There are a growing number of so-called “cord cutters,” or people who have decided to ditch their expensive cables bills in favor of cheaper and more flexible streaming services. The world of entertainment has recognized the rapid popularity of video streaming, leading many major product studios to invest in their own streaming platforms. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that 70 percent of American households subscribe to at least one streaming service, which is exceptionally high; for comparison, just 40 percent of households in the UK maintain subscriptions to streaming services.
The allure of streaming services isn’t just convenience. When a person subscribes to a great streaming service — or even a few streaming services — his or her cable package or bundle often becomes unnecessary. And in 2019, there are a variety of great TV streaming services that are more than sufficient stand-ins for conventional cable packages. In fact, some of these streaming services even offer the live TV channels, just like a cable TV provider!
So whether you’re looking for the best cable replacement or the cheapest TV streaming service, this is our overview of the best TV streaming services on the market.
How Did We Choose?
As mentioned above, there are many streaming services available today, and the list is constantly growing. No matter which type(s) of entertainment you prefer, there’s a good chance that there’s a streaming service tailored to that genre. For instance, Shudder is a TV streaming service consisting solely of horror films and shows, making it a go-to streaming service for horror aficionados.
However, we are excluding Shudder and similar streaming services with more niche or limited scope. Our focus is on streaming services that offer a variety of content, which will allow many of these services to serve as stand-ins for traditional cable and satellite TV packages.
From there, we wanted to highlight different types of TV streaming services. Of course, one of the services we’re covering — PlayStation Vue — was selected as “Best for Cord-Cutting” because it offers the best replacement for traditional cable or satellite TV package. Similarly, we consider Netflix to be the TV streaming service that is “Best for Most People” for reasons we’ll get into momentarily.
What Are The Best TV Streaming Services of 2019?
Entertainment is subjective. What one person finds entertaining isn’t necessarily going to be entertaining to others. For this reason, the streaming services we’re covering are “content agnostic,” meaning they aren’t solely dedicated to one type or genre of content.
Many of the TV streaming services featured on our list will be familiar to you. In fact, you may already have subscriptions to one or more of these services, or maybe you’ve tried them in the past. The idea behind this list is to help you pick the TV streaming service(s) that best meet your unique needs.
The specific TV streaming services that we will be focusing on include:
- Best for Most People: Netflix
- Best for Cord-Cutting: PlayStation Vue
- Best for Network Television: Hulu
- Best for Value: Sling
- Best for Families: Amazon Prime Video
Best for Most People: Netflix
Netflix is basically the father of the streaming area. It was the first TV streaming service to really become mainstream and to become a household name. This means that Netflix is well-known and has had the longest time to accumulate a library of both licensed and original content
Until a few years ago, Netflix was primarily a destination for other companies’ content. However, in preparation for the proliferation of streaming services, Netflix began producing its own original movies and television shows, many of which have become highly acclaimed, popular entertainment. In fact, it’s often said that licensed content brings people to Netflix, but it’s Netflix’s original content that makes them want to stay with the platform. Netflix’s shows, in particular, drive many subscriptions in exchange for all-you-can-watch access to such shows as Orange is the New Black, Narcos, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Stranger Things, and Daredevil.
Another great feature of Netflix is the diversity of its library. When browsing the platform, you’ll find tons of forgotten favorites as well as more recent fare. Best of all, Netflix’s library spans all genres, including science fiction and fantasy, documentaries, sitcoms, comedy, horror, and everything in-between. There’s even a plethora of family-friendly entertainment, and Netflix’s library is constantly growing.
Of course, no TV streaming service is totally perfect. For one thing, Netflix has increased the cost of its subscription plans several times since 2014. Currently, the base price for a Netflix subscription is $8.99; at that price, you can stream content in 720p quality on a single device, which isn’t recommended for actual TV-sized displays. The Netflix Standard plan brings 1080p HD resolution and support for up to 2 devices for $12.99 per month. Finally, there’s the Netflix Premium plan, which is $15.99 per month for 4K resolution and the ability to stream to up to four screens at once. Some might understand the need for price increases due to Netflix’s focus on producing original content, but others might find this frustrating.
