When you start adding Paks ($10–$16 per Pak per month) on top of your base service charge, your monthly price starts to go up pretty quickly. It’s nice to start so low, but don’t expect to get out at the advertised price. Also, keep in mind, most Paks are limited to the Contour TV package, so if you’re looking for more options, you’ll be starting at a higher base price.
Google was comparatively late to the game, but YouTube TV is now our favorite live TV streaming service in this price range. The main reason is because it's the cheapest of the four to offer local channels, and its local channel coverage includes all four locals in most areas of the country. It also has the best DVR of the bunch, including unlimited storage, with one catch: If an episode you've recorded appears in YouTube TV's VOD library, it gets replaced by the on-demand version -- so you lose the ability to fast-forward through commercials. Its interface is no-nonsense, even drab, and yet it offers most of the features a cable service can give you. And unlike Sling and others, it's dead simple: one package, one price, done.
We also considered each company’s assortment of channel packages, their prices, and the variety of bundling plans. We took the 136 most watched channels and tallied each provider’s channel plan to compare the price it took to get the best value. We found that you can usually get the best value just by sticking to the simplest channel package. Our favorite providers also offer discounts when you bundle your internet service, and they limit fees for first-time customers.
We looked closely at the ratings and scores by Consumer Reports, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), and J.D. Power. Each of these groups rate cable companies on customer satisfaction, with some breakout categories like performance, value, communications, billing, and technical support. Companies that score well with these consumer resources are more likely to resolve issues, clearly communicate changes in billing, and consistently provide reliable television service.
Bear in mind that, if you’re on the ball, there’s also plenty you can watch for free — with no need to subscribe to anything. This may change in the future as major media companies put more of their products behind a paywall, but for now, some major channels (like ABC, Fox, the CW and PBS) make select episodes of their shows available online for nothing, for a limited time after their original broadcasts. You can watch them through a web browser or through an app on your set-top box.
In March 2019, DirecTV Now became much, much less appealing than it was previously. Not only did corporate owner AT&T jack the price from $40 to $50 per month, it cut numerous key channels, including AMC, Comedy Central, Discovery and HGTV, from its base package. The upside is that HBO is included as part of the price. Getting a standalone HBO Now subscription costs $15 per month, so an increase of $10 to get HBO included is technically a $5 monthly discount. But it locks you into a bundle, just the kind of thing cord cutters want to avoid. On top of that, its DVR and app are a step behind most competitors.