Streaming TV Services Every Cord-Cutter Needs to Know

Over the past five years, there has been a steady increase in web-based streaming services that provide users with libraries of on-demand video content in exchange for a moderate subscription fee. The one you’re probably most familiar with is Netflix. You pay a low monthly price and can cancel anytime.

For most cord-cutters, the void left by a cancelled cable subscription can be filled by one or more streaming options. Ultimately, it comes down to the shows and movies you are looking for and how much you are willing to pay.

Be warned, just like with cable-based on-demand services, content like movies, TV shows, documentaries tend to come and go as the agreements between the major studios and subscription services ebb and flow. It is not uncommon to shift between different combinations of services in response to the content you want to see. The good news is that, unlike cable, you typically are not bound by expensive, long-term contracts trying to lock you to particular services. If you choose, you can play a much more active role in selecting the content that comes to your televisions.

It’s important to divide streaming services into two camps: 1) On-Demand Content and 2) Live TV

The On-Demand players are the ones you’re most familiar with: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime. The new wave of streaming services like Sling TV combine the simplicity of Netflix with the ability to watch and record live television like you would with Comcast or Directv.

Let’s first talk about the On-Demand Streaming providers:

On-Demand Streaming Providers

Not all streaming services are created equal. Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu represent three of the biggest players in the game. If you are looking to find a streaming service filled to the brim with content, these three represent the best places to start.

Netflix

Once upon a time, Netflix was simply a mail-order DVD rental service with a small content streaming component on the side. Now, Netflix represents, in many people’s view, the gold standard for streaming content services. A recent survey of 1,211 households in the United States showed that 54% of adults subscribe to Netflix.

Price: $7.99/month (1 screen); $9.99/month (2 screens); $11.99/month (4 screens). Netflix’s pricing structure changes depending upon how many screens you want to be able to use the service on at the same time.

Free Trial: Netflix offers users a one-time 30-day free trial

Subscription Term: Month to month

Content: Netflix offers a large selection of movies, television series, documentaries, children’s content, and comedy specials, as well as a growing stable of original content.

Verdict: If you are looking to keep your subscription costs down by signing up for only a single streaming service, Netflix is a great choice. Similarly, if you are looking for a service to form the basis of a larger streaming service collection, Netflix fills that role nicely. At roughly 54% household penetration, Netflix is used by both pay-TV subscribers and cord-cutters alike.

Netflix is really leaning into their original content these days. This is great because many of them are excellent, but it also comes at the expense of a slowly diminishing movie and TV series library.

Netflix Summary

ItemDescription
Price$7.99/mo (1 screen)
$9.99/mo (2 screens)
$11.99/mo (4 screens)
Free Trial30 days
Subscription LengthMonthly
ContentOriginal Series, Past TV Seasons, Movies

Hulu

hulu

Price: $7.99/month (with commercials); $11.99/ month (no commercials)

Free Trial: Hulu offers users a one-time 7-day free trial

Subscription Term: Month to month

Content: Hulu’s library focuses primarily on television, although there is also a modest assortment of movies available on the site. Where Hulu is trying to corner the market is in regard to recently-aired TV shows. Rather than waiting months or, in some cases, a year for the latest episodes of your favorite show to hit Netflix or Amazon, Hulu offers it the next day. Next day availability is where they’ve carved out their niche among the streaming video giants.

Verdict: If you want to keep up with current seasons of your favorite shows and watch them on-demand, Hulu is a great option worth considering. Especially when you consider most pay-TV subscribers are watching their content from the DVR rather than live. With Hulu you just have practice a little patience by waiting until the next day to watch your show, rather than the night it aired.

Hulu Summary

ItemDescription
Price$7.99/mo (commercials)
$11.99/mo (no commercials)
Free Trial7 days
Subscription LengthMonthly
ContentCurrent TV Seasons, Past TV Seasons, Original Series, Movies

Amazon Prime Video

amazon

Over the past few years, Amazon has transitioned Prime Video from a digital video marketplace to a full-blown streaming service. Amazon Prime Video is an interesting option for cord-cutters for both its price, the amount of content, and (when paired with a full Amazon Prime subscription) its loads of extra benefits.

The service has traditionally been linked to an annual Amazon Prime subscription (which also give users access to free two-day shipping, Amazon Music, unlimited photo storage, a Kindle lending library, and a lot more). While full-fledged Amazon Prime subscribers still have access to the video service, as of April 2016 Amazon has also started to offer it as a standalone monthly subscription.

