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Compare Cable, Satellite, and Streaming TV Providers

Check out our comprehensive guide to compare TV providers head-to-head and get the right service for you.

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Best cable

spectrum customer service logo

(3.94 /5)

Price: $44.99–$89.99/mo.

Best satellite

(3.96 /5)

Price: $39.99–$114.99/mo.

Best streaming

Hulu | 2019’s Best Live TV Streaming Services

(4.34 /5)

Price: $54.99–$60.99/mo.

Data as of 05/04/20. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

TV used to be as simple as switching on a box and drooling. Now we have cable, satellite, two types of streaming services, and even indoor TV antennas.

We’ll explore each service individually, but let’s start with a quick overview.

Best TV providers

If you want a quick recommendation, here’s a peek at our picks:

How did we arrive at our top picks? Research.

We asked customers of 11 cable and satellite TV providers, four livestreaming services, and five on-demand streaming services to rate their TV service in eight categories (install and setup, channel selection, reliability, DVR satisfaction, user experience, monthly bill, customer/tech support, and value).

And, of course, we supplemented that data with our own hands-on testing and expert opinions.

Cable TV vs. satellite TV vs. streaming TV

Cable TV

Pros

👍 High-speed cable connections

👍 High channel counts

👍 Bundling

 

Cons

👎 Contracts

👎 Bloated packages

Satellite TV

Pros

👍 High channel counts

👍 Wide availability

 

Cons

👎 Contracts

👎 Few bundling opportunities

Streaming TV

Pros

👍 No contracts

👍 Affordable packages

👍 Many supported devices

👍 Cloud DVR

 

Cons

👎 Requires internet connection

Cable providers typically have lots of live channels and on-demand content plus high-speed internet and phone service for bundling. But the packages might include many unwanted channels and you’ll have to sign a contract.

Satellite providers have high channel counts and nearly 100% availability, but no internet or phone service. Expect a two-year contract, equipment rental fees (from DISH), and expensive professional installation.

There are two types of streaming services: live and on demand. Both work on a variety of streaming devices and have affordable packages, cloud DVR storage, multiple streams, and no contracts—but they have fewer channels, which means a much higher cost per channel.

You want more details on all three services? Comin’ right up.

Compare cable TV providers, plans, and prices

If you’re gonna sign a contract, don’t settle for the first cable TV provider that comes along. Be a smart shopper and compare packages, prices, and reputations so you know you’re picking the right partner.

Among cable companies, Cox scored the highest overall (3.97 out of 5) in our survey, followed by Spectrum (3.94)—which is our pick.

The following table looks at how many plans and channels Cox, Spectrum, and other cable providers offer. We’ve also calculated cost-per-channel ranges (lower numbers are better) and listed the services available from each provider for bundling.

Cable TV plans and pricing

Swipe Left to See All →
ProviderPricesCost per channelChannel countBundles withBundling required?

Our pick

Spectrum
3.94/5.00
$44.99–$89.99/mo.$0.36–$0.45125–200+Cable internet, phoneN
Cox
3.97/5.00
$25.00–$69.99/mo.$0.33–$0.5075–250+Cable internet, phoneN
Verizon FiOS
3.89/5.00
$50.00–$90.00/mo.$0.21–$0.40125–425+DSL or fiber internet and phoneN
Optimum
3.88/5.00
$74.99–$129.99/mo.$0.31–$0.34220–420+Cable internet, phoneY
Xfinity
3.86/5.00
$20.00–$89.99/mo.$0.35–$2.0010–260+Cable internet, phoneN
Frontier
3.73/5.00
$64.99–$137.99/mo.$0.38–$0.57115–360+Fiber internet, phoneY
Suddenlink
3.55/5.00
$54.99–$139.99/mo.$0.28–$0.41200–340+Cable internet phoneY
AT&T TV*
$49.99–$174.97/mo.$0.76–$1.0465–125+DSL or fiber internet, phoneN
RCN**
$39.99–$119.99/mo.$0.21–$0.2970–300+Cable internet, phoneN

Data as of 05/04/20. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
* New service; no survey score.
** Not enough survey respondents.

Cable TV providers almost always tend to be internet service providers, so almost all of them offer the option to bundle internet and phone service.

But bundling is mandatory if you want TV service from Frontier, Optimum, and Suddenlink, which don’t sell TV service à la carte. And while Cox has two TV-only plans with up to 140+ channels, it hides 110 more channels behind bundles.

