Over-the-Top streaming services
When most people think of cord cutting, they think of streaming services – what we call “over-the-top” or “OTT” solutions.
There’s more to cord cutting, of course, but there’s no denying that the rise of streaming services has played a huge role in the cord cutting revolution.
What is an over-the-top (OTT) service?
When we talk about OTT services, we’re just talking about services that come in over the internet. That includes all the streaming services: Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV, and so on. All of these services stream over the internet, so you can subscribe to them “over the top” or streaming services – without having to run anything by your cable company.
We can sort streaming services into a few basic types. The most common one is “video on demand,” or VOD. Video-on-demand services are the ones where you select and play content whenever you want, like Netflix.
There are also “skinny bundle” OTT solutions. Skinny bundles are cable-like packages of channels, but they aim to undercut cable by trimming the fat and selling smaller bundles for less. Skinny bundles like Sling TV look and feel like cable, but they stream over the internet, tend to have fewer channels, and cost a lot less. The term “skinny bundle” isn’t exclusive to the OTT space – some cable companies have their own “skinny bundle” options – but we’ll focus on the OTT skinny bundles in this cord cutting guide.
Other streaming services focus on live content. CBS All Access gives subscribers a live stream of CBS, for instance, and MLB.TV lets baseball fans watch live game broadcasts. Many services also mix live streams with on-demand content.
Most Popular Streaming services
To save you some time on research, we’ll run through some of the most notable streaming services. This glossary will cover the basic details on each, including price.
Video on demand is an old concept. Pay-per-view programming is a type of VOD service, and cable DVRs turn live TV into VOD programming. But the biggest change in the history of VOD came when Netflix reinvented the concept by offering streaming movies to subscribers. Since then, a lot of competition has arrived. Let’s meet the OTT VOD gang.
You’ve almost certainly heard of Netflix. It’s the big boy on the VOD block, offering thousands of movies, TV shows, and originals. Netflix is the home of Making a Murderer, Narcos, and other smash hit originals.
Price: $9.99/month for the most popular package (HD video, up to two streams at once). Other packages run $7.99 (standard definition, one stream) and $11.99 (4K Ultra HD, four streams)
With Plex Live TV and DVR, you can digitize your own movies, TV, music and photos and watch and record free digital broadcast channels to watch your favorite HD TV shows, movies, news, and sports on any device, anywhere in the world.
Price: $4.99/month, $39.99/year, or $119.99 lifetime
Netflix’s most direct rival offers a very similar deal: movies and TV for under ten bucks a month. Hulu has ads, but subscribers have the option to upgrade to an ad-free experience.
Price: $7.99/month, or $11.99/month for the no-commercials plan
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Prime Video hasn’t been around for as long as Netflix or Hulu, but it’s making up ground fast. Amazon Prime Video is Amazon’s streaming service, and is included in their Amazon Prime subscription service (which also includes free two-day shipping on select items, a limited music streaming service, access to exclusive sales, and other perks). Amazon’s content includes old HBO programming and PBS documentaries, among other things.
Price: $8.25/month ($99 per year divided by 12 months)
HBO made its name as a premium channel available through your cable subscription. Now, it’s a major player in the streaming VOD world. Netflix’s CEO has compared the Netflix-HBO rivalry to that of baseball’s Yankees and Red Sox. That’s partly because HBO has long been great with original series, and those are becoming more important to OTT services as competition sends the price of licensed content up. HBO NOW is HBO’s standalone OTT service.
Price: $14.99/month. HBO is also available as an add-on to other OTT services (like Amazon Prime Video and Sling TV) for the same price. No matter how you get it, the content and price stay the same
Like HBO, Showtime is a premium channel that has made the jump to the OTT world. Subscribers can get an OTT Showtime subscription through their mobile device (iOS or Android) or streaming box (Roku or Apple TV).
Price: $10.99/month. Like HBO, Showtime is also available as an add-on to other OTT services. It’s actually a bit cheaper ($8.99/month) through Amazon and Hulu
The last of the “big three” premium channels, Starz has the same business model as HBO and Showtime.
Price: $8.99/month. Starz is also available as an add-on to other streaming services
Crackle is the best-known of several ad-supported VOD services. This group of Netflix competitors is trying to gain an edge in the market by eliminating subscription fees. Crackle’s catalog isn’t as robust as its paid competition, and you’ll have to watch ads, but you can’t beat that price.
Another free ad-supported streaming service, Popcornflix is very similar to Crackle. Once again, you’re dealing with ads and a small catalog in exchange for enjoying a price that can’t be beat.
