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YouTube TV vs. Hulu with Live TV: Which live TV streaming service is best for you?

Just $5 separates two of the best options for cord cutters who want live TV. Here's how to choose between them.

The reality of coronavirus means you're staying inside watching more TV and maybe watching your budget too, so it could be a good time to consider a live TV streaming service. A subscription lets you cut the cable TV cord to save money while keeping your family's access to live TV channels such as CNN, MSNBC and TNT as well as your local ABC, CBS, Fox or NBC station. Instead of a cable box you'll watch via media streamers like RokuAmazon Fire TV or Apple TV, or on your smart TV itself.

At CNET we've tested all seven of the major live TV-streaming services and two of our favorites are YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV. Both offer large selections of live channels, a cloud DVR that lets you record shows to watch later and extras like user profiles and multiple simultaneous streams. But they also have major differences beyond the $5 disparity in monthly fee. In general we like YouTube TV better but Hulu Live has its advantages, especially for people already used to basic Hulu and its massive selection of on-demand shows and movies.

Here's how they stack up.

Read: Stuck at home watching TV? Here are the best streaming devices to help

Sarah Tew/CNET

With an excellent channel selection, easy-to-use interface and best-in-class cloud DVR, YouTube TV is the first service to look into if you want a cable TV replacement. It may not have every channel you want and the price is higher than many such services, but nonetheless it's the current gold standard of live TV streaming. Read our YouTube TV review.

Read more: Best free TV streaming services: Roku Channel, Pluto TV, Tubi TV, Sling TV and more

Sarah Tew/CNET

Hulu's greatest asset is the integration of live TV with its significant catalog of on-demand content for one price. Unfortunately, you'll have to pay another $10 a month to get the ability to skip commercials on Hulu's cloud DVR (the base cloud DVR, which is included, doesn't permit skipping ads). Its channel count is solid, however, including some must-have channels -- like New York and LA-area sports networks -- missing from YouTube TV.  Read our Hulu With Live TV review.

YouTube TV and Hulu Plus Live TV compared

YouTube TV Hulu Plus Live TV
Base price $50/month $55/month
Free trial Yes Yes
Number of popular channels (out of 100) 67 59
ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC channels Yes, in many markets Yes, in many markets
Simultaneous streams per account 3 2 ($10 option for unlimited)
Family member/user profiles Yes Yes
Cloud DVR Yes Yes
Fast-forward through or skip commercials with cloud DVR Yes No (Yes with $10 option)
Now playing: Watch this: Live TV streaming services for cord cutters: How to choose...

Channels: YouTube wins but Hulu solid too

The biggest difference comes down to channels. Comparing the total channel counts from our big list of the top 100 channels on every service, YouTube TV comes out on top with 67 total, compared to 58 on Hulu. That total doesn't include every channel, just the top 100 as determined by editors at CNET, but it still provides a good indication.

The two share most major national channels including Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, ESPN, Fox News, TBS, USA Network and more, but there are a few differences. Here's a condensed version of that list showing the 18 of those 100 channels carried by one and not the other.

Major channel differences

Channel YouTube TV Hulu with Live TV
PBS Yes No
A&E No Yes
AMC Yes No
BBC America Yes No
BBC World News Yes No
Boomerang No Yes
History No Yes
IFC Yes No
Lifetime No Yes
MLB Network Yes No
Newsy Yes No
OWN Yes No
Sundance TV Yes No
Tastemade Yes No
Tennis Channel Yes No
Viceland No Yes
WE tv Yes No

Both services offer all four of the major local channels -- ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC -- in most areas of the country, and both also carry local affiliates from The CW and MyTV (note that ViacomCBS is the parent company of CNET). Only YouTube TV carries PBS local stations; you can't watch your local PBS affiliate live on Hulu.

Both also offer regional sports networks -- channels devoted to showing regular-season games of particular pro baseball, basketball and hockey teams -- in many areas of the country although generally not as many as your local cable or satellite provider. To find out if the RSN you want is available in your area you can search YouTube TV by zip code here and search Hulu with Live TV by zip code here. New York and Los Angeles area sports fans should note that YouTube TV recently dropped YES Network, Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket, while Hulu carries all three RSNs. 

Premium channels like HBO (coming soon to YouTube TV, available now on Hulu), Starz and Showtime are also available for extra fees, and Hulu has two optional channel packages. One is an add-on for $8 per month with 11 channels including CNBC World, the Cooking Channel and Science and the other is a Spanish-language package with 7 channels for $5. YouTube TV doesn't have any additional channel packages, although you can add individual channels like Shudder and CuriosityStream for additional fees.

Read more: Best OTA DVR for cord cutters: Amazon Fire TV Recast, TiVo, AirTV and Tablo

Usability: YouTube TV has simpler menus, better DVR


The YouTube TV interface on Roku.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The menus and interfaces on both are quite different from one another and from regular cable, and in general we like YouTube TV's menus better. 

YouTube TV: In general the YouTube TV interface is easier to use, and not just to people used to using regular YouTube. If you're using the desktop or app versions, Google's streamer offers a streamlined structure that's also nicer on the eye. 

Hulu with Live TV: Like Hulu proper, the home page of "Plus Live TV" shows its subscribers just four-and-a-half shows at a time in a large font. Across the top are not one but two rows of options -- the top for organizing and watching your content, and the second is of a list of suggested titles. Compared to the simplicity of the YouTube interface, its nested menus can be a little overwhelming. 

The difference in number of simultaneous streams is worth noting, especially for families and other households who watch a lot of TV. YouTube TV lets you stream to three different devices -- say, the living room TV, a bedroom TV and a tablet -- at the same time, while Hulu lets you stream to two. Pay Hulu a hefty $10 extra per month and it will upgrade your number of streams to unlimited. 

