The Best TV Providers
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How We Found the Best TV Providers
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6 top picks
The Best TV Providers
To find the best providers, we looked at the biggest companies out there — the ones we know you’ll encounter in your search for prime-time entertainment. Then, we separated the best from the rest by looking at customer experience, packages, and DVR options.
The 6 Best TV Providers
The Best TV Providers: Summed Up
How We Chose the Best TV Providers
High customer satisfaction
Well, high for TV providers. In an industry with a bad reputation for customer service, it’s helpful to know which providers are least likely to be frustrating. We pulled rankings from customer service survey sources, including the American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), J.D. Power, and Consumer Reports.
We looked for providers with a solid track record of resolving billing discrepancies and providing reliable service. The higher the score, the more likely the company will communicate billing details, limit surprise fees or price raises, and troubleshoot your tech.
After comparing these (mostly mediocre) customer satisfaction ratings, we scrapped providers with consistently low scores.
TV providers don’t make it easy to compare options. They all offer several package tiers, but the price, channel selection, and equipment available for each tier aren’t consistent between providers. For example, Xfinity’s top-tier plan, “Digital Premier,” includes over 260 channels, while Verizon’s top-tier “Extreme HD” plan offers more than 340.
We looked at the number of channels included in each provider’s starter, medium, and premium plans, but also weighed specialty offerings like premium channels and sports packages. Some TV providers offer multiple premium channels for free; some include all five big ones in a package tier (usually the highest); some charge $15 per month just for HBO alone. The more quality entertainment thrown in for free, the greater a plan’s value.
DVR capabilities allow TV providers to stay competitive with TV streaming, and have a big impact on the quality of your entertainment experience. But DVRs range significantly in the number of shows they can simultaneously record, the amount of content they can store, and how much you’ll have to shell out for those services.
We knocked down providers like Charter Spectrum, whose DVR option is just a glorified cable box. By comparison, DISH’s Hopper 3 impressed us with voice recognition, massive memory, and the ability to locate the remote (because we’ve all been there).
Price is important — but hard to compare
We looked at pricing for three major but dissimilar cities — Seattle, Chicago, Des Moines. Sometimes the price was consistent; often it varied. The number of channels you get varies too, as some states offer more regional channels. Regardless, no matter the provider you go with, both cost and channels depend on your address.
Any prices we reference here are ballpark — enough to get a sense of providers’ comparative cost, but not enough to make a purchasing decision if it hinges on what’s cheapest. To get a better sense of what’s available where you live, you’ll have to compare plans and pricing on each provider’s website.
While the specificity of price makes it impossible to say which will give you the best value, bundling always saves money. So, we examined how bundling your services with one provider impacts price (versus purchasing separately). Providers like AT&T let you build your own bundle from any of the channel tiers and internet speeds. Others, like Charter Spectrum, only offer fixed channel bundles with just one internet speed option.
Why We Chose It
Now owned by AT&T, DIRECTV is the largest satellite TV provider with availability in all 50 states. If you want the best (and don’t mind paying extra for it), DIRECTV has it all: comprehensive channel packages, award-winning customer service, and the best sports package around.
If you’re a sports fiend, you no longer have to resort to sketchy streaming sites to watch international soccer matches and local basketball games. The DIRECTV sports pack contains over 50 sports channels, plus the NFL Sunday ticket unlocks exclusive football coverage.
DVR comes standard — and includes a lot
All monthly plans include DVR service and equipment for up to four televisions. The DVR, called Genie HD, can restart live shows, record five shows at once, store 200 hours of HD content, and use your phone as a remote with the DIRECTV App. Want to keep an eye on the competition while watching your team advance in the playoffs? You can view eight sports broadcast on one HD channel. Or if you need to tune in to the game while someone else watches Spongebob, you can split the screen with Picture-in-Picture and watch any two shows side by side.
Phenomenal customer service
DIRECTV dominates customer service surveys. J.D. Power, which grouped scores for both of AT&T’s properties (AT&T TV and DIRECTV), awarded it 5/5 stars for overall satisfaction in the 2018 J.D. Power U.S. Residential Television Service Provider Satisfaction Study. Which means, among other things, that in comparison to other TV providers, you can expect fewer outages, clearer communication, and better customer service from DIRECTV.
Lots of package options
You have six packages to choose from, ranging from the cheapest, Select, which includes 155+ channels around $60 (comparable to some of the more affordable channel packages from other providers on our list) to Premier, approximately $135 for 330+ channels. That top tier includes all premium channels and the DIRECTV Sports Pack.
Another huge boost to DIRECTV value: every plan comes with three months of free premium channels, and then it’s $60 each month for all five (HBO, Starz, SHOWTIME, EPIX, and Cinemax). If you want that access beyond the initial months of service, choose the Premier package, which includes all premium and sports channels.
