The Best Alternatives to Cable
Streaming services started as an add-on to DVD and digital download offerings with a trickle of second-run movies and TV shows. They were supplements to the programs you watched on their first (and second) runs on cable TV. But speedier internet connections, an abundance of dedicated streaming video devices, and an explosion of mobile video has allowed services like Netflix and Amazon to bulk up their streaming libraries, invest millions in original content, and give traditional
Telecom giants are not blind to the threat; they’ve tried their own solutions with mixed results, from Comcast’s Xfinity Stream TV service and Watchable online TV app to Verizon’s go90 and AT&T’s DirecTV Now. This comes as networks that were once only available with a pay TV subscription—HBO, Showtime, and Starz—introduce only-online alternatives.
Differentiation is the name of the game when it comes to streaming success. Netflix is the leader in original programming, from the binge hit Stranger Things to the award-winning The Crown. But rivals are catching up; Amazon has Man in the High Castle and Mozart in the Jungle, while Hulu just won an Emmy for The Handmaid’s Tale. Netflix and Hulu have also saved previously dead broadcast shows. These days, services compete more on their original offerings than their resold broadcast content and post-theater-run movies.
Amazon went one step further in taking on Netflix last year by offering Prime Video as a standalone service for $8.99 a month. It’s an especially canny move for Amazon because longtime Netflix customers had their $7.99 subscriptions bumped up to $9.99 in 2016; top-tier plans got a price hike this year, too.
Smaller and sometimes cheaper options abound. Crackle, for example, is still a reliable spot to find a movie or TV show to watch, particularly since
But if you want to cut the cord, these are the most popular services. Which one is best for you? Here’s our rundown of what you can expect from each.
Netflix (from $7.99 per month)
Netflix is the standard-bearer of streaming. There’s a solid selection at all times, with new titles exchanged for older ones monthly. And there’s Netflix original programming to take into account, too. It’s the only place to get your fix of shows like Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, and Jessica Jones.
The $7.99-per-month plan is for one standard-definition stream. For two concurrent HD streams (two people watching from the same account at the same time), it’s now $10.99. For $13.99, you can get up to four concurrent streams and support for 4K content. Netflix is available on a variety of devices, from your PC and tablet to the Chromecast and game consoles. And you can now download content for offline viewing. The company’s DVD service still exists if you want newer releases, but Netflix has long said that streaming is its primary focus going forward.
Amazon Video (from $8.99 per month)
Standalone Amazon Video will set you back $8.99 per month, but if you plan to stick with it for more than a year, you might as well swing for Amazon Prime. which includes Amazon Video—not to mention Amazon Photos, Amazon Music, and a number of other Amazon-centric perks—for $99 per year.
Amazon has about 40,000 titles to stream, but only a fraction of those are included with Prime streaming. Look for the “Prime” banner atop selections that stream for free. Everything else is available to purchase or rent (for Prime and non-Prime members).
In 2015, Amazon also launched the Streaming Partners Program, which lets you add networks like Showtime and Starz to your Prime account, sometimes for a slight discount (save $2 per month on Showtime via Amazon vs. buying on its own, for example).
Amazon Video does not work with Google’s Chromecast, but it’s available on Roku, as well as Amazon’s own Fire TV devices, smart TVs, and more. At WWDC, Apple announced it will soon arrive on Apple TV, too. Prime Video supports two concurrent streams, as long as you’re watching different videos.
DirecTV Now (from $35 per month)
The DirectTV Now streaming service offers dozens of channels of live TV without installing a satellite dish or running cables. The service features excellent picture quality and plenty of connectivity options, and subscriptions start at $35 per month. You won’t find DVR or rewind features, but you can get premium channels like HBO for just $5 extra per month.
There four plan tiers: Live a Little, Just Right, Go Big, and Gotta Have It.
- Live a Little offers more than 60 channels for $35 per month, covering the big networks you’d get in a standard cable package.
- Just Right is $50 per month and includes 80+ channels, adding more niche and spin-off networks.
