Streaming TV Services That Can Replace Cable TV
Most channels that used to be only on cable are now available for less money through the Internet streaming services below.
You can watch most of these on your computer with an Internet connection, or on your TV connected to a game box or streaming player like Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, or Apple TV. Some streaming services have a subscription model, while others let you purchase or rent individual movies or shows. Some stream live TV while others let you choose from a library to view any time you want.
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Live TV Streaming Services
If you want to watch TV in real time, just like you did with cable or satellite TV, check out these streaming services. You might be able get many of the cable channels you want for a fraction of the cost of cable. Click below for more information on any of these services:
Sling TV - Low cost; great if you have an antenna for the major networks
Sling TV is an ideal low-cost solution if you can already get the major network stations (CBS, NBC, ABC, etc.) using a broadcast TV antenna, as Sling TV does not include those channels. But, why pay for them if you can get them for free? Click this link for more information.
The “orange” plan is $25/month (first month may be discounted below this) and offers these channels:
The “blue” plan is also $25/month and offers these channels:
You can get both for $40/month. Overall, Sling TV is a good deal and many cord-cutters use it.
YouTube TV - Great for networks and cable channels
YouTube TV offers live streaming TV of the major networks plus some cable channels like AMC, along with DVR capabilities. The cost has increased to $49.99/month but they’ve added Discovery, HGTV, Travel Channel, and a couple other popular channels. There is a one-month free trial.
YouTube TV is available throughout the U.S.
Hulu with Live TV - Great for network and cable channels plus Hulu originals
Hulu with Live TV is the traditional Hulu streaming service plus a selection of over 50 live TV channels including the major networks and cable channels It’s only available in “select markets”, which probably means major cities but not rural areas. Cost is $44.99 per month, increasing to $54.99 per month on 12/18/2019.
You also get Hulu’s inventory of streaming TV shows like “The Handmaid’s Tale” and movies. This was a good deal, but with the cost increase, it starting to smell more and more like cable TV.
Philo TV - Great if you don't watch sports
Philo TV is a great streaming service for those who are not into sports. Since sports channels cost disproportionately more than other channels, this can save you a lot of money!
Cost is $20 per month for 58 channels. There is a 7-day free trial. See channels below.
If you don’t need sports channels, Philo might be a good choice for you!
CBS All Access - Great if you can't get CBS with an antenna or want Star Trek Discovery
You can watch CBS shows live and on-demand with CBS All Access for $5.99/month with limited commercials or $9.99/month for no commercials. This could be useful if you can’t get free broadcast TV. But on the other hand, many CBS shows are available of the CBS website for free for a limited time the day after. There are some shows, like “Star Trek: Discovery”, and the upcoming “Star TreK: Picard” which you can only watch on CBS All Access though.
Fubo TV - Great for non-ESPN sports
Fubo TV started in 2015 as a streaming service specializing in soccer channels but they’ve added mainstream channels to become a legit all-around streaming service. They’re still heavy on sports with the glaring exception of ESPN. Cost is $54.99 per month. Compare the channels they offer and their price with the other services on this page to determine if it’s a good deal for you or not.
AT&T Now (formerly DirecTV Now) - Cable and movie channels
AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now) offers local channels plus some cable and movie channels. It has recently caused a big stir in the industry by reducing the number of channels it offers, raising prices, and including HBO, whether you want it or not. Depending on exactly which channels you want, it might still be worth looking into though.
They have two plans: Plus for $65/month and Max for $80/month. Both plans include HBO, but Max includes Cinemax as well.
The channels in their $80 Max plan are shown below:
Locast - Great if you just want local and network stations
Locast is a great low-cost streaming TV solution if you just want basic network and local channels, and you’re not able to pick them up using an antenna. Technically, there is a free Locast service, but it’s basically unwatchable due to interruptions every 15 minutes. Locast is a nonprofit that relies on donations. The lowest donation tier that will give you watchable TV costs $5/month. As with all of these services, you need an Internet connection to watch Locast.
You can watch Locast on their website or using their Roku app.
With so many choices, which one is the best? Well, the decision partly depends on which channels you want to get. But I would say, if you are able to get the major network stations (ABC, CBS, etc.) using an antenna, I would go with Sling TV because it’s the cheapest, although it has a somewhat minimalist set of channels.
If you are not able to get the networks using an antenna, I would go to YouTube TV or Hulu with Live TV, depending on whether you want to pay a little extra for Hulu’s regular offerings in addition to the live TV.
Note, cnet.com has created a handy chart showing what channel each of these services offer if you are looking for a particular channel. Or check out this tool from Suppose.TV that shows you the best streaming services based on which channels you want.
On-Demand Subscription Services
These are not live-streaming services like cable or broadcast TV. Rather, these have libraries of videos that you can watch any time as a subscriber. These have monthly fees but you can cancel any time.
Netflix: Good for Original Content and Movies
Netflix offers a good selection of movies, TV shows, and original movies and TV shows like “Stranger Things”. Unlimited streamed programming starts at $8.99 per month for SD quality and $12.99 for HD on two screens at the same time, and $15.99 for Ultra HD and four screens at the same time. Netflix works on a wide variety of devices including your computer, Roku, and Apple TV, as well as the PS3, Wii, and XBox game consoles. Some DVD players and smart TVs can also stream Netflix. You can try it free for a month to see if it’s right for you!
Hulu: Good for TV Shows, Movies
Hulu (the regular non-live TV version) is a very popular streaming service featuring a catalog of TV shows and movies for $5.99 per month with limited commercials and $11.99 per month with no commercials. Hulu is increasingly investing in original programming like “The Handmade’s Tale”. I also enjoyed the story of one-time James Bond actor George Lazenby in “Becoming Bond”. They have a one-month free trial so there’s nothing to lose to try it.