The last of the three best-known ad-supported VOD services, Tubi TV shares the benefits and drawbacks of its two competitors. None of the free services have particularly great catalogs, but cost-conscious cord cutters will find that the three competitors complement each other pretty well. Browse them all, and you’re sure to find something fun to watch.
OTT skinny bundles
What drives cord cutting? Innovation is fun, but the real answer is economics. That’s why skinny bundles have been so successful. They replicate the cable experience, but they cost less.
Some skinny bundles allow subscribers to add small add-on packages or individual additional channels for a price, giving some of these solutions an à la carte feel. Some cable companies are starting to offer skinny bundles, but the real revolution is happening online, where companies targeting cord cutters have created streaming skinny bundle pay TV services. With skinny bundle OTT services, you’ll get live streaming TV. It’s just like cable, except a whole lot cheaper.
The original skinny bundle OTT service, Sling TV offers subscribers a choice of three packages (including one that includes all of the channels). The service also offers a slew of $5 add-on packages, allowing users to build their own ideal cable bundle. Other pricier single-channel add-on subscriptions, like Showtime and HBO, are also available.
Price: $20, $25, or $40/month for three base packages of different sizes. $5/month each for add-on channel bundles (basic subscription required)
Sony’s OTT skinny bundle service bears the name of its gaming console because that’s where this service originated. But PlayStation Vue is no longer limited to PlayStation consoles – it’s now available for a variety of platforms, including iOS and Android. PlayStation Vue offers users their choice of four bundles, ranging in size from 60+ channels to more than 100. PlayStation Vue offers great built-in DVR functionality. The service has also recently made HBO and other premium channels available through add-on packages.PlayStation Vue
Price: $29.99, $34.99, $44.99, or $64.99/month for four base packages of different sizes
DirecTV Now is a subscription streaming television service by AT&T, which allows subscribers in the United States to stream programming from cable channels. The service was launched on November 30, 2016.
The service offers linear channels from major media conglomerates like AMC, Discovery, Disney, Fox, NBC Universal, Viacom, Turner, Univisión, and WWE, but not CBS or Showtime. The service also allows users to add on HBO or Cinemax for $5 each, with access to HBO Go and Max GO included, respectively.
Price: $35.00, $50.00, $60.00, or $70.00/month for four base packages of different sizes
YouTube TV’s initial lineup includes CBS, Fox, NBC, and CBS, as well as cable players USA and FX. Sports available include ESPN, Fox Sports, and NBCSN. Local affiliates will also be included, so you can watch news from the same channels you’d normally get over the air based on a few specific metro areas.
YouTube TV includes unlimited cloud DVR storage. With that feature, you can even add a show or sports team to your favourites, and it’ll automatically save them for you.
YouTube TV works on both Android and iOS. You can also stream to your TV with a Google Chromecast or Chromecast built-in TV.
Price: $35/month and $11 – $15/month each for add-on channels
Hulu Live TV
Hulu Live TV includes A&E, ABC*, Cartoon Network, CBS*, CNBC, CNN, Disney Channel, E!, ESPN, Fox*, Fox News, FX, HGTV, History, MSNBC, National Geographic, NBC*, Syfy, TBS, TNT, USA.
* = only in certain areas
Several national sports networks are included, and Hulu also offers regional sports networks in “many” areas, such as YES in the New York region.
Hulu Live TV includes 50 hours of DVR in the base plan, or 200 hours with the Enhanced DVR add-on for $19.99/month add’l.
Price: $39.99/month and $8.99/month for Showtime
Channel- and genre-specific OTT solutions
We’ve made a point of showing how cord cutting replaces cable with lots of different services, instead of just relying on one single solution. That fact hasn’t escaped the notice of major networks and content producers. Some networks have started their own OTT services, and other OTT services now focus on specific genres.
CBS All Access
CBS is available for free over the air, but OTA solutions aren’t for everyone. Some of us live too far from our nearest stations or are blocked off by skyscrapers or hills. Luckily, CBS fans in those situations can still cut the cord. That’s because CBS offers its own OTT service, complete with on-demand content and live TV (in certain markets – check their list to make sure you qualify). The price is a little steep, but it’s a decent service for dedicated CBS fans.
Price: $5.99/month, or $9.99/month for the ad-free version
NBC is getting in on the streaming service game too, though they’re taking a different tack than CBS. NBC is sorting its content by genre and adding to the selection by striking deals with other content producers to create genre-specific streaming services. The earliest result of this experiment is Seeso, an all-comedy streaming service that features NBC’s clever offbeat comedies (like Parks & Rec and 30 Rock) as well as content from the BBC and other sources. NBC’s other genre-specific offerings are expected to debut in the near future, so keep an eye out.