- Go Big costs $60 per month, but is available at a promotional price of $35 during DirecTV Now’s opening months, and brings the total number of channels past 100 by adding networks like BBC World News, Discovery Family, Logo, Oxygen, Sprout, and Sundance TV.
- The $70 monthly Gotta Have It package gives you more than 120 channels, adding Boomerang, Chiller, El Rey, Univision Deportes, and eight Starz channels.
You can add HBO or Cinemax to any package for $5 each, which includes all live HBO or Cinemax channels and access to the respective networks’ on-demand library. Local affiliates include ABC, Fox, and NBC, and their availability depends on your location. CBS and The CW, meanwhile, aren’t available on the service.
fuboTV (from $39.99 per month)
fuboTV is a great option for any cord-cutting sports fans. This “sports-first, but not sports-only” service offers extensive live sports and entertainment content for all your devices. Whether you want to watch NFL games on Sunday, catch up an MLB game that aired during the day, or even stream a movie on-demand, fuboTV has you covered.
Its flagship subscription plan, fubo Premier, does cost $39.99 per month, but it grants you access to 82 television channels to enjoy. For the national sports events, there’s NBC, CBS, FOX, NFL Network and NBA.TV. For international sports, you get channels from the beIN network and Univision. And if you’re ever not in the mood for sports, fuboTV offers a wide variety of other channels such as The Food Network, CNBC, FX, USA, SYFY, and National Geographic, just to name a few. You not only get to watch live events and programs from these channels, but also a ton of on-demand shows and movies.
fuboTV also offers some cheaper plans aimed at international markets, including fubo Latino for $14.99 per month and fubo Portugues for $19.99 per month. You can also supplement any of these base plans with add-on content, including an $8.99 per month Sports Plus option.
To top it all off, fuboTV offers excellent DVR capabilities and Lookback, a feature that lets you watch anything you may have missed up to 72 hours after it first aired. Enjoy solid streaming performance via its web interface or dedicated apps for Android, iOS, Apple TV, Roku, and Fire OS devices.
Hulu (from $7.99 per month)
Unlike Netflix and Amazon, which typically get new TV series months or even a year after their TV debuts, Hulu gets content almost immediately after airing on TV thanks to its big studio backers. One of the drawbacks, however, is that Hulu still includes ads. An ad-free tier costs $11.99 per month, though some popular shows will have 15-second pre-roll and 30-second post-roll ads.
If you’re on the fence, you can get Showtime for $8.99 per month with a Hulu bundle and save $2 per month. You can also add HBO or Showtime to your Hulu account for $14.99 and $9.99 per month, respectively, but that won’t save you any money; it’s just convenient to not have to switch apps.
Hulu supports a variety of gadgets, but you can only stream to one device at a time. You can’t yet download content for offline viewing, though that is reportedly in the works. Make sure to check out Hulu’s latest redesign across all of its platforms; it features elegant navigation menus and a glossy overall aesthetic.
Hulu recently released a live TV option, named simply Hulu With Live TV. It starts at $39.99 per month and is currently in beta, but already its value and the sheer amount of content available earns it our Editors’ Choice for live streaming TV services. Watch on two screens simultaneously or upgrade to unlimited streams for another $14.99.
Sling TV (from $20 per month)
As you add more services, though, Sling TV can add up. There’s the basic Sling Orange plan with support for one stream at $20 per month, Sling Blue with support for three simultaneous streams for $25, or both with support for four simultaneous streams at $40.
Why would you want both? Some channels on Sling Orange are not available on Sling Blue and vice versa (here’s a breakdown). The Disney Channel, for example, is only on Sling Orange, while Fox Sports is only
Sling also offers extra add-ons for $5 per month each. A Comedy extra adds MTV, Spike, Logo, and more, while a Kids extra offers channels like Teen Nick and Disney Junior—none of which are available via Sling Orange or Blue.
