5 top alternatives to cable TV for 2024: How to cut the cord — and your monthly costs

When you’re looking to simplify your monthly expenses, your cable bill might be No. 1 on the list. And you’re not alone: The average cable bill has crept up from $73 in 2018 to more than $215 today, according to Nielsen. That may be why more and more U.S. households are cutting the cord for cable alternatives instead.

Streaming services are among the most popular alternatives, with streamers surpassing TV viewers using cable and satellite, according to Nielsen. These services allow you to enjoy the same channels you watch now, only without the equipment rental and multiyear contract requirement of cable.

But with so many options, it can be hard to decide which is best for your budget and binging potential. That’s why we’ve scoured through the most popular cable alternatives to give you our top five cable alternatives that provide the comfort of cable without the sting.

Hulu + Live TV: Our top all-around pick

💰 What you’ll pay

Hulu supports two subscription tiers that depend on your tolerance for ads:

Hulu (no ads) — Hulu’s top tier costs $90 a month for Hulu content plus live TV and two premium subscriptions — with no advertisements.

Hulu (with ads) — the base tier with ads costs $77 a month (a savings of $13 a month over the ad-free option).

If you’re not interested in the Hulu catalog, Disney+ or ESPN at all, you can get live TV only for $76.

Live TV subscribers can round out viewing through add-on packages offering niche channels that aren’t included in the base subscription:

Entertainment add-on — includes the Cooking Channel, Crime & Investigation, Hallmark Drama, MTV, TeenNick and 10 other entertaining channels for an extra $8 a month

Sports add-on — includes FanDuel, NFL RedZone, the Outdoor Channel and similar sports and stream channels for an extra $10 a month

Español add-on — Stream CNN, Discover, ESPN, FOX and NBC news, sports and TV shows in Spanish for an extra $5 a month

An additional $10 each month unlocks access to streaming on an unlimited number of devices.

✅ What’s included

Regardless of whether you choose Hulu+ with or without ads, you get access to all of Hulu’s on-demand library, Disney+, ESPN+ and more than 95 live TV channels, based on where you live. You can enter your ZIP code on Hulu’s site to see what live TV is available to you.

If you’re OK with short ad breaks on your content, Hulu’s $77 base subscription allows you to stream on two devices simultaneously and gives you unlimited cloud DVR storage — which means you can record movies, games and more for viewing later.

The service supports streaming on desktop, mobile, tablets and devices that include Amazon Fire, Android, Apple, Chromecast, Roku and popular gaming consoles.

❌ What’s not included

Hulu’s lineup doesn’t include such popular channels as AMC and BBC America, and sports fans may miss access to the MLB Network and NBA TV.

Families may find Hulu’s two-screen limit hard to navigate, and access to more screens will cost an extra $10 each month. Hulu also doesn’t support 4K-quality streaming on all devices or programs.

YouTube TV: Our pick for sports fans

YouTube TV boasts more than 8 million subscribers — no doubt many of them sports fanatics, what with YouTube the new home to NFL Sunday Ticket. Add to that a multiview screen and exclusive sports features like Stats View and Fantasy Football View, and YouTube TV may be the best choice if your TV life revolves around the next season of your favorite game.

💰 What you’ll pay

The exclusive home to NFL Sunday Ticket, YouTube offers sports fans access to every Sunday game and YouTube’s base plan of more than 100 live channels — including ESPN — for a flat $349 a year. (You can sign up for NFL RedZone without YouTube TV, but the cost increases to $449 a year.)

Subscriptions come with the ability to add NFL RedZone, and depending on where you live, you might be able to break up the subscription into four payments of $87.25 (excluded states are Georgia, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New York, New Jersey and Tennessee).

If you’re not so into sports, Youtube TV’s base plan is $73 a month and includes national and local networks, on-demand movies and a library of your favorite TV shows — and the company offers frequent discounts that can knock down what you pay in your first three months.

Other plans and bundles allow Spanish speakers, premium-channel seekers and high-def streamers to customize subscriptions:

Spanish Plus — standalone plan offers Univision, ESPN and more than 25 other Spanish streaming channels for $35 a month or bundle with your base plan for an extra $15 a month

Entertainment Plus — add-on bundles Max, Starz and Paramount+ with Showtime for an extra $30 a month

Features and 4K — get unlimited screens, offline access to your DVR content and 4K-quality viewing on select channels and shows for an extra $10 a month

What’s included

Focusing on sports, NFL Sunday Ticket carries every out-of-market NFL game that airs on Sundays. When combined with YouTube TV — a combination that’s cheaper than the standalone NFL Sunday Ticket — you also get access to live sports and NFL games through ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN, among other channels in YouTube TV’s base plan. And you can add NFL RedZone for live coverage and real-time stats hosted from NFL network host Scott Hanson.