YouTube TV's biggest usability advantage is its excellent cloud DVR. It offers unlimited storage and works great, much like the hardware DVR inside your cable box. Hulu includes a 50-hour cloud DVR in the base $55 price too, but it has a big disadvantage: it lacks the ability to fast-forward through commercials on recorded content. To gain that ability you'll need to shell out for another $10 to upgrade the DVR, which also ups storage capacity to 200 hours. DVR advantage: YouTube TV.

Read more: Best TV antenna for cord-cutters in 2020, starting at only $10


Devs launched March 2 exclusively on Hulu. 

Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury/CNET

On-demand and originals: Hulu with the runaway win

YouTube TV includes on-demand TV shows and movies from participating networks and shows, much like your cable service, and also offers YouTube Originals commercial-free. But it pales in comparison to Hulu. As we mentioned above, a Hulu with Live TV subscription unlocks all of the on-demand TV shows and movies available on the standard Hulu service, including thousands of episodes of network TV shows as well as originals like A Handmaid's Tale, Catch-22, Letterkenny and more. The latest iteration of Disney-owned Hulu's push into originals is FX on Hulu, with exclusive shows like Devs premiering on the service.

Hulu with Live TV subscribers can upgrade their accounts for another $6 to remove ads from many of the on-demand shows, although some will still show ads.

It's also worth mentioning that, of course, any YouTube TV subscriber could also sign up for basic Hulu at $6 per month to gain access to Hulu's on-demand and original content. The total cost of $56 per month is just $1 more than the base price of Hulu with Live TV.

Which service is best for you?

Both services represent the peak of what live TV streaming has to offer, and both are better overall than the other two major premium options, Fubo TV and AT&T TV Now. Your choice between the two comes down to channel selection, usability and content, and in our book YouTube TV bests Hulu with Live TV in most of those areas. Hulu is still an excellent option if you want to integrate its on-demand library, however, or if Hulu has a must-have channel YouTube TV lacks.

Channel comparison

Below you'll find a chart that's a smaller version of this massive channel comparison. It contains the top 100 channels from each service. Some notes:

  • Yes = The channel is available on the cheapest pricing tier. That price is listed next to the service's name.
  • No = The channel isn't available at all on that service. 
  • $ = The channel is available for an extra fee.
  • Not every channel a service carries is listed, just the "top 100" as determined by CNET's editors. Minor channels like AXS TV, CNBC World, Discovery Life, GSN, POP and Universal Kids didn't make the cut.
  • Regional sports networks -- channels devoted to showing regular-season games of particular pro baseball, basketball and hockey teams -- are not listed. To find out if your local RSN is available you can search YouTube TV by zip code here and search Hulu with Live TV by zip code here.

YouTube TV vs. Hulu with Live TV: Top 100 channels compared

Channel YouTube TV ($50) Hulu with Live TV ($55)
Total channels: 67 59
ABC Yes Yes
CBS Yes Yes
Fox Yes Yes
NBC Yes Yes
PBS Yes No
CW Yes Yes
MyNetworkTV Yes Yes
Channel YouTube TV ($50) Hulu with Live TV ($55)
A&E No Yes
ACC Network Yes Yes
AMC Yes No
Animal Planet Yes Yes
BBC America Yes No
BBC World News Yes No
Big Ten Network Yes Yes
Bloomberg TV No No
Boomerang No Yes
Bravo Yes Yes
Channel YouTube TV ($50) Hulu with Live TV ($55)
Cartoon Network Yes Yes
CBS Sports Network Yes Yes
Cheddar Yes Yes
Cinemax No $
CNBC Yes Yes
CNN Yes Yes
Comedy Central No No
Cooking Channel No No
Destination America No No
Discovery Channel Yes Yes
Disney Channel Yes Yes
Disney Junior Yes Yes
Disney XD Yes Yes
E! Yes Yes
ESPN Yes Yes
ESPN 2 Yes Yes
Channel YouTube TV ($50) Hulu with Live TV ($55)
Food Network Yes Yes
Fox Business Yes Yes
Fox News Yes Yes
Fox Sports 1 Yes Yes
Fox Sports 2 Yes Yes
Freeform Yes Yes
FX Yes Yes
FX Movies Yes Yes
FXX Yes Yes
Golf Channel Yes Yes
Hallmark No No
HBO No $
HGTV Yes Yes
History No Yes
HLN Yes Yes
IFC Yes No
Investigation Discovery Yes Yes
Lifetime No Yes
Lifetime Movie Network No No
Channel YouTube TV ($50) Hulu with Live TV ($55)
MLB Network Yes No
Motor Trend Yes Yes
MTV2 No No
National Geographic Yes Yes
Nat Geo Wild Yes Yes
NBC Sports Network Yes Yes
Newsy Yes No
NFL Network No No
NFL Red Zone No No
NHL Network No No
Nickelodeon No No
Nick Jr. No No
Nicktoons No No
OWN Yes No
Oxygen Yes Yes
Paramount Network No No
Channel YouTube TV ($50) Hulu with Live TV ($55)
Science No No
SEC Network Yes Yes
Showtime $ $
Smithsonian Yes Yes
Starz $ $
Sundance TV Yes No
Syfy Yes Yes
Tastemade Yes No
TBS Yes Yes
TCM Yes Yes
Telemundo Yes Yes
Tennis Channel Yes No
TLC Yes Yes
TNT Yes Yes
Travel Channel Yes Yes
TruTV Yes Yes
TV Land No No
Univision No No
USA Network Yes Yes
VH1 No No
Viceland No Yes
WE tv Yes No
Channel YouTube TV ($50) Hulu with Live TV ($55)