The case for combining live TV streaming services

Mixing YouTube TV with Philo? Or Hulu's live TV service with AT&T Watch? It's not as crazy as it seems.

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Of all the attacks on cord-cutting that we’ve heard over the years, the most common is what I call the “gee whiz” argument: The idea that if you subscribe to a bunch of streaming video services, then gee whiz, the cost of all those subscriptions really adds up. This obvious point is routinely presented as an epiphany by cord-cutting naysayers, none of whom seem to realize that being able to pick and choose is the entire point of ditching cable.

This week, however, I’d like to argue in favor of letting things add up. Given what we know about the average cost of traditional pay TV service—it’s about $100 per month for TV alone, according to Leichtman Research Group and my own examination of FCC data—cord-cutters often have plenty of wiggle room to stack up streaming services and still save money.

In fact, you might even be able to combine multiple live TV bundles for more complete coverage and still come out ahead of cable, even when you’re paying for some of the same channels twice.

Suggested pairings

Look at the channel lineups for live TV streaming services, and you’ll notice that certain services can fill in the gaps in others.

With YouTube TV, for instance, you won’t get channels from Viacom (such as Comedy Central and Nickelodeon), Scripps Networks (such as HGTV and Food Network), Discovery, or A&E. And with Hulu’s live TV service, you won’t get channels from Viacom or AMC. (Discovery channels are currently missing as well, but Hulu plans to add five of them in December.)

Most of those channels are available through skinnier live TV services. Philo includes most channels from Viacom, Scripps, Discovery, and A&E for $16 per month to $20 per month. AT&T Watch also offers channels from those networks—though not as many—for $15 per month, along with a few unique ones like the Hallmark Channel. And if you have one of AT&T’s “Unlimited &More” wireless data plans, you can get the Watch service for free.

Below is a chart showing how these four bundles overlap, along with the minimum price of each bundle for the channel in question:

huluyoutubeskinny Jared Newman / IDG

Both YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV cost $40 per month, so you could combine either service with Philo or AT&T Watch for less than $60 per month—far less than the average $100-per-month cable bill.

Granted, you can get many of the same channels through DirecTV Now, and you’d pay about the same price without having to switch between multiple apps, but channel lineups aren’t the only reason to pick one bundle over another. Both YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV both offer slicker interfaces and additional perks, such as YouTube’s Originals and Hulu’s vast on-demand catalog.

Those aren’t the only cases where you could mix and match, either. If you enjoy PlayStation Vue for its NFL Redzone coverage and unlimited 28-day DVR, but have been missing Viacom channels since Sony dropped the network’s programming in late 2016, Philo and AT&T Watch present a way to add them back. And while you might subscribe to FuboTV ($45 per month) for its extensive soccer coverage, tacking on a Sling TV Orange subscription ($25 per month) would allow you to keep getting ESPN and Disney channels, while still paying far less than $100 per month for TV.

Why mixing and matching makes sense

The standard cord-cutting disclaimer still applies here: What I’m describing might not work for everyone.

Jumping between different apps to access all your TV channels is somewhat of a hassle, as is dealing with different policies on DVR and ad-skipping. Hulu, for instance, will store 40 hours of recordings indefinitely, while Philo stores unlimited programs for 30 days. YouTube TV will store unlimited programs for nine months, but often prevents you from skipping ads. AT&T Watch doesn’t offer DVR at all.

It’s also possible that your internet provider is giving you a big discount on TV service, wiping out your potential cord-cutting savings. USA Today’s Jefferson Graham, for instance, recently wrote that Frontier Communications is only charging him an extra $40 for TV. Good for him, and good for you if you’re getting a similar deal after factoring in all of cable’s sneaky fees and equipment rental costs.

But in talking to prospective cord-cutters over the years, I’ve heard plenty of counter-examples in which TV alone costs well over $100 per month. Besides, the data we’ve seen on average bills backs up the notion that if you’re spending less money with traditional TV, you’re an outlier. In most cases, streaming TV services are a better deal because there are no cable box rental fees, fewer channels overall, and slim-to-negative profit margins for providers amid fierce competition.

The result is a strange situation where even a couple of live TV streaming services can be cheaper than a single cable bundle. Want to mix YouTube TV with Philo, or Hulu’s live TV service with AT&T Watch? Don’t let anyone discourage you, even if the costs do add up.

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