YouTube’s imminent US streaming service, YouTube TV, boasts more than 40 live-TV channels, a cloud DVR, simultaneous streaming across three devices at a time, and other perks for a rather reasonable rate of $35 a month.
With the product, which is expected to launch before summer, the Google-owned video service joins others in offering so-called “skinny bundles” that deliver TV packages through the internet. They generally have fewer channels than the hundreds you’d traditionally get from cable-TV providers like Charter or Comcast, but come at a fraction of the price. All the better to stop people from abandoning TV.
At this moment in time, it’s worth asking—what can an American get for their viewing pleasure for $35 a month? And how many TV channels does one really need today, anyway?
Do you really want to use YouTube?
YouTube’s offering gets you a lot of what viewers turn to live TV for: sports, news, and prime-time TV shows. It has the big four US broadcasters—ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC—and some of their cable-TV affiliates like USA, FX, E!, Bravo, and the Disney Channel. It also includes major sports networks like ESPN and regional channels like Fox Sports Networks and Comcast SportNet; cable-TV news networks including MSNBC and Fox News; and the local stations that run programming through the major broadcasters, which are currently only available in select cities from competitors SlingTV, DirecTV Now, and PlayStation Vue.
The main drawback with YouTube TV is that it isn’t launching with any basic-cable networks from conglomerates like Turner (CNN, TBS, TNT, truTV), Viacom (BET, Comedy Central, MTV, VH1), Scripps Networks (HGTV, Food Network, Travel Channel), A&E Networks (History, A&E), AMC Networks (AMC, BBC America), and Discovery Communications (Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, TLC).
But the service is reportedly geared toward cord-nevers–people who have never paid for cable before–so those channels might not be missed. It aims to do for television what Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music did for music in the age of piracy by getting people to pay for TV who otherwise wouldn’t, according to Bloomberg.
And it comes with everything YouTube has online, which is pretty much every music video and a fair few (illegally pirated) movies, as well as all the cat videos you could possibly want.
But there are other options.
Do you want more live TV channels?
AT&T’s DirecTV Now
- The price: $35 per month.
- The sell: 60+ channels from the major US broadcasters—except CBS—and some of their affiliates including ESPN, USA, and FX. The package also comes with certain AMC, Viacom, Turner, A&E, and Scripps networks.
Do you want live sports?
Dish Network’s SlingTV
- The price: $25 per month
- The sell: 40+ channels including broadcasters NBC and Fox, some affiliates like USA, NBC Sports Network, FX, and Fox Sports, as well as select Turner, Viacom, Scripps, A&E, and AMC networks. You could put the remaining $10 a month toward one of SlingTV’s add-on premium-TV channels like Cinemax ($10) or its sports package ($10) that includes NFL Red Zone, NHL Network, and other channels. Or, you could venture outside of SlingTV to flush out your live-TV lineup with something like CBS All Access for $5.99 a month (or $9.99 a month without ads).
(Sorry, you can’t get PlayStation Vue for that cheap in most big US cities; it starts at $40 a month in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco, and Miami—and comes with 45+ channels including broadcast, cable, movies, and sports. In other places, packages start at $29.99.)
Do you want to mix and match?
This is where it gets fun.
For $35 a month, you could also find your own combination of on-demand streaming services, like Netflix and Hulu. Or pair a cheaper live TV offering like SlingTV with another subscription service for both live and on-demand access to TV shows and movies. So you could get:
Netflix + Hulu + HBO Now (and some spare change!)
- The price: $33 a month.
- The sell: That’s Netflix ($9.99/month for the HD, multiple-device package) with all its award-winning original shows like Stranger Things, an ad-supported Hulu package ($7.99/month), and HBO Now ($14.99/month), which has shows like Westworld and Game of Thrones and a slew of popular movies. The downside? No live-TV channels. But you could use an HD antenna to access networks broadcast over-the-air like ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and PBS for free.
Amazon Prime Video + 2 premium TV channels (and almost $10!)
- The price: Starts at $26.23 a month.
- The sell: Amazon Prime Video is an on-demand video subscription service with original content like Transparent, Man in the High Castle, and The Grand Tour, as well as more than 20,000 other TV shows and movies in the US. You can buy Prime Video as part of a Prime shipping subscription ($99/year, which comes out to $8.25/month) or as a standalone service ($10.99/month). And more than 100 on-demand channel subscriptions are accessible through Amazon, almost like in a traditional cable-TV bundle. Amazon Channels include premium networks like Starz ($8.99/month), Showtime ($8.99/month), Cinemax ($9.99/month), HBO ($14.99/month), among others, and niche platforms like Seeso ($3.99/month) and Shudder ($4.99/month).
SlingTV + a premium TV network
- The price: $35 a month.
- The sell: By pairing SlingTV’s mid-tier service ($25/month) with a separate premium-TV subscription like Showtime ($10.99/month) or Starz ($8.99), you’d get a catalog of on-demand movies and TV shows like Billions and Homeland, or Power and Outlander, respectively, and SlingTV’s 40+ live-TV channels. It’d be similar to adding a premium-TV package onto an existing cable subscription, except the content would accessible through two distinct platforms.
SlingTV + Netflix (or most other on-demand services)
- The price: $35 a month.
- The sell: With SlingTV with Netflix, you’d get you 40 or so live-TV channels, plus the more than 1,000 TV shows and 4,000 movies available on-demand through Netflix, as of March 2016. Not interested Netflix? No problem. There are no shortage of subscription on-demand streaming services available at roughly the same price point. Hulu, which also has episodes of current TV shows, starts at $7.99 a month. YouTube Red is $9.99 a month. And Amazon Prime Video comes with a $99-a-year Prime shipping subscription in the US, to name a few.
An idiosyncratic combination of general + niche services
- The price: $35 a month.
- The sell: You could combine a general-audience streaming service like Netflix or Hulu with a few niche services like the anime platform CrunchyRoll ($6.95/month), the comedy service Seeso ($3.99/month), or AMC’s horror service Shudder ($4.99/month). This will get you access to a few thousand on-demand movies and TV shows from the service of your choice, and thousands of genre-specific titles on whatever interests you, from anime to horror. Entertainment Weekly has a lengthy list of the services out there.
Other things to consider
Keep in mind that you’ll need a good broadband connection to stream video, especially for live and HD programming. That costs money.
Also, internet TV isn’t as reliable as regular cable, and all three of these services have had reported outages in the past. SlingTV, which has been around the longest, appears to have worked most of its kinks out, while DirecTV Now and Playstation Vue seem less stable. The overall quality of the video among all is solid, though.
YouTube, which already serves up 1 billion daily videos a day and has perfected its technology over the last decade, isn’t expected to be plagued by these same issues. “Something that tends to be taken for granted, but is actually a pretty herculean effort, is the years of video-serving infrastructure that we’ve built up,” Neal Mohan, YouTube’s chief product officer, told Bloomberg.
And you you might want to consider pairing a streaming-video service with a music platform like Spotify Premium or Apple Music (both $9.99/month). Both are foraying into video, though so far half-heartedly. But then, all of the world’s music is already pretty much on YouTube for free.
Update (Mar. 13 at 2pm ET): This post was updated to include regional US pricing for PlayStation Vue.