Otherwise, YouTube TV offers a base plan of more than 100 live-TV channels and on-demand content with unlimited DVR storage. You can have up to six customized user accounts, but the base subscription allows simultaneous viewing on only three screens.

YouTube offers an upgrade to 4K viewing on a limited number of channels, which also allows you to download shows from your library to watch without internet access. And it supports streaming on many popular smart TVs, media players, smartphones, tablets and gaming consoles.

What’s not included

NFL Sunday Ticket doesn’t include Sunday Night Football on NBC, Monday Night Football on ESPN and most in-market games you can watch without it. YouTube’s base plan service is missing some popular channels and programming in its lineup, including ​​A&E, the DIY Network, the History Channel and Lifetime. And it doesn’t offer an ad-free option like some of its competitors do.

Also, if you’re a YouTube TV subscriber, it doesn’t automatically mean you’re a YouTube Premium member — so you’ll still see ads on YouTube content. And for old-school NFL Sunday Ticket fans, note that YouTube TV doesn’t offer your first week for free like DirecTV used to.

Sling: Our pick for customization

💰 What you’ll pay

Living up to its name, the ad-supported Sling Freestream account allows you to stream news, movies and TV shows across more than 500 channels for free, both live streaming and on demand.

For channels that aren’t included in Freestream, the streaming service offers two Sling TV subscription plans and a cost-saving way to get both:

Orange — stream six ad-free sports and family channels that include Disney, ESPN and Freeform for $40 a month

Blue — stream 14 ad-free news and entertainment channels that include Fox News, MSNBC, Discovery and National Geographic for $40 a month

Orange + Blue — stream more than 65 exclusive and shared channels in the Orange and Blue plans for $55 a month.

Right now, the service offers $25 off your first month, which means you could pay only $30 for your first month of both plans.

Sling TV also offers special five-channel add-on packages for about $6 a piece, allowing you to pick and choose the channels you want, based on your interests. Add more sports channels for an additional $11 a month or get all extra channels, plus additional DVR storage, for $21 a month.

✅ What’s included

Regardless of which plan you choose, you get 26 base channels that include A&E, BBC America, QVC, HGTV, Nick Jr. and many others. You also get 50 hours of DVR storage for free, or you can pay $5 more for up to 200 hours of DVR storage.

The Orange plan is the sports and family plan, which offers six exclusive channels that include the Disney Channel and Freeform for kids and teens, plus MotorTrend and the ESPN channels for sports. You can stream to only one device with this plan.

The Blue plan is considered a news and entertainment plan, carrying Fox and MSNBC for newsies plus 12 other exclusive channels like Bravo, SYFY, NFL Network and Discovery. And you can stream on up to three devices with this plan.

The combined Orange and Blue plan allows for simultaneous streaming on up to four devices. You can also choose to manage your premium channel subscriptions through Sling TV for access to international channels — East Asian sports and TV, Arabic channels and Latino and Mexican channels.

Supported devices for streaming include popular brands like Amazon, Chromecast, Roku, Samsung and Xfinity as well as smartphones, tablets and Xbox.

❌ What’s not included

Unfortunately, Sling TV doesn’t provide consistent access to local channels. You may be able to access local ABC, Fox and NBC affiliates in some major markets, but the service suggests using an over-the-air antenna or AirTV device to access your local content. It doesn’t offer access to CBS content at all.

Philo: Our pick for cheapest streaming

💰 What you’ll pay

Philo offers just one basic plan for its streaming service at $25 a month with the ability to expand viewing through three add-on packages:

MGM+ — Ad-free shows and movies from MGM+, MGM+ Marquis and MGM+ Hits for an extra $6 a month

Starz — Ad-free shows and movies from Starz, Starz Encore and Starz Kids & Family for an extra $10 a month

Movies & More — includes HDNet Movies, Reelz, Sony Movies, Family Movie Classics, Sony Movies and Fandor for an extra $3 a month

And Philo offers a seven-day free trial, so you can test out whether a subscription is enough without paying a dime.

