The Best Live TV Streaming Services
Best Channel Lineup
Best for Sports Fans
Best User Experience
Best for HBO
Best Skinny Bundle
Best Free TV Streaming
How We Found the Best Live TV Streaming Services
50 hours of research
10 services tested
7 top picks
The Best Live TV Streaming Services
A subscription with a cable company can feel like a one-sided relationship. You may not have many providers to choose from, leaving you with no recourse for annoyances like rate hikes. The best live streaming services give you another option: the same TV channels you love for a fraction of the cost.
How We Chose the Best Live TV Streaming Service
Live TV channels
The best live TV streaming services provide more flexibility than cable. You can live stream tv channels as they air while paying a month-to-month fee — no need to sign a long-term contract, and no need to pay a $200 penalty if you want to end your contract early. For this review, we didn't look at popular streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, which only stream on-demand content (You can read about those options in our review of on-demand services). In all, we found seve10 options that qualified as "live TV streaming services."
Quality of channels
After finding our contenders, we graded each live TV streaming service on the quality and number of channels they offer. Each service offers a different range of channels, but it's not always easy to figure out which package is actually the best deal. Companies tend to pad their offerings with obscure channels to make the raw numbers sound better. The 100 channels in Playstation Vue’s Ultra tier sounds great, but that includes three different Hallmark channels, plus obscure offerings like the Law & Crime Trial Network. That combination might be perfect for some, but we wanted to figure out which streaming service offered channels that most people would be interested in.
Enter TiVo’s 2017 Q4 Trends Report. Every year, TiVo surveys over 3,000 U.S. and Canadian adults on their TV-viewing habits, asking each respondent, “Which channels would you be interested in including in your TV package?” Unsurprisingly, broadcast TV networks ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox are the top four most desirable channels. (ABC grabbed the number one spot, with 66.6% saying they’d want it included in their ideal package.) We assigned scores to each of the 92 channels that respondents listed — the more people who wanted the channel, the higher its score.
Most desired channels offered by each service
According to research from PricewaterhouseCoopers, a remarkable 91% of sports fans who have cable keep it only to watch live sports. We wanted to find a streaming service that would let viewers cut the cord without missing out on their favorite league games.
Here, we turned to a 2018 Gallup survey, which asked 1,049 Americans, “What is your favorite sport to watch?”. Then we assigned scores to each league — NFL, MLB, NCAA football, car racing, NBA, NHL, men’s soccer, NCAA basketball, and PGA Golf — based on their popularity. We checked which channels air live games from these leagues (and how often), giving us a corresponding score for each channel. Channels that show live NFL games earned more points than those airing men's soccer, for instance.
Again, we added up these scores to find the providers with the most to offer live sports fans. We also gave extra points to services that offered regional sports networks like Fox Sports and NBC Sports, which air your local market’s MLB, NBA, and NHL games.
Cloud DVR and simultaneous streams
A number of live TV streaming services also include perks like cloud DVR storage and simultaneous streams. Cloud DVR lets you record programs and watch them on demand at your leisure, a useful feature for anyone with a schedule that’s not accommodating to TV networks. Simultaneous streams let you watch on multiple devices from the same account, nice for anyone with kids or a significant other who can’t agree on what to watch.
No matter how many channels you have, it's not a good deal if you have no way to play them. Most of our seven providers were fairly device-agnostic: You can access them using just about any streaming device, smart TV, or gaming console on the market. If you’re new to streaming TV, you can check out our review of the best streaming devices here.
The 7 Best Live TV Streaming Services
Why we chose it
Best-in-class channel lineup
The best channel lineup is highly subjective, but we think Hulu + Live TV is the best option for most people. According to research from Nielsen, Americans receive 197.4 channels on average, but only watch 20.9 of them. While it has fewer total channels than comparable packages from YouTube TV, PlayStation Vue, and fubo TV, Hulu + Live TV has more of the ones people actually want to watch.