Another $5 extra is cloud DVR, which supports up to 50 hours of content. You can record multiple programs simultaneously and watch on Amazon, Android, Apple TV, Roku, and Xbox One devices. Cloud DVR is not currently supported
PlayStation Vue (from $39.99 per month)
If you’re a PlayStation fan who’s cutting the cord, Sony’s PlayStation Vue live-streaming service is a good way to ditch your cable company while keeping plenty of channels. Plans start at $39.99 per month for live TV with 45+ channels, including Disney and ESPN. Add sports, movie, and premium packages and prices will range from $45/month up to $75/month.
PS Vue started in only a few markets, but went national last year. Channel availability varies by market, though, so check your location before signing up. “In some cases where a live local broadcast channel isn’t available, an alternative On-Demand channel will be available in its place,” Sony says.
You can DVR PS Vue content, except HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax, though “almost all programs” from the live feed of those channels are available on demand. DVR and on-demand content can be watched inside or outside the home, except CBS shows, which are only accessible inside the home.
The service supports up to five streams at once, but there are exceptions, like only one PS4 or PS3 can stream at a given time (you can’t stream from a PS4 in the living room and the bedroom at the same time) and only three streams at once on mobile devices. You can watch on a variety of devices, like your web browser, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Chromecast, and iOS or Android devices—provided you have internet access.
CBS All Access (from $5.99 per month)
While it might seem rather limiting to pay for on-demand access to just one broadcast TV channel, CBS does have a popular lineup of TV shows, and CBS All Access is the only place you can watch The Good Wife spin-off The Good Fight and Star Trek: Discovery. You can also watch NFL games that are broadcast in your local market, including Thursday Night Football on CBS (though you can’t watch on a mobile phone because of a deal Verizon has with the NFL).
For $5.99 per month, you can tap into 8,500 episodes; stay up to date with shows currently on the air or catch up with old favorites like The Twilight Zone, Taxi, and every Star Trek you could hope for. New episodes are available the next day, and it supports live TV streams in 185 markets.
Like Hulu, the $5.99 plan includes commercials, but you can ditch the ads with CBS All Access Commercial Free for $9.99 per month (with the exception of live TV and select shows). TV classics are ad-free on both plans.
Watch on your mobile device (iOS, Android), PC, or Android TV, or stream to your TV via Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, PS4, Xbox 360, or Xbox One.
HBO Now (from $14.99 per month)
The first major premium channel to go out on its own was HBO. The network’s content has been available online for awhile via HBO GO, but that requires a pay TV login to watch. For several years, HBO didn’t want to rock the boat with its cable partners, but it eventually acquiesced to fans’ demands and released an online-only version, dubbed HBO Now, for $14.99 per month.
Sign up and get a free trial via apps from Amazon, Google Play, and the App Store, or add the HBO Now channel to your Roku player. Those with internet service from Frontier, Google Fiber, Liberty, Optimum, Service Electric, and Verizon can also add HBO Now to their web package. Once you’re signed up, you can watch on your PC and other devices. New episodes appear several minutes to an hour after they begin on live TV, and everything on HBO GO is also on HBO Now.
(Available on Android, iOS, and web)
YouTube TV (from $35 per month)
With YouTube TV, you get unlimited cloud DVR storage. YouTube will keep your recordings for nine months, and you can stream your content from anywhere in the US
One YouTube TV membership supports up to six accounts, so you can share with family or roommates, though you can only stream from three accounts at once.
Showtime (from $10.99 per month)
In 2015, premium service Showtime went solo with a streaming service of the same name. It’s hoping the popularity of hits like Billions, Homeland, and The Affair will persuade fans to pay $10.99 per month to watch live streams or catch up with episodes on mobile devices.
For now, you can sign up
(Available on Android, iOS, and web)
Starz (from $8.99 per month)
Starz has launched a new standalone streaming app for $8.99 a month, giving you access to Outlander and other Starz content without the need for a pay TV subscription. That includes series like Power, American Gods, plus movies like The Good Dinosaur. As mentioned above, if you have Amazon Prime, you can add Starz streaming to your account, but it doesn’t save you any money. Both options are $8.99 per month.
(Available on Android, iOS, and web)