Best TV Streaming Services of 2021: Live and On Demand

TV Streaming Services

Cord-cutters, read before you stream: XiPaChao reviews 19 subscription (and free) streaming services.

1. What is live TV streaming?

Live TV streaming services go all-in on replicating the familiar look and feel of cable TV while also maintaining the ease and convenience of streaming. They’re also mostly cheaper than cable or satellite. That got your attention, didn’t it?

Live TV streaming is simply television carried over the internet instead of using traditional cable or satellite connections. It’s the same programming that’s happening live right now on your favorite networks, just delivered through different wires. You could call it “internet TV,” but live TV streaming just sounds cooler.

A couple more ways that live TV streaming is different from cable and satellite:

  • The channel grids look mostly the same as those of cable and satellite, but livestreaming TV providers simply use an app on a streaming device (like Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire TV) instead of a physical receiver or DVR box. One less piece of equipment on the shelf is a definite plus.
  • Also, except for local TV stations, there are also no channel numbers in live TV streaming. Initially, that’s the weirdest difference when cutting the cord in favor of streaming, but you get over it. TNT is still TNT, numbered or not.

Though no single service covers every need for every viewer (yet), XiPaChao has reviewed and rated 14 of the best live TV streaming and on-demand TV services currently available to potential cord-cutters. We even threw in five extra free streamers for kicks.

We’ve ranked these streaming services based on bang-for-your-buck value, features, reliability, and our 2020 customer satisfaction survey results for livestreaming and on demand. Between XiPaChao’s expert reviewers and real-life streaming users, we’ve come up with our own editorial star ratings for livestreaming and on-demand services. Not to brag, but we nailed it.

2. Compare streaming services

Compare streaming services
Data effective as of post date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

We’ve named YouTube TV our best overall livestreaming TV service because of its excellent channel lineup, unlimited DVR, and smooth performance, among several other factors. We also think that Hulu + Live TV is a great value because it offers both live TV and a fantastic on-demand library—the best of both worlds.

3. Best live TV streaming services

  • YouTube TV – Best overall ($64.99/mo.)
  • Hulu + Live TV – Best value ($64.99–$70.99/mo.)
  • Philo – Cheapest ($20.00/mo.)
  • fuboTV – Best for sports ($64.99–$79.99/mo.)
  • Sling TV – Best for kids ($35.00–$50.00/mo.)
  • AT&T TV – HBO Max included ($69.99–$139.99/mo.)

4. Best on-demand streaming TV services

  • Netflix – Best overall ($8.99–$17.99/mo.)
  • Prime Video – Best value ($12.99/mo.)
  • Peacock – Cheapest (Free–$9.99/mo.)
  • ESPN+ – Best for sports ($5.99/mo.)
  • Disney+ – Best for kids ($7.99/mo.)
  • HBO Max – HBO originals and exclusives ($14.99/mo.)
  • Paramount+ – Deep TV and movies library ($5.99–$9.99/mo.)
  • Apple TV+ – Good for Apple fans ($4.99/mo.)

5. Best live TV streaming services

  • YouTube TV – Best overall ($64.99/mo.)
  • Hulu + Live TV – Best value ($64.99–$70.99/mo.)
  • Philo – Cheapest ($20.00/mo.)
  • fuboTV – Best for sports ($64.99–$79.99/mo.)
  • Sling TV – Best for kids ($35.00–$50.00/mo.)
  • AT&T TV – HBO Max included ($69.99–$139.99/mo.)

6. Best on-demand streaming TV services

  • Netflix – Best overall ($8.99–$17.99/mo.)
  • Prime Video – Best value ($12.99/mo.)
  • Peacock – Cheapest (Free–$9.99/mo.)
  • ESPN+ – Best for sports ($5.99/mo.)
  • Disney+ – Best for kids ($7.99/mo.)
  • HBO Max – HBO originals and exclusives ($14.99/mo.)
  • Paramount+ – Deep TV and movies library ($5.99–$9.99/mo.)
  • Apple TV+ – Good for Apple fans ($4.99/mo.)

7. Top live TV streaming services

Best overall: YouTube TV

  • Unlimited DVR
  • Simple interface
  • Higher price tag
  • No A&E, Lifetime, Hallmark

YouTube TV, YouTube’s live TV streaming service, combines the most familiar interface on the planet with an impressive array of entertainment, sports, and add-on channels. All hail our new Google overlords!

