Live TV Without Cable
Canceling your cable contract does not mean that you can no longer watch live TV, because there are many video streaming services that deliver live channels over an internet connection—though not all of them target the same audiences. For instance, some live TV services are good for general audiences, others offer the best sports coverage, and a few focus on entertainment and lifestyle channels.
All of the options in this roundup are available across many platforms, including mobile devices, web browsers, gaming consoles, and media streaming devices. Depending on which (and how many) services you subscribe to, you may not end up saving money over cable, but not everyone leaves cable to save money. Some people may just cherish the freedom to build an à la carte channel plan (though this flexibility is becoming rare). Whatever your reason for leaving cable behind, know that the number of streaming options continues to rise.
Network Shows, News, and More
So long as the video streaming service you choose offers affiliate broadcast channels in your market, you can watch all your favorite network shows from the likes of ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC. Most of the services here, including YouTube TV and Hulu Live TV host these networks. YouTube TV and Locast are the only services we’ve reviewed that include local PBS channels.
Other television channels aren’t dependent on your geographic location. Philo is an excellent option for watching such entertainment networks, including AMC, Animal Planet, Food Network, HGTV, Lifetime, Nickelodeon, and Travel Channel. Many video streaming services with entertainment channels also include on-demand content from those channels that you can watch at your leisure and record to DVR storage. Other services combine live TV with more traditional on-demand libraries. A subscription to Hulu Live TV, for instance, allows you to watch all the shows and movies from Hulu’s on-demand service, including its original shows.
Although news channels may not be the primary way people stay informed about the world these days, they are still a good resource for live coverage of national and international events. For complete news coverage, make sure the service you choose includes both commercial broadcast affiliates (ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC) and cable news channels (such as BBC America, CNN, CNBC, FOX News, and MSNBC). Some services also include news networks not based in the US, such as BBC News and Al Jazeera English. AT&T TV, fuboTV, and Sling TV, for instance, all offer international channels, though you will need to pay extra for some of them.
Stream All Your Favorite Sports, Live
To watch all the sports that you previously could with your cable subscription, you should consult our roundup of the best sports streaming services. When picking a service, verify that it carries all the channels you want to watch in your area, including regional sports networks (RSNs) for coverage of local MLB, NBA, and NHL teams. Most services offer the NBC RSNs, but AT&T TV is the only one in this list that offers FOX Sports RSNs (which will soon be rebranded as Bally Sports networks) and AT&T-owned SportsNet RSNs, now. Which RSNs you need depends on your location and which sports you like to watch.
Not all services include all the major league channels either, such as NFL Network, NBA TV, or MLB Network. Ensuring that a service covers all the affiliate broadcast channels in your area from ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC is also important, since many games air on those channels. Know that you are not exempt from local market restrictions or coverage blackouts.
We assume that you want the best streaming quality for watching your favorite teams no matter what device you use. YouTube TV and Hulu Live TV support 1080p/60fps live streams on select platforms, though fuboTV does broadcast select events in 4K. A few services also have useful capabilities for sports fans. AT&T TV and fuboTV, for instance, both include features that respectively let you start over broadcasts from the beginning and watch games that have aired in the past few days. Note that these features are only available on select channels.
If you are an NFL fan, check out our roundup of the best NFL streaming services to make sure you can watch all the games on Thursday, Sunday, and Monday. If you don’t want to pay additional fees every month to watch NFL games, there are some free options. For instance, the NFL and Yahoo Sports apps allow you to watch in-market and national broadcast games, including Thursday Night Football, Sunday Night Football, and Monday Night Football. Subscribers to Amazon Prime can also watch Thursday Night Football games at no additional cost.
DVR and Apps
All of the streaming services in this roundup offer some DVR capabilities. If you are the kind of viewer that likes to save and rewatch significant TV moments, you should ideally look for a service that lets you record many hours’ worth of shows and keep them indefinitely. Robust DVR capabilities are useful for sports fans too; some games may air at an inconvenient time. Families can benefit from DVR features as well if there are more shows on at the same time than you have simultaneous streams.
One convenience with video streaming services is they work on many different platforms and don’t require any additional hardware or configuration. The best live TV streaming services support mobile devices, game consoles, web browsers, streaming devices, and smart TVs. With some services, you also get greater control over accessibility settings and parental controls than with cable. Sling TV lets parents restrict what their kids can watch by rating, for example.
Live TV Options That Missed the Cut
We don’t include single-channel options such as CBS All Access or ESPN in this roundup, since they don’t offer nearly enough content to replace cable. Technically, Amazon Prime Video (Thursday Night Football) and Dazn (boxing and MMA matches), allow you to watch some live TV, too. However, these services are not a reasonable alternative to a cable subscription, as they are far too narrow in scope.
