Ready to cut the cord and jump into the stream? Let the editorial team at CableTV.com help you navigate the waters of streaming TV.
What is streaming TV?
Streaming TV is TV delivered over the internet and not through traditional antenna, cable, or satellite connections. Despite the hype, streaming TV isn’t an entirely new concept—we’ve been glued to YouTube for over a decade, after all. But internet-delivered TV has become more sophisticated than its early days as a low-res portal for cat videos and rickrolls.
The rise of the stream is great news for TV 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 TV 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 streaming TV
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.
- Cheaper price than cable or satellite
- More on-demand options
- Free trial periods
- No contracts
- No equipment rental or installation
- Inconsistent channel lineups
- Internet connection dependency
- Simultaneous stream restrictions
- Limited sports options
- Limited local channels
Streaming TV 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 livestreaming streaming TV lies with channel availability. A couple of providers come close, but no one streaming service offers the complete channel lineup you’re used to with cable and satellite (related upside: livestreaming TV doesn’t carry filler like shopping and music channels).
Finding live sports and local network affiliate channels can also be a challenge, and some networks (like PBS) aren’t yet available to livestream on any service.
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.
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?), streaming TV might be for you.
Popular on-demand streaming TV services
|Service (click for CableTV.com review)||Price range||Multiple streams||Best for||Free trial|
|Apple TV+||$4.99/mo.||6||Apple fans||Try it now|
|CBS All Access|
|2||CBS shows||Try it now|
|Disney+||$6.99/mo. or $69.99/yr.||4||Families||Try it now|
|ESPN+||$4.99/mo.||3||Sports and documentaries||Try it now|
|HBO NOW||$14.99/mo.||3||Premium shows, movies||Try it now|
|Hulu||$5.99–$11.99/mo.||2||Original shows, post-broadcast network shows||Try it now|
|Netflix||$8.99–$15.99/mo.||1–4||Original shows||Try it now|
|Amazon Prime Video||$12.99/mo.||3||Movies, original shows||Try it now|
|SHOWTIME||$7.99$–10.99/mo.||3||Original shows, movies||Try it now|
Prices and features current as of 01/14/2020.
Popular livestreaming TV services
|Service (click for CableTV.com review)||Price range||Channels||Best for||Free trial|
|AT&T TV NOW||$65–$135/mo.||45–125||HBO included||Try it now|
|fuboTV||$54.99/mo.||106||Soccer, niche sports||Try it now|
|Best OverallHulu + Live TV||$54.99–$60.99/mo.||60||Hulu experience with live channels||Try it now|
|CheapestPhilo||$20/mo.||58||Budget entertainment programming||Try it now|
|Best for SportsSling TV||$25–$40/mo.||30–45||Sports||Try it now|
|YouTube TV||$49.99/mo.||70||Unlimited DVR||Try it now|
Prices and features current as of 01/14/2020.
Live TV streaming vs. on-demand TV streaming
The on-demand TV streaming model is well established at this point—you see a show or movie in the menu, click it, play it, and you’re done. Basically, you watch on your own schedule, not a network’s.
Livestreaming content works on a real-time schedule, so you scroll through a grid of channels like you would with cable or satellite to choose a show that’s on right now. Watching tonight’s new Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode as it airs on NBC rather than waiting for it to turn up tomorrow or next week on Hulu, for example.
Cable and satellite still have the edge in live TV, though livestreaming services like Hulu + Live TV, Sling TV, and YouTube TV come close to re-creating the experience.
And look over this, too: CableTV.com has reviewed 11 of the top streaming TV services, including livestreaming and on-demand flavors. We go into greater detail about channel lineups, device availability, and the pros and cons of streaming to help ease your cord-cutting mind.
Streaming TV devices
Most streaming TV 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 TV 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; livestreamed shows are stored on a large-capacity cloud DVR, and total hours allowed vary by service.
Streaming TV and an 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.
Streaming TV has arrived
Cord-cutting isn’t like switching from one cable provider to another. There are expectations to be adjusted and compromises to accept. Streaming TV doesn’t yet cover everything cable and satellite can deliver—in the traditional viewing sense.
But in the non-traditional sense, streaming TV can already do far more, and new innovations are coming along every day. And have we mentioned that there are no contracts with streaming? 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.
Streaming TV FAQ
What is the best TV streaming service?
The Best Overall live TV streaming service of 2020 is Hulu + Live TV. 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 our Cheapest livestreaming TV service of 2020. (We’d pick AT&T WatchTV if we didn’t think it was going away in 2020.) If you’re not into sports and more into lifestyle channels, like Lifetime and Hallmark, Philo is a great bet.
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 Overall live TV streaming service of 2020.
How many millennials are streaming freeloaders?
contribution 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 millenials 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.”
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.