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TV Streaming Guide 2021

Ready to cut the cord and jump into TV streaming? Let the editorial team at CableTV.com help you navigate the waters of TV streaming.

What is TV streaming and how does it work?

TV streaming is TV delivered over the internet and not through a traditional antenna, cable, or satellite connection. To stream TV, you’ll need a reliable internet plan that has download speeds of at least 25 Mbps, so you can stream on multiple devices.

Pro tip: If you use a cell phone or satellite internet to stream, you’ll also want to watch out for lower data caps. Streaming video can gobble up gigs, and extra data can cost an arm and a leg.

The rise of TV streaming is great news for consumers, in both choice and price. Streaming TV is a great option for viewers who know exactly what they want and how much they want to pay for it (spoiler: the answer is universally “less”).

While no single streaming service gives you everything a cable or satellite hookup does, they’re at least cheaper and more easily tailored to your tastes.

Pros and cons of TV streaming

Lower monthly bills and no long-term commitments are easy arguments for potential cord-cutters, but there are other factors to consider before breaking out the scissors. Also, don’t break out the scissors; “cord-cutting” is just a figurative term.

Pros

  • Cheaper than cable or satellite
  • More shows and movies on demand
  • Free trials
  • No contracts
  • No equipment rental or installation

Cons

  • Spotty channel lineups
  • Internet connection dependency
  • Simultaneous stream restrictions
  • Limited live sports
  • Limited local channels

TV streaming is completely dependent on an internet connection, preferably a fast one, to get the full HD and 4K TV experience. Anything less than 25 Mbps of download speed is going to result in buffering frustration.

Another downside to live TV streaming is channel availability. A couple of live TV streaming services come close, but no one streaming service offers the complete channel lineup you’re used to with cable and satellite (related upside: live TV streaming doesn’t carry filler like shopping and music channels).

Finding live sports and local network affiliate channels can also be a challenge; even in 2021, PBS is only available on one streaming service (YouTube TV).

Another thing to look out for: streaming services place caps on how many simultaneous streams can be viewed through one account and then charge extra if you want to add more. Blame the password sharers who dare deprive struggling Netflix of its monthly $8.99.

Our take: TV streaming is still new and less than perfect, but it’s a viable alternative to cable and satellite—not to mention cheaper. Ready to cut the cord? Check out our expert guide on How to Cut the Cord for some hot tips.

If you’re averse to contracts, missed cable guy appointments, and paying for hundreds of filler channels you’ll never watch (like MTV Classic—why all the “music” videos, but no Teen Mom?), TV streaming might be for you.

TV streaming services

There are currently over 100 streaming TV services available, ranging from the Big Three of on-demand streaming (Netflix, Hulu, and Prime Video) to cable-like live TV streaming platforms (Hulu + Live TV, Sling TV, and YouTube TV) to network-owned streaming apps (HBO Max, ESPN Plus, and Peacock).

Because there’s so many TV streaming options out there, it helps to compare the major streaming services side by side. We’ll start with some popular on-demand streaming services.

On-demand streaming services

Service (click for CableTV.com review)
Best overall
Netflix
Best value
Amazon Prime Video
Cheapest
Peacock
Best for sports
ESPN+
Best for kids
Disney+
Good value
Hulu
HBO originals and exclusives
HBO Max
Deep TV and movies library
Paramount+
Good for Apple fans
Apple TV+
Excellent for horror
Shudder
Excellent for anime
VRV
Good for reality TV
Discovery+
Price Multiple streams Best for Details
$8.99–$17.99/mo. 1–4 Original shows and movies View plans
$12.99/mo. 3 Movies, original shows View plans
Free–$9.99/mo. 3 Original and classic shows, movies View plans
$5.99/mo. 5 Sports and documentaries View plans
$7.99/mo. or $79.99/yr. 4 Families View plans
$5.99–$11.99/mo. 2 Original shows, post-broadcast network shows View plans
$14.99/mo. 3 Premium shows, movies View plans
$5.99–$9.99/mo. 2 CBS shows, Paramount movies View plans
$4.99/mo. 6 Exclusive originals View plans
$4.75–$5.99/mo. 1–3 Horror originals and exclusives View plans
$9.99/mo. Unlimited Multiple anime channels View plans
$4.99/mo. 4 55,000+ hrs. of content View plans

Prices and features current as of post date.

Folks often wonder if they should get Netflix or Hulu or Prime Video (or all three). We think it all depends on what you’re into.

Some of our experts prefer original shows and movies, so they recommend the o.g. streaming service: Netflix. Others prefer b-movies and popular classics, so they recommend Prime Video’s extensive library.

The biggest upside to streaming on demand is that it’s friggin’ cheap. And even if you think you’ve watched everything during the pandemic, you can find something new to watch.

Hang out for a little, read an expert review or two, and snag the right on-demand streaming service for you.

Not sure what to watch next?

Check out our helpful guide to new shows and movies and find your next favorite show.

Live TV streaming services

Service (click for CableTV.com review)
Best overall
YouTube TV
Best value
Hulu + Live TV
Cheapest
Philo
Best for sports
fuboTV
Best for kids
Sling TV
Price range Channels Best for Details
$64.99/mo. 85+ Unlimited DVR View plans
$64.99–$70.99/mo. 70+ Hulu experience with live channels View plans
$20.00/mo. 60+ Lifestyle channels View plans
$64.99–$79.99/mo. 109–156+ Soccer, international sports View plans
$30.00–$45.00/mo. 30–45+ Kids packages View plans

Prices and features current as of post date.

