Best TV Service Providers of 2020
The TV industry is changing.
We, the viewers, know what we want, and we want it for a reasonable price. We want TV that’s customized for us with our favorite shows, sports, and series—and rightfully so.
And in response, satellite providers, cable TV companies, and internet streaming services have given us more choices than ever before.
Congratulations! We did it!
But with all those sweet, sweet choices comes a different kind of problem: sifting through our options. When you dive into channel selections, availability, and pricing options, it can get confusing and overwhelming really quickly.
Let’s make it easier.
The best TV providers for 2019—based on technology type—are DISH, Xfinity, Verizon Fios TV, and YouTube TV.
|Provider||Monthly price||Available channels||Connection Type||Learn more|
|Xfinity TV||$49.99–$104.99‡||260||Cable||View Plans|
|Spectrum TV||$44.99–$89.99^||200||Cable||View Plans|
|Cox TV||$25–$69.99^||140||Cable||View Plans|
|Verizon Fios TV||$50–$90°||425||Fiber||View Plans|
So. . . what are the different types of TV service providers?
The four main types of technology used for providing TV service are:
- Fiber optic
- Digital streaming (requires internet connection)
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 choices, and technology to fit different needs. We recommend researching multiple options before deciding which TV provider will work best for you.
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.
Many internet services like AT&T (AT&T U-verse TV), CenturyLink, and Frontier partner with either DIRECTV or DISH instead of pushing their own TV service, so we’re sticking to the two major players and their differences.
DIRECTV: Editor’s pick—Best for NFL fans
|Plan||Price||TV channel count||Details|
|SELECT All-Included||$59.99**||155+||View Plan|
|ENTERTAINMENT All-Included||$64.99**||160+||View Plan|
|CHOICE All-Included||$69.99††||185+||View Plan|
|XTRA All-Included||$79.99††||235+||View Plan|
|ULTIMATE All-Included||$84.99††||250+||View Plan|
|PREMIER All-Included||$134.99††||330+||View Plan|
- NFL SUNDAY TICKET
- More full-time HD channels than anyone
- Genie HD DVR
In the world of live TV, NFL football is king.
So in that spirit, all hail NFL SUNDAY TICKET, First of Its Name, King of Weekend Primetime, Lord of the TV Ratings, and Protector of the Realm.
But seriously, DIRECTV is our Editor’s Pick because if you’re a sports fan—which we are— you really can’t go wrong. 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 KickTM
- NHL® CENTER ICE®
Also, when you upgrade to the ENTERTAINMENT package, you’ll get ESPN, TNT, and TBS—which carry Monday Night Football, Inside the NBA, and the majority of college hoops (including March Madness) between them.
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 Tom Brady’s piercing, baby-blue eyes, 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.
- Prices increase after 12 months
Second-year price hikes are a real bummer. DIRECTV racks up the price for the second year of your two-year agreement. The price you were paying for the ENTERTAINMENT package nearly doubles during year two. Buyer beware.
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. Especially when your monthly price doubles for the second year.
It’s a pretty big knock on DIRECTV. But as long as you’re aware of the jump up-front, you can plan on it, and you still get a decent deal over the life of your contract.
For more in-depth details about DIRECTV packages and channel selection, check out our full DIRECTV review.
DISH: Best satellite TV provider
|Plan||Price||TV channel count||Details|
|America's Top 120||$59.99†||190||View Plan|
|America's Top 120+||$69.99†||190+||View Plan|
|America's Top 200||$79.99†||240+||View Plan|
|America's Top 250||$89.99†||290+||View Plan|
- Consistent pricing
- Tons of college sports coverage
- Best DVR available
If you’re looking for the best all-around satellite tv provider, it’s DISH.
Yes, it’s a massive bummer that DISH doesn’t carry NFL SUNDAY TICKET, but we’ve got good news for college sports fans. DISH carriers the most college sports channels, including the SEC, Pac-12, Longhorn, and Big Ten Networks, and ESPN Goal Line.
At first glance, DISH looks like it’s more expensive than DIRECTV, but 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.
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 2 ½ times more HD content (500 hours) than the Genie from DIRECTV (200 hours). However, keep in mind that the advertised package price doesn’t include the DVR price. You’ll have to pay an extra $10 per month for the Hopper and an additional $5–$10 per month for each added receiver.
We think it’s worth the upgrade to the Hopper, though, because 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-cushion chasms 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.
- Mediocre customer service reputation
It’s really not that big of a shock that a major TV provider has inconsistent customer service at best. We pitted DIRECTV and DISH against each other in the customer service department, and DISH falls short on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI1). From our experience, you can expect longer hold times with DISH’s customer service department.