If you can get fiber-optic internet service where you live, we recommend bundling with a fiber provider because it’s the fastest and most reliable internet connection. So check out AT&T TV, Frontier, and Verizon Fios.

Pro tip: AT&T owns satellite TV provider DIRECTV, so you can bundle DIRECTV with AT&T Fiber. We recommend this option because it includes many more channels for the same (or better) price.

Besides bundling, we like to look for providers that offer something different or extra—this is where Spectrum begins to look better to us than channel-hoarding Cox.

We love that Spectrum has only three TV plans with decent channel counts and good cost-per-channel numbers.

Also, Spectrum’s top two plans include free premium channels: TV Silver ($69.99 a month, 175+ channels) has HBO®, NFL Network, and SHOWTIME®, and TV Gold has everything that comes in Silver plus STARZ®, TMC®, and STARZ ENCORE.

Now let’s see how satellite TV services stack up against each other.

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Compare satellite TV providers, plans, and prices

You’ll want to compare satellite TV providers for the same reason as cable: contracts. Fortunately, it’s easier to do with satellite TV since DIRECTV and DISH have a duopoly in the US. (Although the brand-new, no-contract startup Orby TV is trying to make it a throuple.)

DIRECTV (3.96) and DISH (3.81) are the two main satellite TV services available in the United States, and the only ones in our 2020 survey. The fledgling Orby service was too new to include, but it’s worth a look here.

Satellite TV plans and pricing

Swipe Left to See All →
ProviderPriceCost per channelChannel countOther benefits

Our pick


DIRECTV
3.96/5.00
$39.99–$114.99/mo.$0.26–0.35155–330+
  • Bundle discount (through AT&T)

  • Genie DVR included

  • NFL SUNDAY TICKET included for 1 yr.

  • DISH
    3.81/5.00
    $59.99–$94.99/mo.$0.32–0.33190–290+
  • Bundle discount (through Frontier)

  • Hopper 3 DVR (starting at $15/mo.)
  • Orby TV*
    $40.00–$50.00/mo.$0.74–0.9144–68+
  • No contracts

  • Access to local channels w/o Orby package
  • Data as of 05/04/20. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
    * New service; no survey score.

    DIRECTV has affordable packages, a high channel count, and includes the killer Genie DVR—which has 500 hours of HD storage—in all plans and offers NFL SUNDAY TICKET free to new customers for the first year. DIRECTV also bundles with AT&T DSL or fiber internet service.

    Pro tip: If you bundle DIRECTV with AT&T internet, you’ll get more channels than you would by bundling AT&T TV.

    DISH has 290+ channels and a great cost per channel ($0.32–$0.33). Also, the DISH Hopper 3 DVR has 16 simultaneous recordings, 500 hours of HD storage, and Alexa voice control—but, unlike DIRECTV’s Genie, it’s not included in the package price. Hopper 3 prices start at $15 a month.

    You can bundle with DISH with Frontier Internet (DSL) for a discount, but the discounts aren’t that great—the most expensive bundle, Frontier Premium Internet + America’s Top 250 ($127.99 a month) has a monthly savings of $12. Also, you can find better, faster internet service from another provider.

    With Orby TV, you buy your receiver or receiver/DVR unit, dish, and antenna up front. Then you pay month-to-month instead of signing a contract like you would with DIRECTV or DISH.

    There’s only one main package, with an option to add 24 more channels for an additional monthly fee of $10, and no bundle opportunities.

    In our review of Orby TV, we say it’s a great idea with some kinks still to work out. We don’t necessarily recommend it yet. Maybe next year.

    It’s also cool to think of your favorite TV shows getting beamed to you from space—but everybody knows the future is streaming.

    Compare streaming TV services, plans, and prices

    With no contracts, simpler packages, and far more device options, streaming TV services are a fantastic alternative to cable and satellite TV. You should also compare them to other streaming services’ prices, packages, cloud DVR storage, and multiple streams.

    Both types of streaming services—livestreaming and on demand—work via an internet connection and a supported streaming device like a gaming console, computer, smart TV, smartphone, streaming stick, or tablet.

    Neither type of streaming TV service is necessarily better than another. Below, we explore their charms (and realize that they can make quite a pair).

    If you want a more in-depth rundown of each streaming service, check out our best streaming services article.