Of the top 10 most desired channels in Tivo’s survey, Hulu was the only live TV streaming service to include all ten — two more than any of its competitors. That means you’ll get all the local channels, plus other big names like the Discovery Channel, History, FX, A&E, TNT, and TBS.
Includes Hulu on-demand
Hulu + Live TV has one perk that no other live TV streaming service offers: When you sign up for Hulu, you also get its vast on-demand library of TV shows and movies, which we named the best on-demand streaming service for network shows. The $45 version of Hulu + Live TV includes Hulu’s ad-supported on-demand plan, but you can upgrade to the version with no ads for $51.
Airs most live sports
As you may have heard, Hulu has live sports. That doesn’t mean it’s the best live TV streaming service for sports — PlayStation Vue and YouTube TV both have more channels that air live sports — but it will do just fine for most viewers. It doesn’t carry the NFL Network, MLB Network, NBA TV, or NHL Network, but even without those, you’ll be able to catch every game from each of the big four leagues. Hulu also has an extensive collection of regional sports networks, so you’ll be able to watch all of your local MLB, NBA, and NHL team’s games.
50 hours of DVR storage
Hulu’s 50 hours of cloud DVR storage is solidly above average compared to its competitors. While PlayStation Vue offers unlimited storage, each program expires after 28 days. Everything in Hulu’s DVR is good for as long as you subscribe — a relief for those of us saving that one show we’re definitely going to get around to soon.
Points to consider
Poor user interface
While we didn’t consider this a dealbreaker, Hulu’s interface and navigation were some of the worst we saw. Everything seemed to require a couple more clicks than necessary. The live TV guide was tricky to find in the first place, and once we got there, we were highly disappointed. When you’re watching something on a streaming device and want to browse what else is on, you have to actually exit the program to scroll the guide. Every other service we tested — and every cable TV guide we’ve used in the digital era — keeps a portion of the screen on the channel you’re watching while you scroll. The guide itself didn’t make good use of its space either, only showing four channels at a time, and only in the current time slot.
Only two simultaneous streams
You’ll only be able to stream on two devices at once with Hulu. If you live in a house with several people who want to watch different things, it might be worth going with PlayStation Vue, which offers five simultaneous streams per account. You can also add Unlimited Screens to your Hulu plan for an extra $9.99 per month, which lets you watch on as many devices as you want inside your home network, plus three when you’re outside your home.
Why we chose it
Extensive sports channels
If you’re part of the 91% of sports fans who only keep a cable subscription to watch live games, Playstation Vue is a slightly better option than YouTube TV. At $50, the Core package has every channel needed to stream national sports games, from the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL to NASCAR. It doesn't have every possible channel for NCAA football and basketball games — conference-specific channels like the PAC-12 and ACC networks are missing — but you won’t find these in most cable subscriptions, either.
Of course, for most sports fans, following local teams is just as important as catching national games. Regional sports networks broadcast live games for leagues like the MLB, NBA, and NHL. PlayStation Vue has deals with both Fox Sports and NBC Sports, which cover the vast majority of regional markets. You should definitely run your zip code through its website before signing up, but Playstation Vue had the right RSNs in all of our test runs.
Easy to navigate
PlayStation Vue was all-around easy to use and navigate. Its live TV guide took a little getting used to — it has you scroll horizontally instead of vertically — but once we did, we liked how it opened things up. You can see five or six channels at a time, compared with the usual three or four, and the time slots extend for two hours. The experience wasn’t as perfect as YouTube TV’s, but we thought it was solidly above average.
Unlimited cloud DVR storage
We loved how PlayStation Vue comes with unlimited cloud DVR storage. Running late for the big game? You can schedule a recording from your phone so you don’t miss a minute of action. Your recordings do expire after 28 days, but this was still one of the more generous DVR plans we saw.
Five simultaneous streams
You can also stream on five devices at a time with PlayStation Vue — two more than any other live TV streaming service. Only three of these can be viewed outside of your home, but that limitation was standard with every service.
