Best TV Service Providers of 2020

Which one is right for you? Satellite TV, cable TV, fiber TV, or a streaming service?
Best Satellite TV
Monthly price:
$59.99$94.99
Available channels:
290
Best Cable TV
Monthly price:
$49.99$104.99
Available channels:
260
Best Fiber TV
Monthly price:
$50$90
Available channels:
425
Best Live TV Streaming
Monthly price:
$49.99
Available channels:
70
Recent Updates: 2 months ago
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, various TV providers have responded:
  • DISH is lending 600 MHz spectrum to T-Mobile.
  • AT&T’s DIRECTV will waive any late fees if you are unable to pay your bill.
  • Xfinity is offering more free content on your TV for your quarantine entertainment.
  • Spectrum is giving free access to internet and Wi-Fi for students and teachers.
  • Cox is offering a low-income internet tier for $10 per month.
  • Verizon is consistently monitoring traffic and peak data usage times.
  • Sling is offering free live news with ABC Live, along with free movies and shows.

The TV industry is changing month by month and year by year.

We still have satellite, cable, and fiber TV because sports are king, but we also have more live TV streaming options than ever before.

And if you’re not into sports and love binge-watching, there are loads of on-demand streaming services available too.

So between satellite, cable, fiber, live TV streaming, and on-demand streaming . . . which one is right for you?

But with all those great choices comes a different kind of problem: choosing one.

When you dive into channel lineups, availability, and pricing, it can get confusing and overwhelming pretty quickly. So, we’ll make it easier for you.

  • Best satellite TV: DISH Network
  • Best cable TV: Xfinity
  • Best fiber TV: Verizon Fios TV
  • Best streaming service: YouTube TV

But here’s a breakdown of all our top TV provider picks:

2020 Top TV service providers breakdown
ProviderMonthly priceAvailable channelsLearn more
DISH$59.99$94.99*290View Plans
DIRECTV$39.99$114.99330View Plans
Xfinity TV$49.99$104.99260View Plans
Spectrum TV$44.99$89.99^200View Plans
Cox TV$25$69.99^140View Plans
Verizon Fios TV$50$90°425View Plans
YouTube TV$49.99**70View Plan
Hulu + Live TV$54.99**65View Plans
Sling$30$4550View Plans
Fubo$54.99$79.99**175View Plans
AT&T TV NOW$65$135**125View Plans
Data as of 11/19/18. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
Data effective 11/19/18. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
* For 24 months with a 2-year agreement and eAutoPay.
For 12 months with a 2-year contract, paperless bill, & autopay. Price increases for months 13-24.
For the first 12 months. Some packages require a 1-year contract.
^ For the first 12 months.
° w/Auto Pay + taxes. Equipment charges may apply.
** Data as of 11/19/18. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.

So . . . what are the different types of TV service providers?

The four main types of technology used for providing TV service are:

  • Satellite
  • Cable
  • Fiber optic
  • Digital streaming (requires internet connection)
Info Box icon
Tell me more about streaming
Streaming services require high-speed internet, and we recommend download speeds of at least 25 Mbps. While the channels offered might not be as robust, you won’t have to sign up for a long-term contract.

If you don’t want traditional set-top box cable, or if you prefer a more customized slew of cable channels, you may want to skip to the streaming providers.

TV service providers offer a variety of plans, channel lineups, and technology to fit different families. We recommend checking out your options before deciding which TV provider or streaming service you should get.

Oh, hey! Guess what? We did that for you already. Check. It. Out.

Best satellite TV service providers

There are really only two satellite TV providers that should even cross your radar at this point: DIRECTV and DISH.

DIRECTV has the largest number of channels and NFL SUNDAY TICKET, while DISH doesn’t have second-year price hikes nor requires you to sign a contract.

DISH: Best satellite TV provider

DISH network
DISH packages
PlanPriceTV channel countDetails
America's Top 120$59.99/mo.††190View Plan
America's Top 120+$74.99/mo.††190+View Plan
America's Top 200$84.99/mo.††240+View Plan
America's Top 250$94.99/mo.††290+View Plan
Data effective 11/19/18. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
†† for 24. months. New customers only. All offers require 2-year commitment with early termination fee and eAutopay. Price includes Hopper Duo for qualifying customers.

