Your Guide To Building The Perfect Discount TV Bundle

Post by: Rick Ellis

When most people discuss the cost of cable television, the conversation focuses on a comparison between traditional cable and satellite TV options vs the newer virtual cable television alternatives. The so-called "skinny" cable services have struggled to stay skinny, because the major media companies have increasingly insisted on bundling all of their networks into one take-it-or-leave it package. So these new services are being forced to take it all - local broadcast networks, scores of minor and little-watched niche networks as well as a complete suite of sports networks. And since "favored nation" clauses in these deals ensures no service can get a discount on any of the networks, the result has been an increasingly large and expensive cable alternative.

But this is 2020 and a lot of people are out of work or dealing with other financial challenges. And they still want some sort of television subscription that includes some live networks as well as next-day on-demand options. It's possible to do that on a budget, with a couple of caveats. First of all, this only works if you're not a big sports fan and are not expecting to be able to watch every major cable network live. In most cases, you're also going to have to make alternative plans for your local television stations, which is relatively easy with a decent television antenna. Thanks to the channel bundling, it's also almost impossible to see the news channels CNN. Fox & MSNBC on a budget. But there are several places to watch highlights of your favorite cable television programs and both ABC and CBS offer 24/7 news channels that are available for free.

I WANT A BUNCH OF LIVE ENTERTAINMENT NETWORKS AND I DON'T WANT TO SPEND MORE THAN $20 A MONTH
Editor's Choice: Philo ($20 per month)

Philo bills itself as an "entertainment-only" service and it delivers on that promise. You get 60 live channels for $20 per month and they offer a pretty wide range of familiar names - everything from Hallmark and AMC to Food and MTV. All of the Discovery-owned networks, all the Viacom channels, all the Hallmark nets as well as the AMC Networks. Along with lots of smaller niche networks like AXSTV and INSP. The downside is that because Philo won't carry anything but entertainment networks, they can't get access to entertainment networks owned by the big media companies that also own sports networks and local affiliates. So you won't find any of the networks from NBCU (Syfy, Bravo, USA, MSNBC), Turner (TNT, TBS, CNN, Cartoon Network) and Disney (Freeform, Disney, NatGeo). That's an issue if you specifically want one of those networks live. But if you just want a number of familiar networks, Philo is a great place to start. Philo also offers an unlimited DVR, which is another upside. If there is a downside, it's that you can't use your Philo subscription to authenticate TV Everywhere apps.

Runner-up Choice: Frndly ($5.99 a month)
This newer service offers 15 channels. But if you mostly just want the Hallmark networks, this is a solid choice. You get all three Hallmark Networks, along with some weather (Weather Channel), outdoor sports (Outdoor Channel, Sportsman Channel & World Fishing Network), along with the Game Show Network, QVC and some other smaller networks. 

I WOULD LIKE SOMETHING A BIT CLOSER TO TRADITIONAL CABLE, BUT I ONLY WANT TO SPEND $30 A MONTH
Editor's Choice: Sling Blue or Sling Orange ($30 a month)
Sling has a really screwy set of programming tiers and it all gets down to its initial deal with Disney. Disney demanded restrictions on things like the number of concurrent streams (Disney wanted just one) as well as what programming subscribers could record. Those restrictions were much more customer-unfriendly than the terms set by the other major media companies, so Sling's solution was to create two separate but not-so-equal programming packages. 

Sling Orange includes the Disney-owned channels such as Disney, Freeform and the various ESPN nets. Along with a number of other networks. Among other things, you can only have one person streaming at a time with this package. Sling Blue contains a bunch of NBCU networks, but omits the Disney-owned channels. With Sling Blue, you can have three concurrent streams. And there are some additional networks that are included as part of both packages.

Both packages include A&E, AMC, AXSTV, BBC America, Bloomberg, Cartoon Network, Cheddar, CNN, Comedy Central, Comet, EPIX Drive-In, Food, HGTV, History, IFC, ID, Lifetime, Local Now, Newsy, TBS, TNT, Travel Channel and Vice. Sling Orange also includes Disney Channel, ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN 3, Freeform, Motor Trend and Stadium. Sling Blue doesn't include any of those networks, but it does include Bravo, Discovery, E!, the local Fox affiliate in some markets, Fox News Channel, FS1, FX, HLN, MSNBC, National Geographic, NBC Sports in some markets, the local NBC affiliate in some markets, Syfy, TLC, TruTV & USA. 

So the final count is 32 networks on Sling Orange and 45 networks on Sling Blue. Either package runs $30 per month. The biggest disadvantage is that Sling only includes ten hours of free DVR space, otherwise an unlimited DVR costs $5 per month.

Runner-up choice: Obviously, a lot of this decision is driven by whether or not you have any "must-have" networks. If you don't, it's worth suggesting that for about the same money - $32 a month - you could subscribe to Philo as well as Hulu and CBS All-Access. The Hulu subscription not only gets you the Hulu originals but next-day viewing on just about all the shows you can't get on Philo. CBS All-Access gets you all of that services originals, plus next-day viewing of CBS programs as well as the local CBS affiliate feed in nearly all of the U.S. markets. Adding the new Peacock service would up the total to either $35 or $37 per month, depending on whether you subscribed before the launch (this is the pro-rated amount for an annual subscription). That would add more next-day viewing of NBCU network programming, along with some originals, sports and news coverage. As well as other on-demand titles not available elsewhere, such as "The Office" and "Everybody Loves Raymond." CBS All-Access also includes streams for CBS Sports and the 24/7 news network CBSN. And honestly, at this point you've got about all the new television you could ever watch. Unless you're a sports fan.

And if you're a fan of The CW, it's worth noting that the free CW app offers next-day viewing for nearly all of their programming. 

I WANT A TRADITIONAL CABLE TV EXPERIENCE, BUT I WANT TO PAY AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE

Editor's Choice: Hulu Live TV ($54.99 a month)
Even after a recent rate hike, Hulu Live TV is both substantially cheaper than a traditional cable or satellite TV subscription as well as rival YouTube TV ($64.99 a month). And as a bonus, subscribers to Hulu Live TV also get all the features of the traditional Hulu subscription, which saves $5.99 a month. It takes a bit of getting used to Hulu Live TV's distinctive interface and to be honest even after subscribing for more than a year, I'm not sure that I'd describe it as "intuitive." But you get used to it and as someone who has tried out all of these services, Hulu Live TV is the best deal financially and the best choice overall as a virtual replacement for a traditional cable or satellite TV subscription.

I WANT A TRADITIONAL CABLE TV EXPERIENCE, BUT I REALLY LIKE SPORTS

Editor's Choice: Fubo TV ($54.99)

If you're a sports fan, there is no better choice than Fubo TV. This service began as a sports-centric streamer and over the past several years it has been forced to expand its non-sports offerings to get some of the bigger sports networks. But now it offers the best of both worlds-a solid lineup of traditional networks as well as a huge selection of major and minor sports networks. It's in the middle of some programming turmoil right now, since it recently lost the carriage rights to all of the Turner Networks. But on the upside, it is adding a wide variety of Disney-owned networks in early August. Sports viewing-like any other programming niche-is really dependent on personal taste. If you love Big Ten Football, then you're going to subscribe to the vMVPD that carries the Big Ten Network. But if you just love sports of all kinds, then Fubo TV by far has the best selection of sports programming on the market.

Have any other questions? Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or send me a message on Twitter at @aysrick.




Last modified on Saturday, 10 October 2020 10:09