Dive into our full DISH review for more information on channel selection, Hopper capabilities, and set-up process.
Best cable TV service providers
- Xfinity from Comcast
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 poor customer service reviews, so we’ll . . . be grading on a curve.
Xfinity: Best all-around cable provider
|Plan||Price||TV channel count||Details|
|Digital Starter||$49.99^||140+||View Plan|
|Digital Preferred||$59.99^||220+||View Plan|
|Digital Premier||$104.99‡‡||260+||View Plan|
- Affordable package prices
- Popular channels included in basic package
- No-contract options
With the Digital Starter package starting at $49.99 per month, Xfinity comes in with the best all-around package 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) by about $10 per month.
Unlike the satellite TV companies, Xfinity offers no-contract plans. It does charge $10 more per month for non-contract services, but we feel like the small bump in price is worth that contract-free flexibility. Also, keep in mind that promotional pricing usually requires a minimum one-year contract.
- Additional fees*
- Poor customer service reputation
Sigh. Fees, amirite?
Xfinity has plenty to watch out for. Regional sports fees ($5 per month), broadcast TV fees ($7 per month), DVR fees ($19.95 per month), additional receiver/multiple TV fee ($9.95 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.
Look, Xfinity offers a lot of great things, but a good customer service experience is just not one of them. And remember, we’re grading on a curve.
According to the ACSI, Comcast has been dead last (or close to it) for the last few years.
To be fair, Xfinity has many brick-and-mortar locations for customer service and our experience dealing with an Xfinity rep. face-to-face was much better than it was over the phone. Unfortunately, these stores aren’t available in all areas, so you may be stuck dealing with them over the phone.
For more details on packages, equipment, and our experience, 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
|Plan||Price||TV channel count||Details|
|TV Select||$44.99^^||125+||View Plan|
|TV Silver||$69.99^^||175+||View Plan|
|TV Gold||$89.99^^||200+||View Plan|
- Cheap starting package
- Good bargain for premium channels
Remember how XFINITY thought it was so cool offering a starter channel package for $49.99 a month? Well, Spectrum has something to say about that.
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.
- 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 information, equipment selection, and more detailed pricing, check out our full review of Spectrum.
Cox: Best for customization
- Customizable packages
Cox takes a different approach to cable TV packaging with its “Paks” options. The Contour TV package gives you a preselected channel base (and your choice of one premium channel like HBO). You can then add on Paks of additional channel options.
It’s a pseudo-à-la-carte way to choose the channels that matter most to you.
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, FOX, and TBS.
We’re still on the fence about this approach. It needs some fine-tuning, in our opinion, but it gives you a little more control over the channels that are included in the price you’re paying.
- 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.
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 more for its DVR services than competitors like Xfinity, even though both have similar capabilities. Cox charges $19.99 per month for the Record 6-HD DVR, which can record up to six shows at the same time. That’s double the price of Xfinity’s X1 DVR, which does the same thing.
If you want a more thorough rundown of Cox’s channel selection, equipment offerings, and pricing, read our full Cox review.
Best fiber-optic TV service provider
Verizon Fios TV: Best for faster connection
|Plan||Price||TV channel count||Details|
|Your Fios TV||$50°°||125+||View Plans|
|More Fios TV||$70***||300+||View Plans|
|The Most Fios TV||$90***||425+||View Plans|
- 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—and it’s great if you’re connecting multiple devices and bundling your TV and internet together.
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 Fios’s 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.
- 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:
- New Jersey
- New York
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.
|Provider||Advertised price range*||Channels||Details|
|YouTube TV||$49.99/mo.||70+||View Plans|
|Hulu with Live TV||$44.99/mo.||65+||View Plans|
|Sling TV||$25–$40/mo.||50+||View Plans|
|AT&T TV NOW||$50–$135/mo.||125+||View Plans|
|PlayStation Vue||$44.99–$79.99/mo.||95+||View Plans|
Data effective 11/14/19. 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||$49.99/mo.||70+||View Channels|
- 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.
- Missing a few key channels
- Occasionally weird interface
Just the other night, my wife was frantically searching for RuPaul’s Drag Race and what did we discover? YouTube TV doesn’t carry VH1. Needless to say, the household became much more somber after that moment.
Most other streaming services do carry VH1, though, so you can be prepared for when a new episode of Drag Race drops.
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 with Live TV: Best for binge-watching
|Hulu with Live TV||$44.99/mo.||65+||View Channels|
- Massive on-demand streaming catalog
- No contracts
Hulu with 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 The Handmaid’s Tale, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, 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, check out our Hulu with Live TV review.