The good

  • Consistent pricing
  • Tons of college sports coverage
  • Solid DVR

If you’re looking for the best all-around satellite TV provider, it’s DISH.

Unlike its competitor, DISH doesn’t jack up your price after the first year. You’ll pay the same price for the life of your contract. We appreciate that and we love the transparency.

Yes, it’s a bummer that DISH doesn’t carry NFL SUNDAY TICKET, but we’ve got good news for college sports fans: DISH carries the most college sports channels, including the SEC, Pac-12, Longhorn, Big Ten Networks, and ESPN Goal Line.

Money icon
Cheap sports
DISH’s most basic package includes ESPN, and you don’t have to upgrade like DIRECTV. Perfect for sports fans who want the basics for cheap.

DISH also has the best DVR available. The Hopper 3 Smart DVR lets you record up to 16 shows at once, and you can record 2½ times more HD content (500 hours) than the Genie from DIRECTV (200 hours).

However, keep in mind that the Hopper Duo (with 125 hours of DVR storage) is included in your package, but not the Hopper 3. You’ll have to pay an extra $5–$15 per month for the Hopper 3 and an additional $5 per month for each added receiver.

We think it’s worth the upgrade to the Hopper, though. Along with all the other awesome Hopper features, DISH has integrated Amazon Alexa voice commands into its DVR experience.

No longer must you sift through the couch cushions to find your lost remote. You can simply tell Alexa to turn on This Is Us and cry your eyes out with the rest of us.

The bad

  • Not as many channels as DIRECTV

DIRECTV’s top plan offers about 40 more channels than DISH’s top plan. Yes, it does cost a bit more. But if you and your family want lots of channels, DISH won’t be your pick.

Dive into our full DISH review for more information on channel lineups, the Hopper, and the hidden fees.

DIRECTV: Best for NFL fans

DIRECTV
DIRECTV packages
PlanPriceTV channel countDetails
SELECT­ All-Included$39.99‡‡155+View Plan
ENTERTAINMENT All-Included$44.99‡‡160+View Plan
CHOICE All-Included$49.99^^185+View Plan
XTRA All-Included$59.99^^235+View Plan
ULTIMATE All-Included$64.99^^250+View Plan
PREMIER All-Included$114.99^^330+View Plan
Data effective 11/19/18. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
‡‡ /mo. for 12 mos plus taxes. Autopay & Paperless bill reqd. Prices higher in 2nd year.
^^ /mo. for 12 mos plus taxes. Autopay & Paperless bill reqd. Prices higher in 2nd year. Regional Sports Fee up to $9.99/mo. is extra & applies.

The good

  • NFL SUNDAY TICKET
  • More full-time HD channels than anyone
  • Genie HD DVR

In the world of live TV, NFL games are number one.

And if you agree, then trust us on this . . . you’re going to want NFL SUNDAY TICKET.

If you’re an NFL fan—which you probably are if you’re reading this— you really can’t go wrong with DIRECTV. And if you get the CHOICE package or above, you get NFL SUNDAY TICKET for free for one full season.

On top of NFL SUNDAY TICKET, DIRECTV offers à-la-carte programming for most major sports leagues, including:

  • MLB EXTRA INNINGS®
  • NBA LEAGUE PASS
  • MLS Direct Kick
  • NHL® CENTER ICE®

If you want to know more about which sports channels each DIRECTV package carries, check out our full DIRECTV review.

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Record everything at once
The Genie HD DVR lets you record up to five shows at once. DVR pricing is also already included in your monthly price. Yay!

DIRECTV also offers more full-time high-definition (HD) channels than anyone, and it has the ability to record up to 200 hours of HD video content.

So whether you’re tuning in to see Patrick Mahomes’s lookaway throws, or you just want to marvel at the realistic zombie makeup on The Walking Dead, you can expect a crystal-clear picture for both live TV and recorded shows off your Genie DVR.

The bad

  • Prices increase after 12 months

Second-year price hikes are a real caveat. DIRECTV racks up the price by about double for the second year of your two-year contract.

We’re torn on this policy. On one hand, you get a pretty good deal for the first year of service. But on the other hand, price hikes suck.

It’s a pretty big knock on DIRECTV. But as long as you’re aware of the jump upfront, you can budget for it.

Best cable TV service providers

  • Xfinity from Comcast
  • Spectrum
  • Cox

There are a number of cable TV options out there, and most can be bundled with some kind of internet service package. But for this review, we’re steering clear of the bundled prices and comparing just the cable TV service options without any extras added.

