Our experts get that our top overall TV providers may not fit your personal criteria for what makes a TV subscription worth the cost. We juggled our ranking criteria based on a few different metrics to help you understand all the top options.
Best cheap TV providers
Want to save money on TV? Here are our top recommendations:
Read our full article on the best cheap TV providers. Or, if you want to save even more, learn how to get TV for free.
Top ten TV providers
Our top TV providers are excellent choices when it comes to channel lineup, price, and the complete customer experience. But each has a unique offering, unique bundling options, and packages catered to a specific audience. That’s why our experts compared all the biggest providers out there, head to head. Browse our top ten list for the full rundown.
|Brand name||Stars||Download speed||Pricing||View plans|
|1. DISH||4.0 / 5||n/a||$56.99 - $137.99|
|2. Optimum||4.0 / 5||100 Mbps - 940 Mbps||$2.15 - $195.00|
|3. Verizon Fios||4.2 / 5||300 Mbps - 940 Mbps||$49.99 - $110.00|
|4. Xfinity||3.8 / 5||25 Mbps - 6000 Mbps||$19.99 - $299.95|
|5. DIRECTV||3.7 / 5||n/a||$48.99 - $149.99|
|6. Astound Broadband||3.7 / 5||110 Mbps - 1200 Mbps||$19.99 - $135.89|
|7. Cox Communications||3.3 / 5||100 Mbps - 2 Gbps||$0.00 - $205.00|
|8. WOW!||3.6 / 5||50 Mbps - 1200 Mbps||$9.99 - $199.98|
|9. Mediacom||3.4 / 5||5 Mbps - 1000 Mbps||$19.99 - $139.99|
|10. Spectrum||3.3 / 5||30 Mbps - 1 Gbps||$19.99 - $169.97|
Availability and pricing are subject to location. Conditions apply.
Compare TV providers
Choosing a TV provider can be tricky, but we have you covered! Use our direct comparison tool to see pricing, read expert reviews, and find out what real users think.
Start by comparing our top-rated TV providers, or by choosing from popular side-by-sides below. Add or remove brands in a few clicks to find exactly what you need.
How to choose a new TV provider
The first step in switching TV providers is to think about how you watch. You can start with a list of your favorite shows, for example, or you might already know which channels you want most. Sports are another big reason to pay for live TV, so ask everyone in your household if there are games or leagues they can’t live without. Think about the importance of watching in real-time, too, compared to watching on your schedule.
When you have a list in mind, find out what’s available in your area. Many cable TV companies have local monopolies, so you may have only a handful of options. There are a few things to keep in mind as you browse TV package options:
- There can be big differences in price and channel availability based on location, so you may have to enter your address or ZIP code to see what’s on offer near you.
- You will probably have to sign up for a bunch of channels you don’t want to get to the few you do.
- Extra fees are very, very common.
- "Free" access to premium channels usually expires after a few months, after which you’ll be charged the full price.
Once you have an idea of available packages, we recommend reading reviews and talking to your neighbors to find out about their experiences. When you’ve decided, we usually recommend calling the provider to order—it’s a good way to get extra perks. Online ordering is another popular option, and some providers waive installation fees if you go that route.
TV tech types
The technology behind how your home gets TV can have a big impact on picture quality, reliability, and cost. You probably won’t have much of a choice on which tech is available in your neighborhood, but it’s nice to know the landscape as you decide what’s right for you.
- Broadcast TV: This is the oldest type of TV, and it works over the air. Substations send signals out over a wide area, and antennas connected to TV sets unscramble the signal into video. In most areas, the four local broadcast channels are ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX. You may also get local educational channels such as PBS. The best part of broadcast television is that it’s free and suitable for a wide audience. The downside? You need an antenna if you don’t have a TV subscription. You can find a decent digital antenna to watch in HD for about $20, and some TVs come with a built-in antenna. Find out how to get TV for free.
