By now you’ve probably considered cutting the cable TV cord to save money on your TV bill. Maybe you’re fine without paying for live TV. You watch mostly Netflix and YouTube anyway, and when you want live TV, you just use an antenna.
Then again, maybe you want more: a full slate of live TV channels streamed over the internet, including your local ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC stations, without having to futz around with an antenna or cable box.
Today you’ve got plenty of options. Six major services — DirecTV Now, Fubo TV, Hulu with Live TV, PlayStation Vue, Sling TV and YouTube TV — stream multiple channels of live TV over the Internet, including local channels. Each has its plusses and minuses, including pricing (starting at $25 per month), features (like cloud DVRs) and user interface, but the biggest differentiator is channel lineup.
All carry national channels such as AMC, CNN, ESPN and Nickelodeon, but they also offer local channels too, including the Big Four networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) as well as My TV and The CW in many cities (Note: CBS is the parent company of CNET.) The problem is, not every city gets all four networks, especially if you live outside a major metropolitan area.
That’s where this chart comes in:
DirecTV Now vs. Fubo TV vs. Hulu with Live TV vs. PlayStation Vue vs. Sling TV vs. YouTube TV: CNET’s big local channel chart (updated August 17, 2018)
The chart — which is too big to fit on this page, so I made it a Google spreadsheet — answers the question of which streaming local channels are available where. You see, just because a service like DirecTV Now offers Fox, that doesn’t mean it offers your local Fox station live. If you live in Asheville, Las Vegas or Schenectady, for example, DirecTV Now doesn’t carry your local Fox station. Hulu and YouTube TV do, however.
I’m not picking on DirecTV Now. The ‘missing station’ thing is an issue for every service except YouTube TV, which isn’t available nationwide. In 96 of the 99 markets it does serve, however, YouTube TV has all four stations.
To find out whether your particular city is covered with live, streaming, local TV, I reached out to all six services and asked them to list every local channel they currently have available for live streaming. I put them together into the big chart above, showing local streaming coverage from Miami to Anchorage and everywhere in between.
Update August 2018: Local TV streaming grows up
The last time I updated the same chart (archived here) was August 2017. The five services that streamed live local TV then had a total of 630 local stations. At the time I didn’t include Fubo TV because that service hadn’t yet added any local channels — it began doing so in September 2017.
The updated August 2018 chart above more than triples that amount, detailing 2,035 local channels between the six services. In other words, a lot more people now have access to their local TV stations — streamed live over the internet — than a year ago.
Some fun facts, according to the chart:
- 205 different TV markets in the US have access to at least one local channel from a streaming service.
- Most of the top 50 markets have three or four live local stations from every service, with the exception of Sling TV (which has barely any) and Fubo TV (which lacks ABC stations).
- The smallest market (according to Nielsen, pdf) with at least one live local streaming channel is North Platte, Nebraska.
- Of the big four networks, Fox stations are the most-carried nationwide, with 560 across all six services. The others in descending order are CBS (496), NBC (457) and ABC (343).
- No service carries any PBS station. Many carry Telemundo and Univision, but I didn’t include those in the chart.
- Hulu offers the most total local stations for streaming, with a whopping 624. (It’s also the only one to serve my hometown of Medford, Oregon. KTVL FTW!)
- The others in descending order are YouTube TV (511), DirecTV Now (360), Fubo TV (260) and PlayStation Vue (252). Sling TV brings up the rear with just 28 total channels.
- After Fubo TV, YouTube TV has grown the fastest, going from 105 local channels last August to 511 today.
- Hulu and DirecTV Now have grown fast too, more than tripling their local channel counts in a year.
- Sling TV has actually decreased its local channel count (from 36 to 28) since it removed its Broadcast Extra option for Orange customers.
With the exception of Sling, all five services continue to add local channels in an attempt to sign up viewers. Because most local stations, aka network affiliates, are owned by companies other than one of the big four networks in question, they usually require separate contracts with providers like streaming services, cable systems and satellite networks.
Sometimes those contracts don’t work out. A major case in point came in May, when Sinclair Broadcasting Group, a major owner of local stations nationwide, pulled its stations from Sony’s PlayStation Vue service. Vue lost a good chunk of channels, moving from second-most in August of 2017 to second-to-last now, beating only Sling. Even Fubo TV has more local channels than Vue.
Alternatives to streaming local TV
Rather than pay for a live TV service like this, thousands of cord cutters choose to install an antenna and watch over-the-air TV for free. Aside from the cost savings, antennas have the added advantage of picking up every available local, including public broadcast stations.
Many services offer on-demand shows from the big four majors, often with a day or two delay, even if the live network affiliate isn’t available. But that doesn’t help much if you want to watch the local news or live sports, such as football. (Many local stations throughout the country also offer apps on Roku and other devices that deliver live or tape-delayed on-demand versions of just the local news, too.)
Furthermore, many ABC, NBC and Fox shows also hit Hulu’s standard, cheaper service (in addition to the Hulu with Live TV service discussed here) soon after they air. And of course, you could always get a cut-rate cable TV package, which typically includes all local channels in your area.
CBS All Access also offers the live local feed for CBS in select markets for $6 per month, no cable service required. The other big networks also have apps that offer live local channels, but typically you have to sign in to them using a cable/satellite provider username and password.
As more and more TV viewing takes place over the internet, live TV streaming of local channels will become increasingly important to people looking for an alternative to cable or satellite. If it hasn’t arrived in your town yet on the service of your choice, you might not have long to wait.
Originally published July 20, 2017.
Update, Aug. 14: Added August 2018 section, Fubo TV, The CW and 1200+ new stations.
Aug 15: Added 34 new DirecTV Now stations that launched on August 15.
Aug 17: Corrected YouTube tally to 511 total. Updated other totals accordingly.