Across the board, cable TV providers suffer from being available everywhere. So make sure you double check if it’s available in your area before you get too excited.

Xfinity: Best all-around cable provider

xfinity logo
Xfinity cable packages
PlanMonthly price*TV channel countDetails
Digital Starter$49.99/mo.140+View Plan
Digital Preferred$59.99/mo.220+View Plan

*Data effective 4/28/2020. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change For the first 12 months. 

The good

  • Affordable package prices
  • Popular channels included in basic package
  • No-contract options

With the Digital Starter package starting at $49.99 per month, Xfinity wins our “best all-around package” award out of all our recommended TV providers.

The channel selection for Xfinity’s entry package is pretty similar to DISH’s base-level package (including channels like ESPN, TNT, AMC, and Discovery). It’s also a better bargain than the satellite service (and the next-closest cable TV provider, Spectrum) in terms of price to channel ratio.

Similar to DISH, Xfinity offers one-year contract or no-contract plans. It does charge $20–$30 more per month than what is shown for promotional pricing, but we feel like the small bump in price is worth that contract-free flexibility. Or just make sure you absolutely love the channel lineup you choose.

Light Bulb icon
Xfinity's Online Ordering and Self-installation make it a great choice for DIYers
Over the last year, Xfinity has made dramatic improvements to their online ordering system. So much so that most of their customers never need to pick up the phone. You can now sign up for a new plan and even upgrade (or downgrade) your existing service all through Xfinity.com. Combining the website experience with Xfinity’s self-install program means you don’t have to wait on hold OR wait at home all day for a technician.

The bad

  • Additional fees*
  • Poor customer service reputation

Sigh. The thing we all dread: fees.

Xfinity has plenty to watch out for. Regional sports fees ($6–$9 per month), broadcast TV fees ($13–$15 per month), DVR fees ($10–$20 per month), additional receiver/multiple TV fee ($5.99–$9.99 per month), and they can really start to add up quickly. Make sure to ask about any additional fees that may apply before you sign up.

For more details on packages, equipment, and channel lineups, read our full review of Xfinity.

*All fees are estimates based on information at the time of this writing. Xfinity fees can vary based on contract details and promotions.

Spectrum: Best no-contract option

Spectrum
Spectrum cable packages
PlanPriceTV channel countDetails
TV Select$44.99°°125+View Plan
TV Silver$69.99°°175+View Plan
TV Gold$89.99°°200+View Plan
Data effective 11/19/18. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
°° For the first 12 months when bundled

The good

  • Cheap starting package
  • Good bargain for premium channels

The Spectrum Select TV package only costs $44.99 a month and nets you some great channels (ABC, ESPN, Disney Channel, and HGTV).

The Silver TV package gives you access to premium channels like HBO, SHOWTIME, and CINEMAX for a better entry price than any other competitor.

So if you’re really into premium channels, paying extra for the upper-tier Spectrum packages might be your go-to for the best bargain. It’s a no-brainer, really.

The bad

  • Weak DVR choices

When we went through the ordering process for Spectrum and got all the way to the checkout, we realized we never got to choose which DVR we wanted. That was our first tip-off that Spectrum DVR is nothing to write home about.

Turns out you have to specify when ordering that you want a DVR that records HD content. In this day and age, there’s no excuse for a DVR that doesn’t record HD shows. What, are you going to watch a grainy recording of the Super Bowl? We think not.

Spectrum’s DVR service records only up to 21 hours of HD footage and can record only two shows at once. That’s not great. If you love Spectrum, you’d be better off getting a different DVR.

For channel lineups, more information on equipment, and more detailed pricing, check out our full review of Spectrum.

Cox: Best for customization

cox communications logo
Cox cable packages
PlanPriceTV channel countDetails
TV Starter$25^75+View Plan
Contour TV$69.99^140+View Plan
Data effective 11/19/18. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
^ For the first 12 months.

The good

  • Fair-priced packages

If you’re a TV minimalist looking for just the essentials, the Starter package could be a perfect fit. You’re missing out on sports channels like ESPN, but you get basics like ABC, CW, FOX, and TBS.

That’s not bad for the price of a shirt!

