Every cable-replacement service has strengths and weaknesses. This list is presented in order from the strongest overall (PlayStation Vue) to the weakest (DirecTV Now). While your preference among services may depend on what you want to watch, which programs you want to record and how much you're willing to pay, this guide should help you decide what's worth your money.
In designing our guide, we took all of these factors into account and simplified things, designing five bundles of online television programing—one of which, we think, will suit just about any type of TV viewer. For each bundle, we show you the price, the projected savings compared to the 2014 average basic cable price of $66.61, and how many additional a la carte TV seasons (estimated $30 per show) you could buy before cable would be more cost-effective.
Pricing & Other Info Offer ends 04/14/19. Restrictions apply. Not available in all areas. New residential customers only. Limited to Internet Plus Instant TV with Limited Basic, 20 hours of cloud DVR and Performance Plus Internet service. 1-year minimum term agreement required. Early termination fee applies if all Xfinity services are cancelled during the agreement term. Equipment, installation, taxes and fees, Broadcast TV Fee (up to $10.00/mo.), Regional Sports Fee (up to $8.25/mo.) and other applicable charges extra, and subject to change during and after the term agreement. After term agreement, or if any service is cancelled or downgraded, regular rates apply. Comcast's monthly service charge for Internet Plus Instant TV, ranges based on area, from $72.95 to $78.95 (subject to change). Service limited to a single outlet. May not be combined with other offers. TV: Limited Basic service subscription required to receive other levels of service. On Demand selections subject to charge indicated at time of purchase. Not all programming available in all areas. Internet: Actual speeds vary and are not guaranteed. Xfinity hotspots included with Xfinity Internet Performance (and above). Limited hotspot access included for Performance Starter and below. Available in select areas. 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee applies to one month’s recurring service and standard installation charges up to $500. Call for restrictions and complete details. ©2019 Comcast. All rights reserved.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of alternatives to cable, but it’s a great mix-and-match way to get started. And you can usually get a free trial of almost any of these before you commit. If you’re not quite ready to give up your favorite sports or movie channels, you can always call your cable or satellite provider and try to negotiate a better deal. Knowing your options will usually work to your advantage!
DISH also has the best DVR available. The Hopper 3 Smart DVR lets you record up to 16 shows at once, and you can record 2 ½ times more HD content (500 hours) than the Genie from DIRECTV (200 hours). However, keep in mind that the advertised package price doesn’t include the DVR price. You’ll have to pay an extra $10 per month for the Hopper and an additional $5–$10 per month for each added receiver.
No cable service truly offers a la carte cable TV. However, through VUDU, iTunes and Amazon (even if you’re not a Prime Instant Video subscriber) you can buy episodes of entire seasons of shows a la carte. This includes shows currently airing. At first, that might seem expensive, but shows are $1.99 an episode and you can get a discount on the season pass. I saved a ton of cash this way when my family cut the cord. My family purchases only 3-4 season passes a year, keeping it under $10 a month.
K.C. That’s a great way to save money, especially if you aren’t much of a TV watcher. I don’t personally watch much TV, but the shows my wife and I watch tend to be on cable – often the Travel Channel, Food Network, Discover, History, ESPN, and The Disney Channel for our little one. That said, I don’t think we would be heartbroken to cut the cord and go without – just as long as I can keep my fast internet connection! 😉
If the shows available streaming services like Netflix and Hulu aren’t enough for you, consider PlayOn. It’s another streaming video service with more than 60 channels, including Disney, ESPN, Comedy Central, HGTV and many other popular channels. It works with Roku and most of the other streaming video players. PlayOn has frequent “lifetime license” sales where you can get a lifetime license for $39.99, and you can record anything for playback later — even streaming content. (Reviewed by Jody Mace)
YouTube TV is an exciting alternative to cable, but you need to do your homework to make sure it is right for you. It is very possible some of the channels you want are not available on YouTube TV, or the number of streams is not a good fit for you. I would suggest taking advantage of the 7-day free trial to see if the service is right for you before you subscribe.
If the primary purpose of your cord cutting is to cut back on spending, why not watch for free? Yes, you heard that right. With PlutoTV you can watch live TV, On Demand movies, and trending videos on the internet for free. Although this cable alternative doesn’t offer any major network channels, it does offer more than 40 live channels including live sports, and 15+ music streaming channels. You can also enjoy their exclusive PlutoTV sitcoms and even a Spanish language channel.
DISH TV has one of the highest customer satisfaction ratings of any TV provider. It scored a perfect 5/5 Power Circle Rating from J.D. Power and this year stole the top spot from DIRECTV. DISH TV also ranks in the top three for customer satisfaction on the 2018 ACSI Telecommunications Report. Customers like DISH TV for its nationwide availability, two-year price guarantee and good channel variety.
Another category of cord-cutters was labeled by Nielsen in March 2013 as "Zero TV". In 2007, two million households had neither subscribed to a pay television service or received television programming via antenna. By 2013, this number had increased to five million. Most people in this category were younger and did not have children in the household. People could still view shows via online streaming through services such as Netflix. At the 2013 National Association of Broadcasters Show, the solution for broadcasters was stated to be mobile television. A 2013 Leichtman survey showed that the 13 largest MVPD companies, covering 94 percent of the country, experienced their first year-to-year subscriber losses. 80,000 subscribers dropped their service in the year ending March 31, 2013. 1.5 million cable customers dropped their service, with Time Warner Cable losing 553,000 and Comcast losing 359,000 subscribers. AT&T and Verizon added 1.32 million subscribers; DirecTV and Dish added 160,000 subscribers, compared to 439,000 the previous year. Before 2013, only quarter-to-quarter losses had been recorded industrywide. Internet video and switching to receiving television programming by antenna were reasons. Bruce Leichtman described the subscription television industry as "saturated". A TDG study showed nearly 101 million U.S. households subscribed to television at the industry's peak in 2011, but the number would fall below 95 million in 2017. In 2013, the number of total subscribers to pay TV services fell by a quarter of a million. This was the first decline from one year to the next.
That’s right, Amazon—it’s not just for shopping. It’s a major contender in the online streaming market. A membership to Amazon Prime Video gives you access to a wide selection of popular movies and TV series, plus a bunch of Amazon original series. And if Prime Video doesn’t include the show or movie you want as part of your package, you can usually pay per season or episode, or just rent it.
The cheapest TV provider in Maine is not necessarily the cheapest TV provider in Missouri or New Mexico. Availability relies on infrastructure (for cable) and signal access (for satellite). Some providers may only service a couple of states, while others are available nationwide. When a company has a foothold in a given market, you’re more likely to see plan flexibility and options. To make this review helpful to the most readers, we focused on providers that cover large sections of the country or service highly populated areas.
If you have a TV in your house -- that is, a screen that incorporates a tuner -- you're part-way to cutting the cord already. An affordable indoor antenna hooked up to your TV will let you watch free TV over the air from any channel you receive in your local broadcast area. Antennas cost as little as $10. See our comparison of indoor antennas here.