Know Your Cord-Cutting Services
The key to effective cord-cutting is being aware of what apps are available on your hardware of choice, knowing the programming on the various services, and just how much they’re going to cost you.
$7.99 per month for one SD stream; $10.99 per month for 2 HD streams, $13.99 per month for 4 streams plus 4K/Ultra HD content support.
Netflix is the grand-pappy of online streaming. It started as a DVD-by-mail rental service, and while that’s still part of its business, streaming is what it’s known for now. It’s got a slew of original shows, far too many to mention here. The company will spend up to $8 billion on original movies and shows in 2018 alone.
The problem with Netflix is that the catalog of (non-original) films and TV shows is constantly in flux as the studio and networks play games, look for better terms, or set up exclusives on other services. We can’t guarantee an entire series or movie will be there forever. But original programming makes Netflix a destination, giving it not only market share, but mind share, the likes of which only HBO can rival.
Here’s a complete list of devices with Netflix support.
(For more, read Netflix Tips to Boost Your Binge-Watching.)
$39.99 per month
Hulu is more than just a place to find some streaming originals and a lot of day-after-air shows. Last year it launched a live TV service—and it quickly became the PCMag Editors’ Choice in this arena. Yeah, you pay more, but for that $39.99 you get access to the entire Hulu library we discussed above, plus lots of cable channels, including many local affiliates that stream live (depending on your location).
Cinemax, HBO, and Showtime are all add-on options like they are with regular Hulu. Sports and news stations galore. You can “record” 50 hours of programming to the cloud-based DVR or upgrade it to 200 hours for extra; it also costs more to have access to Hulu with Live TV on multiple screens. Hulu with Live TV is on a more limited number of devices but includes all the usual suspects: a browser, iOS, Android, Roku products, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Xbox, and Samsung Smart TVs. Try if free for one week.
$20 per month for Sling Orange basic package (30 channels); $25 per month for Sling Blue (45 channels)
Sling TV was the first of these types of services back in 2015, and is available on many devices (Xbox One, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, iOS, Android, Windows, even the Chrome browser, and a few other hubs, though notable not on PlayStation 4) with a ton of add-on options. That’s why it calls itself “a la carte tv.”
The channel selection is pretty extensive—but far from everything. You won’t find CBS on this service, naturally. But premium channels are available as add-ons; in fact, some of what you’d see on basic cable—like SyFy, USA, Fox and NBC—are only available to you on Sling TV by paying a bit more for the Sling Blue package for $25 per month. Then there are more “Lifestyle Extra” add on packages to get other channels you may want; those usually add an extra $5 per month to the price. Like with any of the live TV stream services, check the channel offerings thoroughly before you subscribe to make sure they have what you want.
$99 annual or $10.99 monthly Amazon Prime account, or $8.99 for streaming video service only
Prime Video is a nice hybrid of an all-you-can-eat streaming service like Netflix, plus a video-on-demand store, with plenty of original content to go with it. It’s “free” to anyone with a Prime account, which is best known for giving customers free two-day shipping—but you can also get Prime Video for $8.99 a month as a standalone service, with none of the other Amazon extras.
Amazon has invested heavily in creating original TV shows, and often asks viewers to vote on the pilots they’d like Amazon to develop into full seasons (supposedly they’re doing away with “pilot season” in the future). Great shows include The Tick, Sneaky Pete, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Catastrophe, Bosch, Mozart in the Jungle, and The Man in the High Castle.
Amazon Studios produces/distributes movies, so the service gets those first, including highly praised films like Manchester by the Sea and The Big Sick. Of course, if you want to rent or buy a movie to stream, you can do that even if it’s not part of the Prime streaming—just rent it first on Amazon.com.
Want to add on services? Amazon calls them “channels” and they include: CBS All Access, HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, Starz, Comedy Central Stand-up, Hallmark, Shudder, Acorn TV, and a lot of lesser-known options. They cost an extra $3.99 to $14.99 per month per service, depending on which you pick.
(For more, read Amazon Prime Video Features You May Not Know.)
$9.99 per month
If YouTube is a staple of your cord-cutting experience—and with millions of hours of video uploaded every second, it probably should be—then maybe this paid experience will be to your liking. After a one-month trial, 10 bucks a month gets you completely ad-free YouTubing—plus access to original shows behind the paywall. These aren’t TV shows in the classic sense, but originals created by YouTube stars. YouTube also partnered with big names like Eminem and Katy Perry, as well as the Sundance Film Festival. You also get access to YouTube Music and Google Play Music. Don’t confuse it with YouTube TV, which we discuss below.
Pretty ubiquitous among the streaming hubs, Sony-owned Crackle offers an eclectic selection of content for free, mostly with ads. We are talking really bad commercials cut in at odd moments in movies—sometimes in the middle of a scene—as if an algorithm handles it rather than a human. The movies tend to be pretty craptacular with occasional gems. It’s trying more and more to do original content, like TV show version of the movie Snatch, Start Up with Ron Perlman, and the new cop series The Oath with Sean Bean. It once could brag about having Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee but lost it to Netflix.