    Livestreaming TV plans and pricing

    Swipe Left to See All →
    ProviderPriceCost per channelChannel countStreamsFree trial

    Our pick

    Hulu + Live TV
    4.34/5.00
    $54.99–$60.99/mo.$0.85–$0.9465+250 hrs.7 days
    CBS All Access
    4.31/5.00
    $5.99–$9.99/mo. or $59.99–$99.99/yr.N/AN/A2N/A7 days
    CBS All Access
    4.29/5.00
    $4.99/mo. or –$49.99/yr.N/AN/A3N/AN/A
    AT&T TV NOW
    4.08/5.00
    $65.00–$135.00/mo.$1.08–$1.4445–125+3500 hrs.7 days

    Best for sports

    Sling TV
    4.07/5.00
    $30.00–$45.00/mo.$0.83–$0.9030–50+1–450 hrs. ($5.00/mo.)7 days

    Excellent DVR

    YouTube TV
    3.89/5.00
    $49.99/mo.$0.7170+3Unlimited7 days

    Cheapest

    AT&T Watch TV*
    $15.00/mo. (free w/ AT&T Unlimited Wireless)$0.4335+1N/A7 days
    Peacock**$4.99–$9.99/mo.N/AN/AUnavailableN/AUnavailable

    Data as of 05/04/20. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
    * No survey score.
    ** New service; no survey score.

    What you don’t get with streaming providers is bundling—except with AT&T. You can bundle a version of AT&T TV NOW called AT&T TV (we know, it’s confusing) with AT&T internet service, but you’ll have to sign a two-year contract.

    CableTV.com conducted a separate customer satisfaction survey of livestreaming TV customers. Hulu + Live TV scored the highest overall score (4.34 out of 5) and topped channel offerings (4.23), reliability (5.01), and value (4.24). And, in DVR satisfaction, Hulu Live scored only 0.002 of a point below top finisher AT&T TV NOW.

    We agree that Hulu Live is an excellent service. We also like Sling, which is CableTV.com’s Best for Sports pick. Newbie cord-cutters will enjoy Sling’s special offers (including free devices) for new customers. Sling also has a slightly better cost-per-channel than Hulu (but not as many channels).

    If money matters most in your streaming TV search, AT&T Watch TV has 35+ live channels and 15,000 on-demand titles for $15 per month—and AT&T Unlimited Wireless customers get it free.

    Free (or cheap) live TV

    Remember when live TV was free? No? Well, it was—and is still. Here are one device and three services where you can watch TV like your ancestors.

    • Over-the-air (OTA) antenna: Get your local network affiliates by purchasing an inexpensive, easy-to-install OTA device like the Mohu Leaf 50.
    • Pluto: 100+ live TV channels—all free through the Pluto app and site.
    • Xfinity Flex: Free only to Xfinity internet-only customers, this streaming device and service has a lot of content.
    • Xumo: Like Pluto, Xumo has more than 100 free live channels.

    On-demand streaming TV plans and pricing

    Swipe Left to See All →
    ProviderPriceApprox. # of titlesStreamsFree trial
    Disney+
    4.46/5.00
    $6.99/mo. or $69.99/yr.7,50047 days
    Hulu
    4.37/5.00
    $5.99–$11.99/mo.4,15027 days
    HBO NOW
    4.34/5.00
    $14.99/mo.Unavailable37 days
    Netflix
    4.33/5.00
    $8.99–$15.99/mo.11,0002–47 days
    Amazon Prime Video
    4.25/5.00
    $5.99–$12.99/mo. or $59.99–$119.99/yr.22,500330 days
    Apple TV+
    4.20/5.00
    $4.99/mo.2767 days
    HBO Max*$14.99/mo.18,000UnavailableUnavailable

    Data as of 05/04/20. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
    * New service; no survey score.

    We also surveyed customers of on-demand streaming TV services, which are an inexpensive way to supplement your streaming library—again, with no contract. We’d compare these based on price, library size, and quality of original content.

    For example, if you subscribe to Hulu Live ($54.99 a month), then add Amazon Prime Video ($5.99–$12.99 a month), you’ll get live TV from Hulu plus access to the on-demand libraries of both Hulu and Prime for the price of a solid cable or satellite streaming package.

    There will be some content overlap among Hulu and Prime Video’s combined 22,650 titles—but only a small percentage. And both services have outstanding original movies and series.

