We loved how much extra sports content ESPN+ served up, but we couldn’t get around pay-per-view fees or regional blackouts. ESPN+ won’t replace our other live streaming services or help us cut the cord, but it makes for a great add-on. Superfans will love it. Everyone else? Maybe not so much.
WOW! (short for Wide Open West) offers a compelling case for switching to internet-based TV. You get a solid channel lineup at a great rate, all using top-notch Wi-Fi gear from eero—provided you’re willing to have a chillier relationship with your DVR and you don’t mind beta-testing the WOW! tv+ app.
ESPN has a history of making it expensive to be a sports fan, and ESPN+ carries on the tradition. Since its launch in 2018, the monthly price has doubled from $5 to $10, and it comes with a ton of hidden costs many fans don’t see coming. For starters, you won’t get any actual ESPN channels, so if you sign up hoping to get ESPN1, 2, or 3, or other channels like ESPN U, Longhorn, SEC, or ACC, you’ll be disappointed. Technically, you can watch these channels from ESPN+, but you’ll still have to log in with credentials from a cable TV or other streaming provider that has these channels. Cord cutters take note: you’ll still have to pay for live TV.
Speaking of needing more credentials, you won’t get around regional sports fees or blackouts—nor will you get a discount on pay-per-view events, like numbered UFC matches. If you’re hoping ESPN+ will save you money on sports entertainment, you’re in for a rude awakening—especially since ESPN+ doesn’t have a free trial.
In ESPN+’s defense, it has some great content (and a monopoly on most of it). You’ll get a ton of top-notch sports documentaries, news, and commentary shows. You’ll get some live professional and college events, including football, basketball, baseball, soccer, golf, tennis, hockey, MMA, and more. Some games even come with live stats and analysis when you watch them with the ESPN app. An ESPN+ subscription also gives you access to multiple daily articles so you can read about last night’s game even if you missed it. But there’s little chance ESPN+ will be your one and only source of sports content simply because it's unlikely to have all your team’s games. It’s probably best as a supplementary service for superfans, not a replacement for other live TV streaming services.
Our advice? Bundle your ESPN+ subscription with Disney+ and Hulu for a total cost of $13 per month ($20 with ad-free Disney+ and Hulu), then grab a low-cost live TV streaming service like fuboTV. You’ll pay around what you would for traditional cable while getting all the sports you could want, plus content for everyone else in your household too.
With WOW! tv+, you can watch live TV or on-demand content, record your favorite shows, and use streaming apps like Netflix—all over WOW!’s Wi-Fi. You need to order a WOW! internet plan with a speed of at least 100 Mbps (which is inexpensive) and at least one WOW! tv+ box (which is included in most plans).
Most of WOW!’s channel lineups are decent. The Small TV plan has only 30 basic channels, but you get 120+ channels with a Medium plan and 185+ channels with a Large plan, plus 50 Music Choice channels. (1) You won’t get any premium channels (you have to add those separately), but with a Large plan, you get more sports (NFL Network and NFL Red Zone), music (CMT and MTV), and kids’ channels (all the Nickelodeons). At around $10 per month more, it’s definitely worth considering.
ESPN+ has tons of live (and replay) sports to stream, including NFL, UFC, multiple international soccer leagues, the US Open, PGA, X games, NHL, and a multitude of college sports, to name just a few. This service even helped us discover the rising Indian sport kabaddi, which is like watching adults on the playground at recess. It’s just delightful. You’ll also get a metric ton of documentaries like the 30 for 30 and E60 series, which cover everything from Payton Manning’s life story to the history of boxing. There’s even an entire series following the Savannah Bananas, a team putting an entertaining spin on baseball (seriously, check out Banana Ball).
Unfortunately, if you’re hoping to get around regional sports fees or blackouts to watch your favorite local teams, ESPN+ won’t help you there. You have to share your location to watch certain games. And depending on the rules in your area, there’s a good chance you’ll still need to add your login credentials from a cable TV provider or another live TV streaming service like fuboTV or Sling TV to catch the big game.
The worst offense, however, is ESPN+’s hidden UFC costs. Although the ESPN+ website touts “unrivaled UFC access,” you’ll still have to cough up a whopping $75 for each pay-per-view Fight Night game on top of your ESPN+ subscription. That’s a jab to the faces of MMA fans if we ever saw one.
The WOW! tv+ box and remote are pretty standard, and you can find content and set up DVR recordings using voice commands or navigating through a guide. The downside is that all three of WOW!’s plans come with 50 hours of DVR cloud storage, which is pretty low. You can jump up to 100 (for about $20 per month) or 200 (for about $30 per month) hours, but that’s a steep charge when some competitors include 1,000 hours in their top-tier plans.