- Cable TV: This widely available TV tech type uses a series of coaxial cables both outside and inside your house. Cable companies provide set-top boxes that unscramble the data for your TV. Most cable providers also provide on-demand content to watch anytime and DVR tech so you can skip commercials and record programs to watch later. The upside of cable is dozens or even hundreds of channels to choose from, but the downsides are monthly costs and contracts plus (sometimes significant) extra fees.
- Satellite TV: This TV type is available anywhere you can mount a dish with a clear view of the southern sky. It works by beaming data from a satellite dish orbiting space to the receiver dish at your house. Like with cable, you’ll need a set-top box to unscramble the data, and you’ll need to deal with contracts, monthly fees, and hidden fees. You’ll get access to hundreds of channels, though, and picture quality is among the best available. Learn about satellite vs. cable TV.
- Streaming live TV: This TV tech uses digital signals sent over the internet to provide live TV service. As long as you have internet access and a device that can handle the provider’s app, you’re good to go.
TV providers and contracts: what you need to know
Some legacy cable TV providers and both major satellite providers require you to sign contracts when you sign up for service. These usually range from 12–36 months. If you want to get out early, you will be charged cancellation fees (also known as early termination fees or ETFs). Usually, they start at about $10 for each month remaining in your contract. Some providers even hike monthly prices in year two, without letting you out of your obligation to pay. It’s not awesome.
Contracts aren’t all bad, though. They let providers roll the costs of installation into the monthly price, so you don’t have to pay a lot at the beginning. Contracts sometimes also come with price locks, so you won’t have to worry about your bill going up for a few years. Whether you’re approaching a second-year price hike or nearing the end of your three-year rate lock, we think it’s worth it to call customer service and try to negotiate a new deal. It’ll take a little patience and a little time, but the monthly savings could really add up.
Another good thing about contracts? With the growing popularity of streaming services and internet live TV, they’re starting to fade away. However, they’re still something to be aware of before you switch to a new service. Each of our TV service reviews gives you what you need to know about contracts under the pricing tab.
The national stampede toward live TV streaming services
Streaming video has been around since the early days of the internet, and more and more households are canceling linear cable and satellite TV subscriptions entirely. According to the Liechtman Research Group (LRG), the biggest cable providers lost nearly 1 million of their combined 38.6 million subscribers in just three months in 2022. Of the remaining customers,more than 8 million already get TV delivered over the internet. (4)
If you’re thinking about joining the cord cutters, you have a huge variety of options.
You can pay for a streaming service with an existing TV provider. You’ll get access to a lot of the same content and may still be able to use cloud DVR services, but you’ll need a separate subscription for broadband internet. DIRECTV STREAM is one of the top offerings in this space, and our pick for streaming services for news junkies. Sling TV, which is the current iteration of the streaming offering from DISH, is our #1 cheap streaming service that offers live TV.
Another popular option is to pay for internet from one provider and choose a separate live streaming service, such as YouTube TV, Sling TV, or Hulu + Live TV. Using your existing internet connection, you’ll find many of the same channel lineups and premium services as with regular cable TV. You may have to bring your own streaming device, but free trials are very common.
The last option worth mentioning is on-demand streaming services like Netflix, Prime Video, Paramount+ and Disney+. These services store a library of content you can watch anytime, anywhere you have access to a streaming device and broadband internet service. Some, like Paramount’s Pluto TV and Amazon’s Freevee, are supported by ads rather than subscriptions. Often, people sign up for multiple on-demand streaming services in addition to a live TV service.
Interested in reading the legacy TV providers behind? Read our complete guide to cutting the cord.
Understanding channel lineups and premium add-ons
Wait, you hand over a fat stack of Hamiltons every month for live TV service, but you’re still locked out of the best channels? It’s often true, and it’s one of the worst things about linear TV in 2023. Here’s how it works:
This is the channel lineup you get with most providers’ lowest-tier TV package. It generally includes your local broadcast networks plus popular options like Comedy Central, Fox News, MSNBC, Food Network, and HGTV.