We’ve named YouTube TV our best overall live TV streaming service because of its ease of use, superior performance, and fat channel lineup. It’s a little more expensive than most of the others, but we think it’s worth the price.

YouTube TV channels and pricing

YouTube TV offers just one package, a $64.99-a-month deal that delivers mostly complete local channel lineups in over 100 markets and on-demand capability where select networks are absent (like The CW). YouTube TV is also the only livestreaming service that carries PBS and PBS Kids, and it offers 15 premium add-on channels ranging from HBO Max to FOX Soccer Plus.

As for sports, ESPN, ESPN2, FS1, FS2, NBC Sports Network, CBS Sports Network, and Big Ten Network are all included with YouTube TV. It also carries regional sports channels, in addition to NFL Network, MLB Network, and NBA TV.

Downsides of YouTube TV

YouTube TV offers solid coverage, but there are some holes in its entertainment lineup. It lacks channels like A&E, Lifetime, and Hallmark. Is a life without The First 48, Married at First Sight, or wall-to-wall Christmas movies even worth living? We’re asking for a friend.

YouTube TV’s 2020 price hike from $49.99 to $64.99 a month irked customers as well, even though they also gained over a dozen new channels including Comedy Central, Paramount Network, and BET. In early 2021, TeenNick, MTV2, MTV Classic, and three more were added to YouTube TV, pushing the channel count over 100.

Meanwhile, upsides to YouTube TV include unlimited—yes, unlimited—cloud DVR storage that keeps recorded shows for up to nine months. YouTube TV’s search function is also among the best in live TV streaming, thanks to its Google integration.

YouTube TV device compatibility

YouTube TV is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, LG TVs, Roku, Samsung TVs, Vizio TVs, and Xbox consoles.

Best value: Hulu + Live TV

  • Full Hulu on-demand experience
  • ESPN and FOX sports channels
  • Spotty entertainment channel lineup
  • No MLB, NBA, NFL, or NHL networks

When you think of Hulu, you probably think of The Handmaid’s Tale or maybe Palm Springs, if you’re into romantic quantum time-travel comedies.

Beyond original dystopian dramas, thinky comedies, and next-day broadcast and cable series delivery, Hulu has also taken a swing at livestreaming TV with its imaginatively titled Hulu + Live TV. Despite the name, the crew here at XiPaChao likes it so much we’ve named it our best value streamer.

Hulu Live channels and pricing

For $64.99 a month, in addition to the regular on-demand Hulu experience, Hulu + Live TV gives you over 60 live cable channels and, depending on your area, a near-complete local network lineup. The CW is mostly MIA, but its shows are available through Hulu’s on-demand library (also check out The CW’s app—it’s totally free).

That all sounds good until you scan the cable channels and notice favorites like Comedy Central, VH1, AMC, Animal Planet, Discovery, and Nickelodeon are nowhere to be found. Several other streaming services lack these channels, too—we recommend making up the difference with Philo, which carries them all for just $20 a month.

Sports fans, on the other hand, are treated to ESPN, ESPN2, FS1, FS2, and NBC Sports Network, plus TBS and TNT.

Hulu + Live TV also offers a generous number of regional sports networks and a handful of college sports channels. However, MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL pro sports networks are missing.

Downsides of Hulu Live

Hulu + Live TV’s cloud DVR affords you 50 hours of space—but you can record only entire series, not single episodes, and you can’t fast-forward (unless you pony up an additional $14.99 a month for the Enhanced Cloud DVR).

Still, we think Hulu + Live TV provides the best live TV streaming value for the price. Access to all of that cool Hulu content (including the FX originals library, which is like a premium add-on in and of itself) seals the deal.

Hulu Live compatible devices

Hulu + Live TV is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, LG TVs, Nintendo Switch, Roku, Samsung TVs, Vizio TVs, and Xbox consoles.

Cheapest: Philo

  • Inexpensive pricing
  • Channels unavailable elsewhere
  • No sports or local channels
  • No add-ons or upgrades

Don’t care about sports or local channels? Skinny service Philo—named after television inventor Philo T. Farnsworth—might be the budget live TV streaming answer for you.