    Also with Prime Video, you get all those Prime benefits like free two-day shipping (and in some cities free same-day delivery), unlimited listening (Amazon Music) and reading (Kindle Lending Library), and much more.

    Writer’s recommended streaming combos

    You don’t have to combine Hulu Live and Prime Video—there are all sorts of interesting ways to combine livestreaming and on-demand services. We’ve cooked up a few using the most common prices for each service.

    • All the Streams ($65.93/mo.): This “Captain’s Platter” includes everything in the table above except HBO NOW because HBO Max has more content for the same price. (Our payment calculation uses the Disney+/Hulu Basic/ESPN+ bundle price of $12.99/mo.)
    • Ultimate Original Content Combo ($46.95/mo.): This one’s for the binge-watchers, with the most prolific sources of original series—Hulu Basic, Prime Video, Netflix, HBO Max, and Apple TV+.
    • Movies, Movies, Movies ($44.96/mo.): For the film nerds, this combo includes the services with the most movies—Prime Video, Netflix, HBO Max, and Disney+.

    What to look for in a TV provider

    Even if you don’t want to go with one of our cable, satellite, or streaming TV picks, we still want to help you. Consider these things while you’re shopping around for a TV provider:

    • Availability/service type: Satellite TV is the most available, followed by cable and streaming. Cable companies are restricted by service areas, and streaming services can be spotty, depending on available download speeds.
    • Channel count: How many channels does a provider offer? What channels do you want? Look for a TV provider that distributes its channels among 3–4 packages or place popular channels in its most expensive package.
    • Pricing: Divide the price of a package by its number of channels. That tells you the package’s cost per channel. Lower numbers are better.
    • Bundling: Do you already have a good internet provider? Check out its TV packages—you might save some money by bundling services.
    • Add-ons/premium channels: Which add-on packs or premium channels does a provider offer? Are they affordable?
    • Customer satisfaction rating: Research providers in your area. For a running start, read our 2020 customer satisfaction surveys for cable/satellite and streaming TV providers.
    • Equipment: Cable and satellite TV require a receiver/DVR unit plus extra devices for multi-room viewing. Streaming services need an internet connection and a streaming device.

    Final take

    Now you know the difference between cable, satellite, and streaming services—plus a little bit about over-the-air (OTA) TV. Let’s review our picks for each TV type:

    • Best cable TV provider: Spectrum for its affordable pricing, high customer satisfaction score, simple packages, and included premium channels
    • Best satellite TV provider: DIRECTV for its affordable pricing, bundling options with AT&T, channel count, high customer satisfaction score, and extras like NFL SUNDAY TICKET
    • Best livestreaming service: Hulu + Live TV for its cloud DVR, high survey score, simple packages, and simultaneous streams
    • Best on-demand streaming service: Amazon Prime Video for its cheap pricing, huge catalog, and Prime benefits
    • Best OTA antenna: Mohu Leaf 50 for its cheap price and ease of installation

    And don’t forget Sling TV with its affordable packages and add-ons (especially the sports packs)—and those free streaming device offers for new customers.

    Happy binge-watching.

    Compare TV providers FAQ

    What TV providers are in my area?

    To see which cable and satellite providers are available in your area, use this handy-dandy zip code lookup tool.

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    What is the best alternative to cable TV? 

    Streaming TV is the best alternative to cable or satellite TV. Livestreaming and on-demand streaming services have no contracts and simple packages.

    And they work via an internet connection and a streaming device (gaming console, computer, smart TV, smartphone, streaming stick, or tablet).

    What is the cheapest TV provider?

    The cheapest cable TV provider is RCN, with up to 300+ channels and a cost per channel (CPC) of $0.21–$0.29.

    The cheapest satellite TV provider is DIRECTV, with up to 330+ channels and a $0.26–$0.35 CPC.

    The cheapest livestreaming TV service is YouTube TV, with 70+ channels and a CPC of $0.71.

    The cheapest on-demand streaming TV service is Amazon Prime Video, with 22,500 titles for $5.99–$12.99 per month or $59.99–$119.99 a year.

    Who has the best TV and internet bundle?

    For its speed (940 Mbps download, 880 Mbps upload), channel count (425+), and cost per channel ($0.39), Verizon’s Fios Gigabit Connection + The Most Fios TV ($169.99 a month) is the best value.

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