These are the free channels you get over the air, and include local channels like ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, and FOX. You can get them for free with a digital antenna, but will likely be charged a local broadcast fee to get them as part of your cable or satellite TV service.
Some of the best movies and hottest shows are available only by paying an extra $10–$20 per month on top of your TV subscription. Some of the most popular add-ons include HBO, EPIX, and STARZ. Depending on the add-on, you may get access to just one channel, multiple channels featuring similar content, or bonus on-demand content.
Some popular local sports are available on broadcast or basic cable channels, but watching almost any specialty sport or the best out-of-town games requires sports add-ons. These are available at the league level, with packages like NFL SUNDAY TICKET or MLB EXTRA INNINGS. You can also pay extra for college, international, and league coverage.
The in and outs of DVRs in 2023
Once upon a time, recording live TV was a revelation! People dedicated entire storage rooms to VHS tapes of their favorite shows. Then, along came digital video recording (DVR) machines that automatically recorded shows at the press of a button.
Fast forward to 2023 (see what we did there?), and watching your favorite shows as they air is even less compelling. Some households still love their DVRs, top-of-the-line set-top DVRs let you record up to 16 shows at once, save thousands of shows to watch later, and watch DVR content from anywhere. You’ll usually pay a DVR rental fee and potentially a DVR access fee with this type of system.
The benefits of cloud DVR
Other providers, especially those that offer streaming live TV services, rely on cloud DVR. It does all the same things you’d expect from a physical DVR, but you need broadband internet and a streaming device to watch. Cloud DVR fees are common, and you may need a streaming stick or smart TV with storage capability.
If you haven’t thought of DVRs since the final season of Lost aired during that fateful February in 2010, we get you. Many people rely on streaming services these days, and we expect physical DVRs to soon go the way of the VHS storage rooms that came before.
Learn how much DVR storage you need.
TV subscription service fees
If you’re new to paying for live TV, you might be shocked by your first bill. The real price you must pay each month can be a lot higher than advertised prices. Every provider does billing a little differently, but these extra fees can be found on almost every bill:
- An equipment fee
- A broadcast fee
- A regional sports fee
- Local taxes and fees
- Administrative costs
Learn how to read your TV bill (and find ways to save).
Still hungry for more live TV know-how?
Our expert team does more than just review providers. They’ve written the book on everything you need to know about TV service. We also have some great info on switching internet providers.
How we ranked TV providers in 2023
Our biggest priority is to help you feel confident about deciding whether it’s time to switch providers. We do the heavy lifting, provide accurate and up-to-date info, and give you the context you need to make sense of it all. We’re on your side in this journey, and our ranking system for TV providers reflects our commitment to customer advocacy.
To earn your trust, we had to understand your perspective. That’s why we started by talking with folks from all walks of life who had switched TV providers in the last 12 months. We also sent out surveys and sourced reviews from verified customers in our attempt and found out the following:
- What switchers really care about
- How switchers make decisions about TV providers
- What problems switchers face along the way
We compiled what we learned to create a (hopefully) fair way to judge all TV providers, regardless of their footprint. We want to recognize the companies out there providing the best viewing experiences to their customers, and our star rankings reflect that.
With our ranking criteria in hand, our experts went right to the source for each provider. We looked beyond ads and resellers to find out what’s available to real people. Here’s a sampling of our efforts:
- Hours of research on provider websites
- Discussions with chat bots
- Deep dives on help documentation
- Real shopping cart experience
- When possible, live testing of services and the equipment
Along the way, we kept talking to real people. We read customer reviews from the internet, we browsed frequently asked questions, and added it all to our decades of combined experience to put it all in perspective.
Our experts looked at what you get for the money with each TV provider. We compared all the package lineups and pricing tiers to find out how many channels you get for your dollar. Having a lot of options is important, but we didn’t stop there.