Philo channels and pricing

There’s only one Philo package, which carries over 60 channels for $20 a month. It includes A&E, AMC, BBC America, Comedy Central, Discovery, Food Network, HGTV, VICE, and Hallmark (a unicorn channel that’s hard to come by in streaming), among many others.

You might recognize some of those as the popular channels missing from other services. What gives?

Connecting the red conspiracy strings on the corkboard: Philo is co-owned by the four major media companies that also own the channels usually absent from other live TV streaming services. With a few exceptions, those companies keep their channels exclusive to Philo for live TV streaming. An inconvenient situation, for sure.

Filling the gaps: Philo carries some of the channels that services like YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, and Sling TV lack. For $20 a month, combining Philo with most livestreaming TV packages to get the best channel lineup still comes out cheaper than most cable or satellite plans.

Downsides of Philo

The very things that keep Philo’s subscription rate low are also its biggest minuses: you can’t stream local channels or sports. Both those channel types are expensive to carry, so Philo decided to be the outlier among livestreaming services and just go with lifestyle and entertainment channels. If you want more than that, you’ll have to sign up for a second livestreamer or buy an HD antenna.

Also, Philo isn’t as customizable as most of the competition when it comes to channel grids and overall presentation, and its cloud DVR is “unlimited” only for 30 days (meaning, recorded shows self-delete after a month). Compared to live TV streaming apps like Hulu + Live TV and YouTube TV, Philo is a bare-bones affair.

But, for only $20 a month, there’s plenty to like about Philo.

Philo device compatibility

Philo is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, and Roku.

Best for sports: fuboTV

  • Excellent sports coverage
  • Solid entertainment channel lineup
  • Expensive plans
  • No TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network

fuboTV promises “live sports and TV without cable,” delivering “the perfect mix of sports and entertainment.” It’s an expansion on the service’s initial mission to be “the Netflix of soccer,” which still fits.

fuboTV plans and pricing

The fubo Family package, at $64.99 a month, offers 109 livestreaming channels, including entertainment staples like FX, AMC, Syfy, and Comedy Central. Local channels, on the other hand, are harder to come by.

fubo’s Elite plan, at $79.99 a month, nets you 156 channels, including SHOWTIME. It also comes with a DVR upgrade to 1,000 hours. For a beyond-complete live TV streaming experience, Elite is the way to go.

Even with the recent addition of ESPN channels, fuboTV’s niche sports programming is where it’s at, especially if you’re really, really, really into soccer (you know who you are). That impressive 105 channel count is mostly fútbol networks that even hardcore fans might not recognize. And, with fubo’s sports add-on packages, you can get even more.

Downsides of fuboTV

Around the same time fuboTV added ESPN channels, making it a sports powerhouse, it lost a suite of WarnerMedia channels: TBS, TNT, CNN, CNN International, CNN en Español, HLN, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, Turner Classic Movies, truTV, and Boomerang. That’s a serious chunk of channels.

fuboTV has also become more expensive in 2020, nearly the same monthly cost as a cable or satellite subscription. You get a lot with fubo, but you’ll definitely pay for it.

fuboTV compatible devices

fuboTV is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku, and Samsung TVs.

Best for kids: Sling TV

  • Inexpensive plans
  • Plenty of add-on packages
  • Limited local channels
  • Limited DVR storage

In terms of easy interface and channel options, Sling TV is similar to Hulu + Live TV. Its basic plans are cheaper if somewhat confusing, but overall Sling is highly customizable with multiple available add-on packages—including one for the kiddies.

Sling TV channels and pricing

The Sling Orange (30 channels for $35 a month) and Sling Blue (40 channels, also for $35 a month) packages aren’t bad for casual TV viewers. But more-demanding viewers will likely want Sling Orange + Blue (50 channels for $50 a month), since it’s the most complete package Sling has to offer.

The Orange + Blue package has kids’ channels Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, and Nick Jr. For $5 more a month, you can add the Kids Extra package, which includes Disney Junior, Disney XD, Nick Jr., Nicktoons, TeenNick, Boomerang, BabyTV, and DuckTV.

