Is Live TV Streaming Really Better Than Cable Anymore? From Price to User Interface, We Break It All Down
Once upon a time, it was thought that live TV streaming was simply the next inevitable step in the evolution of the pay-TV industry. After all, such services can offer users the best of both worlds: all the entertainment and sports of traditional cable and satellite, with the short-term contracts and flexibility offered by subscription video streaming.
Sadly for virtual multi-channel video programming distributors (vMVPDs), their services have not caught on with viewers the same way subscription streaming platforms like HBO Max, Prime Video, and Netflix have. The high price of a live TV streaming service has kept users from subscribing to the tune of hundreds of millions of users, and as platforms like YouTube TV have recently demonstrated, the costs just keep rising.
Given that information, it’s likely that many potential cord-cutters are wondering if it’s really even worth it to leave their traditional pay-TV service behind. Check out The Streamable’s comparison between live TV streaming and cable/satellite providers below, and see why we think vMVPDs are still worth going digital for.
Which Offers Better Pricing, Cable or Live TV Streaming?
Thanks to industry-wide price increases, this question has become pretty difficult to answer. DIRECTV STREAM, Fubo, Hulu + Live TV, and Sling TV have all raised their monthly subscription prices in the last six months, leaving the skinny, entertainment-focused bundle Philo as the only major live streaming service not to have raised its rates in that timeframe.
|Service||Base Price||Top Cable Channels||Max Channels|
|DIRECTV STREAM||$74.99 / month||35||213|
|Fubo||$85.98 / month||25||151|
|Hulu Live TV||$69.99 / month||33||101|
|Philo||$25 / month||18||75|
|Sling TV||$40 / month||27||53|
|YouTube TV||$72.99 / month||32||114|
The average cost of these six services is $61.49. A recent report found that the average cost of a pay-TV subscription without internet or phone service added in is $78.58 per month. That means that while a traditional cable package is still more expensive on average, it’s no longer that far ahead of linear streaming TV.
What truly gives live TV streamers the advantage in terms of price is the comparative lack of hidden fees. There’s no equipment rental necessary for a live TV service, though it does rely on a stable internet connection, which is an additional cost. Cable companies are notorious for hiding little fees here and there in customers’ bills, and these can add up to nearly $450 per customer per year.
To be sure, live TV streaming can have such fees as well. Fubo, for instance, charges an $11 or $14 per month regional sports network fee for users with one RSN in their market (which amounts to 98% of its users). But such fees still don’t come close to what traditional pay-TV providers charge.
Advantage: Live TV Streaming
Which Offers More Flexibility, Cable or Live TV Streaming?
There’s really no question at all as to which of these choices works with customers more readily. One of the features that lead many customers to consider a move to live TV streaming is the ease of canceling service. With nearly every live TV streaming provider mimics the trouble-free cancellation process of subscription services by also offering month-to-month contracts that are easy to walk away from.
Traditional pay TV offers no such flexibility. Cable and satellite contracts are usually offered in lengths of one or more years, often with discounts for users who sign up for longer terms. Users can get out of those contracts, but will frequently be charged a percentage of their remaining cost as a one-time cancelation fee, which can run into the hundreds of dollars.
Advantage: Live TV Streaming
Which Has Fewer Carriage Disputes, Cable or Live TV Streaming?
There has seemingly been a ton of news regarding live TV streamers and carriage disputes with various networks recently. Fubo was forced to drop 160 CBS affiliates across the U.S. in late January, and Hulu + Live TV axed more than 30 local ABC stations in March. Neither departure is expected to be permanent, but these disputes highlight the difficult transition channel owners are faced with in moving from linear TV to digital streaming.
But cable providers have had their issues with carriage disputes as well. A 2021 survey from S&P Kagan, as reported by Fierce Video, cable companies have lost nearly $180 million from channel blackouts since 2013.
Still, cable gets the slight edge here because live TV streaming services are regulated differently as of now. Individual broadcast affiliates are allowed to negotiate directly with linear pay-TV providers on carriage fees, whereas vMVPDS are not legally able to do so, and are forced to go through larger networks to work out contracts.
