The Best Online Live TV Services Ranked

If you’re like most people, you’re probably looking to cut the cable TV cord. Some people rid of cable TV and just use an antenna. Plus, there are plenty of free and paid streaming services like Pluto TV and Netflix to replace cable. However, if you still want live TV but don’t want to break the bank, there are several options out there, and here’s a list of the most popular ones with some pros and cons:

Best Overall: YouTube TV

Hands down, there’s no better online TV service than YouTube TV. There are cheaper alternatives, but no other service can match the experience of traditional TV while offering a better product.

  • Unlimited DVR storage, with recordings that last for 9 months.
  • Able to pause and fast forward commercials on any channel while watching live.
  • Up to 6 users can have their own personalized accounts with their own DVR storage, and 3 simultaneous streams.
  • 85+ channels, plus CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, The CW, MyNetworkTV, and is the only service to offer PBS.
  • Available on almost any device.
  • Easy user interface with smart recommendations and excellent audio/video quality.
  • The price: $65. On the surface this is high, and even comes close to the introductory rates from cable, but factor in all the hidden rental and service fees and taxes, and YouTube TV is the better deal. Plus, when you compare the cost of other online TV services and factor in the same channel lineup and features, the price is roughly the same, if not more expensive.
  • No A&E, History, Game Show Network, and may not have the sports channels you want.
  • Sports Add-On Package is $10.99, which may drive up the price if those channels interest you.

Bottom line: I loved YouTube TV, I just didn’t love the price, which is why I left the service.

Best Value: Sling TV

Sling TV was the first online live TV service, and is still the only one to offer a la carte packages on top of its base $30 price. Sling can be a little confusing offering three base packages to choose from: one with ESPN and a few other channels called Sling Orange, one without ESPN with more channels called Sling Blue, and one with both for $45 called Sling Blue and Orange. The base packages will have the popular channels, but if you are looking for more, packages start at $5 to add more sports, kids, news, comedy, and other channels. Or just stick with the base package, and you still get a good amount of channels for the best value in online live TV.

  • Most customizable channel lineup. Only pay for the channels you want. Since I don’t want ESPN or any extra sports channels, I don’t pay for them and I save a lot of money doing so.
  • Some channels allow you to start over any live program.
  • No Pop, CBS Sports, or some of the regional sports channels you may want.
  • Available on almost any device.
  • Free DVR allows for 10 hours of recordings that don’t expire, or you can pay for 50 hours of DVR at $5. You can mark recordings as protected to keep them from being deleted, otherwise Sling will delete older recordings to make more room.
  • Sling Blue allows for 3 simultaneous streams, but Sling Orange only allows 1 stream.
  • Pretty good interface with ability to get recommendations and set favorite channels and programs.
  • You can only pause any channels on Android and iOS devices. Otherwise, only few channels offer pausing live TV. The only way to pause live TV on the rest of the channels is to start a recording and then immediately play the recording. It works, but it’s not ideal.
  • No customized user accounts. All devices share the same account with the same favorites and recordings.
  • No locals, unless you have an AirTV device, which I don’t recommend. The device is a smart TV tuner that takes local channels from your antenna and places them in the Sling guide. Sling doesn’t include local channels to keep the price lower as local channels are pricey for the cable operator, so it’s a good idea on paper. Unfortunately, AirTV’s audio and video quality within Sling is noticeably poor, and recording local channels is done by plugged in an external hard drive or USB flash drive, so you’ll have to factor that cost in. Plus you can’t pause and rewind live TV. Still, the AirTV is the cheapest way to get locals into your smart device as there’s no monthy fee, setup isn’t too difficult, and it gives you the ability to watch local channels outside the house.

Bottom line: if you want popular channels, but don’t mind the lack of local channels, a somewhat dated interface, and an okay DVR, Sling is a good value option. If you want to save more money, you should try…

Best Low-Cost Option: Philo

At $20, Philo is the cheapest live TV service. Actually, Frndly is the cheapest at $6, but you only get 15 channels, and none of them are the top channels most people want, unless you only watch Hallmark Channel. Philo’s price is so low because you don’t get sports or news channels, so if TBS, TNT, USA, FX, and a few others are on your list of must haves, this service won’t be for you. You do get AMC, A&E, Comedy Central, Discovery, Food Network, HGTV, History, MTV, Nickelodeon, and several others, so it can be an enticing offer if you don’t need a lot of channels.

  • Lowest Price. If you are looking for the lowest cost service with the most top channels, this is it.
  • Unlimited DVR storage with recordings that last 30 days.
  • Start over any program on any channel, and you can even set programs to default to start over.
  • Great easy to use interface.
  • No locals, no sports, no news.
  • Because there’s no sports, you don’t get top channels. The agreements cable operators like Philo make to cable channels force operators to carry the full lineup of cable channels. For example, you can’t carry USA Network or E! without carrying NBC Sports Channel, as they are owned by the same company, so it’s unlikely they’ll arrive on the service any time soon.
  • Can’t fast forward through commercials while watching live (if you paused long enough for commercials to show up in the program).
  • Guide interface cannot be accessed while watching a show, so you have to stop watching to see what else is on.

Bottom line: if you can live without some of the top channels, as well as sports and news, Philo is an excellent service whose channel lineup makes it difficult to recommend to most. I really liked the service; I just didn’t like missing the top channels.

And now, the rest of the services:

Best for Hulu subscribers: Hulu with Live

Hulu with Live has a lot of top channels, as well as the local networks, and more regional sports channels than some of the other services. Plus, it has A&E, History and a few others YouTube TV and TVision doesn’t have, plus you get a Hulu with the subscription at $64.99, but other than that, it isn’t anything special. Especially when you option up to the $10 enhanced DVR, which brings the price up to $74.99, which is a lot more than YouTube TV. I still believe YouTube TV is the better option, but consider Hulu with Live if you want more sports channels, or if you are an avid Hulu user.

Best for… someone I’m sure: AT&T TV Now

I’m having issues figuring out who AT&T TV Now is for. It’s the worst value at $55 for 45 channels, and the DVR is only so-so compared to the competition. It gives you the ability to get the most amount of channels, just not at a great price. Some packages come with HBO Max, so that’s something. If you really need the most sports and variety of channels, and don’t mind the pricey packages, I guess you’d be interested in AT&T TV Now. However, unless this is bundled with your AT&T phone or internet service, I’d pass on it.

Best for sports fans: FuboTV

You’ll get your local channels, a great variety of cable channels, and a LOT of sports channels. It just isn’t the best if you’re looking for the cheapest price at the base package’s $60, but if you really want sports, FuboTV is your best option.

In Conclusion:

There’s a lot of choices for live TV online, but just know there is no wrong choice. They all will deliver live TV, and none of them lock you into a contract, so try the one that works best for you for a month, and give another one a shot if you need! Also, be aware that none of the services with local channels will come with subchannels like MeTV or Decades, so if those interest you, you may want to purchase a TV antenna.

I’m a communications major passionate about technology, video production, and how the world works. http://anthony.guidetti.me

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store