Sling TV’s cable channel lineup is strong—and with add-on packages, it gets even better, especially for sports (mom and dad need some to watch, too). If you have the patience to navigate the color-coding and extras, Sling is solid.

Downsides of Sling TV

Of course, like other live TV streaming services reviewed here, Sling TV doesn’t have everything. Local channels are lacking; many markets get only FOX or Univision affiliates. Figuring out Sling’s local coverage requires more than a glance, unfortunately. But, at least Sling is proactive about helping customers use antennas to get local channels.

Also, the Orange plan only gives you one stream—not cool.

Sling TV device compatibility

Sling TV is available on AirTV Player, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, LG TVs, Roku, Samsung TVs, Vizio TVs, and Xbox consoles.

HBO Max included: AT&T TV

  • Big channel lineups
  • 500-hr. DVR
  • Expensive plans
  • Clunky interface

Like many legacy media providers, DIRECTV leapt into the streaming boom quickly. It mostly stuck the landing with AT&T TV, even though it didn’t make our top five here.

After several iterations, AT&T TV (formerly AT&T TV NOW) has since evolved into a decent streaming version of its satellite TV service, complete with cloud DVR—but not without a few lingering problems.

AT&T TV channels and pricing

If you’ve used DIRECTV before, AT&T TV will seem comfortingly familiar. No learning curve here. The AT&T TV live channel guide is nearly identical to its DIRECTV satellite counterpart and, more importantly, a majority of the channels and on-demand movies you’d expect are there.

AT&T TV doesn’t deliver much on its budget package; most TV obsessives will want the CHOICE package, which gives you 90 channels for $84.99 a month and includes HBO Max.

Compare that to DIRECTV’s bottom SELECT package, which offers 155 channels at $59.99 a month for the first year, and you can see the issue. AT&T apparently didn’t get the memo that live TV streaming is supposed to be cheaper than satellite or cable TV.

Downsides of AT&T TV

In the negative columns, AT&T TV is pricey and requires its own set-top box to operate (though apps are available for devices like Roku and Amazon Fire TV). Very satellite.

If you’re determined to sidestep contracts and ditch the dish (scraping snow off a satellite receiver in the dead of winter sucks—we feel you), AT&T TV a relatively painless gateway into the world of full-time streaming TV. It’s no bargain, though—prepare your wallet for a hit.

AT&T TV compatible devices

AT&T TV is available on the AT&T TV device, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku, and Samsung TVs.

8. Top on-demand streaming TV services

Most everyone has used on-demand streaming, whether they realize it or not. Ever clicked on a YouTube video? That’s on-demand streaming.

The following services have upped the game exponentially from cat videos, including one that started out by mailing physical DVDs to your doorstep (Netflix still offers this service, BTW). There are many more, but these are XiPaChao’s go-to paid streamers.

Best overall: Netflix

You know it, and you probably already have it—or at least a pal’s password.

Streaming king Netflix has established itself as a relentless firehose of original programming and curated outside favorites, but live TV is nowhere on its radar. Well, not unless the Tiger King decides to relaunch his internet show, anyway.

We’ve named Netflix our best overall on-demand streaming service because of its commitment to original content for adults and kids. Sure, scrolling through Netflix’s movies and shows can be overwhelming, but no one wants to be underwhelmed—just ask Quibi.

Netflix compatible devices

Netflix is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, LG TVs, Nintendo consoles, PlayStation consoles, Roku, Samsung TVs, Vizio TVs, and Xbox consoles.

Best value: Prime Video

Amazon may be doubling down on original programming ambitions (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Jack Ryan are a power couple to reckon with), but live TV, not so much.

Prime Video does offer live TV streaming of select NBA and NFL games (including Thursday Night Football), but it’s still largely an on-demand service. We think it’s a killer value, considering what you get for $12.99 a month.

If you like on-demand movies to go with your Amazon Prime free shipping, Prime Video is tough to beat: there are over 18,000 movies available on Prime Video, and most of them stream free with Prime membership. And you thought you were awestruck by Netflix (which carries around 4,500 movies, for comparison).

Prime Video compatible devices

Prime Video is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, LG TVs, PlayStation consoles, Roku, Samsung TVs, Vizio TVs, and Xbox consoles.