As for the Contour Package, you’ll get access to more than 140 channels including ESPN, HISTORY, HGTV, FOX Sports 1, and Univision. Not a bad channel lineup.

The bad

  • Paks that make the price higher than advertised
  • High DVR costs

When you start adding Paks (Cox’s word for “add-ons,” at $10–$16 per Pak per month) on top of your base service charge, your monthly price starts to go up pretty quickly.

It’s nice to start so low, but don’t expect to get out at the advertised price if you want the Sports Pak, the Movie Pak, or the Latino Pak.

Also, keep in mind that most Paks are limited to the Contour TV package, so if you’re looking for more options, you’ll be starting at a higher base price.

Cox also charges $19.99 per month for the Record 6-HD DVR, the same as Xfinity’s X1 DVR. But Cox’s DVR can store 340 HD or 1,000 SD hours, whereas the X1 can only store about one-third of that.

And if you didn’t guess from the name, Cox’s DVR can record up to six shows at the same time.

If you want to know more about Cox’s channel lineup, “paks,” and pricing, read our full Cox review.

Best fiber-optic TV service provider

Verizon Fios TV: Best for faster connection

The Verizon authorized retailer logo with the trademark red checkmark
Verizon Fios TV packages
PlanPriceTV channel countDetails
Your Fios TV$50.00/mo.***125+View Plans
More Fios TV$70.00/mo.†††300+View Plans
The Most Fios TV$90.00/mo.†††425+View Plans
Data effective 11/25/19. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
*** Plus taxes. For new TV res. custs. $12/mo. STB and $15/mo. router charges apply. $99 setup & taxes & terms may apply. Subj. to credit approval & may require a deposit. Fios avail. in select areas.
††† Plus taxes. For eligible new res. custs. $99 set-up & taxes & terms may apply. Subj. to credit approval & may require a deposit. Fios avail. in select areas.

The good

  • Fiber-optic connection
  • No-contract options
  • Channel customization

Verizon Fios TV uses a fiber-optic connection, which is actually a faster connection than traditional cable.  It’s super convenient when you’re connecting multiple devices, bundling your TV and internet together, and for those who want a faster upload and download time.

Verizon Fios TV doesn’t require an annual contract. Verizon has also recently changed their TV plans, so you don’t have to bundle it with internet anymore. But who can live without internet these days?

Verizon Your Fios TV package has a unique way of personalizing. You get to choose your top five channels, and Fios will do the rest by recommending a channel lineup for you based on your choices.

The bad

  • Limited availability

Verizon Fios is only available in nine states. So if you don’t live on the East Coast, we hope you didn’t get too attached while reading this section.

If you live in one of these states, check if Fios is offered in your city:

  • Delaware
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Pennsylvania

Check out more details on what Verizon Fios has to offer.

Best Live TV Streaming Services

If you’re looking to cut the cord or if you’re on the fence between streaming, cable, and satellite, take a look at our top picks for live TV streaming services.

2019 Top TV streaming providers breakdown
ProviderMonthly price*ChannelsDetails
YouTube TV logoYouTube TV$49.99/mo.70+View Plans
hulu logoHulu with Live TV$54.99/mo.60+View Plans
Sling TVSling TV$30–$45/mo.50+View Plans
FuboTVfuboTV$54.99–$79.99/mo.100+View Plans
att tv now logoAT&T TV NOW$65–$135/mo.125+View Plans

Data effective 4/28/2020. Pricing and channel counts are subject to change. Not all offers available in all areas.

Keep in mind these prices don’t include internet service charges (which you’ll need in order to stream), but you can check those out in our best internet for streaming article.

YouTube TV: Best Live TV Streaming

YouTube TV logo
YouTube TV details
ProviderMonthly priceAvailable channelsLearn more
YouTube TV$49.99**70View Plan
Data as of 07/29/19. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
** Data as of 07/29/19. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.

The good

  • Unlimited cloud DVR
  • Tons of channels

With YouTube TV, you get the best of all things TV and streaming have to offer with access to live TV, on-demand movies, full seasons of popular TV shows, unlimited DVR space, YouTube videos, and the latest news clips.

Unlimited DVR space means you can record literally anything and everything you want. You also get a strong channel lineup with lots of top lifestyle and entertainment channels. You even get more niche, single-sport channels like NBA TV and MLB Network.