We also don’t include Pluto TV and Xumo in this roundup, since they primarily offer preprogrammed content, rather than live TV channels. Some people may appreciate their channels of endless content streams (and that thy are free streaming services), however. Plex also offers preprogrammed content and can serve as a live TV interface if you set up the correct hardware.
You could absolutely set up a digital antenna and tuner to pull down local channels over the air on your own, too. Also, if an event is popular enough, such as a political debate or the Super Bowl, the broadcast may be free to stream online from the organizer’s website.
On-Demand Streaming Services
Although you may intend to replicate your cable experience on a 1:1 basis with video streaming services, we recommend that you don’t. Take some time to determine which channels you actually watch on a regular basis. On-demand services open up an entirely new world of content, with many shows that don’t ever air on traditional cable. These on-demand shows also tend to be the subject of pop culture discussions and critical acclaim. Amazon Prime Video’s The Marvelous Ms. Maisel, CBS All Access’ Star Trek: Discovery, Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and Netflix’s Stranger Things are just a few examples. Upcoming services such as Apple TV , Disney , and HBO Max also feature original content that you can’t get anywhere else. Cinephiles should check out our roundup of the best movie streaming services, too,
*Features in bottom table only available via add-ons.
Best Live TV Services Featured in This Roundup:
$5.99 per month; $64.99 for Hulu Live TV
Hulu’s live TV service features approximately 70 channels of news, sports, and entertainment programming. News channels include ABC, CBS, CNBC, CNN, CNN International, FOX Business, FOX News, and MSNBC. Animal Planet, Cartoon Network, Discovery, Disney, Food Network, FX, HGTV, National Geographic, and SYFY cover the entertainment genre, but Hulu does lack Viacom channels, such as Comedy Central, MTV, and Nickelodeon. For sports fans, Hulu offers BTN, CBS Sports, ESPN, Golf Channel, and the Olympic Channel. Hulu also gets you access to local CBS, FOX, and NBC affiliates. HBO or Showtime add-ons are available for $14.99 and $8.99 per month, respectively. The Hulu Live TV plan used to only cost $54.99.
YouTube TV is still a great all-around cable replacement service with an impressive range of sports, news, and entertainment channels, despite its recent price hike. Top networks include ABC, AMC, CBS, CNN, ESPN, Fox, and NBC. The service has added content from the Discovery network and ViacomCBS, plus local PBS channels. HBO Max, NBA League Pass, Showtime, and Starz are available as subscription add-ons.
fuboTV may be associated with sports coverage, its 90-channel lineup delivers lots of news and entertainment channels, too. Starting with sports, fuboTV offers ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, NFL Network, and NBA TV, as well as beIN network and Univision for international coverage. fuboTV recently added Disney channels (including ESPN), though it has since lost WarnerMedia channels such as CNN. Entertainment channels include AMC, The Food Network, FX, National Geographic, Syfy, and USA. Viacom and Discovery channels are the latest additions. Aside from the live programming on these channels, fuboTV offers a ton of on-demand shows and movies too.
Locast is a budget-friendly live TV option that gives subscribers in major US markets access to their local channels without the need for additional hardware. The service is currently available in 25 markets and continues to expand. In our New York City test location, Locast pulled down 47 channels, including major broadcast affiliates and local PBS channels, which means it is a good option for those who want to watch news and sports content. Note that the service is involved in a lawsuit with the major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC), so it is unclear how long this service will be viable.
Philo is an entertainment-focused streaming service and an excellent value. A $20-per-month subscription lets you stream 60 channels, including AMC, Animal Planet, BBC America, BET, Cooking Chanel, Comedy Central, Discovery Channel, Food Network, HGTV, and the Travel Channel. Philo offers few news channels and no sports coverage, so it’s best for users who don’t care about either genre.
Sling TV distributes channels across its Orange and Blue plans (each $30 per month). You should subscribe to the combined $45-per-month Sling Orange & Blue plan for the best selection of channels. That tier supports four simultaneous streams. Sling Orange and Blue’s 50-channel lineup includes AMC, CNN, Disney Channel, ESPN, Food Network, NFL Network, TNT, Travel Channel, and Syfy. Note, however, that Sling TV is not the best option for getting local affiliate channels; if you want to watch ABC, you need to install an antenna. CBS affiliates are not available at all. NBC and FOX local channels are available in select markets.
AT&T TV, previously AT&T TV Now, offers several tiers, ranging from the 65-channel Entertainment plan for $69.99 per month to the $139.99-per-month Premier tier. These plans cover a broad collection of sports, news, and entertainment channels, but are generally more expensive than competitors’. You can add HBO Max, Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz to your plan. AT&T TV also caters to international audiences with Brazilian, Korean, and Vietnamese channel packages, in addition to its Español and Deportes add-ons.
January 26, 2021