Cheapest: Peacock

NBCUniversal’s Peacock jumped into the streaming wars during the summer of 2020, offering a big twist that set it apart from the others: an ad-supported free tier. Yes, you get more content with Peacock’s two paid tiers—but, in this time of too many subscription apps, a freebie is refreshing.

That said, Peacock’s paid tiers aren’t all that expensive. Peacock Premium (with ads) is $4.99 a month, and Peacock Premium (no ads) is $9.99 a month. They also give you access to 15,000 hours of total content from NBC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, MSNBC, and other NBCUniversal cable nets, where free Peacock limits you to 7,500 hours (still not bad).

Most importantly, Peacock is now the only place you can stream The Office. Sorry, we should have led with the big one—that’s what she said!

Peacock compatible devices

Peacock is available on Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, LG TVs, PlayStation consoles, Roku, Vizio TVs, and Xbox consoles.

Best for sports: ESPN+

ESPN+ isn’t a streaming replacement for ESPN, but it’s a great (and inexpensive) addition to it. ESPN+ carries live content that its cable counterpart doesn’t, including UFC, MLS, MLB, NHL, international soccer, boxing, tennis, and college sports events—all for six bucks.

But really, ESPN+’s strength is its deep on-demand library, which includes every 30 for 30 documentary, and original shows like Peyton’s Places, The Boardroom, Ariel & the Bad Guy, and several others. You can even manage your fantasy league on ESPN+ and read exclusive analysis articles from top sportswriters.

Even though ESPN+ lacks NFL and NBA coverage—ESPN certainly isn’t going to give those up—it’s still a killer sports streamer. When bundled with Disney+ and Hulu for $12.99 a month, it’s even better.

ESPN+ compatible devices

ESPN+ is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, LG TVs, PlayStation consoles, Roku, Samsung TVs, and Xbox consoles.

Best for kids: Disney+

Disney’s long-awaited streaming service arrived like a digital Deathstar in November 2019, dropping a handful of new originals (like the Star Wars–adjacent series The Mandalorian) and thousands of legacy shows and movies from the Disney, Star Wars, and Marvel vaults. If you haven’t heard of Disney+, where ya been?

Considering the sheer volume of content available, most expected Disney+ to cost more than other services like Netflix and Prime Video. Nope: at $7.99 a month (or $79.99 for a year), Disney+ is one of the cheaper on-demand streaming services—chalk one up for the Mouse (and Baby Yoda).

Disney+’s low price tag, generous multiple-streams allowance (up to 4), and overall kid-friendly vibe make it a gotta-have for families in our opinion. It’s not just for the little ones, either: Disney+’s 2020 mega-premieres of Hamilton and Beyonce’s Black is King prove the streamer aims to be more than just a babysitter.

Disney+ compatible devices

Disney+ is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, LG TVs, PlayStation consoles, Roku, Samsung TVs, and Xbox consoles.

HBO originals and exclusives: HBO Max

Stay with us here: HBO Max is like HBO NOW with way more content. Meanwhile, HBO streaming and HBO GO (a free streaming app for HBO cable/satellite subscribers) no longer exist. Got it?

No matter, as all HBO streaming now resides exclusively on HBO Max. It carries not only the entire HBO library of original shows and films, including blockbuster theatrical movies, but also original series like Doom Patrol, Search Party, and buzzy hit The Flight Attendant.

The biggest differentiator from HBO, however, is HBO Max’s exclusive catalog of classic shows produced by parent company WarnerMedia. You’ve probably heard that all 10 seasons of Friends now stream only on HBO Max; the same holds true for The Big Bang Theory, South Park, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

You get all of this for $14.99 a month, the same price as HBO proper. The choice between the two seems like a no-brainer, as HBO Max gives you so much more. Now that HBO Max is finally available on Roku, HBO (NOW) is a goner.

HBO Max compatible devices

HBO Max is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, LG TVs, PlayStation consoles, Roku, Samsung TVs, Wii, and Xbox consoles.

Deep TV and movies library: Paramount+

Beyond streaming exclusives Star Trek: Picard and Discovery, The Good Fight, and Why Women Kill, the draw of Paramount+ is its deep library of ViacomCBS classics and, in most markets, a livestream of local CBS affiliates.