Points to consider
Not worth the money for casual sports fans
We think PlayStation Vue is the best option for sports fans, but it does have some noticeable gaps for anyone who wants a more well-rounded TV streaming experience. Of the channels that consumers said they want the most, PlayStation Vue is missing some big names: History, A&E, Comedy Central, Lifetime, and The CW aren’t available on any of its plans. If you can do without more niche sports channels like the NFL Network, MLB Network, and NBA TV, Hulu + Live TV is a better choice.
Why we chose it
The 96 channels in fubo TV’s $55 package are more than any other service offers at comparable price points. And it’s not just fluff, either. While fubo is missing some big names at the top — notably ABC, Discovery Channel, and ESPN — its lineup is remarkably complete. It has 37 of the top 50 channels consumers said they wanted in TiVo’s, and 48 of the top 92 — six more than the next closest competitor.
Great for fans of European soccer
If you follow European soccer, fubo TV is by far your best option. It has 10 different soccer channels total, with eight versions of beIN Sports, a network devoted almost exclusively to covering Europe’s top leagues. This includes La Liga, Ligue 1, Copa del Rey, Copa Libertadores, Football League Championship matches, and Real Madrid TV. On top of that, fubo also provides NBC Sports, which is the U.S. provider of English Premier League games. And if you want to follow your local MLS team’s games, it also carries most regional sports networks.
Sports in 4K
If you have a new 4K TV, fubo is the only streaming service — and one of the only ways in general — that you can watch sports in 4K. Few types of video benefit from 4K’s increased resolution and frame rates as much as live sports, and fubo carries as much as anyone. It regularly shows college football, MLB, and Premier League games on the Big Ten Network, FS1, and NBC Sports. Keep in mind, fubo still classifies this feature as “in BETA,” so there might be some hiccups. You can see its full schedule of 4K games here.
Points to consider
At $55 for its cheapest plan, fubo has the highest starting price of any live TV streaming service. While it does provide more total channels, we still think Hulu + Live TV at $45 offers better value. But if you’re looking for a package with cable’s vast channel lineups, and don’t mind paying a cable-like monthly bill, fubo might be worth it.
Missing essential sports channels
While fubo brands itself as the best live TV streaming service for sports, it has some unforgivable gaps for most sports fans. When it comes to channels that carry live NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL games, fubo tied for last with only 16 channels. It’s missing ABC, which airs mammoth sporting events like the NBA Finals, and ESPN, which has the college football playoffs and NFL’s Monday Night Football. Put simply, if you go with fubo, you’re going to miss some of the biggest sporting events of the year.
Why we chose it
Best-in-class interface and navigation
YouTube TV is a delight to use. Most live TV streaming services have fairly similar interfaces, and they all stick pretty closely to the cable TV playbook. YouTube TV is the one that stands out. Instead of the ubiquitous black background with tiny text, YouTube TV provides a clean white interface with clear, easy-to-read black lettering.
We also loved how its guide shows you a preview of what’s currently playing and a short description of the program when you stop on a channel. If you see that your show’s still on commercial or the game’s a blowout, you don’t have to waste time clicking on that channel.
Unlimited DVR storage
It’s hard to beat unlimited DVR storage. YouTube TV lets you record as many shows and movies as you want, and it keeps them for nine months. That was way more generous than any other service. (PlayStation Vue also offers unlimited storage, but recordings expire after 28 days.)
Great for live sports
After PlayStation Vue, YouTube TV has the best sports lineup of any live TV service, with 21 out of 23 channels that air games for the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL. It has a wide collection of regional sports networks for your local teams, league-run channels like the MLB Network and NBA TV, plus college conference networks like SEC and Big Ten networks. The only thing it’s missing is the NFL Network, a fairly big gap considering it was the exclusive broadcaster for seven primetime games in 2018.
