Should I replace cable TV with live TV streaming?
High, increasing prices have led millions of Americans to switch to live TV streaming services for live news, sports, and entertainment shows. YouTubeTV, Hulu + Live TV, FuboTV, DirecTV Stream, and other live TV streaming services are now fighting cable TV giants like Xfinity, Charter, and Verizon FiOS for your business. These services offer extensive channel lineups, DVR functionality, and the ability to watch live TV on a connected TV, tablet, or phone.
With so many choices, it’s easy to think that you’ll be able to switch to a live TV streaming service and easily watch all of your favorite channels while saving a bunch of money every month. You can save some money by switching from cable to live TV streaming, but there are tradeoffs.
The cable TV experience is well-known. Turn on the TV, see the last channel you were watching. Flip back and forth between channels in moments. Watch TV reliably on any TV with a wired cable box in your home, and so on. Live TV streaming services, however, cannot duplicate these basic functionalities due to the nature of their technology. Based on our experience, we believe cable offers the best overall live TV experience for most people, but we’ll let you be the judge for your particular situation. We’ve identified five key points for you to evaluate when comparing cable TV to live TV streaming: programming, live local sports, user experience, reliability, and cost.
First, what are your options for live TV streaming? We’ve included the top four services in our comparison chart below, current as of December 2023.
Hulu + Live TV
Base monthly price
$84.99 + Regional Sports Fee
$74.99 + Regional Sports Fee
Local channels (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC)
Simultaneous streams per account
Unlimited in house
Additional stream upgrades
4k Plus add-on: Unlimited screens, limited 4k programming: $9.99/month
Unlimited screen add-on: $9.99/month
Missing popular channels?
A&E, History, Lifetime
AMC, BBC America, MLB Network, NBA TV
NFL Network. Some popular channels require upgraded packages.
A&E, History, Lifetime, Cartoon Network, CNN, TBS, TNT, TruTV
5.1 surround sound available on live TV, discounted NFL Sunday Ticket
Includes Hulu, Disney +, ESPN + (all with ads)
Limited 4k programming included
DVR recordings on YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, DirecTV Stream expire after 9 months. DVR recordings do not expire on FuboTV.
Cable TV includes hundreds of channels meant to satisfy everyone, so it’s quite likely that you have access to any channel you want to watch if you subscribe to the necessary channel package. Live TV streaming services are able to offer lower prices in part by streamlining their lineups to the most popular channels. Accordingly, each live TV streaming service is missing at least some channels that might be important to you, so it’s critical to check available channels before subscribing to one (see chart above). If a service is missing one of your favorite channels, you'll need determine if the savings are worth it. You may also be able to access the programs you're missing on a streaming service like Hulu or Max.
Live Local Sports
If you’re a sports fan and want to the ability to watch all of your local baseball, basketball, or hockey teams, you’ll need your regional sports network (RSN). RSN availability on live TV streaming services depends on your particular market. Cable reliably carries RSNs in nearly all markets. In Pittsburgh, PA, SportsNet Pittsburgh is the RSN home of the Penguins and (likely) the Pirates, and as of December 2023, only DirecTV Stream and FuboTV carry it (YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV only carry RSNs in a handful of markets). However, DirecTV Stream costs as much or more than cable, and FuboTV doesn’t carry TBS, TNT, or TruTV, all of which carry various sports programming (NBA, NHL, NCAA basketball), plus you will still pay a Regional Sports Fee, just like you do for cable. With these tradeoffs, cable TV is still the best choice if your RSN is a must-have. However, with the changing RSN landscape, availability will likely change in the future in Pittsburgh and elsewhere.
For an NFL or casual sports fan, live TV streaming will include all local NFL games and plenty of baseball, basketball, hockey games on broadcast networks, ESPN networks, TNT, TBS, other standard cable channels, or streaming options like ESPN+. If you’re not a sports fan, it’s a non-factor (unless a friend or family member who is a dedicated sports fan visits).
Live TV streaming apps have a program guide and DVR functionality like cable, but there are key differences that you should be aware of:
Getting started: To watch TV, you must first select your live TV streaming app from your chosen streaming device (Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV, Smart TV menu, etc.). Then, open your program guide, select your channel, and wait for it to load. If you’re a news channel or ESPN devotee that is used to your favorite channel being on the TV immediately when you turn it on, you have to wait a little longer to access it via live TV streaming.
Flipping channels: To change channels, you must open your program guide or list of favorite channels, choose the channel you want to watch, and wait for it to load. There is no way to quickly flip back and forth between channels in 1-2 seconds like there is on cable. If you often flip between sports games or news shows, you’ll need to become more patient.