The best way to use the WOW! tv+ app is with an Amazon Firestick. Its Android and iOS apps are in beta, which means they’re still working out some of the kinks. The apps have a pretty low rating on both Android and iOS (2, 3), which is a bummer. If you end up throwing your phone across the room in frustration, you can circumvent the app altogether by going to an individual channel’s website and logging in with your WOW! credentials. But you might still end up frustrated—and watching your shows through a cracked phone screen.
In addition to adding exclusive content to the regular ESPN app and browser experience, ESPN+ adds the ability to read exclusive articles and join fantasy leagues for multiple sports. On the app, we liked that some events provided game stats and other graphics before the video when our devices were in portrait mode. It helped longtime fans get a fast glimpse of the game while multitasking, and helped the non-fans among us learn about a new sport.
Beyond that, ESPN+ doesn’t have as many features as other live streaming services. There’s no DVR capability, so if you miss a live game and ESPN removes the replay, it’s just gone. We were able to download some of the documentary content to watch offline, but no actual events. It was useful for calming our sports cravings on the go, but it wouldn’t satisfy us on an hours-long road trip or flight. The good news? ESPN+ says you get up to three simultaneous streams—but we were able to get five going at once without anyone getting kicked off. Looks like ESPN accidentally left some hidden value on the table, and we’ll take what we can get.
Since WOW! tv+ uses WOW! Internet, you need Wi-Fi gear. WOW!’s modem is free for your first year ($14/month after that), and its eero Wi-Fi system ($9.99 per month) is reasonably priced to rent. It’s also some of the best, most reliable Wi-Fi gear we’ve seen. WOW!’s TV boxes can get pricey if you want more than one ($10 per month), but since you can use WOW! tv+ with Amazon Firesticks, you shouldn’t need more than one box to get your shows on multiple TVs. You just need multiple Firesticks ($29.99 and up), but these will be one-time purchases instead of a monthly rental rate.
Self-setup is free and fairly easy, but you can hire a pro to come by and get you set up for $75.
ESPN+ builds on the features of the regular (free) ESPN experience. So if you’ve already had the ESPN app, ESPN+ simply adds another tab for its exclusive content. The browser experience is a similar tacking-on of ESPN+ content. That meant we got all the regular ESPN features we were used to, but it was also frustrating to use compared to dedicated streaming apps.
In some formats (like our Chromecast and Samsung smart TVs), getting properly logged into the ESPN+ experience was confusing, because it wasn’t obvious which experience we were logging into: ESPN+ or regular ol’ ESPN. But after a few false starts, we got it working. Unfortunately, the lack of a Live/Replay section made life hard again. To find the kabaddi game we were looking for (a sport which is rarely in the Featured section), we had to dig around in the Browse tab for the correct league (Pro Vivo Kabaddi) to find it.
Fortunately, watching ESPN+ on a browser was easy. We logged in to see the familiar ESPN website with an added ESPN+ bar at the top with all our premium content. The tabs helped us find featured content, documentaries, and live and replay events, or we could hit the Browse tab to choose a specific sport or league. However, the Tools tab left us confused. It took us to an ad for fantasy leagues, then prompted us to sign up for ESPN+... which we clearly already had. It tried to push us into an annual subscription, and when we selected “Skip and get started,” it just took us back to the ESPN+ home screen. We were able to get onto a fantasy league using the Fantasy tab in the top (regular ESPN) navigation bar, which made the Tools tab seem completely pointless.
The app experience was so-so. There was no “Continue watching” section (though the browser version has it), so we had a hard time picking up live where we left off. And switching between the app and the browser was annoying because ESPN+ didn’t remember our progress across platforms. It started up back at the beginning, and we’d spend several minutes trying to find our place again. Ugh.
WOW! tv+ doesn’t include premium channels in any of its plans, but you can add them to a Medium or Large plan for $11–$19 per month. We’ve seen STARZ and Cinemax for as little as $5 per month with some providers, so we’re a little bummed about WOW!’s pricing, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
When it comes to sports channels, you win some and lose some. You get the Tennis Channel in a Medium plan, whereas some providers only include it in their top-tier plans. NFL Network and NFL RedZone are both included in the Large plan, which is hit or miss among competitors. However, WOW! tv+ strikes out completely when it comes to the MLB channel, and there’s no way to get NFL SUNDAY TICKET.