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 for fans.
YouTube TV is a refreshing option for cable or satellite TV cord cutters. It feels just like a traditional TV service, but without the hidden fees or equipment rental. Shows and games are easy to find and record, simultaneous streams are a breeze, and the interface felt familiar and intuitive on every device we tested.
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. Some games even come with live stats and analysis when you watch them with the ESPN app. 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). 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.
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 Fubo or Sling to catch the big game.
YouTube TV offers a well-rounded channel selection, ranging from sports and entertainment to news and network TV. We think YouTube TV is a good option if you want a classic live TV experience with a solid on-demand library, but we have a couple minor complaints.
YouTube TV carries almost all your local networks, unlike competitor Philo, and even offers PBS, unlike Hulu + Live TV. You even get multiple Spanish-language local channels with YouTube TV. However, you won’t find Antenna TV, and Estrella TV is available only as an add-on.
There are some things we love for sports fans with YouTube TV, and others we really dislike. Having the option to buy NFL Sunday Ticket is fantastic, with regular prices of $349–$389 per season for YouTube TV subscribers and $449-$489 if you just want the football and not live TV. (1) Beyond pig skins, we love that NBA TV and the Golf Channel are included with the base channel price. We also like that you get your local channels, TNT, USA Network, and more, and the sports add-on is nice for the price. It comes with NFL RedZone, live poker and billiards, OutsideTV+, and FOX Soccer. No MLB coverage is disappointing (2), and you’ll miss out on some regional major league games, even with the sports add-on. That said, you can watch and DVR games in 4K if you get the unlimited add-on for about $10 a month.
Family and education: 4/5
YouTube TV has a lot to offer for kids and anyone interested in using their screen time to learn about the world. You will miss out on favorites like Science and History, but you get multiple Disney and Nickelodeon options and a dedicated channel for PBS Kids. We also really like the Curiosity Stream add-on for educational documentaries and the Hopster Learning add-on for little kids.
News and politics: 4/5
You can find a lot of political commentary from both the left and the right on YouTube TV, but you won’t find Newsmax or Vice, or any C-SPAN channels (which are common with most traditional TV providers). There are nice options for international news, though, and we like that you can satisfy your appetite for local news in either Spanish or English. You might want to pick up a digital antenna, though, if you want to catch some niche broadcast favorites.
Entertainment and lifestyle: 3.5/5
YouTube TV can’t quite compete with traditional and satellite TV when it comes to movies, documentaries, and reality TV, but you still get dozens of options. There’s no A&E, Cooking Channel, and GAC (Great American Country), for example, and no Lifetime movies. SHOWTIME and STARZ are available, but only as add-ons. There’s also not much original programming to be found, but you can catch a couple nice options by jumping over to YouTube Premium (confoundingly, a separate subscription on a separate app).
ESPN+ is one of the cheapest streaming apps we reviewed at just $10 per month or $100 per year. You can even bundle it with Hulu and Disney+, which helps you save more than $10 per month—making ESPN+ a sort of free add-on. You could spend just $13 for all three ($20 for commercial-free Hulu), then add an inexpensive live streaming service like fubo or YouTubeTV to cover all your bases.
Unfortunately, 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 that many fans don’t see coming. For starters, you won’t get any actual ESPN channels, so you’ll be disappointed if you sign up hoping to get ESPN1, 2, or 3, or other channels like ESPN U, Longhorn, SEC, or ACC. 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 if you want that.
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. 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.
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.
YouTube TV is an excellent choice for streaming live TV, and it all costs about what you’d pay for a mid-range subscription package from a cable or satellite TV provider (but without the hidden fees). The price is about average among the premium live TV services we tested. The only extra charge on your bill is local sales tax, but you’re going to find that with virtually every TV provider out there.
If you want add-ons like NFL Sunday Ticket, sports in 4K, or entertainment channels such as HBO, add-on pricing applies. But buying and canceling add-ons was pretty seamless in our tests, and many of the upgrades (like YouTube TV itself) come with free trials.
Starting in October of 2022, YouTube made it possible to get most of its add-ons without paying the full monthly price, either through YouTube TV or the separate Premium Channels feature on regular YouTube. The prices were a bit higher or the same as purchasing the services separately, but it's nice to watch them with a familiar app and just one bill.
We were a little bummed to discover that you still have to watch ads with a lot of the content, and you don’t get to skip ads on regular YouTube or YouTube Music, since YouTube Premium is a separate service, but we welcome the simplified pricing with open arms.
In addition to adding exclusive content to the regular ESPN app and browser experience, ESPN+ adds some extra features like joining a fantasy league and live stats and scores for some events. But beyond that, ESPN+ doesn’t have as many features as other live streaming services—and that made it hard to use at times.
Ability to watch: Great
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.
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.
Ability to record: Bad
ESPN+ lets you download some content to watch offline, but there’s no DVR capability. 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. But if we missed a live game and ESPN removed the replay, it was just gone.
Ability to find: Fine
Finding shows on ESPN+ is easier in a browser than with the app, but neither is stellar. 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.
On the app, it got tough to find the events and shows we wanted. There’s no Live/Replay section to find currently or recently playing events. 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. There’s also no “Continue watching” section (though the browser version has it), so we had a hard time picking up 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.
Finally, there are no parental controls with ESPN+. While this streaming service was specific enough to quiet some of our concerns—we knew we wouldn’t log our kids in to watch cartoons and come back to find them watching a horror flick—we wanted more control over screen time and the kinds of sports content they watch. The lack of parental controls made us wary of sharing login credentials, which meant more active monitoring on our part.
Ability to share: Fine
ESPN+ doesn’t seem to be designed for sharing. It doesn’t have multiple user profiles and many events prompt you to input your location before they’ll play. 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.