- 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 Game of Thrones would be enough to fill your storage to the brim. You can upgrade to 200 hours of storage, but it’ll cost you another $14.99 a month. No thank you.
Sling TV: Best value streaming service
|Sling Orange||$25/mo.||25+||View Channels|
|Sling Blue||$25/mo.||45+||View Channels|
|Orange + Blue||$40/mo.||50+||View Channels|
- Low entry price
- Cloud DVR
Sling TV truly understands what cord-cutting is all about: saving money without missing out on your shows. At $25 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.
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 paying just as much as DIRECTV NOW or YouTube TV.
And here’s a hint: those other two streaming services offer more channels and cloud DVR storage than Sling TV. The magic of Sling TV is in the small channel packages (and in your heart).
For $5 more per month, Sling will let you record up to 50 hours of content, but it works only on select devices. Still, this is better than competitors like DIRECTV NOW, which don’t offer livestream recording yet.
- Fewer channels than competitors
With a low entry price comes a smaller selection of channels. In fact, you get almost 50% more channels with DIRECTV NOW or fuboTV than with Sling.
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 our experience with Sling TV, such as which devices work with Sling, and answer a bunch of FAQ’s in our Sling TV review.
fuboTV: Best streaming service for soccer fans
- Lots of sports (especially soccer—that is, fútbol)
- Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking package options
- Best cloud DVR
For all-around TV, fuboTV is pretty average, but it towers over the competition when it comes to sports—think Patrick Ewing over Muggsy Bogues (yes, that’s a Space Jam reference).
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.
fuboTV also boasts one of the best cloud DVRs out of all our recommended live TV streaming services. DVR service is included in fuboTV’s monthly price, unlike Sling TV ($5 add-on). The free version allows for only 30 hours of recorded content, but you can upgrade for $10 a month and get up to 500 hours.
- 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 livestreams aren’t always available, so if you haven’t set your stream to record already, you won’t be able to rewind and play back that amazing golazo.
We talk about fuboTV in detail, covering channel add-ons, equipment, pricing, and more, in our fuboTV review.
AT&T TV NOW (formerly DIRECTV NOW): Best overall streaming service
|OPTIMO MÁS||$86/mo.||90+||View Plans|
- Included premium channels on some plans
- No contracts
AT&T TV NOW offers premium movie channels on the PLUS and MAX packages. Prices for the individual channels on other packages have returned to normal.
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.
- 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. You’ll pay just as much for regular DIRECTV. The only difference is that you’ll get your TV through your internet connection instead of a satellite dish.
AT&T TV NOW has a cloud DVR with 20 hours of storage, which really isn’t much.
We ran into a weird issue when we tried pausing a livestream. It let us pause our show (because when you gotta go, you gotta go), but when we tried to resume, the app skipped us ahead to the livestream.
We ran into this problem only with livestreams and not with on-demand shows and movies.
For a more in-depth breakdown of AT&T TV NOW ’s pricing (formerly DIRECTV NOW), channel selection, and user experience, check out our full review.
Satellite vs. cable vs. livestreaming
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.
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.
The downside is that A) you have to have a satellite dish installed on your roof, which can mean extra installation fees, and B) 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 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 generally starts 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.
Livestreaming, TV’s new kid on the block, has a lot going for it. It’s a more à-la-carte-style approach, so you can pick the programming and price point that fit you best. Live TV streaming provides some of the lowest prices out there while still offering you a lot of the programming you’re looking for.
Livestreaming 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. Let’s do this together.
Early termination fees
For services like cable and livestreaming 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.
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 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
- DIRECTV reigns supreme for NFL fans and HD content. ($35–$110/mo.)
- DISH has the best pricing and a killer DVR in the Hopper 3. ($59.99–$89.99/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–$114.99/mo.)
- Spectrum has good bargain pricing on premium movie channels. ($44.99–$139.99/mo.)
- Cox’s customizable packages feels almost like à-la-carte cable. ($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. ($44.99/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. ($25–$40/mo.)
- fuboTV is the clear streaming leader for sports fans and Spanish- or Portuguese-language content. ($44.99/mo.)
- AT&T TV NOW offers low-cost premium movie channels and no-contract DIRECTV content. ($50–$135/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 what you’d like us to review in future posts or which TV brands we should add to our comparison.
- American Customer Satisfaction Index, “Wireless Competition Boosts Customer Satisfaction While Pay TV Fades”
- American Customer Satisfaction Index, “Benchmarks By Company”
- Verizon Fios, “Verizon Fios Plans & Pricing”
Tyler Abbott, Trevor Wheelwright, Erin Tanner