All the sports, all the time
DIRECTV ’s big claim to sports fame: the NFL Sunday Ticket, an exclusive package covering all things football, including out-of-market games. It even includes Fantasy Zone — a DIRECTV -exclusive channel devoted to fantasy football. There’s also Short Cuts, a feature that gives 30-minute commercial free recaps of entire games. Currently, the NFL Sunday Ticket costs about $293.94 for the season.
To get all the other sports, the DIRECTV Sports Pack unlocks 30 regional sports networks, MLB Network Strike Zone/Extra Innings, ESPN Buzzer Beater, international soccer, specialty sports, and more. The pack is just $14 more each month, and it’s included in the Premier package.
Points to Consider
Requires professional installation
Because satellite TV requires attaching a satellite dish to the outside of your home, DIRECTV doesn’t allow you to do it yourself. You’ll have to carve out time for a technician to visit, but, on the plus side, installation is totally free.
Bundling comes with extra fees
Looking to bundle AT&T internet with DIRECTV? Expect to pay an extra $30 per month for internet speeds up to 100 Mbps. You can also add landline phone service for an additional $10-$20 per month. Though DIRECTV offers its television service in all 50 states, AT&T internet isn’t as easy to come by. Depending on where you live, AT&T may pair you up with another partner provider like CenturyLink, HughesNet, or Mediacom.
Why We Chose It
Nice packages, plus perks
DISH’s channel packages start with America's Top 120, which offers 190 channels for approximately $60 per month, including the majority of popular channels. That’s the same price as Xfinity's Digital Starter package, but you get 50 more channels. If you want premium channels and full access to international and regional sports you’ll want to look at upgrading to the America’s Top 250. DISH plans include premium channels like Showtime, STARZ, and the DISH Movie Pack free for three months. After promos, DISH will bill you an extra $30 per month, unless you call or go online to cancel.
Competitive sports package
DISH’s sports package is only $13 each month for over 35 different networks. This includes NFL Network and Red Zone, MLB, beIN, and regional sports channels, like Longhorn Network. You can also purchase season and league passes for all kinds of sports, or individual league passes for access to one specific sports season (this is an option for most providers too).
Stand-out DVR capabilities
The Hopper 3 DVR is the most enticing DISH feature. It blows away the competition with its ability to record 16 shows at once, store 2,000 hours of content, pay your bill, auto-skip commercials on prime-time recordings, set advanced parental controls on different TVs, and learn about the messaging in shows before your kids watch them. You can even use it to help find your remote. As with Xfinity’s DVR, Netflix is built-in. You can also access apps like The Weather Channel, Pandora, and YouTube — you don’t have to hop between apps when deciding what to watch.
Good customer service reputation
Another J.D. Power award winner, DISH Network scored 5/5 in all categories except communication and programming (it has comparatively fewer HD channels, and its channel guide isn’t as user-friendly). The ACSI gave it a 67, the third-highest of our picks — just two points below the top-performer, AT&T’s U-verse.
Points to Consider
Packages and channel options second place to DIRECTV
If you’re a dedicated satellite user and a power-TV watcher, you’ll be more impressed with DIRECTV’s line-up of channels and specialty packages, though you’ll generally pay a little more than you would with DISH. DIRECTV offers nearly double the number of package options and allows for more add-ons. Since they’re both satellite providers, chances are you’ll have the option of either one for your home no matter where you live, so compare their specific offerings to see how they measure up to your own viewing habits.
Why We Chose It
Most widely available fiber-optic provider
With a presence in 21 states (AL, AK, CA, FL, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MI, MS, MO, NC, NE, NV, OH, OK, SC, TN, TX, WI), AT&T is the most widely available fiber-optic TV provider. It also boasts an equally wide range of package options. Plans start at 25 channels and reach beyond 550 (though full availability of those packages is rare). Better yet, AT&T lets you build your own double- or triple-play bundle — combine any TV, internet, or phone plan for a steep discount.
Bundle your way
AT&T lets you build your own bundle, and that’s where it really stands out. You can pair any of its internet and TV packages (available to your address), which allows you to go big or small in different areas as your usage dictates. Typically, you can save around $20-$30 on internet by adding it to your TV plan.
AT&T’s DVR — Total Home DVR — offers the standard features you’d expect: You can record four shows at once, store 422 hours of SD or 155 hours of HD content, and program the DVR from a wireless app.
Points to Consider
Basic means basic
AT&T’s basic plan gives you really cheap cable access, straight up. But it’s not particularly good value. Its 25 channels include common networks like CW, CBS, PBS, NBC, and ABC. If you watch anything outside of basic network shows, you’ll want to look at those higher tiers to get more bang for your buck. Jump to the next tier (U-Family or U-200) to unlock over 100 channels. All plans include three months of free HBO and Cinemax. After that, you’ll have to pay a monthly $14–$18 fee for either.
