Sling vs YouTube TV vs Hulu vs Fubo vs DirecTV channels compared

Hulu Live vs YouTube TV vs Sling vs DirecTV Stream
(Image credit: Hulu; DirecTV; Sling; YouTube)

When it's time to cut the cord, your first thought may be "how am I going to get all the channels I love?" And then you start playing a very tedious game of "who has what channel?" To help you with this, we've run compared five of the best cable TV alternatives to the top 100 most watched channels of 2020 (per Variety)

Our results may surprise you, but our scoring system is simple. Services get one point for offering a channel in their entry-level package — without any caveats — and half a point for having it in a specific package or add-on. 

In Sling TV's case, a lot of their half-point scores came from channels only in Blue or Orange or available from add-ons. Check out our full Sling Orange vs Blue story for more about them.

This list is accurate as of October 4, 2021. The spat between YouTube TV and NBCUniversal ended, and those channels are still on that service. 

The top 25 channels, and which cord-cutting services have them

The big news from the top 25 is that you get what you pay for. DirecTV Stream (23/25) is the priciest of the bunch at $70 per month, so it makes sense that it has the most of the popular channels. And those two channels it's missing — Ion and Me TV — are networks that aren't on any platform. 

Hulu with Live TV (21/25) and YouTube TV (20/25) have a similar assortment, but Hulu has the History Channel, which YouTube TV and fuboTV are missing (Sling and DirecTV Stream both have it). 

The biggest issue for Fubo (which has a score of 18.5) is the lack of Turner networks, most notably CNN. Maybe you get your news elsewhere (possible since MSNBC and FOX News Channel ranked just above it), but that, plus the lack of TBS and TNT is annoying. 

Sling's cheaper and adjustable packages give it the lowest score this round of 13/25, as it's lacking 7 channels all together, and has 10 half-points from channels that are exclusive to either its Blue or Orange plans, and the Hallmark Channel, which is in its $6/month Lifestyle Extra.

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Sling TVYouTube TVHulu + Live TVDirecTV StreamfuboTV
NBCYes (Blue, in select markets)YesYesYesYes
FoxYes (Blue, in select markets)YesYesYesYes
Fox News ChannelYes (Blue)YesYesYesYes
MSNBCYes (Blue)YesYesYesYes
ESPNYes (Orange)YesYesYesYes
TLCYes (Blue)YesYesYesYes
Hallmark Channel+$6/month Lifestyle ExtraNoNoYesYes
Discovery ChannelYes (Blue)YesYesYesYes
Food NetworkYesYesYesYesYes
USA NetworkYes (Blue)YesYesYesYes
A&E YesNoYesYesNo
Bravo Yes (Blue)YesYesYesYes
The CWNoYesYesYesDepends on location
Investigation DiscoveryYesYesYesYesYes

In the second batch of channels, we've got slightly similar scores, with DirecTV Stream (21/25) and Fubo (20/25) ahead of the rest, but YouTube (19.5) snuck up behind Hulu (17.5/25). Sling (13.5), of course, is picking up the tail end of the pack. 

But some interesting notes here: Sling TV and fuboTV both offer or let you add channels that their rivals don't. Those include the western-focused INSP channel, the lifestyle content We TV network (missing from Hulu) and GSN, the Game Show Network (which neither YouTube nor Hulu has).

Other odd exceptions include AMC not being on Hulu (a possible deal-breaker for prestige TV fans) while it's everywhere else, fuboTV's lack of Cartoon Network/Adult Swim (another missing Turner channel) and Sling not offering Nickelodeon or Animal Planet. 

