The price writ in foot-tall gold letters on promotional material is likely not the price you’ll end up paying. We dug into the fine print to uncover potential rate increases after promotional periods end and extra costs like installation fees, activation fees, early termination fees, and equipment fees. Even if a provider’s advertised monthly rate is low, your bill will likely end up being higher, and information on additional fees typically isn’t easy to find on a provider’s website. We found the cheapest TV providers by basing our comparisons on those actual, final costs.
Although early (VHF) television receivers could receive 12 channels (2–13), the maximum number of channels that could be broadcast in one city was 7: channels 2, 4, either 5 or 6, 7, 9, 11 and 13, as receivers at the time were unable to receive strong (local) signals on adjacent channels without distortion. (There were frequency gaps between 4 and 5, and between 6 and 7, which allowed both to be used in the same city).
Those limitations have not stopped the segment from growing. Sling TV added 26,000 paying customers in the third quarter, bringing it to 2.37 million total customers. That's actually more than the roughly 1.8 million customers DISH has lost on satellite side, but the numbers are a bit deceiving since Sling -- even the more expensive packages -- generally costs much less than DISH's satellite service.
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!
But sometimes the problem is with the service itself or the networks’ servers. CBS All Access, DirecTV, and Sling TV have all had problems with their services freezing or crashing. For instance, some DirecTV Now subscribers missed part of the 2018 Rose Bowl when they were kicked off the service. And during this year’s Super Bowl, the CBS Sports and CBS All Access streaming apps crashed late in the game for some of those using Roku streaming devices.
With the least cable-like interface of the Big 5, Hulu's greatest asset is the integration of live TV with its significant catalog of on-demand content for one price. Unfortunately, the interface frustrations apparent with the standard service are amplified once you add live TV. The app generally confuses "simple" with "incomplete." It technically offers a guide, for example, but it's extremely bare-bones. Another issue is that you'll have to pay extra, a hefty $15 per month, to get the ability to skip commercials on Hulu's cloud DVR. Its channel count is solid, but YouTube TV at $5 less is a better value if you don't care about Hulu's catalog.