Price: $8.99/month for Amazon Prime Video alone; $10.99/month for Prime Video along with the rest of the Amazon Prime subscription benefits for Sprint wireless customers; $99/annually for a year of full Amazon Prime

Free Trial: Amazon offers users a one-time 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime

Subscription Term: Available month to month or as part of an annual Amazon Prime subscription

Content: Amazon offers a large library of free streaming movies, TV series, documentaries, and musical content as a part of its Amazon Prime Video service. One of the strongest components of the Amazon Prime Video library is the wide array of children’s programming. While other players on this list have their share of commercial-free, on-demand children’s content, Amazon has really committed to the genre with a variety of quality, educational, and wholesome material for the little cord-cutters in your household. Additionally, Amazon has followed in the footsteps of Netflix and Hulu by offering original TV series and movies.

Verdict: Amazon is a modern corporate juggernaut. You will be hard-pressed to find a more robust package of retail services and media content than what you get with an annual Amazon Prime subscription.

Prime Video used to be just a small component of that package thrown in as a fringe benefit; but as evidenced by the way Amazon has chosen to break out the service with its own stand-alone subscription option, the company is making a hard run at industry-leading Netflix. Their commitment to original content was rewarded when “Manchester by the Sea” won for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay at the 2017 Oscars.

Amazon Prime Video Summary

ItemDescription
Price$8.99/mo (standalone)
$99/yr (full Prime membership)
Free Trial30 days
Subscription LengthMonthly
ContentPast TV Seasons, Original Series, Movies

Live-TV Streaming Service Comparison

ServicePriceFree TrialSubscription LengthContent
Netflix$7.99/mo (1 screen)
$9.99/mo (2 screens)
$11.99/mo (4 screens)
30 daysMonthlyOriginal Series, Past TV Seasons, Movies
Hulu$7.99/mo (commercials)
$11.99/mo (no commercials)
7 daysMonthlyCurrent TV Seasons, Past TV Seasons, Original Series, Movies
Amazon Prime Video$8.99/mo (standalone)
$99/yr (full Prime membership)
30 daysMonthly or YearlyOriginal Series, TV Past Seasons, Movies

As cord-cutting has risen in popularity, cable subscriptions have naturally begun to decrease. Many of the channel providers who rely on cable subscriptions as the cornerstone of their business model have had to take proactive approaches to carve out a niche in a world without cable to ensure their survival.

The benefit to the cord-cutting consumer is a rise in streaming “a la carte” options that allow users to create customized versions of the cable service they abandoned. In theory, you can create a customized mix of channels at a fraction of the cost of a cable plan and without all the bloat of channels you won’t watch. As with all services, however, some do a better job of this than others.

Sling TV

sling-tv

For cord-cutters who are leery about giving up access to cable mainstays like ESPN, major cable news outlets, and even HGTV, Sling provides a training-wheels approach to cord cutting. By subscribing to their monthly service, you can customize a plan that gives you access to many of the most-watched cable channels via high-quality internet streams.

Instead of renting a cable-box, you use a phone, tablet, computer or any number of commercially-available streaming devices to stream your channels.

Price: Varies by channel package – $20/month, $25/month, and $40/month options are available with various add-on options ranging from $5 to $15. The ability to use the service on multiple devices at once costs extra.

Free Trial: SlingTV offers users a one-time 7-day free trial

Subscription Term: Month to month

Content: Sling offers a solid selection of cable channels as well as local options in select markets. Some channels even offer on-demand options and show replays.

Verdict:

If over-the-air broadcasts either aren’t enough or aren’t available in your area, Sling is a good option for maintaining access to traditional television channels.

Be aware, depending on the package and streaming options you are looking for, Sling’s price can start to add up (especially when you factor in your associated internet costs and the one-time purchases of any streaming devices you may need – more on these issues later). The good news is that without long-term contracts, you can literally add or drop services each month until you hone in on the package that strikes the right balance between price and channels.

DirecTV Now

directv-now

Perhaps the most direct competitor to Sling TV is a mainstay of the subscription television market, DirecTV. Their streaming service, in many ways, lags behind the performance of Sling TV and users have reported various hiccups and outright crashes making the service’s reliability questionable.

Price: $35-$70+/month depending on the package

Free Trial: DirecTV Now offers users a one-time 7-day free trial

Subscription Term: Month to month

Content: DirecTV Now offers 4 tiers of channel packages, each with increasing numbers of channels for an increase in cost. Local Fox, NBC, and ABC stations (no CBS) are available in limited markets.

Verdict:

DirecTV seems to still be a bit wet-behind-the-ears when it comes to their streaming TV service. Connection problems and service interruptions are still getting worked out. Additionally, users are still clamoring for things like DVR features and an increased on-demand selection. Unless there is a particular package of channels you are in love with, SlingTV is probably a better choice for now.