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Sling TVYouTube TVHulu + Live TVDirecTV StreamfuboTV
INSP+ $6/month Heartland ExtraNoNoNo+ $8/month fubo Extra
Hallmark Movies & Mysteries+ $6/month Lifestyle ExtraNoNo+$5/month Movies ExtraYes
FXYes (Blue)YesYesYesYes
TV Land+ $6/month Comedy ExtraYesYesYesYes
FreeformYes (Orange)YesYesYesYes
Adult Swim/Cartoon NetworkYesYesYesYesNo
Nickelodeon/Nick at NiteNoYesYesYesYes
UniMásNoYesNo$84.99 and upYes
We TV+$6/month Lifestyle ExtraYesNoYesYes
Paramount Network+$6/month Comedy ExtraYesYesYesYes
SyfyYes (Blue)YesYesYesYes
Travel ChannelYesYesYes$84.99 and upYes
MTV+$6/month Comedy ExtraYesYesYesYes
GSN+$6/month Comedy ExtraNoNo$84.99 and up+ $8/month fubo Extra
Animal PlanetNoYesYesYesYes
Nat Geo / National GeographicYes (Blue)YesYesYesYes
Grit+$6/month Hollywood ExtraNoNoNoNo
Disney ChannelYes (Orange)YesYesYesYes
E!Yes (Blue)YesYesYesYes
Comedy CentralYesYesYesYesYes
VH1+$6/month Lifestyle ExtraYesYesYesYes

The same pattern picks up here, with Fubo (18.5) head of the rest, but YouTube TV (17.5) having a 0.5-point advantage against DirecTV Stream (17) and Hulu (17) and Sling TV (12.5) trails behind.

Notable missing channels include YouTube TV's lack of Oxygen and Sling and Hulu missing the OWN and IFC networks. You can't DIY on YouTube TV either (though everyone else has it one way or another), and the HLN news network is everywhere but on fuboTV.

BBC America is everywhere but Hulu, and DirecTV Stream doesn't have the NFL Network. Pop TV isn't airing new episodes of Schitt's Creek anymore, so Sling TV customers won't be missing out by its absence (the channel is practically everywhere else). 

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Sling TVYouTube TVHulu + Live TVDirecTV StreamfuboTV
Nick Jr.YesYesYesYesYes
OxygenBlue + $6/ month Lifestyle ExtraNoYes$94.99Yes
Disney JuniorOrange + $6/ month Kids ExtraYesYesYesYes
OWNNoYesNo$84.99 and upYes
Science Channel+ $6/ month News ExtraNo+$8/month Entertainment Add-on$84.99 and up+$8/month fubo Extra
LMN / Lifetime Movie Network+ $6/ month Lifestyle ExtraNoYes$94.99 and upNo
Bounce TVnot streamingnot streamingnot streamingnot streamingnot streaming
Nat Geo WildBlue + $6/ month Heartland ExtraYesYes$94.99 and up+$8/month fubo Extra
HLN Yes (Blue) or Orange +$6/month News ExtraYesYesYesNo
CNBCBlue +$6/month News ExtraYesYesYesYes
MotorTrend NetworkYes (Orange)YesYesYesYes
DIY+$6/month Lifestyle ExtraNo+$8/month Entertainment Add-on$94.99 and up+$8/month fubo Extra
NBC Sports NetworkYes (Blue)YesYesYesYes
BBC AmericaYesYesNoYesYes
FS1 (Fox Sports 1)Yes (Blue)YesYesYesYes
FXXBlue +$6/month Hollywood ExtraYesYesYesYes
CMT+$6/month Comedy ExtraYesYesYesYes
NFL NetworkYes (Blue)YesYesNoYes
WGN America/Newsnation+ $6/month News ExtraYesYes$84.99 and upYes
SundanceTV+ $6/month Hollywood ExtraYesNoYesYes
POP TVNoYesYes$84.99 and upYes
Heroes & Icons+ $6/month Hollywood ExtraNoNoNoNo
ESPN2Yes (Orange)YesYesYesYes
fetv (Family Entertainment TV)+$6/month Comedy ExtraNoNoNoNo

The pattern continued in the fourth quarter of the 100 most popular channels, with DirecTV Stream (14/25) and Fubo (13.5/25) ahead of the rest, YouTube (11/25) and Hulu (11/25) tied in the middle and Sling (7.5) at the end.