All this easily makes YouTube TV one of the best streaming services available. Check out all the other details in our YouTube TV review.

The bad

  • Missing a few key channels
  • Guide interface is lacking

I don’t know about your mothers, but I know mine would be disappointed in YouTube TV. “No Lifetime Channel? Then what am I going to watch?”

And another deal-breaker for some: no HBO. C’mon YouTube TV.

And about that cloud DVR. Yes, it’s very cool that’s it’s unlimited, but the recording function can actually be kind of a pain. YouTube TV’s guide only shows what’s currently on and what directly follows, so it can be tricky recording future events.

Hulu + Live TV: Best for binge-watching

hulu logo
Hulu + Live TV details
ProviderMonthly priceAvailable channelsLearn more
Hulu + Live TV$54.99**65View Plans
Data as of 07/29/19. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
** Data as of 07/29/19. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.

The good

  • Massive on-demand streaming catalog
  • No contracts

Hulu + Live TV is the best of both worlds—lots of live channels and even more on-demand streaming. Along with over 65 channels, you get access to Hulu’s entire streaming library.

Nothing good on TV? Catch up on This is Us, The Bachelor, or Rick and Morty. Rest assured, you won’t run out of stuff to watch with Hulu Live.

As far as live channels are concerned, you get all the essentials, like ABC, ESPN, Fox, Food Network, and HGTV.

Get all the details on Hulu Live channels, cloud DVR, and user experience in our Hulu with Live TV review.

The bad

  • No channel upgrade options
  • Limited cloud DVR

Like YouTube TV, there ain’t much in terms of channel upgrades. It’s a “what you see is what you get” kind of deal. Make sure you like all the Hulu Live channels because you can’t just add more willy-nilly.

As for cloud DVR, your subscription comes with 50 hours of storage included. You’d be surprised how quickly you can fill up 50 hours—a few seasons of Criminal Minds would be enough to fill your storage to the brim. You can upgrade to 200 hours of storage, but it’ll cost you another $9.99 a month. No thank you.

Sling TV: Best value streaming service

Sling TV
Sling TV details
ProviderMonthly priceAvailable channelsDetails
Sling$30–$45/mo.53View Deals

The good

  • Low entry price
  • Cloud DVR

Sling TV truly understands what cord-cutting is all about: saving money without missing out on your shows. At $30 per month, Sling packages provides the best bargains around. Granted, Sling TV’s channel selection is smaller, but it also goes for quality over quantity.

And here’s a side note: you’ll have to pay an extra $5 more per month for the 50-hour cloud DVR.

You get way more value if you choose either Sling Orange or Blue than if you choose to get both of them together. When you combine the two packages, you’re almost paying just as much as YouTube TV. And YouTube TV has about 10 more live channels than Sling Orange + Blue and an unlimited DVR.

The bad

  • Fewer channels than competitors

With a low entry price comes a smaller selection of channels. In fact, you get almost 50% more channels with YouTube TV or Hulu Live.

We’re still in the camp that Sling gives you quality over quantity, and you can add over 20 different channel packages for $5–$10 each. But if quantity is what you want, Sling ain’t it.

We give you a full breakdown of Sling TV, such as channel lineup, and answer a bunch of FAQ’s in our Sling TV review.

fuboTV: Best streaming service for soccer fans

fuboTV details
ProviderMonthly priceAvailable channelsLearn more
Fubo$54.99$79.99**175View Plans
Data as of 07/29/19. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
** Data as of 07/29/19. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.

The good

  • Lots of sports (especially soccer—that is, fútbol)
  • Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking package options
  • Some national sports coverage

For all-around TV, fuboTV is pretty average, but it towers over the competition when it comes to sports.

fuboTV especially caters to soccer (fútbol) fans with channels like Fox Soccer Plus, FS1, FS2, Fox Deportes, ESPN Deportes, beIN SPORTS, NBCSN Telemundo, and Univision.

Bullhorn icon
International channel packages
One of our favorite stand-outs for fuboTV is that it offers both a “Latino” package and a “Português” package for Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking audiences.

Along with international sports coverage, fuboTV has a good variety of national sports channels. You can expect to watch NFL Network, NBC Sports Network, FS1, PAC-12 Network, NBA TV, Tennis Channel, and more.