Not available everywhere
While its 21-state reach is the best of all fiber-optic providers, AT&T still leaves over half the country out in the cold. For those looking to bundle, its internet service has the same availability. So even if you opt for the 50-state DIRECTV, bundling with AT&T’s fiber service is limited.
Small plans, limited sports
Unlike like its counterpart, DIRECTV, AT&T’s U-verse has limited channel packages. For most addresses, you may only have its 180+ channel package available — especially when bundling. Some locations may have five channel packages to choose from, but none will host the robust sports offerings of U-Verse’s competitors. If you like to keep your TV simple, this won’t be a problem. But for split-screen sport fanatics, you’ll want to consider another provider.
It's important to note that AT&T began launching another streaming service called AT&T TV. Therefore, the company has stopped supporting U-verse with the same verve it once did. With the 2015 acquisition of DIRECTV, the launching of AT&T TV, and the rebranding of DIRECTV NOW into AT&T TV NOW — the company hopes to funnel customers away from U-Verse, their former crown-jewel. Check out our AT&T U-Verse review for a deeper dive.
Why We Chose It
Crafted packages containing all your favorites
If you want a slimmed-down package of the types of channels you regularly watch, Fios has you covered. The Custom TV plan allows you to choose one channel package based on your channel preferences: Lifestyle & Reality, Kids & Pop, Home & Family, and Sports & News. But the channels included in each genre bundle aren’t exclusive to just one bundle. For example, if you like Animal Planet, you can get it in your Kids & Pop, News & Variety, or Infotainment & Drama pack.
Traditional plans cover more ground
If the people in your home have vastly different TV preferences, Fios has traditional TV plans, too, and we found the standard plans to be a much better deal. Its starter plan, Preferred HD, unlocks hundreds of channels and covers everything included in the custom plan’s packages. If you don’t mind paying a little extra per month, this gets you all the channels from every genre bundle.
Plenty of premium add-ons
Showtime, Starz, and Epix are included in the Ultimate HD plan, or you can add all three premium channels to a cheaper plan. Verizon has a few different options for sports packages, too. You can purchase individual season passes, or the Sports Pass that features extreme sports, outdoor sports, football, soccer, college sports, and more.
DVR and bundling options
Verizon offers three different DVR services to choose from, depending on how much TV you want to record. They can hold 50, 100, or 200 hours of HD content, can connect to one, five, or 12 TVs, and can simultaneously record two, six, or 12 shows. You can manage your DVR settings and remote control from the Verizon Fios TV app, too.
If you want to add internet and phone, you can build your own bundle as well. The Triple Play bundle includes a 150 Mbps connection, a home phone, and the Preferred HD TV plan for less than a similarly priced Comcast bundle that offers the same number of channels but only 100 Mbps.
Good customer service ratings
J.D. Power has ranked Verizon Fios No. 1 for customer satisfaction (specifically for “customer satisfaction with residential internet service in the East”) six years in a row. Fios TV also ranked No. 2 in customer satisfaction in the most recent ACSI (American Customer Satisfaction Index). These high scores speak to Verizon’s reliability, channel selection, and clearer-than-average communication.
Points to Consider
Verizon Fios only available in eight states (DE, MA, MD, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VA) and Washington, D.C. But if you live on the East coast, its packages are well worth a look. The Custom TV plan presents the choice of a channel package based on type of viewer and genre of channels — a unique option no other provider offers.
Why We Chose It
There’s no two ways about it — Xfinity from Comcast is a great deal. And if you’re looking to bundle, you stand to save even more. TV and internet bundles start at around $50 per month with the Choice Double Play plan — that’s the cheapest we found. All bundled TV and internet options offer triple-digit download speeds, but if you want triple-digit internet speeds and channels, add internet to the check out the Standard Double Play plan with speeds of 100 Mbps and 125 channels for an extra $20 per month. However, if you want to add a landline phone, know that Comcast charges a steeper-than-average $20 fee.
Economic but satisfying channel lineup
TV-only packages range from 10 to 260 channels. On the lower end, the Choice TV plan offers 10-25 channels, which are mainly local channels and the big four: ABC, NBC, FOX, and CBS. The next step up, Digital Starter, provides the majority of popular channels like A&E, AMC, E!, Food Network, Lifetime, and Disney Channel. Its biggest plan, Digital Premier, includes over 260 channels and all sport and premium channels. But you won’t find any premium promos advertised here. Get HBO, Showtime, and Starz with the Digital Premier plan or tack them on individually for an additional $10 per month.