Other considerations pertain to Netflix’s content. For one thing, Netflix’s content is revolving, which means that as new content is added to the platform, other content is removed. So it’s possible that your favorite films or shows could one day be unavailable on Netflix. Additionally, a substantial amount of Netflix’s content is licensed from studios like Disney and Warner Media. As more studios release their own TV streaming platforms, there’s a strong chance that much of Netflix’s licensed content could be pulled from the platform. In other words, the content that brings you to Netflix today may not always be available on the platform.
Why is Netflix Best for Most People?
- Deep library of movies and TV shows
- No advertisements
- Recommendations based on viewing history
- Multiple custom profiles on an account
- Up to 4 simultaneous streams
- Lots of original and Netflix-exclusive content
Drawbacks to Netflix
- More expensive compared to competitors
- Frequent price increases
- Licensed content may disappear
- No live television
- Amazon Prime Video
Best for Cord-Cutting: PlayStation Vue
With the success of Netflix serving a proof of concept, a number of other companies began building their own TV streaming platforms. Much to the surprise of many, this included a company known solely for manufacturing gaming consoles: PlayStation.
PlayStation Vue is a TV streaming service that is primarily focused on being a cable replacement. In other words, PlayStation Vue — which we’ll refer to as PSV from here — gives subscribers access to live television channels, which are streamed over their home internet connections using the PSV app. Initially, PSV was nearly exclusive to PlayStation’s gaming consoles, but over time, the company has added support for virtually all other major platforms, including Android and iOS, media streaming devices like Roku and Apple TV, and even some smart TVs. And it works much like you’d expect: Simply open the PSV app on your device of choice and you’ll have immediate access to a list of live television channels.
However, the main reason why PSV is arguably the best TV streaming service for cable replacement is that the service is designed to be very much like your traditional cable service provider. When you sign up for PSV, you choose the package that’s best for you, from the Access plan that includes 45 live TV channels for $45 per month, to the Ultra plan, which includes as many as 90 live channels, sports channels, niche channels, and even some premium channels like HBO and Showtime for $80 per month.
Much like a traditional cable TV provider, PSV also offers a selection of movies and TV shows available on-demand. There’s also a rather robust DVR service available, allowing you to record all your favorite shows to watch later at your convenience. Best of all, you get to bypass installation and equipment fees since PSV leverages your existing internet connection and devices.
If there’s a drawback to PSV, it’s the price: With the base cost of plans — in other words, before adding additional premium channels or other offering à la carte — costing as much as $80 per month, you may not be saving much money on your bill compared to a traditional cable package. Additionally, PSV currently has a blind spot in its channel lineup, which is all of Viacom’s channels. Specifically, that includes MTV, BET, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon.
Ultimately, PSV is the best choice for those who want the most cable-like experience without many of the drawbacks of cable, including expensive installation and equipment fees.
Why is PlayStation Vue Best for Cord-Cutting?
- Offers a cable-like experience
- Leverages your existing internet connection and devices
- À la carte programming
- Up to 5 simultaneous streams
- DVR and on-demand programming available
Drawbacks to PlayStation Vue
- Nearly as costly as traditional cable TV
- Viacom channels not currently available
- DIRECTV NOW
- YouTube TV
Best for Network Television: Hulu
If you’re even remotely attuned to popular culture, there’s a good chance you’ve at least heard of Hulu. Though often compared to — and considered the biggest rival of — Netflix, Hulu is actually quite a different TV streaming service with its own unique niche.
One of the main differences between Netflix and Hulu can be traced back to the latter’s inception. Hulu originated as an unusual partnership between a number of major production studios, including Comcast (formerly NBC Universal), Disney, and, eventually, Fox. The idea was to use the platform as a destination for current and recently-aired television episodes, a concept that remains to this day as one of Hulu’s main selling features.
That’s not to say there aren’t movies available on Hulu. On the contrary, Hulu does, in fact, continuously add movies to its library of content, from new releases to cult classics and everything in-between. However, it’s television for which Hulu continues to be known. In fact, depending on the show and network, there are some instances where TV shows currently airing on network television have their latest episodes added to the Hulu platform either simultaneously with the live broadcast or on the following day. This makes Hulu an ideal platform for those who prioritize network television and want a TV streaming service that keeps them up-to-date on their favorite programs.
