YouTube TV: The best premium live-TV streaming service

Nancy J. Delong

Sarah Tew/CNET If you’re the kind of cord cutter who wants a carefree transition from cable TV, and don’t mind paying $50 a month, YouTube TV is the live TV streaming service for you. It’s easy to use, slick and fast on a variety of TV and mobile devices. Its […]

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Sarah Tew/CNET

If you’re the kind of cord cutter who wants a carefree transition from cable TV, and don’t mind paying $50 a month, YouTube TV is the live TV streaming service for you. It’s easy to use, slick and fast on a variety of TV and mobile devices. Its cloud DVR is the best in the business, with unlimited storage and pretty much all the capabilities of a hardware DVR such as TiVo. Plus its channel selection is top-notch, including numerous cable stables and coverage of all four local networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) in most markets nationwide. (Note that CBS is the parent company of CNET and Showtime.) It’s also the only multichannel streaming service with local PBS stations. In short, you might not even miss cable.

Like

  • YouTube TV offers an extensive channel lineup for the price
  • Superb cloud DVR
  • Excellent on-screen interface and handy search bar
  • One easy-to-grasp channel package

Don’t Like

  • Missing some key channels such as MTV, Comedy Channel and Nickelodeon
  • Higher price than Sling TV and similar competitors

At $50, YouTube TV competes against premium services Hulu with Live TVAT&T TV Now and Fubo TV and it’s better than all three. (It’s only available in the US, but the price converts to about £40 or AU$80) At this price it may not save you much money over cable TV, however, especially if you have a good TV-plus-internet bundle from your current provider. For cord cutters who want more savings in their live TV package, we recommend Sling TV Blue instead at $30 monthly, awarding that service our Editors’ Choice Award as the best budget option.

YouTube TV costs a lot more than Sling TV, but for people used to the myriad channels and easy DVR of cable or satellite, it’s worth it. That’s why we’ve awarded YouTube TV our Editors’ Choice Award among premium live TV services.


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What do you get?

YouTube TV is completely separate from YouTube, the free video service with more than 2 billion users a month. YouTube TV offers an experience similar to cable TV, with live channels and on-demand content available on a variety of devices. It works with Apple TV, Roku, Android TV, ChromecastAmazon Fire TV along with numerous smart TVs, phones, tablets and web browsers. 

The service operates in much the same way as competitors — there’s a program guide, a DVR and dozens of channels. But what really separates YouTube TV from other premium ($50-plus a month) services such as AT&T TV Now, Hulu with Live TV and FuboTV?

Services compared

Premium services YouTube TV AT&T TV Now Hulu with Live TV FuboTV
Base price $50 a month for 70+ channels $65 a month for 45+ channels $55 a month for 60+ channels $55 a month for 90+ channels
Total number of popular (top 100) channels 67 43 59 64
ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC channels Yes Yes Yes Only CBS, Fox and NBC (no ABC)
Record shows for later (cloud DVR) Yes (keep for 9 months) Yes (500 hours, keep for 30 days) Yes (50 hours, 200 hours for $10 a month) Yes (30 hours, 500 hours for $10 a month
Step-up packages with more channels No Yes No Yes
Simultaneous streams per account 3 3 2 ($15 option for unlimited) 2 ($6 option for 3)
Fast-forward through or skip commercials with cloud DVR Yes Yes No (Yes with $15 option) Yes

YouTube TV’s channel selection is excellent, with more from our list of 100 top channels than any other competitor. I’ve said this before, but more channels doesn’t necessarily mean more of what you want: Some services such as FuboTV lean heavily on sports while others are more wide-ranging. It’s best to check the list at the end of this article to make sure you’re getting the channels you want.

Case in point: If you’re a big fan of the New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks or another MLB, NBA or NHL team, YouTube TV might not be for you. That’s because the networks that carry those teams’ games, so-called RSNs like YES Network, Marquee Sports and Fox Sports West, could be dropped from YouTube TV. If one of those networks is a must-have for you, you might have to go with an option like Hulu.

