There's been a lot of news for the best cable TV alternatives recently, shaking up the landscape for cord-cutter services. So whether you've already embraced cutting the cord, or are still thinking about it, there's a fair bit of recent changes you should be aware of before you make a choice.
We've long loved Sling TV, which we believe is one of the best streaming services. Sling TV's lower price and customization options make it great for those who want the lowest bill possible. That said, recent complications and changes pushed me away.
I switched to YouTube TV not long before Google (hilariously) announced a price increase, which means I'll be looking around for an alternative in June. And while Fubo TV became simply Fubo, it too added complexities that you probably won't notice until checkout. Meanwhile, one competitor is really stretching the word "unlimited" when it comes to its DVR.
Let's break it all down.
1. Sling finally offers ABC — possibly with a price jump
Time was, Sling Blue only had two network broadcast affiliates: Fox and NBC. Then, the weirdest and most complicated thing to happen in streaming recently saw select Sling Blue (and Sling Orange & Blue) subscribers gain ABC as they paid $5 more per month. Sling Blue went up from $40 to $45 for them, and Sling Orange & Blue went up from $55 to $60.
This happened for Sling Blue subscribers who got the following ABC affiliates for their local regions:
- Chicago (WLS)
- Fresno (KFSN)
- Houston (KTRK)
- Los Angeles (KABC)
- New York (WABC)
- Philadelphia (WPVI)
- Raleigh-Durham (WTVD)
- San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose (KGO)
Though there is a big caveat: Those in Fresno, Houston or Raleigh — for reasons nobody explained — get ABC for free. And all Sling Blue accounts didn't get a choice about if they wanted ABC or would rather spend less.
This was the second Sling price increase in the last half year, as a November 2022 increase raised rates by $5 across the board.
2. YouTube TV is getting Multiview
As was rumored last August, YouTube TV is getting multiview — a split-screen feature that lets you see up to 4 channels at once. YouTube TV rolled this feature out in limited testing for March Madness, which makes sense since all of the college basketball action is happening at once.
Multiview, as seen as a Fubo feature exclusive to Apple TV hardware, has previously been used to let a user choose the channels they want to watch all at once. Right now, though, YouTube TV is limiting multiview to channel assortments that it curates, taking the work away from you.
Fortunately, it will get better. German Cheung, the engineering lead for the YouTube TV core experience team, said that they plan to "refine and add more functionality to multiview, including the option to customize your own multiview streams." News addicts are the other power users who I bet could use this feature.
3. Fubo's big new perk turned into sneaky fees
At the tail end of 2022, we learned that Fubo (formerly FuboTV) was getting regional sports networks (RSNs). In total, 19 Bally Sports RSNs were set to arrive on, and it was announced as if you were going to get the channels specific to your region with your current subscription. Zero pricing changes were mentioned.
That was, clearly, too good to be true.
Then Cord Cutters News revealed that Fubo wrote to subscribers to let them know that a regional sports fee was coming. The pricing begins at $11 per month if you have one RSN in your area (determined by ZIP code). If you have multiple RSNs? You're spending $14 per month. On top of Fubo's default $75 Pro tier, that's an $89 per month subscription
These new fees aren't mentioned on Fubo's home page — which says "No hidden fees" (at least as of March 24, 2023). You instead see them at checkout, as above. Oh, and Fubo's trying to push people into quarterly billing by offering select "premium sports channels" NBA TV, NHL Network and MLB Network for free. Which: ick.
4. Unlimited DVR is more common now — but there's a catch
2022 saw Hulu + Live TV and (to a lesser extent) DirecTV Stream catch up to YouTube TV on the topic of cloud-based DVR. YouTube TV was the first to offer "unlimited" cloud DVR recording space, and now all three do. Recordings expire after nine months.
However, there's some mighty terrible fine print on DirecTV's own site explaining how its version trails behind those of Hulu and YouTube. Specifically, it states "In a series recording, max 30 episodes stored (oldest deleted first which may be in less than 9 months)."
30 might sound like a lot of episodes, but for constantly-rerun shows, that's going to leave you with a constantly adjusting collection. It's a huge asterisk.
9 months to watch those episodes of your favorite TLC reality show is one issue, but a second limit is terrible.
5. Price hikes have normalized
2022 and 2023 (so far) saw nearly every major streaming service raise prices. Right now, Peacock is one of the few streaming services that hasn't increased rates.
Look at the table for yourself:
|Service||2023 monthly price||2022 monthly price|
|Sling TV Orange & Blue||$55 to $60||$35|
|Hulu + Live TV with Disney Plus||$70 (Disney Plus with ads)||$70 (Ad-free Disney plus)|
|Fubo TV||$75 (before Regional Sports Fees)||$70|
So, while I switched from Sling TV to YouTube TV after the aforementioned price increases, not one month passed before YouTube TV's price hike ($8 per month) was announced.
Over the last year, every service had some price increase, or quality of life decrease (now the Hulu + Live TV's Disney bundle has Disney Plus with ads for new subscribers). Blame it on the economy, or rising cost of content (capitalism, am I right?), but price increases are the normal we cannot escape from, even if we cut the cord.
Outlook: At least annual contracts are dead
A lot of this news, I'd argue, isn't great. That said, the switch from annual cable TV contracts to monthly (or quarterly, at Fubo) — and the end of the cable box — means we can always switch in 31 or so days.
That might sound like a hassle, but I'll always choose choice over lock-in.