Only 3 major services let you stream live TV over the internet — here’s how they compare

The forthcoming YouTube TV service, in app form.

Everyone in the tech industry wants your eyeballs. More specifically, an increasing number of tech companies want to attract the millions of people who have ditched cable for services that stream live TV channels over the internet.

Alphabet’s YouTube is the latest to jump into the fray, building on its uber-popular video site with a new YouTube TV service. The streaming player Hulu is about to roll out its competitor, too, while Sony, Dish Network, and AT&T are already fighting it out.

But because this is the TV industry in America, figuring out what’s what can be complicated. So to help you see which, if any, make sense for you, we’ve broken down the three existing live TV services (PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, DirecTV Now) and what we know about the two that are coming (YouTube TV, Hulu). We’ll update if any more shake-ups arise.

Let’s dig into the fine print:

But first, a quick note on what these services are not.

A screenshot of Hulu’s upcoming live-TV service.
Business Insider/Jeff Dunn

As Business Insider has noted before, none of the three existing live-TV services are solving the cord-cutter’s conundrum – that is, getting the channels and shows you want, on time, whenever and wherever you want, without paying more than you have to for channels you’ll never watch.

They still look a lot like cable packages, in other words – they’re just smaller cable packages, delivered over the internet, with slightly cheaper starting prices.

There are other issues beyond that. The on-demand selection is similar in every service and almost exactly like what you’d get with a cable subscription. On-demand and live content still feel stuck in separate silos. (Hulu and YouTube could change this, though.) They all have gaps in their channel selections. (This excellent CNET list has a full breakdown.) And most significantly, they’ve all had bugs and technical issues.

As it stands now, if you’re looking for cable, you should just buy cable. It’s reliable.

That said, here’s what these services <em>do</em> offer.

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While none of these services stream perfectly, they’re not unusable. All of their interfaces are clean and easy enough to navigate. When they work, they provide value to those who can’t quit the cord. They cover gaps that a hodgepodge of Netflix, Hulu, and insular streaming services can’t – most notably with sports, and, you know, watching popular shows as they air. And they are more affordable.

As more people cut the cord, these services will make more sense and improve, even if they don’t take a wrecking ball to the TV industry’s current power structure. They already seem to be increasing their subscriber bases, and that’s expected to pick up as the market shifts.

Sling TV

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1. How much does it cost? $20 a month for the base Sling Orange package, or $25 a month for a Sling Blue package with more channels.

For $40 a month, you can buy the Orange and Blue packages together – the two do not totally overlap in terms of channel selection. (More in a sec.)

From there, you can tack on a bunch of smaller specialized bundles of channels for between $5 and $15 a month per bundle. We recommend looking through those on Sling’s service page because there are way too many to list here.

2. How many channels does it have? Sling Orange has 30 channels. Sling Blue has about 40 channels depending on where you live, but its lineup doesn’t include everything in Sling Orange. The add-on bundles can incorporate a few dozen more channels, but those vary wildly in terms of popularity.

3. Which major channels are not included? CBS is absent. ABC is there, but only in a handful of markets, and only for an extra $5 a month. There’s no option to add Showtime either – and for the kids, there’s no main Nickelodeon channel.

It’s also worth noting that while Sling carries Fox and NBC, they’re included only in the Sling Blue package, and they aren’t available in every market. Check that you’re covered before you buy.

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4. Does it include ESPN? Yes, but only in Sling Orange. There, you get ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPN3 by default. This is the main thing that prevents the Orange and Blue packages from overlapping.

5. What about local sports and non-ESPN sports networks? This is a bit of a mess.

While Sling Blue doesn’t have ESPN, it includes Fox’s regional sports channels, although they can vary by region. (A bunch are included, so check Dish’s FAQs for specifics.) Dish recently announced that Sling Blue would add NBC’s regional sports networks by early April, but only in the California, the Bay Area, Chicago, and mid-Atlantic markets to start.

As for other national sports channels, only Sling Blue includes Fox Sports 1, NFL Network, and NBC Sports Network. Alongside Sling Blue, you can add a Sports Extra package that includes the NFL’s RedZone channel, NBA TV, NHL Network, and others for $10 a month.

If you have Sling Orange, though, that Sports Extra package costs $5 a month, doesn’t include RedZone, and throws in a few more deep-in-the-weeds sports channels. Again, that’s in addition to the main ESPN networks, which Sling Blue does not have.

Did we mention these services still feel like cable subscriptions much of the time?

6. What about HBO? HBO is available only as an add-on to one of the core bundles. It costs $15 a month on its own, the same as HBO’s standalone HBO Now streaming service.

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7. What devices does it support? You can check Sling’s support page for the full list, but the big no-show is Sony’s PlayStation 4. Otherwise, Roku, Apple TV (2015), Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, iOS, Android, Android TV, Windows, macOS, Xbox One, and the like are all aboard.