Perhaps most importantly, Hulu continues to be one of the most affordable TV streaming services on the market in spite of the breadth of content it offers. There’s even a growing selection of Hulu’s original content, including shows like Castle Rock, The Act, and The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s worth noting, too, that ever since Hulu began offering access to commercial-free content with its premium subscription plans, the TV streaming provider has had only nominal increases to its subscription fees. In fact, Hulu recently decreased the cost of subscribing to Hulu when competitor Netflix announced its latest price increase
Currently, Hulu’s most inexpensive plan is $5.99 with only a limited number of commercials. For commercial-free access, a Hulu plan costs $11.99. Additionally, Hulu has begun offering live TV channels as well, and these plans start at $44.99 and still include commercial-free access to Hulu’s library of content.
If there’s a drawback to Hulu, it’s that it doesn’t have quite the breadth of Netflix when it comes to movie selection. Instead, Hulu is very much a series-first TV streaming service with movies and film coming second to TV series. Additionally, there have been a number of complaints about Hulu’s new user interface, which, though certainly aesthetically appealing, is much more cumbersome to use. There have also been some complaints regarding the availability of older TV shows since Hulu seems to be focused primarily on current and recent series.
Why is Hulu Best for Network Television?
- Affordable plans
- Deep library of current TV series
- Ad-free plan available
- Growing selection of original and Hulu-exclusive content
- Now offers plans with live TV channels
Drawbacks to Hulu
- User interface is difficult to use
- Focused more on TV shows than movies
- Focused more on current TV shows than classic shows
- Amazon Prime Video
Best for Value: Sling
Similar to PlayStation Vue, Sling is a TV streaming service that provides live television channels instead of an on-demand library of content like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. This makes Sling a great cable replacement, but due to its exceptionally affordable price, we consider Sling to be the best TV streaming service when it comes to getting live TV channels at the cheapest price.
Sling was one of the first TV streaming services to give subscribers a true alternative to traditional cable television. Since it debuted in early 2015, Sling has gained a lot of attention and loyalty among those who prioritize value and getting the most bang for their buck.
Arguably the best feature of Sling is its low starting cost: Currently, the lowest-cost Sling plans are Sling Orange and Sling Blue, both of which start at $25 per month. The main difference between the two plans is that Sling Orange includes 33 channels and up to three simultaneous streams while Sling Blue includes 48 channels and just a single stream. However, there’s also Sling Orange + Blue, which combines the channels of Sling Blue with Sling Orange’s multi-stream capabilities for $40 per month.
Like PlayStation Vue and traditional cable providers, Sling also has à la carte programming, meaning you can choose premium channels, DVR, and other add-ons to include in your Sling plan. Of course, these add-ons will increase the cost of Sling service and, by extension, decrease the value Sling offers.
Another great feature of Sling is the frequent promotions that the TV streaming service offers. For instance, Sling often offers a promotion where you can get afree Roku Express if you buy two or more months of Sling service upfront. There are two important drawbacks to consider. First, Sling’s on-demand offerings are somewhat limited and, by many accounts, difficult to access and navigate. Another common complaint is the slim selection of local channels; depending on your location, you may find that Sling doesn’t offer the local channels you were hoping to get.
Those who will get the most from Sling’s value are those who simply want a small selection of core live TV channels. While Sling does, in fact, offer many of the more advanced or premium features associated with traditional cable in the form of add-ons, this can quickly raise the cost of your Sling plan, reducing the value that Sling offers as such a low starting cost
Why is Sling Best for Value?
- Exceptional value for base plans
- À la carte programming
- Frequent promotions for free Roku device
- DVR and on-demand programming available
Drawbacks to Sling
- Local channels are limited
- On-demand programming is limited, hard to use
- Add-ons quickly raise the cost
- PlayStation Vue
Best for Families: Amazon Prime Video
Amazon wasn’t content with being the world’s biggest online retailer, so the company released its own Netflix-like streaming service. Initially, Amazon Prime Video was a way for Amazon Prime subscribers to watch movies and shows purchased digitally; however, Amazon Prime Video has since become a bigger competitor to Netflix, giving subscribers the ability to choose to access Prime Video as part of their Amazon Prime plans or to subscribe to Prime Video directly. In fact, Amazon has even established its own production studio and, much like Netflix, regularly buys the distribution rights to mainstream content and even produces its own original content.
There are two things that really make Amazon Prime Video unique, and that’s the breadth of content and integration with Amazon’s retail store. To be clear, not everything in Amazon’s content library is available for free with an Amazon Prime Video subscription. In fact, you’ll want to navigate to the Prime Video section of the app if you want to limit the on-screen options to those you can watch for free. However, part of the value of Amazon Prime Video is that the platform’s integration with Amazon’s online store puts virtually anything at your disposal (if you’re willing to pay).