Remote control: You will use your streaming device remote or TV remote to change channels, meaning that there is no number pad to enter channel numbers, nor are there channel up and down buttons.
Multi-view: YouTubeTV offers split screen viewing of pre-selected channels to watch multiple sporting events or news channels simultaneously.
DVR functionality is an area where live TV streaming excels. YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, and DirecTV Stream all offer unlimited cloud DVR storage that will retain your shows for nine months, while FuboTV offers a 1,000-hour DVR that retains your shows for as long as you subscribe. Be aware that these services may not auto-extend your recordings like cable, so if you’re recording sports or something that may be impacted by sports, you’ll need to record the show afterwards, so you don’t miss the ending.
Traditionally, each TV you watch cable on has a wired cable box. Current cable boxes are very reliable due to technological improvements and frequent software updates. This is the pinnacle of a reliable TV watching experience. Avoid wireless cable boxes—they are slower and are subject to network connectivity issues, which defeats the purpose of paying a premium price for cable.
Live TV streaming quality will vary depending on your:
Internet speed—if you are streaming live TV and using multiple connected devices in your home, a robust internet plan of at least 100 Mbps down is a must.
Wireless router—while we always recommend using a quality wireless router, it is especially necessary to keep a consistent connection and avoid buffering issues when watching key moments of your favorite shows.
Streaming device—live TV streaming apps are available on nearly all streaming devices (Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV, Smart TVs) but these devices do not offer equal experiences. Apple TV (current models are $129 or $149) or Roku (recommended models are $49.99 or $99.99) devices offer superior user experiences in terms of speed, reliability, and app stores versus an Amazon Fire or built-in Smart TV functionality.
Home size and build—live TV streaming is easy in a small home, apartment, or condo that can be covered well by a single wireless router. In large homes or homes that are built in a way that hinders network performance, it will be necessary to augment your wireless network with additional wireless access points to provide a strong enough signal to far-off bedrooms to maintain a consistent TV stream.
When you cut the cable TV cord for live TV streaming, you’ll still need to maintain a strong internet plan to reliably stream TV, which usually starts about $60/month plus taxes and fees. Also, price hikes are not exclusive to cable. Prices for the major live TV streaming services all increased in 2023 and will continue to rise, but perhaps not as fast as traditional cable TV. Each of your TVs will need to be equipped with a quality streaming device to maximize performance. If you already have enough streaming devices it’s a non-factor, but if you don’t, the purchase of those devices eats into your cost-savings. Before taking the plunge to live TV streaming, it’s advisable to call your cable company, see how much your monthly bill will drop by cutting cable TV, add then the cost of your chosen live TV streaming service to determine a monthly cost. Then, add in the one-time costs of any additional equipment you will need for live TV streaming and see if you’re really saving any money in the near term.
Conclusion – What’s best for you
Traditional cable TV is reliable, user-friendly, and convenient. Turn on the TV, watch cable. Have a problem with a cable box or break your remote? If you live in a large city, there’s often a nearby store where you can go to swap out or obtain new equipment, but obtaining assistance over the phone is a chore. Major cable systems carry nearly any channel you can think of, including your local regional sports network, and have extensive on demand libraries. The catch is that this package comes at a price that is high and will continue to increase.
Live TV streaming services are available through nearly any streaming device like an Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire Stick, or Smart TV, have sleek interfaces, and in most cases, have lower monthly prices than cable. However, there are concessions that occur in channel lineups, the amount of on demand programming, reliability, and convenience.
Overall, we recommend traditional cable TV service over live TV streaming, particularly if these cases apply to your situation:
You have a large house with three or more people in your household who watch different channels simultaneously.
You are a devoted sports fans who watches your regional sports network.
You or your family members aren’t technically savvy.
You aren’t patient when it comes to TV and don’t want to wait to watch TV after turning it on or wait for a channel to load.
However, live TV streaming is a viable alternative and can save you money in these cases if your preferred app carries your favorite channels:
You don’t watch sports, or you only watch the NFL.
You have a smaller home, apartment, or condo that has a strong Wi-Fi signal throughout.
You only have one or two people in your household.
You don’t mind trading off load times for cost savings.
You’re technically savvy.
The cable TV and live TV streaming landscapes will continue to change as technology and TV programming evolves, particularly as some cable TV providers gravitate from traditional wired equipment to wireless equipment. In time, live TV streaming may become a much more viable choice for the mainstream. For now, the reliability and convenience of cable TV delivers value and entertainment for consumers who have large households, love local sports, or don’t have the patience for TV channels to load when flipping between shows.