YouTube TV comes with everything you expect from a live TV service: easy channel surfing via the Live option, video on-demand (VOD) and DVR in the Library, and access to live sports, events, and shows from the Home tab. Its English-language monthly subscription offers more than 100 channels. If you want content in Spanish only, your monthly price is less than half of the English-language price.
Ability to watch: Excellent
YouTube TV doesn’t come with an option for a dedicated remote, but you can buy a Chromecast with Google TV for about a third of the price of the DIRECTV STREAM box if you want a voice remote. If you spring for the 4K Plus add-on, you get unlimited streams at home and three away from home. If you have a device compatible with Dolby 5.1 surround sound, it will work nicely with YouTube TV.
We were less satisfied with the ads—you’ll see a lot of them on YouTube TV, and they’re quite noticeable if you’re switching from on-demand streaming apps like Netflix, HBO Max, or Amazon's Prime Video. You can fast forward through ads on your DVR content, and some shows don’t have any ads on the DVR version.
When you watch live, you get the same ads the channels show over the air. A few times in our tests, we even saw ad visuals on the screen hyper-imposed on top of what we were trying to watch. It wasn’t a dealbreaker, but it took us out of the viewing experience. You will need broadband internet to enjoy YouTube TV, but streaming a show or game in 4K requires only about 20 Mbps of bandwidth at any given time, so you don’t need to worry about paying for the fastest possible internet speeds.
Ability to record: Excellent
YouTube TV comes with unlimited cloud DVR, and your recordings are saved for nine months. You can pause, rewind, and fast forward on most (but not all) DVR recordings, and it’s pretty simple to add them to your library. Curiously, adding any episode means you’ll record every future episode of that program, even reruns. It’s not a huge deal, but it does mean your library can feel bloated in a hurry.
There were a few standout features, too. We loved the sports highlights and how you can watch only key plays until you catch up to the live broadcast, hide scores of games you haven’t watched, or watch in Fantasy Football or Stats mode.
January 2023 updates to the interface made navigating the library a little easier, and we look forward to more promised improvements.
Ability to find: Great
YouTube TV is owned by search giant Google, and it shows. Finding specific programs, channels, and even recommendations from a browser was a delight. In fact, logging in on a browser is the best way to rearrange your Live guide for channel surfing, and it’s the best way to manage your account. The desktop app and mobile app felt familiar and easy to use, but we were annoyed that we couldn’t turn the volume up very high.
The experience on the Samsung smart TV we tested wasn’t quite as seamless. To get to YouTube TV, you have to open the regular YouTube app and find the YouTube TV button at the bottom left. Once we were in, there was a nice option to verify the account on a smartphone rather than typing your secure password with the remote. We didn’t love the pause and rewind functionality on the smart TV, and we once had to turn everything off and restart because the screen went black.
We also tested YouTube TV on an Apple TV, and it worked pretty well. It wasn’t hidden within the regular YouTube app, which was nice, and controls worked better. The app experience was even better when we tested on the Chromecast with Google TV. The remote was small but easy to use, and the voice functionality was fantastic. Unfortunately, the button labeled YouTube on the remote goes to the regular YouTube app, not YouTube TV.
Ability to share: Great
One YouTube TV subscription comes with six seats, so you and up to five members of your family can have their own private Google profile. With the basic subscription, you can watch up to three simultaneous streams at once, or you can get unlimited streams at home with the Unlimited add-on for about $10 per month.
If we had a magic wand and could improve any feature of YouTube TV, it would be parental controls. If you’re an adult sharing the subscription with other adults, it’s nice that profiles are 100% private—that means other accounts can’t see your DVR, your watch history, or your search history. But if you’re a parent, it’s a little problematic. There is a setting that prevents particular devices from viewing anything beyond TV-G or PG, but it doesn’t apply to accounts (just devices), and it’s not password-protected. Using the Family Link controls may give you more options, but most of those seem to be for regular YouTube and YouTube Kids, not YouTube TV.
The ESPN+ website is overall very usable, but we’d like to see clearer pricing right away. You have to click the tiny print for terms or scroll down to the bottom and open an accordion to find out how much a subscription costs. If you miss these clues, you’ll have to give ESPN+ your email address before you know how much the service even costs.
Getting help is easy—at least, after you scroll to the bottom of the ESPN+ website homepage again. There, you’ll find step-by-step instructions and troubleshooting tips, videos, and contact options—including a live chat option. There’s even an entire section for troubleshooting UFC PPV events—though our biggest takeaway here was to purchase an event on the app at least 30 minutes before the event, or it may not go through the Apple Store or Google Play before the event starts.
Generally, people seem to like ESPN+ customer service representatives. However, many users seem to have trouble canceling their subscriptions, especially if they purchased it through a third party like Apple or Verizon. Some went as far as freezing or canceling a credit card to make the monthly fees stop, but most customers were able to cancel in a few minutes if they used live chat to talk to a representative. As for us, we purchased our subscription through a browser directly on the ESPN+ website and could easily cancel the same way.
If you’re accustomed to shopping online and familiar with how streaming services work, YouTube TV is very easy to use. The interface is fairly easy to navigate and there’s just one package rather than multiple tiers to choose from. However, add-on pricing can be a little hard to track down.
Fortunately, you can get a 21-day free trial of YouTube TV if you’re a new user, and most of the add-ons also have free trials. If you’re not 100% pleased, we love that everything is surprisingly easy to cancel. Reactivation is also a breeze—YouTube TV saves all your info forever, and even saves your DVR recordings for 21 days after you pull the plug.
YouTube TV is so easy to use, most users won’t miss out on a customer service telephone line or a live chat experience, but it’s worth noting that those channels are not available.