Competing TV streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have finite amounts of content available. If you don’t find what you’re looking for on those platforms, you have to settle for something else and maybe what you had hoped to find will be added to the platform in the future. With Prime Video, if what you were looking for isn’t available for free, you still have the option to buy or rent it, right on the spot. Granted, this involves additional purchases that will affect the overall value, so the best way to look at this capability is as something that could save you a trip to your local Redbox.
The reason why Amazon Prime Video is such a great option for families is due to the platform’s wide selection, providing options that will surely appeal to each family member’s tastes. For instance, Amazon has an impressive selection of movies and shows for kids and families. Similarly, Amazon Prime Video has released a number of well-received series that are exclusive to the platform, including Sneaky Pete, Good Omens, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Besides an upcoming series based on the Lord of the Ringsbook series, Amazon Prime Video provides free access to many popular HBO shows like Game of Thrones, Six Feet Under, True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, and Veep. Amazon Prime Video is also the exclusive streaming provider of popular network shows like Mr. Robot, The Americans, and Parks and Recreation.
There are two ways to gain access to Amazon Prime Video: If you’re already subscribed to Amazon Prime — which recently increased to $119 annually, or $12.99 per month — then Amazon Prime Video is simply a perk that comes with your Amazon Prime membership. But if you don’t subscribe to Amazon Prime, you can subscribe directly to Amazon Prime Video for $8.99 per month, which, despite costing the same as Netflix’s 720p SD plan for a single device, actually allows for 4K and HDR streaming quality on up to two devices.
Interestingly, Amazon Prime Video is one of few TV streaming services that offers à la carte programming without live TV channels. Therefore, if you’d like to subscribe to HBO, Showtime, Starz, or other premium channels, those subscription feels can be added to your Amazon Prime Video subscription and the accompanying content will then be available on-demand in Amazon’s library.
Of course, there are still some drawbacks to Amazon Prime Video. In particular, it often takes a while for new releases to become available for free on Amazon Prime Video; presumably, this is done to incentivize purchases and rentals before those titles are made available for free. Additionally, there are some platforms on which Amazon Prime Video is still not available, particularly on Apple TV.
Why is Amazon Prime Video Best for Families?
- Included with an Amazon Prime subscription
- Growing selection of original and exclusive content
- Access to premium shows from HBO, Showtime, Starz
- Affordable plan option available
- Wide variety of content and genre
Drawbacks to Amazon Prime Video
- Emphasis on purchases and rentals
- Slow to add new releases
- Not available on certain devices
Which is the Best TV Streaming Services for You?
Now that we’ve covered the top TV streaming services, it’s time for the important question: What’s the best TV streaming service for you?
Netflix is a great all-around streaming service. Although it doesn’t provide live TV channels, Netflix offers an impressive library of original content that’s exclusive to the platform. However, price could be a concern, especially with Netflix’s periodic price increases.
If you’re looking for a great alternative to cable TV, PlayStation Vue is an excellent option for cord-cutters. PlayStation Vue offers live TV channels with plans that are objectively very similar to traditional cable packages. Additionally, PlayStation Vue offers à la carte programming, allowing you to add all your favorite premium channels to your plan.
When network programming and the latest shows are your priority, Hulu is the best (and cheapest) option. Since its inception, Hulu has been focused largely on providing access to the most popular shows and the latest episodes. The drawback, however, is that Hulu’s library of movies is a bit thin.
WSling was the first TV streaming service to provide access to live TV channels over your existing internet connection, and it remains a go-to choice for cord-cutters who prioritize value. Of course, Sling also offers à la carte programming, but adding premium channels, DVR, and other features will affect the value that Sling’s starting price of $25 per month offers.
Finally, Amazon Prime Video is ideal for families, providing a great breadth of content across all genres and demographics. Best of all, the tight integration with Amazon’s online store means that when the title you want to watch isn’t included in the free library of content, you still have the option to rent or buy it. But some might not like this emphasis on buying and renting content, which delays the addition of new releases to the free Prime Video library.
So which is the right TV streaming service for you? Do you have experience with any of the services we’ve covered? Are there other TV streaming services you believe are as good as those we’ve covered here?