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Analysis TVs

Are your live local channels on a streaming TV service yet?

The five big live TV streamers -- DirecTV Now, Hulu, PlayStation Vue, Sling TV and YouTube TV -- all offer some combination of ABC, CBS, Fox and/or NBC. Find out how they compare in your city.

Screenshot by David Katzmaier

Updated August 11, 2017

Hey cord cutter, did you know you might be able to watch your favorite local TV station live, right now over the Internet, without subscribing to cable or messing with an antenna?

You probably did. You might even be aware that the "big 5" live streaming TV services, namely DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV, PlayStation Vue, Sling TV and YouTube TV, offer the local feeds of ABC, CBS, Fox and/or NBC in select markets. (Note: CBS is the parent company of CNET.)  

But maybe you don't know what local channels each one delivers to your neck of the woods, or how they compare nationwide.

That's about to change. Behold:

DirecTV Now vs. Hulu with Live TV vs. PlayStation Vue vs. Sling TV vs. YouTube TV: CNET's big local channel chart (updated August 11, 2017)

To find out whether your particular city is covered with live, streaming, local TV, I reached out to all five services and asked them to list every local channel they currently have available for live streaming. I put them together into the big chart above, showing local streaming coverage from Miami to Anchorage and everywhere in between. 

Streaming local TV has a ways to go

All five of those streaming services have continued to add local stations since they launched, but local TV streaming is still sparse in most of the country. That's because the local stations that carry ABC, CBS, Fox or NBC are fundamentally different from nationwide channels like CNN, AMC and Nickelodeon. 

Nationwide channels offer one or two national feeds (a second one is sometimes timeshifted for West Coast viewing), but local stations typically air news and other programming endemic to the area, in addition to programs from the big four networks: ABC, CBS, Fox or NBC. Because most local stations, a.k.a. network affiliates, are owned by companies other than one of the big four networks in question, they usually require separate contracts with providers like streaming services, cable systems and satellite networks.

The five live TV services that cater to cord cutters all offer numerous nationwide channels, from A&E to VH1, and I have another big chart comparing those here. For local stations, however, the best path a cord cutter can take is often via over-the-air antenna. It all depends on where you live.

In the biggest metropolitan areas like New York and Los Angeles, all five streaming providers deliver all four of the big networks. The major exceptions are DirecTV Now and Sling TV, which currently don't carry any CBS stations. (DirecTV Now has announced, however, that it will begin adding CBS stations in the coming weeks, just in time for NFL football.)

But other major cities, like Atlanta, Boston and Seattle, still have gaps in coverage, where only two or three of those local networks are available on each service. And in smaller cities and towns across the US, maybe there's only one live channel, or none at all.

An important caveat: Many services offer on-demand shows from those networks, often with a day or two delay, even if the live network affiliate isn't available. But that doesn't help much if you want to watch the local news or live sports, such as football. (Many local stations throughout the country also offer apps on Roku and other devices that deliver live or tape-delayed on-demand versions of just the local news, too.)

Going local: How each service stacks up as of August 11, 2017

The chart reveals some interesting patterns in how each service goes about delivering local TV. Here's what struck me about each, arranged in descending order of total local stations nationwide. 

PlayStation Vue (171 local channels): It just bumped up the nationwide price to $40, but in doing so Vue cited the fact that it delivers more local channels than anyone. It also serves more markets than any competitor, and claims to cover 78 percent of the US population with at least one local channel. But it only carries ABC and NBC in a handful of cities.

Hulu with Live TV (144 local channels): In second place by local channel count, Hulu's live TV growth has been especially impressive since it was the last of the five to launch, on May 3. Like Vue, it skews towards CBS and Fox stations over ABC and NBC, however.

DirecTV Now (102 local channels): DirecTV Now makes up for its current lack of CBS stations by serving more cities with ABC, Fox and NBC than either of the top two. All but one of the top 30 markets gets an ABC station from DirecTV Now, for example. And this fall, after it adds CBS, the company says "This will bring our total to over 170 live local channels available across more than 80 metro areas." Fair warning, Hulu and Vue.

YouTube TV (59 local channels): YouTube expanded its live TV service from 5 to 15 total cities in July -- a nice improvement, but still far behind the local reach of the others. The upside is that all of them will get all four local TV networks (with the lone exception of Dallas, which is missing ABC). If you live in a place with YouTube TV, you largely don't have to worry about local TV "holes." Sorry, Boston, Tampa and Denver... maybe you're next?

Sling TV (35 local channels): To get any local channels on Sling you need to subscribe to the Blue package (for NBC and Fox), subscribe to Orange and add Broadcast Extra (ABC), or pay for both ($40 per month for all three networks). Even then, the number of cities is anemic, and just DirecTV Now, CBS stations are currently a no-show on Sling. To help make up the lack of locals, Sling offers AirTV, a device that incorporates antenna listings into Sling's guide, and even a service to help you install an antenna.

Most of the providers told me they'll continue adding local channels. I'll kep the chart updated periodically as they do.

Other local options, one of them free

Rather than pay for a live TV service like this, thousands of cord cutters choose to install an antenna and watch over-the-air TV for free. Aside from the cost savings, antennas have the added advantage of picking up every available local, including public broadcast stations. 

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To date, none of the big 5 services offer PBS or The CW, the network that's co-owned by CBS (CNET's parent company) and Warner Bros. But national programming from both of those networks is available via their respective apps on most mobile and TV-connected streaming devices.

CBS All Access also offers the live local feed for CBS in select markets for $6 per month, no cable service required. The other big networks also have apps that offer live local channels, but typically you have to sign in to them using a cable/satellite provider username and password. 

Furthermore, many ABC, NBC and Fox shows also hit Hulu's standard, cheaper service (in addition to the Hulu with Live TV service discussed here) soon after they air. And of course you could always get a cut-rate cable TV package, which typically includes all local channels in your area.

As more and more TV viewing takes place over the Internet, live TV streaming of local channels will become increasingly important to people looking for an alternative to cable or satellite. If it hasn't arrived in your town yet on the service of your choice, you might not have long to wait.

This article and chart were originally published July 20, 2017. It has been updated with additional channels on Vue and Hulu, as well as DirecTV Now's CBS announcement.

Channel lineups compared for the top 5 streaming TV services: Is your favorite channel on Hulu, YouTube TV, Sling TV, DirecTV Now or PlayStation Vue?

The cord-cutter's guide to the best indoor antennas: These are the best antennas for getting free, over-the-air TV.