Like Hulu, YouTube TV doesn’t offer any add-on channel packages, although it does have a handful of single-channel add-ons like Showtime and Epix. In the coming months, you’ll also be able to add HBO (and HBO Max in June) to your subscription. Until then you can always stream HBO from somewhere else, such as the HBO Now app, the Apple TV app or Amazon Prime Video Channels.

What’s it like to use?

YouTube TV’s user interface is fairly simple. There are three top-level tabs broken into Library, Home and Live. Library is where your DVR content lives. Home is where both featured and live thumbnails appear. The Live tab is a familiar-looking program grid which shows currently playing and upcoming shows. You can search for content from the top of any page, which makes it relatively easy to jump straight to the content you want. You can also perform searches with a compatible voice remote or Google Assistant. 

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You can connect to YouTube to watch related clips.


Ty Pendlebury/CNET

The service’s tie-in to YouTube proper is welcome — with YouTube originals included — though it could be more tightly integrated, especially on TV devices. For example, a content page appears when you press the Go To button on a show, and a Related on YouTube item appears at the bottom. It would be helpful to have thumbnails of related interviews and trailers appear more prominently on this page without having to delve into menus.

The DVR works well and includes the ability to rewind and fast-forward freely through recordings, even ones that aren’t yet completed. The Roku interface offers a 15-second skip by default while the Apple TV’s control system is even better. You can use the touch pad to scroll through videos — and it’s glorious! It’s so much fun and thumbnails make it relatively easy to home in on the part you want.

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The DVR enables you to fast-forward and rewind, while Apple TV enables you to scrub through the timeline.


Sarah Tew/CNET

The early version of YouTube TV’s cloud DVR had an issue, however. When a show appeared in a network’s on-demand library, it would automatically replace the version in your cloud DVR. That means you’d lose the ability to fast-forward through commercials. YouTube TV says it got rid of that restriction in October 2018, but some CNET readers have complained that it still occurs at times.

Additionally, YouTube TV’s DVR is not truly unlimited. The shows expire after nine months, but this is still a lot longer than the 30 days you get with most rivals.

Will YouTube TV actually save you money?

That $50 monthly price makes it that much tougher to save money compared with cable. If you pay around $50 for just your internet service, that’s a total of $100 a month. Many cable TV providers will give you a TV-and-internet bundle for around the same money.

Prices vary a lot, of course, and with cable you probably have to pay rental equipment fees, taxes and other extras. And cable providers usually reserve the best bundle pricing for people who sign a contract. The same goes for new “streaming” offerings such as AT&T TV and Comcast’s Infinity Flex.

Like Hulu with Live TV, Sling TV and others, YouTube TV is contract-free so you can cancel at any time. Streaming services also have other advantages over cable. They’re easier to watch on phones and tablets, for example. At $50 per month, however, you’ll have to be coming from a relatively expensive cable bill to realize substantial savings with YouTube TV.

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The service comes with a comprehensive program guide.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Should you get it?

If price is no object, YouTube TV is my favorite live streaming service, but the value proposition will be tough for a lot of people. If you don’t want to be beholden to a traditional cable company — and can get a good broadband-only internet package on the cheap — YouTube TV is attractive. For serious cord cutters on a budget, however, Sling TV is a better bet, especially when paired with an antenna or even AirTV 2.