The bad

  • Sports-heavy content isn’t for everyone
  • Minimalist interface

With such a heavy focus on sports, fuboTV is pretty average when it comes to other TV offerings, and you’ll probably get more non-sports for the price with another service.

fuboTV’s minimalist interface leaves something to be desired. Playback timelines for live streams aren’t always available, so if you haven’t set your stream to record already, you won’t be able to rewind and playback that amazing gol.

We talk about fuboTV in detail, channel lineup, equipment, pricing, and more, in our best streaming services for sports piece.

AT&T TV NOW (formerly DIRECTV NOW): Best for traditional TV experience

att tv now logo
AT&T TV NOW details
ProviderMonthly priceAvailable channelsLearn more
AT&T TV NOW$65$135**125View Plans
Data as of 07/29/19. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
** Data as of 07/29/19. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.

The good

  • Included premium channels on some plans
  • No contracts

AT&T TV NOW offers premium movie channels on the PLUS ($65 per month) and MAX ($80 per month) packages. With PLUS, HBO is included along with more than 45 channels. With MAX, you get more than 60 channels, HBO and CINEMAX.

AT&T TV NOW add-on price for premium movie channels
HBOCinemaxSHOWTIMESTARZ
$15/mo.$11/mo.$11/mo.$11/mo.

AT&T TV NOW (formerly DIRECTV NOW) is basically DIRECTV over the internet. It offers the most “traditional” tv experience of any live TV streaming option.

Perhaps the biggest selling point for AT&T TV NOW is that you get a full TV experience without the contract or setup fees.

No satellite dish? Check.

No long-term contract? Also, check.

It really makes it easier to stomach some of the higher-priced packages from AT&T TV NOW, because guess what? You can cancel anytime.

The bad

  • Super expensive
  • Limited cloud DVR
  • Inconsistent user experience

Look. AT&T TV NOW offers a ton of content, but it’s not the option you want if you’re looking to save money by cutting the cord. It’s just not.

It’s a good alternative for cable TV, but it’s the priciest streaming service in the industry. And AT&T TV NOW has a cloud DVR with 20 hours of storage, which isn’t much at all.

We ran into a weird issue when we tried pausing a live stream. It let us pause our show, but when we tried to resume, the app skipped us ahead to the livestream.

At least we didn’t have this problem with on-demand shows and movies.

We ran into this problem only with live streams and not with on-demand shows and movies.

For a more in-depth breakdown of AT&T TV NOW ’s packages, channel lineups, and user experience, check out our full review.

What about non-live TV streaming?

With non-live TV streaming services, you don’t get your sports, news, and lifestyle live TV channels. So if you need a TV service to replace your cable or satellite provider, a non-live TV streaming service isn’t a great option.

But if you just want on-demand content, like Hulu originals or Disney movies, then one of these services will be perfect for you. And you can save some cash!

Netflix

For $9–$16 per month, Netflix is a cheap way to get some of the best TV shows and movies ever made on your smartphone, laptop, or smart TV. You can watch comedy stand-ups, popular TV shows like You, and loads of movies. It’s no wonder why this streaming service is one of the best.

To get more details on Netflix, check out our full review.

Disney+

If you love escaping from the real world to watch movies about Disney princesses or Marvel superheroes, or you love classics like The Sandlot or The Lion King, look no further. You get access to all of those movies on Disney+ for just $7 per month.

Might as well head over to our Disney+ review to find out more about watching your favorite childhood movies.

Amazon Prime Video

You don’t even need an expensive Prime membership to get access to Prime Video (but how can you live without Prime, anyways?) You just need to cough up $9–$13 per month. You’ll get access to shows like Goliath and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. One cool feature that we like: you get to watch Thursday Night Football on Prime.

To find out more details, check out our Amazon Prime Video review.

Hulu (without live TV)

Now this is a streaming service we can’t live without. Why, you ask? This Is Us. We need to be updated on the lives of Rebecca, Jack, and the triplets.

And of course we need to get our Saturday Night Live and The Good Doctor fix. You get lots of content for just $6–$12. And you can bundle with Disney+ and ESPN+ for only about $7 more!

Yeah, good luck leaving your couch.

Money icon
Curious about how expensive commercials cost?
Speaking of commercials, ever wonder how much they cost? Check our breakdown of TV commercial costs below.

Satellite vs. cable vs. live streaming

Satellite, cable, and livestreaming all do the same thing in very different ways, and knowing how they differ from one another can help you make the decision that’s right for you.