✅ What’s included

Philo gives you access to a large library of on-demand content, including more than 70 popular channels, from A&E to WE. You can create up to 10 personalized accounts, though you’re limited to simultaneous streaming over over three screens only. For those who like to store titles to view later, Philo also offers unlimited DVR storage, with content that doesn’t expire for 12 months.

You can stream Philo on your TV, smartphone, laptop or tablet through supported brands like Amazon, Apple, Samsung and Vizio.

❌ What’s not included

Philo does not support any local TV or major networks like ABC, CBS or NBC, which is how it keeps its prices so low. The service suggests using an over-the-air antenna to pick up TV signals broadcast by your local TV towers.

News buffs and sports fans may also want to search elsewhere: Philo’s only major news network is BBC News, and it doesn’t provide access to any of the major sports networks.

DirecTV Stream: Our pick for a cable-like experience

💰 What you’ll pay

DirecTV Stream offers multiple streaming subscriptions with different monthly price points:

Entertainment — $80 a month

Choice — $109 a month

Ultimate — $120 a month

Premier — $165 a month

Promos allow you to add the DirecTV Sports Pack to your Entertainment, Choice or Ultimate subscription and shave $10 off each of your first three months. Another saves you the same $10 a month for your first three months of Premier without needing to add the Sports Pack.

DirecTV also offers several premium subscriptions for various prices, with three-month subscriptions to Max, Showtime, Starz, MGM+ and Cinemax included when you sign up for the first three packages. Those subscriptions auto-renew unless you cancel, which could cost you just under $55 a month.

✅ What’s included

Supported channels depend on the subscription you purchase:

Entertainment includes more than 75 live TV channels that include ESPN, Nickelodeon and HGTV plus more than 40,000 on-demand shows and movies as well as your local channels.

Choice increases your live TV channels to more than 105 and your on-demand titles to more than 45,000. The package includes both local channels and regional sports networks.

Ultimate includes all of the channels in the Entertainment and Choice packages, plus more than 40 additional live TV channels and 10,000 more on-demand titles.

Premier package comes with even more live TV channels, on-demand shows and movies, all local channels and regional sports networks, plus Max, Cinemax, Paramount+ with Showtime and Starz. MGM+ is included for the first three months, then auto-renews for $6 a month unless you cancel. Full channel lists are included on the DirecTV Stream website.

Does DirecTV Stream require a contract?

No. DirecTV Stream doesn’t require the same two-year contract that DirecTV does. But if you sign up for 24 months, you can get a standard DirecTV device for free with your Stream subscription.

❌ What’s not included

Local and regional channels are determined by your ZIP code, so you’ll want to check with DirecTV’s site to learn which channels are available in your area before signing up. You won’t find access to your regional sports channels with Entertainment — instead, compare the Choice, Ultimate or Premier packages.

And while the service says you can stream on unlimited devices, that’s only within your home network. If you’re traveling or on a different network, you’re limited to only three concurrent streams.

If you’re a current DirecTV or U-verse customer, many of the discounts aren’t available to you when you make the shift to DirecTV Stream. You also may be required to pay an extra $10 a month for unlimited DVR use.

Other on-demand services

Several other services are available once you make the switch from cable to streaming, most of which offer on-demand content only. Others allow you to watch live TV on channels included under their own media companies.

Here’s a list of popular on-demand services and what they include:

Apple TV+ — original content as well as on-demand TV and movies. Sports fans can add the MLS season pass and watch Friday Night Baseball for live games.

Disney+ — content from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, National Geographic and the Star Wars franchise. Your subscription determines whether content is ad-supported or ad-free.

Paramount+ — all CBS shows and some original content. Paramount+ with Showtime gives you access to Showtime content, your local CBS live stream and live sports content for a few extra dollars a month.

Peacock TV — NBC and affiliated TV shows and movies on demand, as well as live TV channels, live sports and replays and special content for WWE fans.

Amazon Prime Video — access to a whole library of TV and movie content for Prime members. Without Prime, you can watch select TV and movies on Amazon Freevee, as well as original content created just for the ad-supported streaming service.

Netflix — unlimited streaming of on-demand TV and movie content, as well as original content made just for the service. Set up member accounts with limits for kids, or pay extra to share your subscription with family members who live outside your household.

Hulu — Hulu’s content without Live TV offering separate subscriptions for watching with or without ads. Programming includes original Hulu content and some current TV episodes a day after they air on live TV.