Channel lineups compared

Channel YouTube TV ($50) Hulu with Live TV ($55) Fubo TV ($55) AT&T TV Now ($65)
Total channels: 67 59 64 43
ABC Yes Yes No Yes
CBS Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fox Yes Yes Yes Yes
NBC Yes Yes Yes Yes
PBS Yes No No No
CW Yes Yes Yes Yes
MyNetworkTV Yes Yes Yes Yes
Channel YouTube TV ($50) Hulu with Live TV ($55) Fubo TV ($55) AT&T TV Now ($65)
A&E No Yes Yes $
ACC Network Yes Yes No No
AMC Yes No Yes $
Animal Planet Yes Yes No $
BBC America Yes No Yes $
BBC World News Yes No $ $
BET No No Yes $
Big Ten Network Yes Yes Yes $
Bloomberg TV No No No $
Boomerang No Yes $ $
Bravo Yes Yes Yes $
Channel YouTube TV ($50) Hulu with Live TV ($55) Fubo TV ($55) AT&T TV Now ($65)
Cartoon Network Yes Yes Yes Yes
CBS Sports Network Yes Yes Yes $
Cheddar Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cinemax No $ No $
CMT No No Yes $
CNBC Yes Yes Yes Yes
CNN Yes Yes Yes Yes
Comedy Central No No Yes Yes
Cooking Channel No $ $ $
Destination America No $ $ $
Discovery Channel Yes Yes Yes $
Disney Channel Yes Yes No Yes
Disney Junior Yes Yes No Yes
Disney XD Yes Yes No Yes
DIY No $ $ $
E! Yes Yes Yes Yes
EPIX $ No No No
ESPN Yes Yes No Yes
ESPN 2 Yes Yes No Yes
ESPNEWS Yes Yes No $
ESPNU Yes Yes No $
Channel YouTube TV ($50) Hulu with Live TV ($55) Fubo TV ($55) AT&T TV Now ($65)
Food Network Yes Yes Yes $
Fox Business Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fox News Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fox Sports 1 Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fox Sports 2 Yes Yes Yes $
Freeform Yes Yes No Yes
FX Yes Yes No Yes
FX Movies Yes Yes No Yes
FXX Yes Yes No Yes
FYI No $ Yes $
Golf Channel Yes Yes Yes $
Hallmark No No Yes Yes
HBO No $ No Yes
HGTV Yes Yes Yes $
History No Yes Yes $
HLN Yes Yes Yes Yes
IFC Yes No Yes $
Investigation Discovery Yes Yes Yes $
Lifetime No Yes Yes $
Lifetime Movie Network No $ Yes $
Channel YouTube TV ($50) Hulu with Live TV ($55) Fubo TV ($55) AT&T TV Now ($65)
MLB Network Yes No No $
Motor Trend Yes Yes Yes $
MSNBC Yes Yes Yes Yes
MTV No No Yes Yes
MTV2 No No $ $
National Geographic Yes Yes Yes Yes
Nat Geo Wild Yes Yes Yes Yes
NBA TV Yes No Yes $
NBC Sports Network Yes Yes Yes Yes
Newsy Yes No $ No
NFL Network No No Yes No
NFL Red Zone No No $ No
NHL Network No No No $
Nickelodeon No No Yes Yes
Nick Jr. No No Yes Yes
Nicktoons No No $ $
OWN Yes No Yes $
Oxygen Yes Yes Yes Yes
Paramount Network No No Yes $
Channel YouTube TV ($50) Hulu with Live TV ($55) Fubo TV ($55) AT&T TV Now ($65)
Science No $ $ $
SEC Network Yes Yes No $
Showtime $ $ $ $
Smithsonian Yes Yes Yes No
Starz $ $ No $
Sundance TV Yes No Yes $
Syfy Yes Yes Yes Yes
Tastemade Yes No No No
TBS Yes Yes Yes Yes
TCM Yes Yes Yes Yes
Telemundo Yes Yes Yes Yes
Tennis Channel Yes No $ $
TLC Yes Yes Yes $
TNT Yes Yes Yes Yes
Travel Channel Yes Yes Yes $
TruTV Yes Yes Yes Yes
TV Land No No Yes $
Univision No No Yes $
USA Network Yes Yes Yes Yes
VH1 No No Yes Yes
Viceland No Yes Yes $
WE tv Yes No Yes $
Channel YouTube TV ($50) Hulu with Live TV ($55) Fubo TV ($55) AT&T TV Now ($65)
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