That means live access to CBS Sports, CBS News, and CBS programming like Survivor, NCIS, and Young Sheldon. You can also attempt to keep up with Stephen Colbert’s nightly political takedowns on The Late Show, though we wouldn’t recommend it—it’s exhausting.

Paramount+ also recently added over 70 TV series from the vaults of parent company ViacomCBS. This means you can find SpongeBob SquarePants hanging out with Chappelle’s Show and Snooki & Jwoww.

In all, Paramount+ now carries over 30,000 hours of content from Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, TV Land, VH1, and other cable networks, in addition to CBS shows.

Paramount+ compatible devices

Paramount+ is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, LG TVs, PlayStation consoles, Roku, Samsung TVs, Vizio TVs, and Xbox consoles.

Good for Apple fans: Apple TV+

A week before Disney+ blew up the streaming world in 2019, Apple TV+ debuted with more subdued buzz and little understanding of what exactly it was. Would AppleTV+ stream any of your favorite old shows? Would it be typically Apple-pricey? Would it work on non-Apple devices?

The answers: Apple TV+ carries only new, original content (like Ted Lasso and The Morning Show), no previously released shows or movies from outside sources. Also, the monthly subscription rate of $4.99 is pretty sweet, and it’ll work on most non-Apple streaming devices.

Apple TV+’s performance and picture are as gorgeous as you’d expect from an Apple product, but, right now, the platform is far ahead of the content. Going the all-original route means there’s only a little over a dozen in-house Apple TV+ series and movies to choose from, and they’re a mixed critical bag, at best.

Apple TV+ compatible devices

Apple TV+ is available on Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, LG TVs, Roku, Samsung TVs, and Vizio TVs.

9. Top free streaming services

For as many paid streaming services that are available, there are even more free apps. In most cases, you’ll have to put up with ads, but so what? Free is free.

Here are five of our favorite free streaming TV services.

Pluto TV

Pluto TV is a free, ad-supported streaming app that features hundreds of “channels,” most of which are just loops of older programming from MTV, SHOWTIME, Comedy Central, Animal Planet, Investigation Discovery, and many others. There’s even a 24/7 American Gladiators channel!

Pluto TV is broken up into scrollable tiers for movies, drama, comedy, sports, news, science, music, Spanish-language content, and other genres. Some of the news and weather channels are live; others are on 24-hour delays from the original broadcast.

If you don’t mind ads, Pluto TV offers a ridiculous amount of free programming, with much of it also available on demand. It seems like there should be a catch, but there isn’t one . . . yet.


With over 50,000 licensed movies and TV shows available on demand for free, it’s easy to get past the cutesy name. Streaming app Tubi is an unassuming little powerhouse that blows away both Netflix and Prime Video in terms of sheer content.

Of course, most of that content is older catalog material, and Tubi forces ads on you (if anything is “free” in streaming, assume there’ll be ads). But a lot of the movies and shows at least look familiar, making Tubi the closest thing to browsing the aisles at a good ole Blockbuster Video store as you’ll get in 2020—and it doesn’t cost a thing.


Formerly-Sony-owned Crackle has been streaming content for almost 15 years. If you’ve never clicked on that orange button, you’ve been missing out on hundreds of free movies and TV shows (with ads, of course).

Crackle’s on-demand app features mostly older shows and movies produced by Sony. But there’s also a handful of exclusive original series, ranging from the hilarious comedy Rob Riggle’s Ski Master Academy to the harrowing crime thriller StartUp.

As for movies, Crackle has a wide mix of blockbusters, bombs, and cult items. For every hit like Speed or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, there’s a hidden gem like Mike Myers’ So I Married an Axe Murderer or Nicole Kidman’s To Die For—or even a so-bad-it’s-almost-good oddity like Lindsay Lohan’s I Know Who Killed Me.

The CW

The CW is usually the hardest-to-find local channel on any live TV streaming service, a real letdown if you want to catch the new Stargirl series or keep up on all (like, 75?) seasons of Supernatural.

Fortunately, The CW knows its audience: younger viewers who’d rather stream shows on their own schedule. The ad-supported CW app makes all of The CW’s new broadcast episodes available for next-day viewing after airing, as well as select older shows. It beats setting up an antenna.

For even more free content, old and new, check out The CW’s sister app, CWSeed.