Disney+: Great for Disney classics, Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars
If you’re a fan of Disney, Pixar, Marvel, or Star Wars, the Disney+ streaming service is a no-brainer, at least until you’ve watched all of the movies from these studios on your list. It also offers all seasons of The Simpsons and Muppets Content. For a Star Wars fan, “The Mandalorian” series is a must-watch.
Disney+ only $6.99 per month, an amazing price point compared to the competition. If you want to throw in Hulu and ESPN+, the price is $12.99, also a bargain.
Of course, Disney+ is available on all of the major streaming devices. There’s a 7-day free trial, so check it out!
SHOWTIME: Movies and Original Series
Amazon Prime: Original Series and Movies
Amazon Prime is extremely popular for giving you free 2-day shipping on Amazon, but it also gives you access to thousands of movies and TV shows on Amazon. Cost is $12.99/month or $119/year. If you’re a student, you can be a member for $59 per year or $6.49 per month, a good deal! Standout original Amazon TV series include “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, “The Man in the High Castle”, and “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan”. There are also some moves, but they tend to be older ones than you’d find on Netflix.
It’s a good deal if you use what it has to offer. Many people I know swear by this service. And good news for Apple fans, Amazon Prime is coming to Apple TV.
HBO Now: Good for Movies and Originals
HBO Now offers the movies and original programming of HBO, but all you need is an Internet connection! No cable TV subscription required! You can watch HBO Now on your computer, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS device, or Android device. It’s currently $14.99 per month. If you just gotta have “Game of Thrones”, now you can have it without cable!
Starz: Lower Cost, Good for Movies
Starz offers moves at a slightly lower cost than the other services, at $8.99 per month. They offer a seven-day free trial. Starz is owned by Lionsgate films but offers movies by other major studios as well.
Apple TV+: Not Much Content Yet
Apple jumped into the streaming service wars with its Apple TV+ streaming service for just $4.99 per month after 7-day free trial. It features only original programming.
Since this is such a new service, it doesn’t have a ton of content yet: fewer than a dozen TV series. None of these has generated huge buzz so far. If you’re curious about any of them, check out the free trial.
Of couse, if you subscribed to a more than few of these services all the time, your costs would start to approach that of cable TV. Instead, I recommend subscribing for only short periods of time to watch specific shows. When you’re done, cancel your subscription and try a different service. All have free trials so you can save some money, at least initialliy, by rotating through all of the services (and there many!)
I personally never subscribe to more than one service at a time, and I cancel when I’m done watching the show I wanted to watch on that service.
Video Rental/Purchase – No Subscription Fees!
These are online stores where you can rent or purhcase moves and TV shows a la carte. There’s no subscription fee.
Amazon Video offers tons movies and TV shows – a great selection, that you buy or rent individually as opposed to a subscription. Movies range from 99 cents to $4.99 to rent. You can also purchase movies and TV shows. I personally use Amazon Video and like being able to occasionally watch paid content without a monthly subscription fee.
Fandango Now is a video service offering recent movie and TV show purchase or rental, similar to Amazon Instant video. Prices are comparable to Amazon.
If you own an Apple device, you know about iTunes. TV shows are $2.99 to buy and movies are $4.99 to rent. This is about a dollar more than other services like Amazon. Selection of recent movies and shows is pretty good. You can watch them using your Apple TV, iPad, iPhone, or computer.
I personally watch a lot of video content on YouTube. It’s a great source of free older TV shows, concerts, comedy shows, and other content. For example, I was able to watch a good number of some older full episodes from the Discovery Channel just by searching YouTube. All of the episodes of the vintage sci fi series, “Space:1999” is on YouTube. You never know what you will find. You can watch it on your TV using Apple TV, most modern Roku devices, Chromecast, or Amazon Fire TV. For more hints on what to find on YouTube, check out this article. I highly recommend YouTube as a source for totally free video!
Pluto TV is a free streaming TV and movie service that offers both on-demand movies and a live-TV-like viewing experience. You can watch on their website or on a your streaming device. The movies are older, of course, but they’re better quality than what many other free streaming services offer, in my opinion.
The Network Websites – ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CW, PBS
Let’s not forget full episodes available free on the major network websites. Be careful to distinguish between “full episodes” and “clips”. Also, more and more sites are requiring “cable TV login”, which means you have to have cable TV to view some of the shows unfortunately. But, there are still a good number of current shows available for free on the networks’ sites (I usually watch the Big Bang Theory that way).
You can find links to free video on the ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CW, PBS and much more at my Free Internet Video Links page.
Sony Crackle is a source for free (and legal) Hollywood movies and TV shows. The selection is mostly older stuff, more more modern B and C-level stuff, but there are some gems in there. You can watch on your computer from the website, or on your TV; all of the major set-top boxes have a Crackle app built-in. Check it out!
Similar to Sony Crackle, Popcorn Flix offers older movies for free, both on their website and in their Roku app (also available on other platforms).
The Roku Channel
Roku is getting into the media business with The Roku Channel, offering free older movies and TV shows, but on their website and Roku app.
Vudu, formerly a video-rental-only service, now offers a selection of free movies! Navigate to the “Movies on Us” section to find a bunch of movies that are “free with ads”. Okay, these aren’t recent releases, but you might be able to find an oldie that you like, and there seems to be a better selection than the other free movie sites.
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If you have a question about this article, leave a comment below. I personally read and answer each one. If you want advice on TV reception, leave your zip code. I'd also love to hear how you're saving money on TV. Tell me your story! - Brian