YouTube TV hiked price to $65: Sling TV and Hulu offer better value
YouTube TV has increased its price by 30%, but the beauty of live TV streaming services is that you can always cancel.
Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.
ExpertiseTy has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He majored in Cinema Studies when studying at RMIT. He is an avid record collector and streaming music enthusiast.Credentials
Ty was nominated for Best New Journalist at the Australian IT Journalism awards, but he has only ever won one thing. As a youth, he was awarded a free session for the photography studio at a local supermarket.
Live TV streaming services promise a cord-cutter's delight. They're typically cheaper than a cable TV subscription with similar channel lineups and no need to sign a contract, so you can cancel anytime. Unfortunately they also suffer one of cable TV's major flaws: constant price hikes. My former favorite such service and CNET's Editors' Choice, YouTube TV, announced a monthly increase of 30%, from $50 to $65, which takes effect July 31. During a normal year such a massive spike would be bad enough, but in the middle of a pandemic, with millions of Americans out of work, it seems almost cruel.
Google, which owns YouTube TV, used the now-standard explanation that "this new price reflects the rising cost of content." YouTube TV earned my accolades by combining great features like an unlimited DVR with an excellent channel lineup for the money. The price increase comes with a raft of new ViacomCBS channels -- BET, CMT, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Network, TV Land and VH1 are available now while BET Her, MTV2, MTV Classic, Nick Jr., NickToons, and TeenNick will be coming later. (Editors' note: CNET is owned by ViacomCBS.)
As evinced by the vitriolic replies to YouTube TV's tweets, however, many subscribers don't think the new channels are worth the price hike. Personally I like Comedy Central, but given the choice I'd rather pay $50 per month and skip it. In short, YouTubeTV is no longer the great deal it once was.
Watch this: YouTube TV gets stronger in 2020
Google isn't the only one. Sports-centric service FuboTV snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by announcing its own price jump to $60, barely a week after finally adding ABC and ESPN. FuboTV has never been the best or most recommendable service in my book, and sadly this $5 price increase simply clinches it.
I will be updating my reviews soon to reflect the price hikes, but in the meantime here's my advice right now for YouTube TV and Fubo TV subscribers who don't want to pay more for live TV.
Jump ship to Sling TV or Hulu
If you want to continue saving money and streaming live TV channels, there is hope in the form of two other services I like: Sling TV and Hulu with Live TV. Here's how they compare.
Sling TV is my other current Editors' Choice and the company is taking full advantage of backlash against YouTube TV, announcing a price guarantee to new and existing subscribers: the price won't increase for a full year.
The Sling Blue package at $30 is the best deal in live TV right now. Even the bundle with Orange isn't too bad at $45. Sling TV's interface isn't as slick as YouTube TV's or even Hulu's, but Sling at least offers lots of upgrade options for people looking to add more channels. The major downside is lack of local channels (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC) in most markets, something YouTube TV and Hulu offer.
To address that lack, Sling is giving away the AirTV 2 OTA tuner to new users if you sign up for three months, allowing integration of local channel broadcasts into Sling TV's guide if you connect an antenna.
In terms of channel lineup Hulu TV Plus Live TV comes closer to YouTube TV than any other, for $10 less per month. Unlike Sling it lets you stream local channels and its array of other channels, including sports networks and specialty cable staples missing from Sling TV, is top-notch. In my review I loved that the price includes "regular" Hulu on-demand, too.
Hulu's cloud DVR isn't nearly as good as YouTube TVs, especially because you'll need to pay an additional $10 to skip commercials. And the interface isn't as simple -- although a recent revamp helps. And of course Disney, Hulu's parent company, hasn't announced a price freeze of its own. In my opinion it's not a matter of if Hulu will raise live TV prices, but when.
Service comparison (after announced changes)
Sling TV Blue
Hulu with Live TV
Number of top 100 channels
ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC channels
No (Fox and NBC in select markets)
Only CBS, Fox and NBC (ABC coming this summer)
Yes (5 hours, $5 for 50 hours)
Yes (50 hours, 200 hours and commercial skip for $10 a month)
Yes (keep for 9 months)
Yes (30 hours, 500 hours for $10 a month
How long can prices keep going up?
In the years since live TV streaming started, price rises have been one of the main constants. Until the services really start hemorrhaging customers, this is a trend that's likely to continue.
As shown by services like AT&T TV or Xfinity Flex, at some time in the future all of your "cable" TV will come down an internet pipe instead. It won't be a matter of saving money anymore -- it's just what you will do to get TV. Live TV streaming, as it is right now, is just a glimpse at this future.
If you want to save money on cable the answer is increasingly not to subscribe to a live TV streaming service at all. Get yourself an antenna and an over-the-air DVR. In addition there are several free streaming services available which will give you some live TV (but little choice) including Roku Channel, Tubi TV and Crackle. As an adjunct to basic Hulu or Netflix these could serve quite well.
As consumers, the choice is in our hands. At the moment Sling TV is the best budget option (good for 12 months at least), and Hulu Plus Live TV is the best step-up service. Beyond that you could always build the on-demand streaming service bundle that suits you -- Hulu and HBO Max, for example -- and supplement that with a free TV streaming service and an antenna.