Playstation Vue

playstation-vue

Price: $29.99/month (Access Slim, 45+ channels); $34.99/month (Core Slim, 60+ channels); $44.99/month (Elite Slim, 90 channels); $64.99/month (Ultra Slim, 90 channels plus HBO & SHO)

Free Trial: PS Vue offers users a one-time 7-day free trial

Subscription Term: Month to month

Content: PS Vue offers 4 tiers of channel packages, each with increasing numbers of channels for an increase in cost. Local Fox, NBC, and ABC stations (no CBS) are available in limited markets.

 

Hulu Live

hulu-live

Hulu Live Launched on 05/03/2017 with 50+ channels and on demand content.

Price:$39.99 per month

Free Trial: Probably, but not sure yet

Subscription Term: Most likely month to month

Content: Programming includes Live local and regional TV service,but it’s subject to availability—certain channels and some content may not be available everywhere or on all devices. The cornerstone of Hulu Live’s television content is produced by four major broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC. These networks have partnered to develop Hulu in all of its incarnations. Available sports programming includes CBS Sports, ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC Sports and TNT, as well as regional sports networks available in many markets, News channels include CNN, CNBC, Fox News, Fox Business and MSNBC. Lifestyle programming includes Bravo, E!, Food Network, HGTV and Travel Channel. Other fan favorites like A&E, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, Disney Channel, Freeform, FX, HISTORY, Lifetime, National Geographic, TBS, USA Network, Viceland and more are also included.

YouTube TV (Coming Soon)

youtube-tv

YouTube will offer a skinny bundle of 40 channels.

Price: $35/month

Free Trial: Probably, but not sure yet

Subscription Term: Most likely month to month

Content: Based on negotiations we know it will feature channels from CBS Corp., 21st Century Fox, The Walt Disney Company, Turner and A+E Networks.

VIDGO (Coming Soon)

vidgo

VIDGO, a relatively unknown startup, announced its entrance into live streaming TV at CES in 2016. They’re promising lots of channels, first run movie titles, local programming in select markets, 30 days of cloud DVR, and multiple streams.

Price: TBD/month

Free Trial: TBD

Subscription Term: Month to month

Content: Local, sports, national, international

Subscribing to Individual Networks

Some of the top networks even have their own streaming services now. The two big ones to point out are CBS and HBO. CBS is consistently the top-rated broadcast network.

HBO Now

hbo-now

Price: $15 a month

Free Trial: HBO Now offers users a one-time 1-month free trial

Subscription Term: Month to month

Content: HBO Now offers a fairly robust collection of movies and television programs (including the entire catalog of HBO’s popular original content). New episodes of popular shows like Game of Thrones are available to stream on the service typically within a few hours of their original broadcast.

Verdict: HBO Now is ultimately a niche service for those who have come to enjoy keeping up with HBO’s lineup of original content. The movies and many of the back catalog television episodes available on HBO Now can be found on other services. Be warned, the delay between live airings of new episodes and their streaming availability could mean you miss out on live-Tweeting the latest bombshells in the Game of Thrones zeitgeist!

CBS All Access

cbs-all-access

Price: $5.99/month (limited commercials); $9.99/month (no commercials)

Free Trial: 7-day free trial

Subscription Term: Month to month

Content: CBS All Access features original programming, like the brand new Star Trek Discovery series premiering this summer, alongside the latest CBS shows and an expansive back catalog of broadcast favorites. Local broadcasts are also available to stream (150+ markets), and that includes NFL games.

Verdict: While nearly every CBS show is available to watch via Hulu, CBS All Access is the only way to watch the current season of your favorite CBS shows. In fact, you’ll have access to the most current CBS shows 1-day after the original air date. If you’re not comfortable waiting to watch CBS shows or you don’t have a DVR set up to record the latest broadcasts, CBS All Access is a pretty attractive service at just $5.99 per month.

The Future of Stream TV

As time goes on, more and more networks are likely to follow the path of HBO, Showtime, and Starz and develop streaming services to try and remain afloat amid declining cable subscriptions.
As with all streaming options, take advantage of free trials to not only explore available content on each service, but pay close attention to things like quality and compatibility with your streaming devices of choice.

Another important thing to do is develop a way to keep track of when these services charge you each month. Not having a large cable bill is great, but if you forget to cancel free trials or fail to ditch a service you’re unhappy with before the auto-renew date, you’ll be stuck paying for a month of content you didn’t want (sound familiar?).

Continue to part 5