YouTube and Hulu Live TV price hikes suck — but I’m still ditching cable

YouTube and Hulu Live TV price hikes suck — but I’m still ditching cable
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Cord-cutters keep spending more money, on a seemingly annual basis, when it comes to the ever-rising price of streaming services. And they must wonder "isn't this why I left cable?" Especially when two of the most popular options — Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV — saw their prices go up again in 2020, and they're now both $65 per month. 

And when I saw the news, I wanted to rant about how this should push people back to cable. But then I checked my cable bill and discovered that's not the case.

Cutting the cord is getting pricier

But before I get to that, let's break down the pricing hikes that cord-cutters have faced, as this year's increases were familiar for long time users. 2019 saw Hulu with Live TV's price rise twice: $40 (its original price, since 2017) to $45 in January, and $45 to $55 in November. YouTube TV, which started at $35 in 2017 went to $40 per month in 2018 and to $50 in 2019.

YouTube TV live TV

(Image credit: Google)

Sling TV, the other major player, went from $20 (its original price from 2015) to $25 in 2018, and then raised Orange and Blue tier prices by another $5 per month in late 2019. 

And, yes, I'm not even going into the crazy price changes that AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now) has gone through. We don't recommend that service, so I won't waste space on it here.

Along the way, users have seen some reasons for the price increases, such as YouTube TV adding 8 Viacom channels when it raised prices by $15 this year. Other times, like Hulu's recent $10 increase, there doesn't seem to be a reason for the uptick.

All the while, we hear the same reasons: rising carriage fees for broadcasts networks — of which YouTube TV and Hulu have all, and Sling TV has only 2 — which continues to be a reason people consider buying one of the best TV antennas.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Row 0 - Cell 0 YouTube TVHulu with Live TVSpectrum TV
Monthly price$65$65$127.15 (fees vary by subscriber)
Channels"More than 85""More than 60" — plus Hulu Originals216
Simultaneous streams (or cable boxes)322
DVRFree and unlimitedFree for 50 hours$19.99 fee, unspecified storage

But cable TV is still too damn high

To be frank, none of these price hikes should be enough to get people to move back to traditional cable TV. And I know, because I still have cable. For reasons that don't really matter for this conversation, I've yet to cut the cord, but I still see the Spectrum TV bill.

While Spectrum advertises that the TV Select package (with a whopping 216 channels) starts as low as $44.99 per month, there's a big ol' asterisk next to that price. So you can tell that the expensive caveats are coming, especially  as those prices are just for the first year. Years into our package, the Spectrum TV Select package now costs $73.99 per month according to my bill (we bundle it with internet, and not phone), and that's before a ton of surcharges.

The broadcast TV surcharge (for those pricey broadcast networks such as ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC) is $16.45 per month. Then there's the fact that you're renting your cable boxes. That price may or may not go up in the next year, but you're gonna need to werk if you want to keep it. Sling TV? They've got a 1-year price lock guarantee right now, which is more trustworthy.

Hulu live TV

(Image credit: Hulu)

Yes, those slow and seemingly always hot-to-touch cable boxes, those giant eyesores? Spectrum charges $7.99 per receiver per month for theirs. And that doesn't include the $19.99 per month you pay for the right to DVR. YouTube TV has an unlimited DVR that's free, while Sling includes 10 hours of DVR for free (and charges $5 per month for a 50-hour cap). Hulu's got 50 hours of DVR space included (and charges $15 per month to go to 200 hours). 

And, yes, that means you're paying an extra $7.99 for simultaneous streaming if you have a second TV (we do). Hulu with Live TV throws in a second stream for free, YouTube TV has three free streams and Sling gives you 3 with its Blue plan and only 1 with its Orange plan. 

Then, it's $8.71 in taxes, fees and charges. That's a total of $53.16 on top of whatever you argue the monthly package down to — for us that's $127.15.

Outlook: The streaming services are the big winners

After doing all that math, I have no choice but to give it up to the streaming services — and now I’m wondering how I can leave cable behind. These services were able to start at a low monthly price and work their way up, and since cable TV is so brutally priced, they don't need to worry about their customers going back to cable. 

Here’s my plan to cut the cord: I’m going to do a sort of speed dating, trying each streaming service for a small amount of time.

Starting in the new year, I'm going to be spending one month with each of the top streaming services, to see what it's like to rely on their offerings. Our Sling TV review, Hulu with Live TV review and YouTube TV review show that each is a strong competitor, but since TV is so personal, I want to see how I'd fare with each and no more cable. I'd give Fubo TV a shot too, but I'm not a huge live sports fan, so I'm good without its dozens of world sports channels.

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.

  • Scottm_dj
    I still have cable too and I am into the second year & have to do something myself to bring that crazy bill down. There's a couple really strong reasons to consider keeping cable a lot of people don't think of!

    1. Channel, channels, channels. You don't get near the local channels with any streamer (and only YTTV has even PBS).

    2. Fox RSNs for NBA starting up soon? Not happening on now all the streamers.

    3. Got a surround sound system to hook up? Only cable or AT&T TV will cover 5.1 surround for local/movie/music channels. YTTV is blatantly missing this for the price they charge.

    4. Unlike streamers, you don't need massive internet speed--in fact you don't need any internet at all to watch cable TV.

    5. Finally...lagggg. Who the !#@$ wants to watch a live sporting event up to a minute behind real time?


    There's a few things you can do to bring that bill down I've researched..

    1. Depending on your provider see if you can just get certain channels on tiers rather than packages (Spectrum Gold&Silver non-premium channels are offered on separate tiers)

    2. Use a streaming device like a Roku on your other TV rather than a box to save money on the ridiculous DVR charge. If you don't need a DVR you could even use it on your main TV and have zero hardware cost.

    3. A lot of people aren't aware that Spectrum for one offers a "seasonal hold" on your account. By doing this, you actually still get all your local channels and even all the music channel-- along with a perfectly surfable 1.3 mbps internet connection. Sure you won't be downloading any 4K videos, but if you're of the dial-up modem era it's a speed burner. The cost is only $5 for each service so that's a whopping $10/mo!

    4. Use a service like BillTrim to have them call on your behalf with "professional negotiators" to see if they can lower it. Apparently, word is that can be pretty successful...

    We're both in the same boat...good luck!
  • JSM2020
    In your formula for the 2 streaming service you don't have a figure for the internet you need for streaming itslef, which would make the total cost of either of those 2 services almost the same as your spectrum account cost. Either way we're all paying more, cord cutting or not.
  • maccorf
    Not sure this article is very helpful at all, since 1. you aren't factoring in the cost of internet for streaming services, and 2. your provider, Spectrum, seems to be exorbitantly expensive. Verizon is offering 400 mbps internet plus TV for $120 dollars in my area, which is now the same cost as my 250mbps data connection plus Hulu Live TV. True, you get the Hulu catalog with that, but that's basically the only savings at this point. There is one reason I am not switching yet, and that's flexibility. Cable locks you in for a time period, but streaming services can be cancelled and switched at any time. If Verizon stopped doing that, I'd switch.