I cut the cord with Sling TV — but there's one surprising flaw

the Sling app icon on an iPhone
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I've been (mostly) happy with my choice to cut the cord with Sling TV. The end result of a months-long process, I wound up picking Sling because of its mix of affordability, the channels I wanted, good-enough quality and a decent user interface.

While one of my colleagues wishes Sling would roll back to its previous app, I've had little in the way of complaints. That was, though, until I traveled ... to a small town in the middle of upstate New York. And there I found my first annoying flaw in cord-cutter services.

That flaw? The lack of a local regional channel for the major networks you're supposed to get. Yes, this may not be a huge deal if you only travel to big cities where there's always a local NBC or FOX, but out in the boonies you can find that all sorts of things can fail you — even on the best cable TV alternative.

All I wanted to do was watch SNL

Last weekend, I was out of town for a pair of memorial services, which put me in a particular frame of mind. One where I really wanted to watch SNL, a show I mostly roll my eyes at, but had a sterling combination this week. 

The long-running sketch comedy show was hosted by Jonathan Majors (Loki, Lovecraft Country, The Harder They Fall) with musical guest Taylor Swift, there to perform the 10 minute version of "All Too Well" (Taylor's Version). Lately, I'd heard good things about SNL, and so this seemed like a good time to join in (unlike the Kim Kardashian episode).

Because even while on the road, I thought I could watch it. Yes, even though I didn't bring my trusty Apple TV or any of the best streaming devices with me, I had my laptop, and could watch Sling there. 

And I thought I'd be able to get it. I have Sling, and Sling has NBC. But that NBC is there with a big fat caveat: Sling only has FOX and NBC in select markets. And I wasn't in one of them. 

What I should have done

If I had the foresight to realize the town I was staying in was in a gap of Sling and NBC's coverage, and knew I'd want to watch this episode before I left NYC, I could have gotten things right. That's because if you set a show to record on Sling, you can watch it sorta-live as the recording takes place no matter where you are

But when you're impulsive, or don't learn about the SNL hosts and guests in advance, these things don't come up. And I was a bit busy, packing for the trip, to consider these edge-cases.

Did I try a VPN? Yes, I did, and it didn't work. I was kind of annoyed about that. Oh, and before you ask about Peacock, it only live streamed the first four episodes of this SNL season. Now, you have to wait until the next day. And speaking of which: 

It all (kinda) worked out, eventually

I sit here today having found a way to watch SNL, albeit not in a live way at all. 

NBC, you see, posts episodes of SNL to Hulu (and Peacock). So, when I'd made it home from the trip, I was able to pull up the episode and see that, yes, Saturday Night Live is kinda good again. 

One sketch mocked the weirdly named and departed streaming services of the last year, Pete Davidson's Joe Rogan impression had me laughing (even if it wasn't that accurate). Oh, and the fake ad for Man Park (a dog park for guys in relationships) was kinda genius, especially with guys shouting "MARVEL!," "Rick!," and "Morty!" at each other. Even those Please Don't Destroy guys are funny, and Taylor Swift's performance of "All Too Well" was pretty damn great (even if Studio 8H has terrible acoustics).

What I learned

I've got a few takeaways from this micro-ordeal. First: this is one area where I may have been better off with YouTube TV (the only other cord-cutter service I liked enough to consider). When I used YouTube TV's website to check the channels available for the zip code I was in, I saw that it has an NBC affiliate. Sling's similar tool stalls out with the message "Please wait some more time."

The issue is, though, this isn't a big enough issue to get me to switch to YouTube TV any time soon. That would cost $30 more per month (maybe even more if I save on my subscription with a Sling TV promo code), and I don't travel to that area nearly enough to be concerned about this. 

My solution is simple, make sure that any show I have even a minor interest in is set to be recorded. Even though this means I'll probably have to do more work to manage the DVR (Sling only gives you 50 hours unless you pay more), this should keep me more or less set.

Still, this whole situation is better than cable, as Spectrum doesn't let you watch most channels live on the go.

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.

  • OldNDumb
    I solved that problem by using an AirTV 2 that I got free with my Sling subscription. My home area in Indiana doesn't have any local channels that show up on Sling but I do have an antenna at my house that receives about 30 channels including the networks from two nearby larger cities. I have a hard drive attached to the AirTV so I can DVR anything on those channels. When we are on the road we can watch live or recorded TV from our home antenna in the Sling app. We Winter in Florida and can watch our local Indiana nightly news or anything else we want. I record SNL on the attached hard drive every week and watch it whenever I want. I could watch it live but , you know, we are Boomers so SNL is on past our bedtime!