My big project for last year was figuring out how I'd cut the cord, and I think my findings can help you kill cable in 2022.
Long-tired of the limits of the cable box — the best cable TV alternatives let you bring your DVR wherever you go — I had one foot out the door for a while. On top of that, cable's heavy price tag, — $127 split between roommates should be a good night out, not a monthly bill — was just too much. Plus, it doesn't help that Netflix is raising prices for every tier of service.
So, I tested every single major live TV service, and found myself (somewhat predictably) going with one of Tom's Guide's choices for the best streaming service. In fact, I'd also picked the same cord-cutter service that my colleague Kelly Woo chose.
But, because I love a good narrative, I'm not going to spoil the ending up front. Because it's less about the service that's right for me, and more about what you can learn from what I found out. And that includes the very messy year for one of my top choices.
I almost cut the cord with YouTube TV
YouTube TV is great, it's so great — from its clean and snappy interface to its unlimited DVR cap — that I'm really annoyed that I have good reasons to not be paying for it. At one point, my biggest personal reason was the lack of a channel I wanted. That's Vice. But the show I watch on Vice is between seasons, so I don't have that excuse.
The biggest reason I am not choosing YouTube TV is its price tag. At $65, it's $30 more than Sling TV per month, and that's too much of a price bump for a nicer experience. Sure, its optional 4K streaming and offline downloads are nice perks, but they also cost more money. But that's not the only thing that's given me doubts about YouTube TV lately.
This past April, YouTube TV was pulled from the Roku Channel Store due to a beef between Roku and YouTube. So, any new subscribers then had to use the YouTube app, after YouTube buried its live TV functionality inside the regular YouTube app the following May. Of course, this didn't solve the inter-company dispute.
Then, YouTube TV and Roku set a deadline of December 9 to resolve all of these issues, which they fortunately did. All of this, though, was the kind of year-long headache we have enough of everywhere else right now.
YouTube TV's complicated year of contractual disputes with networks didn't end there, either. In September, YouTube and NBCUniversal broke the news that their negotiations were in jeopardy of not working out by their own deadline. Fortunately, their talks got an extension and nobody lost Sunday Night Football or SNL. And that means everyone with YouTube TV can watch This Is Us season 6, too.
The same can't be said for the recent YouTube TV and Disney debacle. While the outage only lasted for a day and change, YouTube TV lost ESPN and ABC, plus other Disney-owned channels after the two sides failed to negotiate a contract. And if those channels mattered for those days, there was no alternative to their absence — which probably sent people to subscribe to a competitor (Sling if TNT matters, fubo if ABC matters).
When I was at a recent family function, a relative asked if they should cut the cable too, without knowing that this was exactly my kind of question. When they told me their needs, I wound up recommending a service that would have issues less than one month later. During the ESPN and ABC outage, though, I had to text them to alert them of the drama.
All of the above is not the situation anybody wants, and I hope YouTube TV's learned its lessons. Because while YouTube TV (more than 85 channels for $65 per month) is worth more than Sling TV (more than 30 channels for $35 per month) on paper, reliability is just as valuable. Because, yes, reader: I chose Sling TV.
Why I cut the cord with Sling TV
Three months into my Sling TV subscription service, I've only found one real flaw: local networks may vary when you're on the road. Frustratingly, I chose Sling TV not because of any affinity for the service — its apps and design are merely OK, its quality and speeds are similar — but because it works well enough and has all of the channels I want.
And when I was testing Sling TV, I found that "good enough" is what I'm going to have to settle for. I was able to add on FXX to watch It's Always Sunny's latest season, too, as I saw Sling's customization options as valuable perks, letting me keep a low starting price and hike it up myself if I wanted to.
And it's much better than the services that I could easily dismiss.
Take, for example, Hulu with Live TV. When I tested Hulu's live TV offering for myself, I found it buffered a bit too often, and that was a no-no. Not even cable buffers, and I'm not replacing cable with something that's a worse experience. Sure, the interface is OK and the channels selection has what I need, but this was about upgrades, not downgrades. Hulu does now pack in Disney Plus and ESPN Plus for $5 more (not that you can choose), so I hope you're excited about The Book of Boba Fett episode 2 release date.
Then there's fubo TV. It's mainly for international sports, but it's marketed as a sports fan's streaming service. Which is why I was surprised to see them not offer TNT, a must for the NBA post-season. When I tested fubo TV I found it perfectly OK. It even has a real cool multi-channel view mode. But the lack of TNT is a dealbreaker for me, so I passed.
Lastly, there's two contenders to know about that I pretty quickly knew I didn't like. DirecTV Stream is subpar at best, putting its exclusive regional sports channels at high price tiers. Sure it has HBO Max at certain tiers, but I can get that service ala carte and watch watch Station Eleven episodes 8 and 9 as it is.
And Philo? Well, it just doesn't have enough channels.
Takeaways for aspiring cord-cutters
The biggest thing I learned is that finding the right way to cut the cord is not about who has the prettiest app or the most features. If that were true, I'd be paying more for YouTube TV or fubo's split-view mode.
The two things that matter the most are 1) getting all the channels you want (which Sling does, for me) at a price you like (which YouTube TV does not) and 2) being able to watch those channels without problems (Hulu's biggest flaw in my testing).
Of course, channel availability varies by your personal preference. If you want to watch The Bachelor season 26, you'll need a service with ABC. Which is why I wrote our Sling vs YouTube TV vs Hulu vs Fubo vs DirecTV Stream channels face off, which compares the services by who has more of the top 100 most popular services. I also wrote our guide for where to live stream NFL, NBA, MLB and more, which takes those pesky regional sports networks into consideration.
With all of the above testing experience, I'm sure you'll have an easier time cutting the cord than I did.