Slight Advantage: Cable
Which Offers a Better User Interface, Cable or Live TV Streaming?
This is the one area where cable is well ahead of live TV streaming. Many live TV services don’t assign numbers to their channels, making users scroll tediously through a grid to find the content they want to watch. YouTube TV, for example, allows viewers to customize their channel lineups, but that doesn’t address situations in which you want to tune into a channel that isn’t one of your traditional go-to’s.
Cable, on the other hand, usually comes with a hefty remote with numbered buttons built in. This allows users to simply punch in the number they want, and the network comes up immediately. Modern cable remotes often also include voice search functions, just like streaming remotes do. But with cable, a voice search will take you directly to your channel, whereas streaming remotes usually navigate you back to your connected TV (CTV) or smart TV menu instead of the live streamer’s in-app menu, making the voice function essentially useless.
DVR storage interfaces are also frequently easier to use on cable than live TV services. In all this, cable has the benefit of decades of experience, whereas live TV streaming has some things to work on as the new kid on the block.
To be sure, there are some things that cable can still do better than live TV streaming. But none of these areas are fatal flaws for vMVPDs, and most of the issues can be corrected with time and user feedback.
Cable and satellite still can’t compete with live TV streaming in terms of price, comparative lack of hidden fees, and flexibility. There’s no putting the milk back in the bottle once it’s spilled, and there’s no way for traditional pay-TV companies to offset these big advantages on the part of vMVPDs.
That’s why we still recommend live TV streaming if you’re considering cutting the cord. You may find vMVPDs less easy to use at first, but the comparative price and flexibility of your service will soon make you wonder how you put up with cable for so long.
DIRECTV STREAM is a live TV streaming service, which is essentially the streaming version of the DIRECTV service. All plans include local channels and at least 34 of the top 35 cable channels. New subscribers can get a free Gemini streaming device from the company, in which case the service is called “DIRECTV via Internet.”
DIRECTV STREAM starts at $74.99 / month for their Entertainment Plan. You can upgrade to their Choice Plan, which begins at $99.99 / month, that includes your local RSN and HBO Max for three months. They also have an Ultimate ($109.99) for 130 channels and Premier ($154.99) for 140 channels. In addition to not having a contract, there are no extra RSN fees or Broadcast TV fee.
The service includes an Unlimited DVR on all plans and unlimited simultaneous at-home streams.
The service was previously called AT&T TV.5-Day Trial
Fubo is a live TV streaming service with about 90 channels for $74.99/month. This plan includes local channels, 25 of the top 35 cable channels, and regional sports networks (RSNs). In total, you should expect to pay about $85.98/month, after adding in their RSN Fee. Fubo was previously known as “fuboTV.”
The streaming service does not carry channels from WarnerMedia-owned (CNN, TBS, and TNT), A+E (A&E, History Channel, and Lifetime), and AMC Networks (AMC, BBC America, and WE tv).
Fubo is a great option for sports fans, especially those who want to stream local sports. They recently announced added Bally Sports RSNs to their channel lineup.
It is the least expensive option to get RSNs in many markets like Altitude, AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh, AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, AT&T SportsNet Southwest, Bally Sports Arizona, Bally Sports Carolinas, Bally Sports Detroit, Bally Sports Florida, Bally Sports Great Lakes, Bally Sports Indiana, Bally Sports Kansas City, Bally Sports Midwest, Bally Sports New Orleans, Bally Sports North, Bally Sports Ohio, Bally Sports Oklahoma, Bally Sports San Diego, Bally Sports SoCal, Bally Sports South, Bally Sports Southeast, Bally Sports Southwest, Bally Sports Sun, Bally Sports Tennessee, Bally Sports West, Bally Sports Wisconsin, Fox Sports Arizona, Fox Sports Carolinas, Fox Sports Detroit, Fox Sports Florida, Fox Sports Indiana, Fox Sports Kansas City, Fox Sports Midwest, Fox Sports New Orleans, Fox Sports North, Fox Sports Ohio, Fox Sports Oklahoma, Fox Sports Prime Ticket, Fox Sports San Diego, Fox Sports South, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Southwest, Fox Sports Sun, Fox Sports Tennessee, Fox Sports West, Fox Sports Wisconsin, Marquee Sports Network, MSG, MSG Sportsnet, NBC Sports Bay Area, NBC Sports Boston, NBC Sports California, NBC Sports Chicago, NBC Sports Northwest, NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBC Sports Philadelphia+, NBC Sports Washington, NBC Sports Washington+, NESN, Root Sports Northwest, and SportsNet NY.
