Only 3 major services let you stream live TV over the internet — here’s how they compare


Everyone in the tech industry wants your eyeballs. More specifically, a growing number of tech companies want to attract the millions of people who have ditched cable with services that stream live TV channels right over the internet.

Alphabet’s YouTube group is the latest to jump into the fray, building on top of its uber-popular video site with a new YouTube TV service. Streaming player Hulu is about to roll out its competitor, too, while Sony, Dish Network, and AT&T are already fighting it out.

But, this being the TV industry in America, figuring out what’s what can be complicated. So to help you see which, if any, make sense for you, we’ve broken down the three existing live TV services (PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, DirecTV Now) and what we know about the two that are coming (YouTube TV, Hulu). We’ll update if any more shake-ups arise.

Let’s dig into the fine print:

But first, a quick note on what these services are not:
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As we’ve noted before, none of the three live TV services we have today are really solving the cord-cutter’s conundrum — that is, getting the channels and shows you want, on time, whenever and wherever you want, without paying more than you have to for channels you’ll never watch.

They still look a lot like cable packages, in other words; they’re just smaller cable packages, delivered over the internet, with slightly cheaper starting prices.

There are other issues beyond that. The on-demand selection is very similar across every service, and almost exactly like what you’d get with a cable subscription. On-demand and live content still feel stuck in separate silos. (Hulu and YouTube could change this, though.) They all have issues in their channel selection. (This excellent CNET list has a full breakdown.) And, most significantly, they’ve all had bugs and technical issues.

As it stands now, if you’re looking for cable, you should just buy cable. It’s reliable.


That said, here’s what these services do offer.
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While none of these services fully replace cable, they’re not unusable, either. All of their interfaces are clean and easy enough to navigate. And when they work, they do give value to those who can’t quit the cord completely. They cover gaps that a hodgepodge of Netflix, Hulu, and insular streaming services cannot — most notably with sports, and, you know, watching popular shows as they air. Plus, they are more affordable.

As more and more people cut the cord, they’ll make more sense, and they should improve, even if they don’t take a wrecking ball to the TV industry’s current power structure. They seem to be growing already, and they’re expected to pick up as the market continues to shift.

Sling TV
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1. How much does it cost? $20 a month for the base Sling Orange package, or $25 a month for a Sling Blue package with more channels.

For $40 a month, you can buy the Orange and Blue packages together, mainly because the two do not totally overlap in terms of channel selection. (More in a sec.)

From there, you can tack on a bunch of smaller specialized bundles of channels for anywhere from $5 to $15 a month per bundle. We recommend looking through those on Sling’s service page, because there’s way too many to list here.

2. How many channels does it have? Sling Orange has 30 channels. Sling Blue has about 40ish channels depending on where you live, but again its lineup doesn’t include everything in Sling Orange. The add-on bundles can incorporate a few dozen more channels, but those vary wildly in terms of popularity.


3. What major channels are not included? CBS is completely absent. ABC is there, but only in a handful of markets, and only for an extra $5 a month. There’s no option to add Showtime, either — and for the kids, there’s no main Nickelodeon channel.

It’s also worth noting that, while Sling does carry Fox and NBC, they’re only included in the Sling Blue package, and they aren’t available in every market. Check that you’re covered before you buy.


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