8. Does it have DVR so I can record shows I missed? Yes, but it’s in beta, and as of this writing a handful of beta customers can use it on Roku, Android, and Amazon devices. It also maxes you out at 100 hours of recording time. And some channels can’t be recorded for the time being.

9. Can I pause and rewind live TV? Yes, technically, but a good chunk of channels – including ESPN, CNN, TBS, Cartoon Network, and AMC – do not support the feature and can only be watched live.

10. How many people can use it at once? With Sling Orange, you can have only one active stream going at a time. With Sling Blue, that’s bumped up to three concurrent streams. With the $40-a-month Orange and Blue combo package, it becomes four concurrent streams.

11. Any other extras I should know about? Sling is particularly stacked with Spanish-language channels, albeit through a $5 add-on.

PlayStation Vue

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1. How much does it cost? It depends. In most markets, Vue’s entry-level package costs $30 a month. Tiered packages with more channels are then $35, $45, and $65 a month. Around some major cities, though, Vue starts at $40 a month, with those higher tiers at $45, $55, and $75 a month.

There’s a catch to all of this, which we’ll get into below. In any case, beyond the base tiers, there are a handful of add-on channels that range from $2 to $15 a month.

2. How many channels does it have? Vue’s entry-level Access tier has about 45 channels. The next Core tier has about 60 channels. Then there’s an Elite tier with 90 channels. Finally, an Ultra tier takes the Elite package and adds HBO and Showtime.

3. Which major channels are not included? Sony dropped its partnership with Viacom in November, which means Vue has no way to stream Comedy Central, MTV, Spike, Nickelodeon, or any other Viacom property. Those are the biggest outright absences.

As with Sling TV, Vue’s relationship with the big four networks is complicated. If you live near the handful of cities where Vue starts at $40 a month – NYC, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, Philadelphia, Miami, and San Francisco – you’ll be able to watch CBS, ABC, Fox, and NBC live.

If you live in another market, Vue is cheaper, but you can watch shows from those networks on-demand a day after they air. You might get one or two of those channels live, but you won’t get all four. Again, check where you stand first – or just buy an antenna.

This is another reminder that none of these services have shifted the balance of power away from media giants and cable companies.

What is and is not available in PlayStation Vue’s entry-level package.
Business Insider/Jeff Dunn

4. Does it include ESPN? Yes. Even in its base Access tier, PlayStation Vue includes both ESPN and ESPN2.

5. What about local sports and non-ESPN sports networks? The Access tier also includes Fox Sports 1 and NBC Sports Network.

Jumping up a tier adds other national channels like the NFL Network and MLB Network, but it also adds regional sports networks from Fox, NBC, and the like. This should cover most people, but it’s worth remembering that markets are different and exactly which games those networks are allowed to air can vary by ZIP code. Not every gap is guaranteed to be filled yet.

6. What about HBO? HBO is available as an add-on to one of the core bundles. It costs $15 a month on its own, the same as HBO’s standalone HBO Now streaming service.

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7. Which devices does it support? Though it has PlayStation in the name, Vue works with boxes beyond Sony’s PS4 and PS3. The only big absentee is Microsoft’s Xbox One. (Imagine that!) Otherwise, Roku, Apple TV (2015), Fire TV, iOS, Android are all supported.

8. Does it have DVR so I can record shows I missed? Yes. YouTube will soon join it, but right now Vue is the only live-TV service with a full DVR feature available. With few exceptions, you can record whatever show you want to the cloud.

The limitation, though, is that you can save each recording for only up to 28 days after it airs.

9. Can I pause and rewind live TV? Yes. And though it doesn’t cover every channel – particularly some CBS affiliates – it’s generally more widely available than it is with Sling TV.

10. How many people can use it at once? You can have up to five streams going at a time. That’s more than any other service.

11. Any other extras I should know about? In our testing over the past few months, PlayStation Vue has had the fewest technical hiccups. Your mileage may vary, but that, combined with the full-ish feature set, makes it feel like the most polished service thus far.

Vue also works with more TV Everywhere apps than Sling TV or DirecTV Now. That means you can use your Vue credentials on various streaming apps that normally require a cable login.

DirecTV Now


1. How much does it cost? DirecTV Now’s entry-level Live a Little tier costs $35 a month. The next Just Right tier costs $50 a month. Then a larger Go Big tier costs $60 a month. Finally, a Gotta Have It tier goes for $70 a month.

You can then add HBO, Cinemax, or Starz for a monthly fee.

2. How many channels does it have? The base tier includes a little over 60 channels. The Just Right tier raises that to about 80 channels. Then the Go Big tier brings it to about 100 channels. Then the final tier includes about 120 channels.