Here’s a breakdown of how each type of TV provider delivers that content to your living room and a few key things to consider before making your choice.

Satellite

Going with a satellite provider generally gives you more HD channels than cable or livestreaming (especially movie channels). Satellite is also available in many rural areas where cable is not. So you can still keep up with the Kardashians even if you live outside of your local cable company’s area of service.

Money icon
Satellite (usually) beats cable
Although satellite providers like to jack up your monthly price during the second year of service, satellite usually comes out as a better deal in the long run price-wise.

The downsides are that you need to have a satellite dish installed on your roof, which can mean extra installation fees, and satellite just isn’t as reliable.

If you’re like us, sometimes your signal can get interrupted by bad weather. We know we’ve had to bundle up to knock the snow off the ol’ satellite dish a time or two during a Pats game.

Cable

Cable is all about consistency. You won’t have the same service interruptions that you see with satellite (bad weather and all that) because cable TV is connected directly via, well, cables. Underground.

And even though the monthly price can sometimes start off higher than satellite, you usually won’t see the same kind of second-year price hikes with cable. This makes it easier to budget up front, since you won’t be falling for sweet promotional deals that come back to haunt your bank account in 12 months.

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Cable gives you more flexibility
Because cable doesn’t require contracts, you have a lot more flexibility than satellite. Unfortunately, if you live in a rural area, cable may not be an option for you.

Live streaming

Live streaming, TV’s new kid on the block, has a lot going for it. Live TV streaming provides some of the lowest prices out there while still offering you a lot of the programming you’re looking for. You can also watch it on-the-go.

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The big downside to livestreaming so far?
Your channels and options are more limited. Many offer add-on packages that can get you up to the same amount of channels as satellite or cable, but by the time you add everything on, you’re paying the same or more anyway.

Live streaming relies on your internet service. In order to stream content, you need an internet connection fast enough to handle it. This means if you live in a more rural area, you may not get a strong enough internet connection to livestream TV.

And remember, streaming costs aren’t bundled into the cost of internet. So you’ll be paying for internet, but then on top of that, you pay for any streaming service you sign up for, like Hulu, Amazon Prime, or Netflix.

Understanding the contract

The most common reasons for unhappy customers (and with TV providers, there are a lot of them) usually lie within the contract. Strict cancellation policies, sudden price changes, and added fees all contribute to the internet’s hatefire toward TV providers.

We’re right there with you. We want these providers to be more transparent and up-front about these things. But for now, it’s on us to dig into contracts and understand what we’re getting ourselves into.

Early termination fees

For services like cable and live streaming that don’t require traditional contracts, this isn’t a problem. Early termination fees only apply when you’ve signed a long-term agreement that you’re trying to get out of. (We’re looking at you, satellite providers.)

For example, if you cancel a DIRECTV contract, DIRECTV will charge you a fee for every month remaining on your contract.

So if you need to get out of your contract but you still have nine months left, you’re looking at a big fee. It’s steep, for sure, but it’s all in the contract agreement. Make sure to ask your provider about early termination fees before you sign, just in case.

Price changes

We’ve mentioned it several times already, but the second-year price hike that some providers have can be a killer. This is where you get a promotional price for the first 12 months and things are looking good, when all of a sudden you open your bill a year after signing up and it’s doubled in price.

It’s definitely not good for your blood pressure, but if you’re careful, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. This practice is most common with DIRECTV, but make sure to ask about any price changes that may happen after your promotional period ends, just so you’re not blindsided with a giant bill.

Hidden fees

Hidden fees are the worst. We all know it. Here’s a list of the ones to watch out for:

  • Activation fees
  • Installation fees
  • Equipment fees (DVRs, receivers, routers, etc.)
  • Regional sports fees
  • Broadcasting fees
  • Premium channel costs (HBO, SHOWTIME, CINEMAX, etc.)