PBS Kids

The PBS Kids streaming app features thousands of video clips and full episodes from popular shows like Sesame Street, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Odd Squad, and more. Free, on-demand content for the kiddies that’s also educational? Score.

The app will also allow you to stream PBS Kids content from your local PBS station live, with no cable or satellite login credentials required. Double score.

10. What to look for in a streaming TV service

Free trials

One of the ever-so-wonderful perks of streaming TV services is the free trial period. Unlike cable or satellite, streaming TV services don’t have installation appointments or contracts, so taking a service for a spin is simple and costs nothing. The trial windows are brief (usually seven days) but adequate.

Cloud DVR

Most streaming TV services that offer live TV also include cloud DVR storage with the package. Like a physical DVR, though, they do have limits on space and time. Some give you as little as 10 hours, while some “unlimited” options will save your Hoarders backlog for only a month or so. Ironic.

Local channels

You may not think about local channels much, but they carry the shows you love from ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS, and The CW live. If a streaming TV service doesn’t carry local affiliate channels, you could miss out on those shows, as well as area sports, news, and weather.

If these are important to you, check the availability of local affiliates on streaming TV services you’re interested in. If they’re not available, a simple digital antenna can make up the difference.

Device/app availability

As we mentioned above, setting up and trying out a streaming TV service is as easy as downloading an app—but is that app available on your set-top box or mobile devices? Most services reviewed here are available as smart TV apps, though we recommend streaming devices like Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, and Roku for better stability and performance.

11. Live TV streaming FAQ

What’s the difference between live TV streaming and on-demand streaming TV?

With live TV streaming, the operative word is “live”—it’s programming that’s being broadcast right now on TV networks. It’s the same as cable or satellite, just streamed through the internet.

“On demand” means shows and movies can be called-up whenever you want to watch them—as with Netflix, the biggest on-demand platform on the planet (well, that and YouTube). Shows recorded with a physical or cloud DVR could also technically be called “on demand.”

Do I need a fast internet connection for live TV streaming?

Whether it’s on-demand or live TV streaming, most services recommend a bare minimum of 7 Mbps of internet speed for streaming. But that speed is adequate only for a single stream and assumes that no one else is using the network at the same time—an unlikely scenario.

We recommend at least 25 Mbps of internet speed for smooth, non-buffered streaming and at least double that for 4K resolution or a household of multiple users (especially gamers).

Do sports blackouts apply to live TV streaming?

Unfortunately, blackouts for games in certain regions apply to livestreaming TV just as they do for cable or satellite. It’s an understandable rule to protect local broadcasters and franchises from major network competition, but it still sucks come game time.

You can, however, get around local blackouts with livestreaming TV—if your service and apps function with a location-masking VPN (virtual private network). It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, but it will work in some cases.

12. The 10 Most Expensive Streaming TV Shows

Even the best streaming service can’t produce the best streaming shows by simply backing money trucks up to the studio. Just like mainstream movies and premium cable outlets, streaming TV has launched as many pricey flops as blockbusters.

If only we could time travel ahead a few years to assess Prime Video’s Lord of the Rings adaptation series, which reportedly will cost $1 billion to make (approximately $100 million per episode). Let’s hope struggling startup Amazon can absorb the hit.

In the meantime, XiPaChao has compiled a list of the 10 most expensive streaming shows to date, then cross-referenced them with audience and critical ratings (which aren’t always the same). Most of them earned their keep—others, not so much.

The 10 Most Expensive Streaming TV Shows

Those are some staggering price tags, huh? Let’s take a closer look at these high-dollar shows from some of the top streaming TV services.