On a pure cost-per-channel basis, this makes DirecTV Now the densest service of the bunch.

3. Which major channels are not included? CBS, again, is absent. (Not coincidentally, CBS would love you to pay $6 a month for its CBS All Access service.) There’s no option for Showtime or the NFL Network, either.

Getting the other three major networks once again depends on where you live. A small selection of major markets broadcast NBC, ABC, and Fox live – some carry two, others get only one. It’s worth using AT&T’s channel lookup tool to see if you need an antenna. Generally speaking, Vue covers a few more people in this regard.

If your area doesn’t carry one of those networks, DirecTV Now airs it on a 24-hour delay.

Ignore the Go Big pricing — that was an introductory promotion, and the tier now costs its usual $60 a month.

4. Does it include ESPN? Yes. Even in the base tier, you get ESPN and ESPN2 by default.

5. What about local sports and non-ESPN sports networks? The entry-level tier also has Fox Sports 1, but, as with Vue, you need to step up a level to get regional sports channels from Fox and NBC. While it has a good chunk of those, its coverage is far from flawless, so use the lookup tool to be sure you have what you need. Even then, it’s hard to talk in absolutes when it comes to licensing agreements for each market.

Various other sports networks are included in the higher tiers, but there’s no NFL Network or RedZone. There’s also no NFL Sunday Ticket, even though DirecTV sells that as part of its standard satellite-TV service.

6. What about HBO? HBO is available as an add-on to one of the main tiers. However, it costs only $5 a month, which is $10 cheaper than it is with Sling TV or PlayStation Vue.

As of this writing, though, AT&T is running a promotion where those who subscribe to the service’s priciest two tiers can get a free year of HBO. AT&T says credit for that will be applied within three billing cycles.

7. Which devices does it support? Apple TV (sans NBC channel support), Fire TV, Android, iOS, and Chromecast (but only for Android phones). AT&T has said support for Roku devices will come early in 2017, but it’s not live yet. There’s nothing for Chromecast on iOS, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, or Android TV, either.

8. Does it have DVR so I can record shows I missed? Not yet. Aside from the technical issues it has faced, this is probably the biggest knock against DirecTV Now. AT&T says it plans to add some sort of DVR to the service sometime this year, however.

9. Can I pause and rewind live TV? You can only pause, not rewind or fast-forward. This is an area where DirecTV Now lags behind Sling TV and PlayStation Vue especially.

10. How many people can use it at once? DirecTV Now supports two concurrent streams on an account. That’s on the lower end of things.

11. Any other extras I should know about? If you subscribe to AT&T’s mobile service, you can stream DirecTV Now over a mobile connection at no cost to your data cap. This is a practice called zero-rating, and the way AT&T approaches it may or may not be killing the open internet. But it’s a nifty perk if you can take advantage of it.

Also, DirecTV Now has faced the most technical issues in our testing. Things have calmed down a bit, but don’t be surprised if you come across a hiccup or two.

What we know about YouTube TV so far


1. How much does it cost? $35 a month. YouTube says it might introduce additional tiers at higher prices, but right now it looks like it’ll have one offering at launch.

2. How many channels does it have? For now, there are 43 channels, plus the original (and youth-focused) YouTube-created shows that come with a YouTube Red subscription. You can add ShowTime and Fox Soccer Plus separately on top of that.

3. Which major channels are not included? For now, there are no Viacom channels (Comedy Central, MTV, Spike, Nickelodeon), no AMC (and thus no “The Walking Dead”), no Turner channels (TNT, TBS, CNN), no Discovery channels, and no A&E.

Some of those aren’t on one or two other services, but YouTube thinks it’s too expensive to replicate the traditional TV bundle with a service like this – and it has plenty of YouTube content already – so it’s going skinnier as a result.

Notably, YouTube does have all four of the major networks. We can’t say how restricted ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox may be until the service is live, but the fact that they’ll all be there in some capacity should give it a slight leg up over Sling TV and DirecTV Now.

Which channels YouTube TV is advertising today.

4. Does it include ESPN? Yes. YouTube says it’ll include ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPN3. It’ll also have a few other ESPN properties – ESPNU, ESPNEWS, the SEC Network – that are reserved for pricier tiers among its rivals.

5. What about local sports and non-ESPN sports networks? Aside from the ESPN channels, you get Fox Sports 1, NBC Sports Network, Big Ten Network, and CBS Sports Network by default. But there are no Turner channels, so you’ll miss, say, NBA games on TNT or playoff baseball on TBS.

YouTube says it’ll have regional sports stations from both Fox and NBC, too, but we’ll have to wait and see exactly how far that coverage will go. Judging by YouTube’s competitors, it seems safe to expect some markets here and there to miss out.