$5.99 per month with limited commercials; $9.99 per month for no ads
When you’re the No. 1 TV network, you get to do your own thing. That’s why CBS launched its own streaming service. You get one week to try All Access free before the fee is applied.
That six-or-nine bucks a month gets you access to some of the most popular shows on TV the day after airing, including The Big Bang Theory, Mom, Elementary, Survivor, Amazing Race, even daytime shows. There are also a few thousand old TV shows streaming here, such as Cheers, all the versions of Star Trek (the rights are owned by the CBS Corporation), Brady Bunch, The Twilight Zone, and Hawaii Five-0. You can insert your own joke here about how the Tiffany Network is for your grandparents, because I already made mine above.
The crown jewel driving this premium streaming service is Star Trek: Discovery (which isn’t even that good a Star Trek show), plus other originals like The Good Fight, which can only be seen via All Access, at least in the US (ST:D is on Netflix in other countries). You can also add Showtime programming to watch in the All Access interface for $14.99 per month.
$35 per month for 60+ live channels to start
Like PlayStation Vue, AT&T’s DirecTV Now has several tiers, starting with $35 a month, going to $50 for 80+ channels, $60 for 100+, and $70 for 120+. That does include Viacom stations and all the networks except CBS; the priciest plan offers up multiple Starz-related channels; HBO and Cinemax are here but for $5 per month extra each; Showtime is $8 per month extra.
Not everyone thought this was a good service when it debuted, but it’s so far stuck with that “introductory” price that would put it in line with icky cable subscriptions. If you’ve got an AT&T phone plan, you can add DirecTV Now for just $10 a month; HBO is included if you’ve got an AT&T Unlimited Choice or Plus plan. You can watch DirecTV Now on your PC via browser, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, ChromeCast, Roku devices, iOS, and Android—it’s not on any game consoles. Lacking however: DVR options. There’s plenty of video on demand, but not for every show.
$44.99 a month
Sports first is the goal at fuboTV, even if it’s not sports exclusive. You get 82 channels of live TV with a intense focus on sports-related channels—even though the service doesn’t include any ESPN networks (those are on Sling TV and Hulu with Live TV). But you do get stations like MSG, FS1, NBCSN, NBATV, BTN, Fox Sports, CBS Sports Network, and a lot more—including many entertainment networks like Fox, History Channel, HGTV, FX, E! and others. Add-ons include Showtime for $10.99 a month, plus even more sports channels from different countries for $8.99 a month. It comes with cloud-DVR capability and works on a PC, iOS, Android, Chromecast, Apple TV, and Roku devices; it’s in beta on Amazon Fire TV. The first month is only $19.99 before it goes up to full price.
TV Providers With Apps
Just because you subscribe to cable or satellite doesn’t mean you have to use the provided set-top box. In an effort to become part of the cord-cutting landscape, many of the major cable and satellite providers, who double as internet service providers, let users subscribe and then access all programing via apps rather than the cable box or even the tuner in the TV.
The apps have names like Spectrum TV, Xfinity Stream, RCN2Go, Cox Contour, Dish Anywhere, Verizon Fios Mobile—you can probably tell who provides them.
With Spectrum TV, for example, you get access to live TV streams for any of the networks in your tier of service. There’s also lots of on-demand content for individual shows and some movies. It integrates channel guides and search for select shows/movies. If a channel (or show on a channel) that isn’t available to you shows up on a menu, it’s generally grayed out. And you can mark shows as favorites so they’re easier to follow. But what’s annoying is it takes a lot longer for a show to appear in the on-demand section—three or four days, instead of just one with a show on Hulu or even a network’s own app, for example.
The commercials are still there—and repetitive to the extreme. Each break may show the same commercials over and over, sometimes the same ad back-to-back, as if they couldn’t find any sponsors who believe in streaming. Or perhaps it’s to torture you into using regular cable and a DVR (if you get a DVR from Spectrum, the app can be used to program it.)
Thankfully, using such apps typically won’t cost a dime above and beyond what you’re already paying for cable/satellite.
Networks and Channels With Apps
Sometimes called “TV Everywhere” apps, these are the apps for individual networks or cable channels that provide video-on-demand of their current shows (usually a day or two after they air). All of them have wildly different interfaces. Almost all of them require you to sign in using existing credentials for a cable or satellite TV subscription. And even then, almost all force you to watch commercials while viewing shows, with no way to skip them.
The networks like ABC, NBC, Fox, PBS, even CBS have such apps. The CW has two—the second one is called CW Seed and is used to show almost all old shows they got the exclusive rights to. There’s even the occasional original-only on there (CW Seed had most of the Arrow-verse animated shows like Vixen, for example.)
No two of these apps are alike in interface or even features. You’ll learn to hate how some provide captions, love others that provide a usable fast-forward or rewind, etc.
The list of basic cable channels with a view-everywhere app option is truly staggering:
That is far from an exhaustive list. You may find some of these on your big TV streaming hub (Roku has a great list of apps), but not all—some may only be on mobile devices. Remember, a lot of the shows that you watch on these stations end up on other services—specifically Netflix, Hulu, or Prime Video. So you may not have to suffer through watching these on small screens with un-skippable advertising.