Next, we examined channel lineups and compared them against America’s favorite channels to find out whether you can get what you want with providers in your area. (5) We also kept an eye out for what some of our reviewers called “filler channels,” such as music and shopping channels. These can artificially inflate channel counts without adding much value, and we didn’t want to lead you astray.
Once the data was in, we recommended the best TV providers, the packages we liked most, and the packages we don’t think are worth it for most people. We also looked at ways you can save by bundling services, all to help you find a good fit.
For this category, we thought about what makes a TV experience unique. We dug up DVR offerings and looked at the bells and whistles of remotes and set-top boxes from each provider. Voice remotes got a lot of love, but set-top boxes without built-in DVR or updated tech earned a ding.
We also researched mobile apps from each provider, and tried them out ourselves when we could. We found out what was good, what was only OK, and what was a waste of storage space on your smartphone or streaming stick.
Equipment and installation
Getting set up with a new provider can be a real hassle, so we looked at everything you need to know before you decide to make a change. We found out how much installation costs, whether you can do it yourself (and save money in the process), and how long it takes. We also looked into the different kinds of equipment you need for different TV tech and what it takes to return it all if you’re not satisfied.
Next, we compared compatibility with streaming sticks and home entertainment systems, such as that sweet Sony Soundbar or the Bose Surround system you sprung for last year. Finding a TV service that’s right for you means finding one that works with your gear, without a lot of hassle or confusion.
Sports and premium channels
What’s live TV without the sports and movies you crave? Our research confirmed our assumption that these are among the top reasons to subscribe to TV service. We looked at the availability of regional and national sports, movies, and shows that fit your unique needs, whether that’s foreign language films, loads of home improvement content, or news and education from around the world.
To help you understand your options, we looked at what you can get in basic packages compared to what requires pricey add-ons. We gave the highest scores to providers that included premium options in regular pricing, and we applauded providers that make it easy to pay only for what you want to watch. We also called out promotional deals on premium channels, and noted that these deals can feel like hidden fees a few months down the line if you forget to cancel.
Our star rankings reflect our research-based findings on the best TV providers doing business today, even if those providers don’t serve a lot of households. At the same time, we recognize it’s not always helpful to highlight cable TV providers that are impossible for most people to get. For that reason, we rejiggered our ranking formula to give more weight to availability in our “best of” series. We also used availability as a tiebreaker in our star rankings, because a service that’s easy to get offers more value than one that makes big promises, but just can’t deliver.
A little affiliate marketing transparency
Our primary goal is to be helpful as you decide which TV service is right for you—even if you decide it’s time to cut the cord and stick with streaming apps instead of linear TV. But we still need to pay our folks and keep the lights on. To that end, the Switchful business team has struck deals with some of the providers we review to pay us a small fee if you purchase their service after visiting our website.
Our experts on the editorial side don’t know which providers pay us and which don’t. Furthermore, we’ll never recommend a bad service to make a buck, and we won’t hold back our praise for a provider just because there’s no business relationship there. We know how important objectivity is in affiliate marketing, and we’re here to get it right.
That means knowing what you care about, doing the heavy lifting on research, and putting you at ease as we explain our recommendations. You’re in the driver’s seat, and we’re here for navigation, insight…and maybe even a little carpool karaoke.
(1) "FCC National Broadband Map—Altice," FCC. Accessed 20 December 2022.
(2) "Verizon Fios Availability Map," Broadband Now. Accessed 20 December 2022.
(3) "Satisfaction Benchmarks by Company, Internet Service Providers," ACSI. Accessed 20 December 2022.
(4) "Major Pay-TV Providers Lost About 785,000 Subscribers in 3Q 2022," Leichtman Research Group. Accessed 20 December 2022.
(5) "Most-Watched Television Networks: Ranking 2021’s Winners and Losers," Variety. Accessed 20 December 2022.
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