Fubo also includes MLB Network, NBA TV, NFL Network, NFL RedZone , NHL Network, and beIN Sports (which is not available on most services). You can add Fox Soccer Plus as part of the International Sports Plus add-on for $6/month.
You can add the fubo Extra ($8) to add ~39 channels including Baby TV, Cooking Channel, DIY, and GSN.
Hulu Live TV
Hulu Live TV is a live TV streaming service with more than 70 channels for $69.99/month. Hulu + Live TV base plan includes local channels, 33 of the top 35 cable channels, and regional sports networks (RSNs). Subscribers get free access to Disney+ and ESPN+ at no extra charge.
While Disney controls both Hulu and ABC, local Sinclair affiliates who broadcast ABC were dropped from Hulu on March 8, 2023 due to a carriage dispute. However, this was resolved nearly 8 weeks later and all 28 markets are back on the service.
That being said, for the content that Hulu Live TV has (which is plenty), the service provides an unlimited DVR with the ability to skip through commercials. You also have the option to upgrade for premium channels, unlimited screens, and commercial-free access to Hulu’s on-demand library.Sign Up
Philo is a live TV streaming service designed for entertainment lovers which includes 60+ channels for $25 per month. It’s an especially attractive option for fans of live TV who don’t watch sports.
They have a single $25 plan with major channels from A&E Networks, AMC Networks, Discovery, Hallmark, and ViacomCBS. These include A&E, AMC, BET, Comedy Central, Discovery, HGTV, MTV, Nickelodeon, and Paramount Network. The service also has a Unlimited DVR, which now keeps your recordings for up to a year.
You’ll also get channels like Cooking Channel, Destination America, Discovery Family, Discovery Life, LOGO, and Nicktoons.
While it doesn’t include any local or sports channels like ESPN, FS1 or NBC Sports Network, it is the cheapest option for live entertainment-only TV.
Sling TV is a live TV streaming service that helps users save money with the option of two distinct plans. The $40/month “Sling Orange” plan offers about 30 channels, including Disney Channel and ESPN. The $40/month “Sling Blue” plan offers about 40 channels, including Fox and NBC local channels.
Sling Blue users in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco pay a $5 surcharge because they have access to their local ABC affiliate.
If you subscribe to both plans, you’ll receive a $25 discount. Sling also offers various “Extra” packs that you can add to your subscription.
Sling is great for the budget-conscious cord cutter who just wants to watch live TV, but doesn’t need the most comprehensive channel selection.GET $10 OFF
YouTube TV is a live TV streaming service with more than 60 channels for $72.99/month. This plan includes local channels, 32 of the top 35 cable channels, and regional sports networks (RSNs) in select markets. The service includes an unlimited DVR.
With the recent addition of Viacom channels (BET, MTV, Comedy Central, etc.) to the service, they are only without Hallmark and A+E Networks (Lifetime, History, A&E).
They recently added NFL Network and new Sports Plus add-on which include channels like NFL RedZone for $11 a month.
YouTube TV offers select 4K content, including some live sports and on-demand shows, as part of their 4K Plus add-on. The 4K Plus add-on is $9.99 a month and also includes offline downloads and unlimited streams on your home network.
If you want a cheaper service with many of the entertainment channels on YouTube TV, you can subscribe to Philo which includes A+E, Discovery, Viacom, Hallmark, and other channels for just $20 a month after a 7-Day Free Trial.