AT&T's has two separate services: DirecTV Now and Watch TV. The much-cheaper Watch TV includes 30 channels and many of them, such as AMC, HGTV and BBC America, are no longer available on DirecTV Now. Watch TV doesn't have any sports or local channels, and many of the shows on its channels can be watched on-demand with a Hulu subscription for less. It also doesn't work with Roku devices, but it is available on the other major streaming platforms. And some AT&T wireless plan customers get it for free.
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Since current seasons of CBS aren’t available on Hulu, CBS All Access is one option to get CBS Shows the day after the initial broadcast as CBS isn’t a part of Hulu. The basic service costs $5.99 per month and does air commercials. However, they offer a commercial-free plan for $9.99 per month. The service also offers live local CBS in over 150 markets. For more details, check out my review of CBS All Access.
In terms of subscriptions, Acorn is an absolute must for anyone who wants to spend hours every day touring around quaint villages and gritty British city streets, enjoying gentle comedy and hard-hitting crime stories alike. But Netflix is also well-stocked with great BBC, ITV and Channel 4 productions, and Sundance Now has been expanding its overseas catalog. Get those three and stay diligent with your PBS app, which makes a lot of its “Masterpiece” productions available for free for a limited time after they air. You could also try BritBox, a streaming service from the BBC and ITV.
Hulu With Live TV ($39.99/mo.): The package varies from region to region, but for the most part this is one of the most conveniently cable-like services out there. It has most of the major basic cable channels — including ESPN and the big cable news outlets (CNN, MSNBC, Fox News) — and some local broadcast channels. The base price also includes everything that standard Hulu has to offer and up to 50 hours of DVR recording of live telecasts. For additional fees, users can eliminate commercials on Hulu shows, expand the DVR storage and add subscriptions to HBO, Cinemax and Showtime.
What you get: YouTube TV offers access to live TV from up to 50 providers, including all the major networks. It also has a cloud DVR with unlimited storage, and you can have up to six individual accounts. Thanks to a recent expansion, the service is now available in most national markets. With YouTube TV you also get the original programming on YouTube Red Originals. You can add Showtime for $7 per month, Starz for $9 per month, CuriosityStream for $3 more per month, or AMC Premiere for an additional $5 per month.
Plenty of cable providers require customers to sign lengthy contracts, which can be both difficult and expensive to get out of. Contracts are particularly frustrating if you’re a renter or student and don’t know where you’ll be living next year. Fortunately, Verizon Fios won’t lock you into a contract. If you want standalone Fios TV, your plan is automatically month-to-month, with no cancellation fees.
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)
Credit: ShutterstockTom's Guide compared all three services head-to-head-to-head, and discovered that Netflix is generally the best of the three. However, the services do not offer exactly the same thing. Netflix is a good all-purpose service, while Hulu focuses on recently aired TV, and Amazon Prime is part of a larger service that also offers free shipping on Amazon orders, e-book loans and other perks. (Viewers who just want Amazon Video without any other perks can now subscribe to it for $9 per month.)
You can still watch some episodes for free if you don’t pay for the $8 Hulu subscription. If I remember correctly with Hulu’s free account you can watch the 5 most recent episodes for any given show. We used it that way for a while, starting the episodes playing in the Chrome web browser and then sending it to the Chromecast to play on the 50″ TV. Worth it in my opinion.
While bundles are often a great deal - especially for people who love sports or movies - it's important to be aware that some companies' ultra-competitive bundle pricing is valid for a limited time only (e.g., six months or a year), after which time the cost of the bundle goes up. In some cases, customers are able to extend the duration of the promotional pricing just by calling the cable company and speaking with a representative.
For vast libraries of movies and TV content prior to the current season, I recommend getting the 30-day free trial to Amazon Prime. Another big reason to get Amazon Prime is the option of adding Showtime and Starz with your subscription. For just $8.99 per month, you have every TV show and movie offered by Starz and Showtime just as if you had the network with a cable provider.
2010 was the first year that pay television saw quarterly subscriber declines. In the second quarter of 2012, Sanford Bernstein determined that losses took place in five quarters. Leichtman found that the decrease in pay subscriptions was not happening in large numbers. One reason was that some sports events, as well as other types of television (such as series airing on cable-originated networks), could not be seen online. Sanford Bernstein said the number of pay television subscribers increased by 677,000 during the first quarter of 2010, and a poll conducted by The New York Times and CBS News showed that 88% of people surveyed had such a service, and only 15% had considered going exclusively to web services. People under the age of 45, the survey said, were four times more likely to use the Internet only. To combat the trend, pay television providers were allowing people to stream television programs on desktop, laptop and tablet computers. Craig Moffett of Sanford C. Bernstein still stated that high prices and other methods would eventually drive customers away, calling cord cutting "perhaps the most overhyped and overanticipated phenomenon in tech history."
Amazon Prime Video: The "other" major streaming service, which is included as part of a $99 annual Prime Membership or $9 a month. The interface isn't as user-friendly as Netflix, but the service often offers shows not on Netflix, including originals like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Amazon Prime also has the ability to add channels (HBO, Starz and more), making it a potential one-stop shop.