2019’s Best Live TV Streaming Services
By this point in 2019, you’ve used at least a couple of streaming TV services to supplement cable on occasion. They’re slick and convenient, but there’s probably a small voice in the back of your head asking, “Why can’t I get everything in one place?”
What if, to paraphrase Morpheus, we told you that you could achieve entertainment bliss and stream all of your TV?
Though nothing covers every base for every viewer (yet), CableTV.com has reviewed five of the best livestreaming services currently available to potential cord-cutters.
Top 5 live TV streaming services
|Provider||Price range||Channels||Multiple streams||Free trial|
|Hulu + Live TV||$44.99–$50.99||60||2|
|Provider||Hulu + Live TV|
All package and pricing information is current as of 01/08/2019 and subject to change.
Streaming power-players like Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video (more on them later) have only dabbled in live programming; the following five services have gone all-in replicating the linear cable model while also maintaining the ease and convenience of streaming.
They’re also cheaper than cable or satellite. That got your attention, didn’t it?
- Large channel selection
- Satellite experience
- Expensive packages
- Clunky interface
Like many legacy media providers, DIRECTV leapt into the streaming boom quickly. It mostly stuck the landing.
After a rocky rollout, DIRECTV NOW has since evolved into an appealing streaming version of its satellite TV service, complete with cloud DVR—but not without a few lingering problems.
If you’ve used DIRECTV before, DIRECTV NOW will seem comfortingly familiar.
Channels and pricing
The live channel guide is nearly identical to its satellite counterpart and, more importantly, a majority of the channels and on-demand movies you’d expect are there. In fact, DIRECTV NOW has more available live channels, than any other streaming service. No learning curve here.
Also, DIRECTV NOW doesn’t deliver the best bang for your buck on its budget packages: most TV obsessives will want the top Gotta Have It package, which gives you 125 channels for $75 a month.
Compare that to DIRECTV’s bottom Select package, which offers 155 channels at $35 a month, and you can see the issue.
In the negative column, the interface is a bit clunky, with latency issues and herky-jerky scrolling that you don’t get with DIRECTV’s smooth satellite menus.
DIRECTV NOW isn’t a bargain, but if you’re determined to sidestep contracts and ditch the dish (scraping snow off a satellite receiver in the dead of winter sucks—we feel you), it’s a relatively painless gateway into the world of full-time streaming TV.
DIRECTV Now is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, and Roku.
- Plenty of sports, especially soccer
- Wide channel array
- No ESPN
- No ABC or other Disney properties
fuboTV promises “live sports and TV without cable,” delivering “the perfect mix of sports and entertainment.” It’s an expansion on the service’s initial mission to be “the Netflix of soccer,” which still fits.
So obviously, the service leans in on sports—but fuboTV also has plenty of options for non-sports fans who won’t even notice the absence of ESPN.
Channels and pricing
Speaking of mainstream sports fans, you read that right: No ESPN, or ABC, or any other Disney-owned channels. Those are glaring holes in sports and entertainment, for sure, but fuboTV still packs a streaming punch on both fronts regardless.
The Fubo Extra package, at $49.99 a month, offers over 95 channels, including cable staples like FX, TBS, Syfy, and Cartoon Network/Adult Swim.
Aside from the missing channels already mentioned, fuboTV’s ESPN-free niche sports programming is on-point, especially if you’re really into soccer (you know who you are).
fuboTV’s local channel selection is spotty, but it can be worked around with a little effort. For instance, if the lineup doesn’t include your local CBS or CW affiliates, you can hunt down the latest episodes of Criminal Minds or Riverdale in the on-demand menu. But, there’s no ABC content at all on fuboTV—you’ll have to get your Bachelor fix elsewhere.
It isn’t quite the “perfect mix of sports and entertainment” it claims to be, but fuboTV still offers a lot for the price—not to mention add-on tiers (mostly sports) and 30 hours of free cloud DVR space (which can be more than doubled for an extra 10 bucks a month).