6. What about HBO? Nope. YouTube does not have any deals with Time Warner, which owns HBO, hence the lack of Turner channels. You’ll have to use HBO Now separately.


7. Which devices does it support?For now, YouTube says the service will work on Android, iOS, Chromecast, and smart TVs with Google Cast built in. The company says support for more devices will come later in the year, but right now, those with Apple TV, Fire TV, Roku, PlayStation, or Xbox devices will have to go mobile. That’s not great.

8. Does it have DVR so I can record shows I missed? Yes. Not only that, YouTube says its DVR won’t have storage limits and that it’ll save your recordings for up to nine months. That should give YouTube the most robust DVR of the bunch.

9. Can I pause and rewind live TV? Yes. But the extent of the feature won’t be clear until we’re able to use it.

10. How many people can use it at once? YouTube says you’ll be able to have three streams going simultaneously.

YouTube is also touting the fact that you can have up to six different accounts with one subscription, each of which gets its own DVR and content suggestions. PlayStation Vue allows for separate user profiles, too – though, unlike YouTube TV, it makes you all share one username and password. So it should be good for families.

11. Any other extras I should know about? YouTube TV will not launch nationwide. To start, everything here will be available in major markets like New York, Los Angeles, and other places where it has negotiated the rights to live-stream local broadcasts (similar to Vue in certain markets).

What we know about Hulu’s live TV service so far

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While we’ve gotten a sneak peek of Hulu’s upcoming live-TV service and it has released some details publicly, we still don’t know enough about it to do a rundown as we did with the ones above. Still, here’s what we’ve learned so far:

• It’ll cost “less than $40” a month.

• It’s still called Hulu – the live-TV bits will be integrated with a newly designed Hulu app.

• There should be about 35 to 40 channels available, if not more. It’s unclear if they’ll be split into separate packages, though, or presented all-in-one like YouTube TV.

• Hulu has signed content deals with CBS, Fox, Disney (which owns ABC and ESPN), Time Warner (TNT, TBS, Adult Swim, etc.), A&E Networks, and so on. Given that Hulu is partly owned by CBS, Fox, and Disney, that’s not a shock.

• Fox’s regional sports broadcasts will be included in some capacity, though we can’t say how far its coverage will extend and what other regional networks would be included.

Bloomberg reports that Hulu has added NBCUniversal’s cable networks (E!, Bravo, etc.), but it has not yet signed NBC itself.

• Bloomberg also reports that Hulu doesn’t have a deal with Viacom. Like YouTube TV and Vue, it may be without Comedy Central, MTV, and the like to start.

Business Insider/Jeff Dunn

• You can have two concurrent streams, which isn’t a lot. Hulu has told us there’ll be a paid option to add more, but it’s unclear how that would work.

• There will be a cloud DVR, but it won’t be unlimited. There’ll be a paid option to add more, but it’s unclear how that would work.

• Like YouTube TV, Hulu’s service aims to marry its existing on-demand library in with the new live programming and the deals it has struck with content companies.

• You can pause and rewind live TV, but not with every channel.

• It’ll be available on iOS, Android, Apple TV, Chromecast, and Xbox One. Hulu says Roku support will come later in the year. That still leaves some holes, though.

• There’ve been multiple beta tests thus far, but we can’t say when the service will go live except sometime in “the coming months.”

So which one should I get?

Reuters/Kevork Djansezian

It’s close, but if you need to pick today, we’d go with PlayStation Vue. It has been the smoothest, technically speaking, in our testing. It’s not hard to navigate. It works on most devices. It supports the most concurrent streams (i.e., it’s good for a family). Its channel lineup, while not flawless, compares well with the others. And it has a full-fledged DVR in place today.

The big knock is that it can get pricey – you may have to pay $45 a month for regional sports depending on where you live, though that goes down to $35 in other places. That’s not so bad compared with DirecTV Now, but Sling TV and YouTube TV could undercut it for some.

If you just want the cheapest package possible, Sling TV‘s Blue package is competitively priced for a bundle with regional sports, but it’s still rolling some of those local channels out, is missing ESPN, and hasn’t fully implemented its DVR. It’s generally had more technical issues than Vue, too. Still, it’s getting at the right idea by curating more tightly and lowering costs.

It’s harder to recommend DirecTV Now right now given its lack of DVR and the technical issues we’ve had in testing. But the HBO discount is good, and if you use AT&T, being able to stream it on mobile at no cost to your data cap is an advantage – as troubling as it may be.


But again, none of these are perfect or groundbreaking. If you aren’t beholden to the “cable lite” idea Sony, Dish, and AT&T are selling, you may be better off saving cash and mixing Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, or what have you. And even if you do buy into the skinny-bundle concept, it’s worth waiting to see what YouTube TV and the new Hulu service are like.