Some on-demand services are curated to match individual interests, such as AcornTV and Britbox for content from British networks like ITV and the BBC. You can stream your favorite musical theater from BroadwayHD or watch your favorite documentaries and reality content from Discovery+. Long-term subscriptions to these individual services may add up, but you can start and stop your subscriptions any time you want, paying for just a month at a time.

For example, some of us pay for a month of Discovery+ in July or August to watch Shark Week (and maybe to catch up on the latest season of 90-Day Fiance).

How to cut the cable TV cord

Here are the steps to take when you’re ready to break free from your cable TV service, starting with your current cable contract.

Step 1: Check your cable contract

If you’re paying for cable, you’ll want to carefully read your existing contract to learn whether you’re on the hook for a cancellation fee. These fees can be as high as $15 for each month left on your contract plus any equipment fees.

Some contracts include reasons you can cancel without fees or penalties — such as chronic service outages or broken upgrade promises — but you’ll have to make a case to the cable company with documentation to prove that service didn’t meet expectations.

If you’re nearing the end of your contract, it might help to weigh how much you could save with a streaming service against any early cancellation fees to see if it’s worth cutting the cord early.

What if my cable is part of a bundle?

If your cable package is bundled with your internet and home phone, it may be time to shop around. You might be able to get a better deal on standalone internet service that has the speed you’ll need for streaming. A streaming speed of 50 to 100Mbps is a good standard and should allow for streaming on multiple devices in your home with quality of up to 4K.

Step 2: Contact your cable company

Have your contract on hand, and prepare for your cable company to offer amazing discounts or upgrades when you call to cancel. With cable TV subscriptions down, representatives have an incentive to get you to stay on as a customer.

If the rep quotes cancellation fees above and beyond what’s allowed in your contract, ask to speak to a manager to make sure you’re not charged more than you owe.

Before hanging up, ask how long you have to return any equipment you received when you signed up for the service to avoid yet more charges down the road.

Step 3: Determine if you need a streaming device

Newer smart TVs often come with preloaded streaming apps that you can run without an added device. But some people find the apps are hard to use, lacking updates to get rid of glitches and bugs or the ability to add or delete apps easily. Smart TVs also collect your personal information and viewing habits — including voice data, if you use your TV’s mic for voice commands — which can be problematic if you value your privacy (though you can opt out with some work).

If you don’t have a smart TV or don’t like the way yours works, you can still stream on most other TVs with a streaming device like these four popular brands:

Roku — devices start at $30 

Amazon Fire TV Stick — devices start at $20

Apple TV 4K — devices start at $129

Google Chromecast — devices start at $30

Frequently asked questions about cable TV alternatives

How can services like Sling Freestream offer streaming for free?

Ad-supported streaming services can help you streamline your budget with access to high-quality programming. And it’s free because it’s paid for by advertisers, who are more than willing to market products, brands and services to a captive and willing audience — you and your family.

How many or how often you’ll see ads with these services varies by platform, though frequency may not be all that different from cable TV. For many cord-cutters, watching a few ads here and there is worth lower monthly costs — and more money in their budgets.

What is a smart TV?

A smart TV is a TV that allows you to connect to the internet through built-in Wi-Fi, an ethernet port or both. These TVs make it easy to catch up on shows, watch movies and play games through streaming services, and they often support voice assistants like Alexa or Google Assistant. A downside is that smart TVs are known to track your streaming habits and other personal data — something you can usually turn off in privacy settings.

What is an over-the-air antenna?

OTA antennas are digital receivers that pick up TV signals broadcast by local TV towers. Some TVs come equipped with these digital tuners built in. Others — particularly TVs from before 2007 and more modern ones labeled “HD ready” — do not. The U.S. is not among the list of countries that ban the use of OTA antennas.

Sources

Statistics About the Average Cable Bill, Gitnux. Accessed April 4, 2024.

Streaming claims largest piece of TV viewing pie in July, Nielsen. Accessed April 4, 2024.

How to Turn Off Smart TV Snooping Features, Consumer Reports. Accessed April 4, 2024.

About the writer

Heather Petty is a finance writer who specializes in consumer and business banking, personal and home lending, debt management and saving money. After falling victim to a disreputable mortgage broker when buying her first home, Heather set on a mission to help people avoid similar experiences when managing their own finances. Her expertise and analysis has been featured on MSN, Nasdaq, Credit.com and Finder, among other financial publications. When she’s not breaking down the complexities of finance, she’s a young adult mystery writer of an internationally acclaimed series — and counting.

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