NBC wasn’t the first TV giant to have the idea for a genre-specific streaming service. That honor goes to AMC, whose parent company (AMC Networks) launched Shudder in 2015. Shudder features an all-horror movie selection.
Price: $4.99/month or $49.99/year
Crunchyroll (like sushi – get it?) is your source for foreign content in English, and focuses on Asian programming. The service’s main appeal is its large collection of anime content, but it also has live-action series and other programming.
Price: $6.95/month. Some content is available outside the paywall
Sports OTT services
Sports fans have streaming services, too! Three of America’s four major sports leagues have their own live streaming service, and some multi-league sports services are also available.
Unfortunately, sports are tougher to replace as a cord cutter than most other types of content. Check here for a comprehensive guide to combining sports streaming services, OTT skinny bundles, and OTA broadcasts to form the ultimate cord cutting sports solution.
A quick note: League packages tend to change in price from year to year. The prices listed here are from the current or most recent season (2016 or 2015-16, depending on the sport). League packages also tend to start being discounted as the season winds on, since there’s less left to watch.
NBA League Pass
NBA League Pass has had its growing pains, but it’s a fairly reliable service that delivers the same familiar deal (every regular season game, but with local market and national broadcasts blacked out) as the rest of the league packages. The NBA has a better national TV deal, which translates to more blackouts on its league streaming service, but it makes things up to us by offering the most versatile pricing options of any streaming service. You can even order an individual game!
Price: $199.99/year, or $119.99/year for the single-team plan. Individual games can be ordered for $6.99 each
NHL.TV (the service formerly known by the very uncatchy moniker “NHL GameCenter Live”) is a pretty reliable league package. The NHL’s relatively weak national TV presence makes for fewer blackouts for US-based consumers, but the familiar local market restrictions and lack of playoffs still sting. NHL.TV includes an awesome vault of full games from seasons past, and despite a few strange omissions, that perk will keep fans of old time hockey very happy.
Price: $139.96/year or $24.99/month, or $111.96/year for the single-team option
Major League Soccer isn’t quite the behemoth that North America’s four major leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL) are, but it’s doing its best to match them in the streaming department. MLS Live has fewer blackouts than the other services, thanks to policies determined by the individual MLS teams, but it does have its drawbacks. Only one broadcast is available for each game (usually the home team’s), so you can’t stick with your favorite announcers the whole time. And MLS’s deals with FOX Sports, ESPN, and Univision keep at least three great games a week blacked out. On the bright side, MLS Live offers condensed games alongside full replays and other features.
FuboTV isn’t a league-specific package, but it is a sports-specific one. It caters to soccer fans with a selection of live channels that broadcast tons of soccer, and boasts a solid lineup of games from leagues like France’s Ligue 1 and Spain’s La Liga. You’ll only get the games that appear on the channels that FuboTV includes, but you’ll also get non-match programming, like soccer news programs and recaps. FuboTV is kind of a skinny bundle, but it’s explicitly focused on soccer.
Local news OTT services
Like sports, local news can be tough to replace. So, as with sports, we’ve dedicated a whole section to it! Go here for a full guide to replacing local news that goes beyond the OTT services below.
Watchup offers a personalized, multi-channel news experience. Choose from over 200 local, national and international channels and a variety of news categories. The free app is on iOS, Android smartphones and tablets, Amazon Fire TV & Kindle and Nintendo Wii U.
Individual local news apps
Okay, so this isn’t really just one service. But many local news stations offer on-demand video through apps on mobile devices and streaming boxes – and some even offer live TV streams. It’s worth searching for your local channels on your favorite device’s app store to see what kind of streaming content you can get access to.
Other streaming services
Not every OTT service fits into a convenient category. Here are a few unique favorites to be aware of.
Pluto TV uses a TV guide interface and allows channel surfing like an OTT skinny bundle. The difference is that Pluto TV’s channels aren’t familiar cable properties – they’re original channels created by Pluto TV. The service assembles online videos into streaming channels, so something is always on. It is also worth noting that it is only linear programming and no VOD.
YouTube / YouTube Red
YouTube is among the oldest streaming video services around, but it was somewhat late to the party when it came to the subscription-based model. Their paid version, YouTube Red, gives users access to YouTube without commercials. YouTube is also taking steps to add original content and compete more directly with services like Netflix and Hulu, though they’ve been a bit slow in catching up. For now, YouTube remains best known for its user-created content.
Price: FREE for YouTube, $9.99/month for YouTube Red