Points to consider
Average channel selection
YouTube TV graded out as about average in our evaluation: better than Sling Orange + Blue (but $10 more a month) and DIRECTV NOW, but worse than Hulu + Live TV, PlayStation Vue, and fubo TV ($5 more a month). While it’s missing popular channels like History, A&E, Comedy Central, Lifetime, and Nick, it does have every channel at the very top: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and Discovery Channel. Hulu has a better channel lineup for less money, but it’s close enough that YouTube TV’s superior interface and DVR storage could be the deciding factor for some.
Not compatible with Amazon Fire TV or PlayStation
YouTube TV currently has the most limited device compatibility of any of the major live TV services. While it did recently announce that YouTube TV would be coming to Fire TV “later this year,” there’s still no timetable for when that will actually happen.
Why we chose it
Includes HBO in every plan
DIRECTV NOW has one edge over every other live TV streaming service: It’s owned by AT&T, the same company that owns HBO. That’s why it can afford to include the premium network in all of its plans, where it typically costs $15 a month to subscribe separately or add it to Hulu or PlayStation Vue. This also gives you access to HBO Go, which has HBO’s entire back catalogue of prestige television and movies. If HBO is a must for you, DIRECTV NOW is worth considering for this perk alone.
Has every local channel
Along with Hulu, PlayStation Vue, and YouTube TV, DIRECTV NOW is one of the only live TV streaming services that includes each of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC — the most important channels for most viewers. You can get these channels in HD for free using a TV antenna or Locast.org (in some markets), but it’s still nice to have them in your TV package.
Points to consider
Worst channel lineup overall
The last time we updated this review, DIRECTV NOW had the best lineup by far. But after it cut channels and raised prices in March, it now sits squarely in last place. Of the six main live TV streaming services, it scored the lowest overall in our evaluation, with a worse channel lineup than Sling Orange + Blue, which costs $10 less per month. It’s missing three channels in the top 10 that consumers said they wanted the most — Discovery Channel, History, and A&E — more than any of its competitors.
Regional sports networks only available in $70+ plans
If you want to follow your local MLB, NBA, or NHL team’s games on DIRECTV NOW, you’ll have to pay at least $70 a month, a truly laughable amount. You can get these regional sports networks for as low as $40 on Sling Orange + Blue, and they’re typically available in the base packages on other services.
20 hours of DVR storage
In addition to its weak channel lineup, DIRECTV NOW is also the stingiest when it comes to DVR storage. It only offers 20 hours of space, and that expires after 30 days. The only service that had an arguably worse DVR package was Sling, which charges $5 extra per month for 50 hours of space. But even if you add DVR to Sling’s Orange + Blue package, it still comes out to $5 less than DIRECTV NOW — and it has a better channel lineup.
Two simultaneous streams
Like its DVR storage, DIRECTV NOW’s simultaneous streams allowed is on the lower side. You’ll only be able to watch on two devices at one time, so if you have a house with diverse viewing habits, it might be worth upgrading to three streams for an extra $5 per month.
Why we chose it
If you’re looking to drastically reduce your cable bill, AT&T WatchTV is the best service for streaming on a budget. For $15 a month, you can get 43 channels, many of which are actually pretty popular. It’s the absolute cheapest streaming service around, more like a Netflix subscription than a cable bill.
Has five out of 10 most desired channels
With WatchTV’s low price tag, you might expect it to be made up entirely of off-brand networks you’ve never heard of. But it actually has a lot of big names, including half of the 10 that consumers in TiVo’s survey said they wanted the most: Discovery Channel, History, A&E, TNT, and TBS, a combination that only Hulu and Sling could match. For context, DIRECTV NOW has seven out of 10, and it’s $55 per month compared to WatchTV’s $15.
Points to consider
No local channels or live sports
AT&T WatchTV is dirt cheap for a reason: It doesn’t include a lot of the channels that keep people tethered to live TV. You won’t get any of the big four networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC ), or any channels that broadcast live sports. You can get around this in a couple ways. A TV antenna will give you access to your local networks in HD, and these also carry most of the year’s biggest sporting events. You can also use Locast.org in many markets, a not-for-profit that streams these local channels for free.
