Spectrum's Streaming Service: What to Know About TV Essentials

(Image credit: Spectrum / Charter)

These days, we have more choices for live streaming TV than ever before, and even the titans of the traditional pay cable system are shoving their way into the fight. The latest competitor is Spectrum, which launched its TV Essentials streaming service earlier this year.

The best part of the service is its shockingly low price, which Spectrum hopes will sway its cord-cutters who are only paying for its internet services. But is its channel selection good enough to convince you? Let's find out.

Spectrum has its own streaming service?

Yes, the cable TV, internet, telephone and wireless company Spectrum (a subsidiary of Charter Communications) is also offering a live TV streaming service. While that may sound like it conflicts with its other business, that's practically the point.

Spectrum is acknowledging that some of its customers no longer want to pay for traditional cable (as someone who is frustrated with Spectrum's slow and error prone cable boxes, I get that) and is offering this as an alternative.

In fact, Spectrum isn't even selling TV Essentials to anyone who isn't already subscribing to its internet services. Tom's Guide Managing Editor Michael Andronico told me that he's one of those Spectrum internet customers, and that the company "constantly" spams him with requests to sign up for TV Essentials.

How much does Spectrum's streaming service cost?

The biggest reason to consider Spectrum TV Essentials is its low price of $14.99 per month. That's $10 less per month than Sling TV's entry-level packages, which are the cheapest we consider in our big Hulu Live vs. YouTube TV vs. Sling vs. Vue vs. DirecTV Now face-off.

Spectrum offers no other package options, so you can't add any other channels on.

How can Spectrum TV Essentials be so … cheap?

I'm typically loathe to quote telecommunication company executives, but this bit from Charter Chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge, published in the press release announcing Spectrum TV Essentials, explains it all:

"As we began to assemble the rights for this new video service, we received great enthusiasm and encouragement from these key programming partners,  … Notably, Viacom shared its strong belief and research that suggests there is a large untapped opportunity for a low-priced, entertainment-only bundle unencumbered by the high cost of broadcast retransmission consent fees and expensive sports programming.”

Yes, TV Essentials doesn't include those TV broadcast networks and sports programs that are often credited for the rising costs of streaming services. So, if you're looking for ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC, or the many ESPN and Fox Sports networks, you'll need to look elsewhere.

How can I watch Spectrum's streaming service?

Spectrum TV Essentials is available on a wide array of devices, with a glaring exception. Its Spectrum TV app is on iPhones and Androids, Samsung Smart TVs, Roku and Xbox One. You can also watch the service via web browsers, where it requires Flash. 

Surprisingly, the Spectrum TV app is only supported by Amazon's Fire tablets, but not its Fire TV sticks or Fire TV Cube (just read the customer reviews to see the rage about that lack of support). 

Spectrum Streaming service channels: what can you watch?

TV Essentials includes more than 60 channels, including some big names, such as AMC, Comedy Central, Food Network and HGTV. While that count is much higher than what you get from DirecTV Now or PS Vue (both "more than 45") and Sling TV (around 30), Spectrum's channel selection is particularly limited.

As you might guess from Mr. Rutledge's comments, Spectrum TV Essentials is focused on the set of channels classified as "entertainment." This means it's missing many popular news channels (CNN, MSNBC, FOX News) and doesn't have any sports channels (say bye-bye to the likes of ESPN, FS1 and beIn Sports). 

Its selection also leans heavy on Verizon-owned channels (including BET, CMT, MTV and Nickelodeon), omitting Disney-owned channels such as ABC, the FX networks, and National Geographic TV.

Yes, BBC America, BBC World News and Bloomberg may provide enough news for some, but this service is missing the standard brand-name general news networks. Here's the full channel list: 

  • A&E
  • AMC
  • American Heroes Channel
  • Animal Planet
  • AXS TV
  • BBC America
  • BBC World News
  • BET
  • BET Her
  • BET Jams
  • BET Soul
  • Bloomberg
  • Cheddar
  • CLEO TV
  • CMT
  • CMT Music
  • Comedy Central
  • Cooking Channel
  • Destination America
  • Discovery
  • Discovery Family
  • Discovery Life
  • DIY
  • Food Network
  • FYI
  • Game Show Network
  • Hallmark Channel
  • Hallmark Drama
  • Hallmark Movies & Mysteries
  • HDNet Movies
  • HGTV
  • HISTORY
  • IFC
  • Investigation Discovery
  • Lifetime
  • Lifetime Movie Network
  • Logo
  • MotorTrend Network
  • MTV
  • MTV2
  • MTV Classic
  • MTV Live
  • MTVU
  • NewsmaxTV
  • Newsy
  • Nickelodeon
  • Nick Jr.
  • Nick Music
  • NickToons
  • Outdoor Channel
  • OWN
  • Paramount Network
  • Science Channel
  • Spectrum News [available in select markets]
  • Sundance TV
  • Teen Nick
  • TLC
  • Travel Channel
  • TV Land
  • VH1
  • Viceland
  • The Weather Channel
  • WEtv

Spectrum added its original programming — shows such as L.A.'s Finest and Curfew — to TV Essentials in May.

Does Spectrum's streaming service offer any special features?

Right now, TV Essentials is more limited than most of the pricier competitors, but it has two special features. Users can compile a "Watch List" to keep track of their favorites, and parents can reign their kids usage in with parental controls.

A Cloud DVR service is on the horizon for Spectrum TV Essentials, but it hasn't gone live yet.

Who is Spectrum's streaming service for?

Clearly, this service is custom-built for a select group of folks: Spectrum internet subscribers who don't want to pay for a pricey TV package. However, the only qualifying cord-cutters should take the small risk of $14.99 per month are those who don't need a live sports fix or need broadcast networks (check out our roundup of the best TV antennas if you need a cheap way to watch those).

Those who primarily spend their TV time watching sitcoms, food shows, dramas and other non-live programming, however, should definitely consider Spectrum TV Essentials.