If you don’t need all the sports or all the entertainment, fuboTV is primo.
fuboTV is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, and Roku.
Hulu + Live TV
- Full Hulu on-demand experience
- ESPN and Fox Sports channels
- Spotty entertainment channel lineup
- No MLB, NBA, NFL, or NHL networks
When you think of Hulu, you probably think of The Handmaid’s Tale or maybe Rick and Morty if you’re a little too into Szechuan sauce.
Beyond original dystopian dramas and acquired dystopian cartoons, Hulu has also taken a swing at live TV streaming with its imaginatively titled Hulu + Live TV.
Channels and pricing
For $40 a month, in addition to the regular on-demand Hulu experience, Hulu + Live TV gives you around 60 live cable channels and, depending on your area, a near-complete local network lineup. The CW is mostly MIA, but its shows are available through the on-demand library.
That all sounds good until you scan the cable channels and notice favorites like Comedy Central, VH1, AMC, Animal Planet, Discovery, and Nickelodeon are nowhere to be found. Not cool.
Sports fans, on the other hand, are treated to ESPN, ESPN2, FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports 2, and NBC Sports Network, plus TBS and TNT.
Hulu Live also offers a generous number of regional sports networks and a handful of college sports channels. However, MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL pro sports networks are utterly unavailable.
The Hulu + Live TV cloud DVR affords you 50 hours of space—but you’re only allowed to record entire series, not single episodes, and can’t fast-forward (unless you pony up an additional $14.99 for the Enhanced Cloud DVR).
That annoyance essentially sums-up the mixed bag that is Hulu + Live TV: so much potential, but with a few holes in the product.
Hulu Live is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Nintendo Switch, Roku, and Xbox.
- Budget tiers
- Major sports networks
- Weak local channel lineup
- Extra charges for some channels
In terms of easy interface and channel options, Sling TV is somewhat similar to Hulu Live. It also has the advantages of budget packages, a more versatile cloud DVR, and sheer public visibility.
Channels and pricing
The Sling Orange (30 channels for $25 a month) and Sling Blue (40 channels, also for $25 a month) packages aren’t bad for casual TV viewers. But more-demanding viewers will likely want Sling Orange + Blue (45 channels for $45 a month), since it’s the most complete base package Sling has to offer.
The Orange + Blue package has all the major sports networks and a smattering of regional and college sports channels. Another plus is the inclusion of the NFL Network, with the option to add NBA TV, NFL RedZone, and NHL Network for an additional $10 apiece monthly.
All in all, Sling’s cable channel lineup is robust, probably because it’s owned by satellite giant DISH. But the add-on options can also nickel and dime you to death if you’re not careful. For example, you’ll have to pay an extra $5 a month each for add-on channels like MTV and Paramount Network.
Of course, like other livestreaming services reviewed here, Sling doesn’t have everything. Local channels are lacking; many markets get only Fox or Univision affiliates.
Sling TV doesn’t do it all, but it’s an inexpensive and user-simple service for a newbie cord-cutter. Besides, how long can you ignore those constant ads?
Sling TV is available on Air TV Player, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku, Xbox, and Xiaomi.
- Familiar YouTube interface
- Robust local channel lineup
- Fewer entertainment channels
- Limited pro sports networks
That’s right—YouTube has branched out into live TV.
YouTube TV, the company’s new livestream service, combines the most familiar interface on the planet with an impressive array of local and sports channels. All hail our new Google overlords!
Channels and pricing
YouTube TV offers just one package, a $40-a-month deal that delivers mostly complete local lineups in over 100 markets and on-demand capability where select networks are absent.
As for sports, ESPN, ESPN2, FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports 2, NBC Sports Network, TBS, and TNT are all included with YouTube TV. It also carries plenty of regional and some college channels, in addition to MLB Network and NBA TV.