When it comes to sport plans, Xfinity pales in comparison to DISH and DIRECTV. It offers a Sports Entertainment Package for an additional $5 to $10 per month, but most of the sports channels are included in packages that you could supplement with season passes — a better option if you’re only interested in a few specific sports.
Xfinity has a pretty good DVR, called X1, but it does charge an additional $10 per month for DVR service. With the capacity to store 150 hours of SD/HD content on the hard drive and 60 hours in cloud DVR storage, the X1 also lets you record up to six shows at once. It is also the only provider besides DISH to build Netflix into the DVR. You can search its entire catalog via voice on the remote. The X1 is also the only DVR to allow you to take your library with you — you can download your shows to watch even when you’re offline — on your commute, during long flights, or when staying somewhere remote.
Points to Consider
Not available in all states
If you fall in the 39 states Comcast services (AL, AZ, AK, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OR, PA, SC, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV) or Washignton, D.C., you can snag a bargain cable package. If you live in one of the remaining eleven states, you’ll need to look elsewhere for a deal.
Poor customer service
Comcast has a reputation for having pretty bad customer service, particularly with conflicting communication and sneaky fees. J.D. Power gave it 2/5, although that still put it above Charter Spectrum in the East region. Consumer Reports scored Xfinity “Poor” in customer service and technical support and ranked it in the bottom half of service providers, landing slightly above Spectrum. Compared to our other top picks, you’re more likely to experience service issues, inexperienced customer service reps, and potential billing miscommunications. That said, Comcast is making improvements, and its scores have risen slightly in recent years.
Why we chose it
Big channel packages and fast internet
Spectrum’s service is pretty go-big or go-home. Its channel packages start at 125+ and its internet speeds are 60, 100, or 200 Mbps. For some context, the average U.S. household has internet speeds of around 72 Mbps. Most people won’t need as much as Spectrum offers, but heavy internet users will appreciate the option to bundle high speed connection with their TV service.
No contracts and a 30-day money-back guarantee
While some providers may offer contract-free service, they often lack introductory discounts. Charter Spectrum, on the other hand is completely contract-free and still comes with enticing promo-pricing. Contract-free means you can quit at any time, but if you end your service within 30-days, you’ll get your money back.
Service bundling and transfer incentives
If you’re looking to bundle the telecommunications trifecta — phone, internet, and TV — Charter Spectrum’s Triple Play bundle is hard to beat. First off, if you’re looking to switch from another provider, Spectrum will help Triple Play customers buyout their current contracts up to $500. You’ll also get free installation ($35), WiFi setup ($10), and DVR service for a year ($13 per month).
Points to consider
Spotty customer satisfaction
Your experience with Charter Spectrum will vary depending on your region. It generally fell behind the pack in nationwide ratings, with a 59 from the ACSI. With J.D. Power, it scored last with 2/5 in the East and North Central regions. But in the North and South regions, Spectrum beat out four other providers with a 3/5, and even garnered a 4/5 in the West Region Satisfaction Index. Depending on your region, you may want to consider another provider.
Guide to TV Providers
How to choose the right TV provider
Figure out which channels you’ll actually watch
To make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck, think about the channels you watch on a regular basis, and then compare providers and plans to see which options include everything on your list without making you pay more for extras. Then, weigh the perks of your finalists. What do you value most — painless customer service, cheap monthly rates, premium channels? It’s your choice to make.
Note any fees and expenses beyond the per-month price
We all want to see a low monthly bill. Ensuring that the price you pay is the attractive pricing you signed up for means keeping an eye peeled for additional fees. One-time fees, like for installation and equipment, are common. However, other unusual fees, like broadcast or HD, might surprise you, and can keep surprising you month after month. Check with a sales rep or consult the fine print before signing your contract.
Watch out for rate increases
TV providers hook you with a low price, but chances are you won’t be paying that rate forever. When the promotional deal expires, you want to be sure that your monthly bill won’t make you wince for the remainder of your contract. Luckily, most companies are willing to cut you another deal once the introductory period is up — you just have to call and ask.
TV Provider FAQs
Our Other TV Provider Reviews
We’ve been researching TV Providers for several years now. For a deeper dive into plans and pricing, check out our other reviews:
- The Best Cheap TV Providers
- The Best Cable TV Providers
- The Best Satellite TV Providers
- The Best TV Streaming Services
- The Best Live TV Streaming Services
- The Best On-Demand Streaming Service
- DIRECTV vs DISH Network Satellite TV
- AT&T U Verse Review
- DIRECTV Review
- DIRECTV NOW
- DISH Network Review
- The Best 4K TV
- The Best Internet Providers
- Why Does Comcast Have Such A Bad Reputation?