For most folks, the biggest reason to get live TV streaming is for live news and sports. TV fans also appreciate the ability to watch big events (like the Golden Globes) and series premieres live.

Like we keep saying, if live TV is your thing, be sure to check channel lineups before you sign up. Certain channels are hard to get with a streaming service (Hallmark, we’re looking at you).

We also recommend comparing pricing. Sometimes your local cable provider will be cheaper (and offer more features) than a live TV streaming service.

Compare streaming services to cable providers in your area

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Streaming devices

Most TV streaming apps are available on smart TVs and Blu-ray players, but the optimal way to stream is through a dedicated device separate from your screen, connected to the internet through an Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi. It’s easier (and less expensive) to upgrade a streaming device than a smart TV.

Streaming devices come in either HDMI dongle or small set-top box form. Either takes up less entertainment-center space than the average cable or satellite box because there’s no physical DVR hard drive. You can still record, though; live shows are stored on a large-capacity cloud DVR, and total hours allowed vary by service.

TV streaming and your internet connection

If your household already has heavy internet demands between web surfers and gamers, streaming TV is going to add considerably to the load.

Services like Netflix recommend at least 5 Mbps of download speed for HD viewing, which is fine if you’re watching Black Mirror and engaging in nothing else online.

But let’s get real: if we weren’t compulsive internet multitaskers, Black Mirror wouldn’t even be a show.

That said, if streaming is important to you, make “the more Mbps the better” your new motto. Especially if you like HD and 4K viewing, which compete for a huge chunk of bandwidth, you’ll need at least 25 Mbps to keep everybody un-pixelated and happy.

Some DSL connections can achieve those numbers, but cable or fiber-optic internet is a better bet for handling the extra data strain.

Before you sign up for any streaming service, test your internet speed. If it doesn’t meet the minimum double digits, it’s probably time to switch internet providers.

Are you ready to cut the cord?

Cord-cutting isn’t like switching from one cable provider to another. There are expectations to be adjusted and compromises to accept. TV streaming doesn’t yet cover everything cable and satellite can deliver—in the traditional viewing sense.

But in the non-traditional sense, TV streaming can already do far more, and new innovations are coming along every day. And have we mentioned that there are no contracts with streaming services? If you don’t like one, you can switch to another in a few clicks.

Even if you have to subscribe to more than one service to get everything you want, it can still add up to less than a cable bill, and the convenience can’t be overstated. So shop around for yourself, and you might find you’re a cord-cutter after all.

TV streaming FAQ

What is the best TV streaming service?

CableTV.com’s Best Overall live TV streaming service of 2021 is YouTube TV, according to our research. It has the best blend of price per channel, popularity of included channels, number of simultaneous streams, amount of cloud DVR storage, and general user experience out there.

What is the cheapest live TV streaming service?

At $20 a month, Philo is the cheapest live TV streaming service. If you’re not into sports and more into lifestyle channels, like Lifetime and Hallmark, Philo is a great bet.

Which streaming TV services have local channels?

Pretty much every live TV streaming service has some local channels, except for Philo. The amount of local channels usually depends on where you live.

The only hard-and-fast rules for local channels are that Philo doesn’t have them, and no live TV streaming service (outside of YouTube TV) has PBS. As always, check local availability before signing up, or get an HD antenna (we highly recommend this).

Does Netflix have live TV?

No, Netflix doesn’t have live TV. But Hulu does, and it just so happens that Hulu + Live TV is our Best value live TV streaming service of 2021.

How many millennials are streaming freeloaders?

By Rachel Oaks

With so much great TV scattered across the internet, it’s tempting to load up on streaming services to get all your favorite shows—but subscribing to everything adds up fast. Cue people borrowing login information from friends and family.

Are you picturing a millennial mooching off their parent’s Netflix account yet?

Our survey found that across Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and HBO NOW, an average of 33.58% of millennials siphon their streaming service subscription rather than pay for it themselves.

Which streaming service are millennials the most likely to piggyback?

Millennials are most likely to avoid HBO NOW’s steep charge of $14.99 per month by using someone else’s account. Of those who said they watch HBO NOW, 39.69% said they use someone else’s account.

We also found 32.34% of millennial Netflix users and 33.09% of millennial Hulu users share their accounts to duck out on extra costs too.

They are least likely to borrow Prime Video with just 29.21% saying they do. It’s probably smartest not to share Prime Video anyway, since it’s tied to all the credit cards on your Amazon account.

Baby boomers borrow too

But while we love giving millennials a hard time (this millennial writer believes self-deprecation is the height of humor), our survey found baby boomers were freeloaders too. An average of 38.24% of streaming baby boomers borrowed one or more streaming services.

That’s more than the millennial average. But how’s a millennial supposed to turn their dad down when he wants their Hulu account for a This Is Us marathon?

The appeal of a personal account

So, why don’t more millennials borrow? Maybe it’s for personal security reasons. Or maybe we just prefer an uninterrupted viewing history. It really stinks to have someone mess up your spot when you’re streaming the entire series of Friends.

But let’s be honest: sometimes it’s just nice to have your mom’s Netflix account “be there for you.”

Methodology

We surveyed 750 people across the US. Our millennial data came from the 485 participants between the ages of 18 and 44. Our baby boomer data came from the 128 people who were 54 years and older. The remaining 137 people were Gen X and Gen Z.

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