relates back to a key aspect of the user experience, whether it’s the final cost of the service (pricing) or the array of available entertainment options (channel packages, live sports). Our “user experience” metric covers a broader set of subjective and objective aspects of these services, such as lag time and channel switching speed.
Pricing is the most important consideration for many streaming consumers. Even if it’s not your top concern, it almost certainly factors into your choice.
Of course, pricing is more than the final cost of a particular package or the cost per channel, which you can calculate by dividing a package’s total cost by the number of channels it contains.
The specific channels and value-added services you get for the cost matter a lot. That’s how you determine value (or lack thereof).
And remember that comparing the cost of live TV streaming against the cost of a “double play” or “triple play” cable package is not apples-to-apples. Those types of cable packages also include Internet and possibly home phone service as well, increasing their value.
Plan Options (Channel Packages)
Every live TV streaming service offers at least one package — a core collection of channels. Most offer more than one.
Lower-priced packages are generally comparable to basic cable, while higher-priced packages are more akin to premium cable or satellite TV.
The best live TV streaming services offer at least two comprehensive channel packages at reasonable cost. They also offer add-ons, like secondary and regional sports networks (often included in a “fan package” or “sports package”) and premium content networks like HBO and Starz, for an additional fee.
With important exceptions like Philo, which doesn’t have any sports channels and omits major U.S.-based news channels like CNN, most livestreaming services include a couple dozen core channels familiar to most TV viewers. Think ESPN, TBS, TNT, USA, CNN.
Depending on your geographical market and channel package, broadcast networks like ABC and CBS may or may not be available to you. But you can use a digital antenna to get those, so their absence shouldn’t sway you much either way.
You have to go down to the second and third tier of channels to find the real differences between these services. And while you can potentially fill gaps (for an added cost) by purchasing thematic add-ons like sports or premium content packages, some services simply don’t offer certain channels at any price.
Because live sports remains one of the few types of “appointment viewing” for many TV watchers, it’s a key consideration in any honest analysis of live TV streaming services. Many people are reluctant to cut the cable cord out of fear that they won’t be able to watch their favorite teams and competitors in real time.
The best live TV streaming services are as good or better than basic and premium cable when it comes to live sports availability and variety. Those that offer specialized channel packages for sports fans do particularly well on this metric.
Multiple Device Streaming
All of these services allow streaming on multiple devices, but some are more equal than others on this point. For our purposes, the calculation is simple: the more screens you can stream on, the better. The best services allow streaming on unlimited devices (or functionally so — 20 or more).
At this point, home entertainment consumers expect to be able to record and rewatch live content at their leisure. We frown upon services that make this difficult or don’t offer this capability at all.
This is the most subjective metric in our roundup since its subcomponents can change based on a user’s location, Internet speed, and other factors.
It includes factors that can positively or negatively affect one’s enjoyment of live TV streaming, such as:
- Channel switching and load speed (faster is better)
- In-channel buffering (less is better)
- Audio/visual lag or mismatch (less is better)
- Menu layout and controls (more usable is better)
Become a Live TV Streaming Expert: Your Cable Alternative Questions Answered
You have questions about live TV streaming. We have answers.
Do Live TV Streaming Services Cost Less Than Cable?
Individual live TV streaming services generally cost less than premium cable subscriptions. But depending on the cable provider, the cost of a premium live TV streaming service may be on par with or even more expensive than basic cable.
If you want or need multiple live tv streaming services, you can easily wind up paying more than you would for the live TV component of your cable package. That’s why it’s important to shop around, price out services, and choose the one that best fits your viewing needs.
Which Live TV Streaming Service Is Best for Sports Fans?
This depends on which sports you like to watch. FuboTV is extremely popular with soccer fans, while DirecTV is a top pick for serious American football fans. If you’re a fan of a particular sport or sports, make sure your preferred package includes league-specific networks like NFL Network and NBATV.
If you’re a more casual sports viewer and just want to make sure you get major sports networks like ESPN, ESPN2, FS1, and your local major league teams’ sports network(s), you’ll have a wider range of choices.
Can You Choose Which Channels You Get With Your Live TV Streaming Service?
Live TV streaming providers rarely allow you to customize your core channel lineups, which come with the package and determine the base pricing. However, most allow you to choose premium channels as add-ons, like HBO and Starz, for an additional monthly fee. And bear in mind that channel lineups may vary depending on your location.
Can You Cancel Your Live TV Streaming Service Without Penalty?
Generally, yes. You’ll pay for live TV streaming service on a monthly basis without a longer-term contract — a key benefit over traditional cable packages. Some providers may entice you to prepay for a year of service (or longer) with discounts to the monthly rate, however.
Fun Facts About Streaming Services
- Video on demand (VOD) service was the predecessor of today’s digital streaming services. The first VOD services appeared in the early 1990s, using video tapes running at a central location to “broadcast” content to consumers.
- Texas conglomerate Enron, later made famous by a massive accounting scandal, partnered with Blockbuster in the late 1990s to deliver an integrated VOD package. The deal never materialized and Enron collapsed a few years later.
- YouTube launched in 2005 as the first proper digital streaming service. Its live TV streaming service, YouTube TV, wouldn’t come online for a few more years.
- Hulu With Live TV was the biggest livestreaming service in the U.S. as of February 2021. Both had about 4 million subscribers at the time.