  • The Mandalorian (Disney+) is a hit with audiences and critics alike, easily justifying its $15-million-per-episode cost. How could you go wrong with Star Wars branding and Baby Yoda adorability? The Mandalorian put Disney+ on the streaming map overnight.
  • Stranger Things (Netflix) also ranked high with fans and reviewers, but it’s almost half as expensive as The Mandalorian. Between raises for the show’s child actors and international filming for the upcoming fourth season, however, the rent might be going up in Hawkins.
  • The Crown (Netflix) is posh, and so is its price tag of $13 million an episode (or 10.2 million in British pounds). Most of that cost can be attributed to the UK period drama’s lavish costumes and dazzling sets, as well as its expansive, rotating cast of actors.
  • House of Cards (Netflix) was one of streaming TV’s earliest original hits, debuting way back in 2013 and wrapping up in 2018. It’s also the least expensive series on our list, costing just $6 million per episode—probably because they didn’t have to pay Kevin Spacey for the final season.
  • Game of Thrones (HBO®, HBO GO®, HBO NOW®) was technically a cable series, but enough viewers streamed the final seasons on HBO GO and HBO NOW to crash the systems, so we’ll allow it. Fans and critics weren’t thrilled with the ending, but GoT earned its $15 million per episode.
  • Sense8 (Netflix) was a classic example of a show with a small-but-passionate fanbase that couldn’t make up for costly production ($9 million an episode over two seasons). After a fan petition, Netflix agreed to close Sense8 with a—presumably expensive—2018 movie.
  • The Get Down (Netflix), a 2016–2017 docudrama chronicling New York’s hip-hop scene in the ’70s, joined the $15-million-an-episode club thanks to showrunner Baz Luhrmann and crushing music licensing. It looked and sounded amazing, but The Get Down couldn’t pay for its groove.
  • The Morning Show (Apple TV+) was supposed to mark Apple TV+’s grand entrance into the streaming TV wars . . . but nope. The newsroom drama’s cast (including Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon) ate most of the $15 million per episode, as did the series’s TV news sets.
  • Marco Polo (Netflix) never fulfilled its promise to be streaming’s first international hit, but it was one of the most expensive TV shows ever as of 2014 ($9 million per episode), so there’s that. Critics wrote Marco Polo off as adventure cheese, though it did click with a (limited) audience.
  • See (Apple TV+), about a post-apocalyptic tribe of blind warriors, cost $15 million an episode and flopped harder than the iPhone X and Apple Maps combined. Star Jason “Aquaman” Momoa must account for most of that budget, as See is filmed on the cheap in Canada.

12. Methodology

We started with Radar Online’s “The Most Expensive Streaming Shows on TV” list, then compared the top 10 shows’ critical and fan rankings in Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer® and Audience Score columns. Balancing cost and response, we determined each show’s “hit” ratio.

13. I Want My Pandemic TV: How American Streaming Habits Changed in 2020

So, how was your 2020? Yeah, same here—but at least we had our old friend TV to help get us through it. The COVID-19 pandemic lockdown year basically began with Tiger King and ended with Cobra Kai, qualifying ’20 as the weirdest year on the screen ever, but we were here for it.

Which got us at XiPaChao thinking about the country’s streaming TV habits over the past 12 months: Did being cooped up in the house change people’s viewing regimens? Have they piled on more subscriptions? What are they looking forward to in 2021 (besides getting out more)?

How American Streaming Habits Changed in 2020

We polled 500 Americans about their 2020 viewing habits, and this is what we learned:

68.2% added a new streaming service

Many a household beefed up its streaming lineup with a new subscription or two in 2020. HBO Max and Peacock were the most obvious shiny new objects, with both debuting to much anticipation. The now-defunct Quibi didn’t show up in our polling because, well, it was Quibi.

53.7% signed up for Disney+

Last year’s hottest streaming service arrived in December 2019: Disney+. It doesn’t get any more escapist than Mickey Mouse’s streamer, which had a high-profile year thanks to premieres like Hamilton, Soul, and a new season of The Mandalorian. Grogu is still Baby Yoda to us, BTW.

74.6% want to binge their shows now

We blame/thank Netflix—no one wants to wait a week for the next episode. Even though some streaming services are sticking with the old-school TV practice of dropping episodes week-by-week (therefore keeping you subscribed longer), most viewers are hooked on a good binge.

63.2% turned to comedy

Hard times call for hearty laughs, so it’s not at all surprising that many gravitated to comedy series and movies in 2020 (17.6% also indicated sitcoms). Most of that comedy viewing was probably spent marathoning The Office on Netflix before it moved to Peacock in the new year.

21.2% are amped for The Bachelor in 2021

Even though there are several new series premiering in 2021, streaming Americans (Streamericans?) are most looking forward to comfort viewing with old favorites. HBO Max’s Gossip Girl reboot has decent buzz, and The Bachelor franchise just might outlive us all.


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