The most notable entry in this set is The Weather Channel, which is only in fuboTV's entry-level package and the $84.99 per month DirecTV Stream option.

Sling's missing a bunch of stuff you can find elsewhere, including Cozi TV, Galavision and the Smithstonian Channel. And, as always, fuboTV's lack of truTV (another Turner network) may be frustrating.

More frustrating, though, is that DirecTV Stream is pushing people to its $94.99 per month packages for the FYI (available on Hulu) and FX Movies Channel (on Hulu and YouTube TV). That $94.99 price point is basically cable-level TV.

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Sling TVYouTube TVHulu + Live TVDirecTV StreamfuboTV
truTVYes (Blue) or Orange + $6/month YesYesYesNo
Laff+$6/month Comedy ExtraNoNoYesNo
Weather ChannelNoNoNo$84.99 and upYes
Estrella TVNoNoNo$94.99 and upYes
Cozi TVNoYesYesNoYes
Start TV+$6/month Hollywood ExtraYesYesNoNo
Showtime+$10/month+ $11/month+ $11/month+ $11/month+ $11/month
Court TV MysteryNoNoNoNoNo
Cooking Channel+$6/month Lifestyle ExtraNo+$8/month Entertainment Add-on$84.99 and up+$8/month fubo Extra
UPtv (aka UP TV)NoNoNo$84.99 and upNo
NewsmaxTV (aka Newsmax TV)+$6/month News ExtraNoNoYesYes
TV OneNoNoNo$84.99 and upNo
Reelz+$6/month Hollywood ExtraNoNoYesNo
FXM (aka FX Movie Channel)Blue +$6/month Hollywood ExtraYesYes$94.99 and up+$8/month fubo Extra
FYI+$6/month Lifestyle ExtraNoYes$94.99 and up No
Smithsonian ChannelNoYesYes$94.99 and up OR +$5/month Movies ExtraYes
Hallmark Drama+$6/month Lifestyle ExtraNoNo+$5/month Movies ExtraYes
Fox Business NetworkBlue +$6/month News ExtraYesYesYesYes
TUDNNoNoNo$94.99 and upYes
Golf ChannelBlue +$11/month Sports ExtraYesYes$94.99 and upYes
American Heroes Channel+$6/month Heartland ExtraNo+$8/month Entertainment Add-on$94.99 and up+$8/month fubo Extra
Disney XDOrange +$6/month Kids ExtraYesYesYesYes

Final scorecard

And as you might have guessed, DirecTV Stream won, which is funny considering how it's our least favorite live tv streaming service overall. fuboTV came in second at 70.5, YouTube TV (68) and Hulu (66) are neck-and-neck and Sling TV was in last at 46.5.

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Score from the top 100 channels
DirecTV Stream75
YouTube TV68
Hulu with Live TV66

And while Sling scored lower than the rest, its $35 per month Blue and Orange packages are $30 to $35 less than those competitors, so it makes sense. 

The final tally isn't a whole lot surprising. The $70 per month DirecTV Stream is the winner because it's trying to replicate the old cable TV world of "ALL THE CHANNELS," but in a slightly modernized way. 

The $65 per month services, fuboTV, YouTube TV and Hulu, are all relatively close. But fuboTV managing a second-place showing is interesting considering its lack of Turner networks, but it got those points back with channels such as the Hallmark Channel and AMC (not in Hulu for some reason), and a bunch of half-points from its $8 per month fubo Extra optional add-on. Make sure you check our FuboTV promo codes page for any discounts. 

Its a testament to Sling's customization options that it manages to be our top pick for the best cable TV alternative, considering its bottom-barrel ranking. Two of Tom's Guide's streaming coverage team (myself included) have just recently cut the cord with Sling, and that proves that the final tally isn't always everything. Sometimes you just need the channels that matter to you.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.