Best TV service providers recap

  • DISH has the best pricing and a killer DVR in the Hopper 3. ($59.99–$94.99/mo.)
  • DIRECTV reigns supreme for NFL fans and HD content. ($39.99–$114.99/mo.)
  • Xfinity offers the best all-around service with affordable pricing, no-contract options, and the X1 DVR. It struggles with customer service, though. ($49.99–$59.99/mo.)
  • Spectrum has good bargain pricing on premium movie channels. ($44.99–$89.99/mo.)
  • Cox’s customizable packages feels almost like à-la-carte cable. ($25–$64.99/mo.)
  • Verizon Fios TV is definitely not cable. Fiber-optic technology gives a fast, reliable network for both TV and internet. ($50–$90/mo.)
  • YouTube TV has unlimited DVR storage and provides access to a ton of sports and YouTube content. ($49.99/mo.)
  • Hulu with Live TV combines on-demand content, live television, and original content better than anyone. ($54.99/mo.)
  • Sling TV is the best budget streaming service that channels the true spirit of cord-cutting with its low entry prices and sweet cloud DVR. ($30–$45/mo.)
  • fuboTV is the clear streaming leader for sports fans and Spanish- or Portuguese-language content. ($54.99–$79.99/mo.)
  • AT&T TV NOW offers low-cost premium movie channels and no-contract DIRECTV content. ($65–$135/mo.)
  • Netflix is one of the most popular on-demand streaming services with its great TV show and movie selection. ($9–$16/mo.)
  • Disney+ practically gives you all the Disney movies you can dream of. It’s truly a magical experience. ($6/mo.)
  • Amazon Prime Video is perfect for if you don’t have cable and need to watch Thursday Night Football . . . here’s your answer. ($9–$13/mo.)
  • Hulu without ads has great original content and can be bundled with Disney+ and ESPN+. ($6–$12/mo.)

What matters most to you?

Let us know what criteria you look for in TV service, how you compare TV packages, and what you’ve come to expect from the major TV providers.

Leave us a comment below and let us know which TV provider is your favorite.

The Most Expensive Commercial Breaks on TV: Can You Afford a Slot?

Buying up commercial time isn’t cheap, especially during top-viewed primetime TV. Between the top 10 most expensive commercial breaks, advertisers spend a total of $3,379,661 per 30-second commercial—yeesh. Median home values are $204,900, so you could buy about 16 homes or 10 expensive commercials. Take your pick.

Plus, when you consider the average half-hour block of TV has eight minutes of commercials, we’re talking some serious cash.

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Commercial sales breakdown

By show type

Sports: The NFL scores big with selling commercials, if you’re looking to buy a slot, it might take awhile to be able to afford it.

It costs nine to 11 times the median American income ($63,179) to afford 30 seconds of commercial time during an NFL game. Even the last top 10 spot, New Amsterdam, costs $172,085 for a 30-second ad, but the median US income adds up to only a little more than 25 cents every 30 seconds.5

Original, scripted series: Four original series ranked for top spots: This Is Us, Grey’s Anatomy, 911, and New Amsterdam. Combined, they rake in $889,739 per 30-second commercial.

Reality shows: Not far behind, reality TV had three top ten spots: The Masked Singer and The Voice (which airs both Monday and Tuesday).

By network

An average American TV show is 22 minutes long, which allows for eight minutes of commercials per half hour. During those eight minutes, FOX’s top-grossing show rakes in $11,039,808.

FOX takes four out of the top ten slots, but NBC takes most with five of the ten most expensive commercial slots.

Meanwhile, ABC’s Grey Anatomy takes the number six spot. Nothing from CBS in the top spot, its top show is Young Sheldon at #12.

  • Soapy Cooper

    The comments about Spectrum DVRs are not accurate based on our experience. We have Spectrum (previously Time Warner) and our DVR allows us to record 4 channels simultaneously (not 2) while watching a fifth channel. Also, our DVR can store substantially more than 21 hours of HD content as the review claims. I’m only guessing, but I’m sure we are able to store at least 100 hours of content. Overall, we’ve been satisfied with the Gold package. There are lots of channels including premium channels (HBO, Showtime, NFL Network, etc.) and there are decent mobile viewing capabilities. The Spectrum app allows you to watch all content and manage DVR settings when you’re connected to your home Wi-Fi. Substantially fewer channels are available on the Spectrum app when accessed via the internet; however, this is shortfall can largely be made up by downloading the apps for individual channels such as HBO Go, Show Anytime, Max Go, etc. On the negative side, Spectrum is expensive and the internet speeds never measure up to what they advertise. Instead of getting 100Mbps we get about 50 down/35 up. In fairness, most people I talk to all seem to have the same complaint about their service provider. And, of course, the customer service generally stinks.