That’s solid coverage, but YouTube TV’s cable choices are decidedly more limited. It lacks necessities like Food Network, HGTV, and Investigation Discovery. Is a life without Chopped, Property Brothers, or Homicide Hunter even worth living? We’re asking for a friend.
Upsides to YouTube TV include unlimited—yes, unlimited—cloud DVR storage that keeps recorded shows for up to nine months. You also get access to YouTube Premium content (like Cobra Kai; so good). And of course there’s the usual YouTube rabbit-hole experience we all know well.
The idea of paying for YouTube might seem alien, but the free seven-day trial is worth checking out—even if YouTube TV doesn’t provide the full cable experience.
YouTube TV is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku, and Xbox.
The other streamers
You know it, and you probably already have it—or at least a pal’s password.
Streaming king Netflix has established itself as a relentless firehose of original programming and curated outside favorites, but live TV is nowhere on its radar.
If it ain’t broke, crank out 50 more BoJack Horseman episodes.
Amazon may be doubling down on original programming ambitions (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Jack Ryan are a power couple to reckon with), but live TV, not so much.
Prime Video does offer livestreaming of select NFL and NBA games, but it’s still a largely on-demand service.
CBS All Access
Beyond streaming exclusives Star Trek: Discovery and The Good Fight, the draw of CBS All Access is its deep library of CBS broadcast originals and, in certain markets, a livestream of local CBS affiliates.
CBS All Access could be a workaround if your favorite live TV streaming service lacks CBS, but that’s about it.
Like CBS All Access, stand-alone service HBO GO offers livestreams of its own programming for those who refuse to miss certain dragon and detective dramas.
But, HBO GO is primarily an on-demand service—and a rich one, at that—for original content and blockbuster movies. There’s also little lag time for its originals, as shows like Game of Thrones and True Detective are available stream on HBO GO at the same time as they appear on cable or satellite.
AT&T owns WarnerMedia (formerly known as Time Warner), which in turn owns HBO, TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, CNN, and other networks.
All of these channels (and a few more, like CINEMAX and SHOWTIME) are available both live and on demand on AT&T WatchTV. However, the service offers zero local TV options.
Don’t care about sports? Upstart Philo—named after television inventor Philo T. Farnsworth—might be the livestreaming answer for you.
The service offers two packages: 43 channels for $16 a month, or 56 channels for $20 a month. Both include A&E, AMC, BBC America, Comedy Central, Discovery, Food Network, HGTV, and Hallmark.
Sports fans beware—there’s nothing but entertainment and lifestyle here, with nary a ball or puck in sight.
What to look for in a streaming service
- Free trial: One of the ever-so-wonderful perks of streaming services is the free-trial period. Unlike cable or satellite, streaming services don’t have installation appointments or contracts, so taking a service for a spin is simple and costs nothing. The trial windows are brief (usually seven days) but adequate.
- Cloud DVR: Most streaming services that offer live TV also include cloud DVR storage with the package. Like a physical DVR, though, they do have limits on space and time. Some give you as little as 30 hours, while some “unlimited” options will only save your Hoarders backlog for a month or so. Ironic, no?
- Local channels: You may not think about local affiliates, but they carry the shows you love from ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and The CW live. If a streaming service doesn’t carry local affiliate channels, you could miss out on those shows, as well as area sports, news, and weather. If these are important to you, check the availability of local affiliates on streaming services. If they’re not available, a simple digital antenna can make up the difference.
- Device/app availability: As we mentioned above, setting up and trying out a streaming service is as easy as downloading an app—but is that app available on your set-top box or mobile devices? Most services reviewed here are available as smart TV apps, though we recommend devices like Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, or Roku for better stability and performance.
Bill Frost has been a journalist and TV reviewer since the 4:3 aspect ratio ‘90s. His pulse-pounding prose has been featured in The Salt Lake Tribune, Pacific Northwest Inlander, Salt Lake City Weekly, and elsewhere. He’s currently a streaming TV columnist at SLUGMag.com.