No DVR storage
WatchTV is the only live TV streaming service that doesn’t offer any DVR storage at all. It’s part of the reason it can keep prices so cheap. If this is a must-have feature for you, Philo offers a similar package for $20 a month, and comes with unlimited DVR storage.
One stream at a time
You’ll also be able to stream on only one device at a time with WatchTV. If you have more than one TV in the house, it might be worth upgrading to Philo, which offers a slightly worse channel selection but allows three streams at once, while only raising the price to $20 a month.
Why we chose it
13 news channels
If you want to keep up with current events without paying a monthly cable bill, Pluto TV will get you your cable news fix. It has versions of name brand news channels like CNN, CBS, and NBC, and while it doesn’t always air the same programs, it sometimes did. We were surprised to find, MSNBC playing on the NBC News channel, for example, which is typically only available through a paid package.
Old shows from MTV, Nick, and BET
Pluto TV has a partnership with Viacom, and as such, it airs a number of old shows on its MTV, Nick, and BET channels. Certain nostalgia-inclined millennials will probably appreciate these more than the current versions of these channels, as they exclusively air late 90s/early 2000s classics like “Punk’d,” “Spongebob”, and “All That.”
Several well-known sports channels
If you like having ESPN on in the background, but don’t like paying the estimated $9 a month it adds to your cable bill, Pluto TV offers a great alternative. You won’t get the live games that ESPN has, but you will get plenty of highlight shows and sports commentary. Pluto TV has 14 sports channels in total, including well-known names like FS1 and Stadium that are included in most paid live TV streaming services.
Points to consider
Not many traditional cable TV channels
Because it’s a free service, you won’t find many traditional cable channels in Pluto TV’s lineup. Even when you do recognize a channel, the programming on it is typically made up of that network’s back catalogue.
Ads interrupt programs at random times
It’s hard to complain about a free service, but we did find it annoying how Pluto TV’s commercials interrupted programs mid-sentence. This happens mostly on channels like NBC News and CBSN, which air a mix of their own content and their better-known counterparts’.
Guide to Live TV Streaming
How to stream live TV
Check your zip code
While ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC are the most sought after channels, each provider’s offerings will vary by location. ABC could be available to live stream in San Diego but available only on-demand in Omaha, or not at all in San Antonio. The same goes for regional sports networks. If these channels are important to you, we recommend checking your zip code on each provider’s website before signing up. We ran zip codes for Seattle, Cleveland, New York, Los Angeles, and Boston and found that DIRECTV NOW, Hulu with Live TV, Playstation Vue, and YouTube TV all had the big four networks in these regions, while our other finalists were more hit or miss.
Connect your TV
Most TVs sold in the past few years can connect to the internet and download apps for streaming, and this is by far the most popular option for streaming content. TiVo’s survey found that 26.8% of respondents use their smart TV for this purpose. Coming in second are gaming consoles — specifically Xbox and PlayStation — at 21.9%.
If you don’t already own one of these streaming-ready pieces of equipment, a cheaper option is to invest in a streaming device like a Fire TV or Roku. These devices usually cost around $50, plug into your TV’s HDMI port, and connect to your home’s WiFi or Ethernet to provide access to streaming apps. For more information on setting up your TV for streaming, check out our guide here.
Ethernet is better for streaming than WiFi
If waiting for videos to buffer is the bane of your existence, consider an Ethernet connection. Although WiFi has gotten significantly faster over the years, Ethernet is still the more consistent option for streaming TV. Unfortunately, your TV will have to be relatively close to your wireless router for this to work, but the result is a much more reliable connection.
Live TV Streaming FAQ
The Best Live TV Streaming Services: Summed Up
Our Other TV Reviews
Live TV streaming is just step one on the path to a world-class entertainment setup. Check out some of our other reviews on how to step up your TV game: