While Cable used to be the top pick for watching your favorite movies and shows, the launch of several quality streaming services has quickly threatened the dominance of traditional television.
With a large variety of content available at prices that are much more affordable than that of a traditional provider, more and more people are realizing the benefits that moving their TV time from cable to platforms like Netflix provides.
Most people know about the big names like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, but there are a host of other options that work together to replace your traditional TV. Whether you’re cutting the cord or just looking to augment your existing TV service, there’s bound to be something to suit your needs.
Best Cable Alternative: DirecTV Now
Price: $35 per month
DirecTV Now is an excellent option for anyone looking for DirecTV service without the satellite dish. For around $35 a month, you can enjoy 60 channels, with 80 channels available for $50 per month. If you’re looking to enjoy a selection of your favorite channels without adding extra channels, all for an affordable price, DirecTV Now may be worth a second look.
Higher-tier plans offer up to 120 channels, and regardless of your plan, you can access DirecTV’s extensive on-demand library of over 10000 titles. Additional perks include the ability to stream on up to two different devices at any time, as well as support for smartphones and tablets. 4K programming with HDR is also planned for 2018.
Perhaps most notable about DirecTV Now is its status as a sort of traditional TV and streaming hybrid. With a price that’s more affordable than cable and no contracts required, you can startup and stop the service as easily as you would Netflix. No extra equipment is required, and to watch it on your TV, all you need is some sort of streaming device. And as part of a current deal, new customers that pay for three months of DirecTV Now will receive a free Apple TV, making that requirement a non-issue.
Best Cable Alternative - Runner Up: YouTube TV
Price: $35 per month
Youtube has been around for years and is by far the most popular option for people to create and share their own videos. Recently, however, they’ve been looking to capitalize on the cord-cutting market, offering their own take on a streaming / cable hybrid: YouTube TV
A relative newcomer to the streaming scene, YouTube TV offers access to 50 different TV channels including all major networks, as well as a cloud DVR with unlimited storage. The channel lineup includes a number of popular channels, including Bravo, Disney, ESPN, FX, Fox News, Fox Sports, MSNBC, National Geographic, USA, and some regional sports networks.
The channels that YouTube TV offers are excellent, but there are some notable exclusions that keep it from the spot as top cable alternative. Programming from Viacom,Time Warner, Discovery Communications, and Scripps Networks Interactive is absent on the service, meaning you’ll be missing a pretty decent selection of important shows. Until options like MTV, Comedy Central, HGTV, Food Network, Cartoon network and more are added to the service, it will be clear that YouTube TV is still in its infancy.
Best Cable Alternative — Runner Up: Sling TV
Price: $20 – $40 per month, depending on package.
Part of the main reason that more people are moving away from traditional TV is the exorbitant costs associated with a cable subscription. If you’re paying for 100 channels just to get access to the 5 or 10 you regularly watch, it’s truly a waste of money. While you’re currently unable to choose just one or two channels to subscribe to, you can build your service off of the type of content you’re looking for. Whether you’re watching the sports and news, or cartoons and lifestyle programming, there’s a customizable package for you that will trim the fat off of Cable TV.
Additionally, you can watch Sling on your phone or tablet, cancel any package easily online, and enjoy a service without long contracts or extra fees. While going with only streaming services like Netflix or Hulu may not be feasible for some people, Sling TV is definitely a good middle ground.
Best Bang for your Buck: Amazon Prime Video
Price: $99 per year / $11 per month for free shipping, $9 standalone video service
While Amazon’s video service is not the least expensive service on this list, the benefits that Amazon Prime as a whole offers make it the best bang for your buck. Having access to free two-day shipping on the majority of products sold on Amazon is the main benefit of Amazon Prime. The fact that you get a streaming platform with thousands of movies and TV shows as an added benefit make Amazon Prime an excellent value.
Additionally, Amazon Prime has some excellent exclusive original content such as “Transparent,” Z: The Beginning of Everything” and “The Grand Tour.” The service also offers programs like “Downton Abbey” and “The Americans,” plus HBO’s back catalog of shows.
As an added benefit, customers can add on premium channels like HBO and Showtime for a small additional fee.
Best For Network TV: CBS All Access
Price: $6 per month with ads. $10 ad free.
For those looking for major-network content without using an antenna, CBS All Access provides access to full-length episodes from CBS. Additionally, you can enjoy live programming streams of local CBS affiliates in 124 markets. Most of the current series have complete backlogs available to view, so you can catch up on your favorite shows on your own time.
If you’re a Sci-Fi fan, CBS All Access is more than worth the cost, due to the debut of its new series “Star Trek: Discovery.” While the service originally released for free on the CBS broadcast channels, the remainder of the episodes are only available through the CBS All Access streaming service.
CBS All Access is also great for watching local NFL games, or to catch up on “The Good Fight,” the much awaited sequel to “The Good Wife.” The main drawback is that it only hosts shows from one particular channel, but if you’re a fan of multiple shows it may be worth the price.
Best For British TV: Acorn TV
Price: $5 per month or $50 per year
While services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu dominate the streaming arena, there’s a market for more niche services that offer something you can’t get with the major players. Acorn TV offers users access to their favorite British television programs. A perfect option for international viewers who want a taste of the U.K., Acorn TV runs a variety of programs ranging from drama to comedy. If you need to see Doc Martin’s scowl to feel alive, this is a great service and plays well with Roku.
Best For Sports Fans: FuboTV Premier
Price: $35 per month for 50 channels
Part of the reason that many people keep a cable subscription is their desire to watch live sports. While services like Netflix can replace a lot of regular TV content, for a long time, people who wanted to watch their favorite teams were stuck with a monthly cable bill.
FuboTV Premier offers a mix of live and on-demand channels including Fox and NBC, cable channels like A&E, Bravo, FX, SyFy, and USA, and sports networks such as BeIn Sports, FS1, Golf Channel, and NBA TV. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll gain access to a variety of regional sports networks that cover sports like the NFL and NBA.
You can get 50 channels for around $35 a month, which is far less expensive than most cable bills. A free DVR service also ensures you won’t miss any of the action, with storage for 30 hours of programming as long as you’re subscribed.
Best for Game of Thrones Fans: HBO NOW
Price: $15 per month
While HBO used to only be offered as an addon to traditional TV service, fans of shows like Game of Thrones and Westworld can enjoy their favorite programs for an affordable fee of around $15 per month. Additionally, there’s a backlog of many of HBO’s most popular programs such as “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City.” With recent subscriber numbers passing 2 million, it’s quickly becoming one of the major players in the streaming arena.
All you’ll need is a streaming device, and HBO Now is available on a variety of devices ranging from Roku and Apple TV, to gaming consoles like the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. With the high quality of HBO’s shows and the flexibility that show creators have as a premium channel, HBO Now has some of the best programming out there.
Best For Access to Current Shows: Hulu
Price: $8 per month with ads, $12 per month without
Hulu has received a reputation in the streaming industry as “Netflix with Ads,” but that’s not exactly a fair label. When compared to Netflix, Hulu has access to far more current shows, often uploading episodes just a day or two after they air on TV. Due to the high costs of providing shows that are currently on the air, Hulu runs ads with their $8 a month plan. However, for $4 more you can enjoy all your favorite content without any interruptions.
If you’re a college student, Hulu has teamed up with Spotify to offer a combination of the two services for $5 per month — making it one of the cheapest choices on this list.
Best Cable / Streaming Hybrid: Hulu With Live TV
Price: $40 per month
As the name suggests, you can pay around $40 a month for everything Hulu has to offer, combined with around 50 TV channels. Channel lineup includes major broadcast channels like ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC in several markets, as well as cable channels including A&E, Cartoon Network, CNN, Disney, Fox News, FX, TBS, and TNT.
Hulu With Live TV may also be an excellent option for sports fans, with access to CBS Sports, ESPN, and Fox Sports, as well as some regional sports networks. Following in the footsteps of traditional TV providers, you can pay an extra $15 a month for a DVR capable of recording 200 hrs of content. Record games while you’re away from home so you never miss a moment of the action.
The duo of Hulu’s impressive library of streaming content combined with a channel lineup that even includes access to live sports, makes it a legitimate option for combining the best of streaming with the breadth of content that traditional cable TV offers.
Best Original Programming: Netflix
Price: $8 per month Standard Definition – Single Screen, $11 per month High Definition – Two Screens, $14 per month 4K Ultra High Definition video – four screens
Netflix is the king of streaming, but their philosophy for content has changed as of late. Previously offering a huge amount of shows and movies from different providers, their strategy has gradually shifted more towards producing original content. While some bemoan their favorite shows leaving the service as networks begin to charge more and more for distribution rights, there’s no doubt about it: Netflix produces some seriously high quality shows.
From superheroes to prison drama, there’s something for everyone in Netflix’s rapidly expanding selection of original shows. Recent hits like “Stranger Things” have greatly increase subscribers, adding more and more profit to Netflix’s already gigantic revenue. From “Orange is the New Black” to “The Crown,” Netflix is producing a huge amount of original content, and that content alone is worth the price.
Best For Traditional-Style Cable Packages: PlayStation Vue
Price: $40 – $75 per month, depending on package
Some people really enjoy the style of Cable TV, but desire more choice and more flexible options for viewing their favorite content. The selection of channels from PlayStation Vue ranges from 40 on the low end, to 90 channels with their more premium plans.
Prices of Vue are generally less expensive than traditional cable, and their channel lineup has very little filler. While you’ll get fewer channels than a high-end TV package, it will cost less, and the channels you do get will be worth the money.
Best For Movies: Showtime
Price: $11 per month
If quality is your main concern, services like Showtime and HBO are your best bet. Showtime has an advantage over HBO, however, in that it’s slightly less expensive. While each channel offers their own shows (You won’t get Game of Thrones on Showtime), the production quality of the shows on both options is largely the same.
Another aspect that sets Showtime apart from HBO is the large amount of movies in their content library. For an affordable monthly fee of just over $10 a month, you’ll have access to shows such as “Billions,” “Homeland,” and “The Affair,” as well as their huge library of premium movies. It’s more than worth the cost, in our opinion.
Looking Forward: Cord Cutting is the Future
It’s plain to see that there are a huge amount of options available outside of traditional Cable. It’s never been easier to cut the cord — and there are even a variety of services that offer a hybrid of Cable TV and streaming. Even if you subscribe to several of these services, your bill will likely still be far lower than even a basic TV package.
At the end of the day, people are moving more and more towards streaming, and these options likely only represent the beginning of a future where customers get more for less by moving their TV online.
Long story short: if you’re struggling with the bill on cable TV, streaming services are even cheaper than the satellite TV alternatives like DirecTV and Dish. Serious TV watchers are usually still better off with a full-featured cable or satellite plan, but “the rest of us” can usually get by just fine on one of the minimalist services listed above.