Maybe there will be college football this year. Maybe there wont. In either case, you’ll still have to pay for it. Towards the end of each summer for the last five (wow five!) years, I’ve done a review of all of the available over-the-top streaming television services being offered to see which is the best service for sports fans. This year sees one of the most anticipated changes to a particular service since I began doing these reviews, but regrettably, there is still no perfect answer.
As I always say in these roundups, these reviews are from the focus of a sports fan, with the priority being LSU football. If you’re not a lonely bachelor or bachelorette, it’s important to talk with the other TV viewers in your household about what’s most important to them. No use in getting the Pac 12 Network if you are suddenly without Paw Patrol or Game Of Thrones (that’s still a thing, right?) so be sure to check out each service’s full channel lineup. Also, I encourage you to try out multiple services before making a decision, because I’m not always right about everything. For example I don’t like the interface on Hulu Live, but maybe you do. All of these services offer week long free trials that are easy to cancel and won’t cost you a dime.
News Since Our Last Update
RIP PS Vue
Alas, some stars that burn brightest burn fastest. While technically impressive and a favorite among football junkies for it’s inclusion of NFL Red Zone and multi-stream features, PS Vue was never able to overcome it’s name and the eternal question that always hobbled it :”Do you need a PlayStaion to use that?” (no, the answer was always no) PS Vue was shut down for good on January 30th, 2020 after a 5 year run.
The Growing Paywall
As we wrote about last year, ESPN+ basically became ESPN3 with a paywall, taking with it many of the lower tier and more obscure college football games we all know and love. While I’ve never had any technical issues with it, it still kinda stinks that stuff we used to get for free with ESPN now requires an additional payment. It has also unfortunately begun a trend among different sports providers of moving things behind paywalls, most notably with soccer going behind CBS All-Access, B/R Live, and NBC Sports Gold. When the day comes that you can pay for all of ESPN directly to ESPN, these platforms will be great, but in these early days of streaming growing pains, it just sucks.
Could The SEC-CBS Marriage Be Over?
In the before time, in the long long ago of December 2019, rumor began to spread of the SEC’s escape from the long years of torment. ESPN, flush with cash, was said to not only be planning to takeover the SEC’s premier game of the week contract from CBS, willing to increase the pay for that one game a week by more than FIVE TIMES what CBS was paying, but that ESPN may even try to buy out the remainder of CBS’s contract to end it sooner. There has been almost no news on the subject since then, due to *waves arms around at the apocalypse we currently live in* so it’s hard to tell where this deal currently stands. Assuming that there will, at some point, be SEC football again, the nightmare of the CSB game may finally be behind us.
2020 Cord Cutting Sports Guide
|Service||YouTube TV||SlingTV||Hulu Live||ATT Now||FuboTV|
|Service||YouTube TV||SlingTV||Hulu Live||ATT Now||FuboTV|
|Minimum SEC Net Cost||$65||$40||$55||$80||$65|
|Maximum Sports Cost||$80||$60||$55||$135||$90*|
|4 Locals||X||Fox and NBC in select major markets||X||X||Fox, NBC, CBS|
|Longhorn||O||X||O||X (Regionally only)||O|
|Fox Soccer Plus||X||O||O||O||X|
|Included DVR||Unlimited (9 month storage)||50 Hours||50 Hours||500 Hours||30 Hours|
|Simultaneous Users||3||1||2 (Upgradable)||3||2 (Upgradable)|
X = Yes, O = No
Minimum SEC Net Cost - What it says on the tin. This is the minimum amount of money per month required to gain access to the SEC Network, a requirement for anyone reading about cord-cutting on an LSU website. Be aware that, in some cases, this minimum cost will not include access to very basic channels like Fox Sports or NBC Sports
Maximum Sports Cost - If you have cash to burn, you’re probably better off just going with a traditional provider, but you can still be a baller in cyberspace if you want to. This amount is what it would cost to receive every US-based linear TV sports channel that each service offers. This does NOT include even further optional sports extras that some services offer, such as NBA League Pass or Fubo’s wide array of foreign language soccer channels
4 Locals - Except where noted, this indicates if a service offers the local affiliates of the Big 4 Broadcasters (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX). Be aware that this still may not mean all four are available in your specific local area. Carriage disputes may also affect availability. Each service offers the ability to check local station availability on their website before purchasing service.
Included DVR - The standard video recording function available with the base account for the service. Some services allow you to purchase additional hours for a cost not listed here.
Simultaneous Users - How many different devices can be logged on and watching live television at the same time from one purchased account. Some of these services allow you to purchase additional simultaneous streams for a cost not listed here.
(Chart note: In addition to the different plans, Fubo offers nearly a dozen add ons targeted at specific sports, like Italian soccer or International cycling. For chart simplicity, I simply listed their Ultra plan as their highest cost option. The note on FSN Regionals is explained below)
In all the years that I have done this semi-annual column, the story with Fubo has always been the same: A really great service, but without the ESPN channels, it’s useless to a college football fan.
Well this summer, the story changed. Fubo finally struck a deal with Disney and the full gamut of ESPNs (minus Longhorn, of course) are now on their channel guide. Meaning that Fubo is the only service in this list that offers all 4 of the conference networks for the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, and Pac 12.
A special note for SEC and ACC fans: those conference networks come included on Fubo’s most basic plan only if you are in a state of that conference’s footprint. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay for a higher tier. For example, Louisiana residents get SECN in the basic tier, but ACCN costs extra.
While this is great news, there are still some drawbacks to Fubo’s lineup that may be a dealbreaker, depending on what other sports you watch. As part of the fallout of the Disney/Fox merger in 2019, the regional Fox Sports Networks (the local RSNs) fell under control of Sinclair. Due to a contract fight, Fubo no longer carries those local stations. In Louisiana, that means no Fox Sports New Orleans, so no Pelicans games, and no Fox Sports South, so no Braves games. Also, as part of a different contract dispute, Fubo dropped the Turner Networks this summer (TBS, TNT, etc) If you’re a big NBA fan, a college basketball fan during March Madness, or want to watch all of the MLB playoffs, that’s a problem. Fubo also doesn’t have local ABC stations, though that is more a side effect of the Disney deal just starting this August. In Louisiana, NBC, CBS, and Fox locals are carried. Fubo is also rare in that it carries the ATT Sportsnet stations, home of my very hard to find Astros.
Fubo’s streaming platform is pretty robust, with apps on all platforms and features like a traditional program guide and picture-in-picture. Their DVR, while not the unlimited all-you-can-eat like YoutubeTV, has a neat feature that allows you to pick from many games that have recently aired and watch them in replay, even if you didn’t record it in advance.
Not much has changed for Youtube TV in the last year. They did recently sign a deal to add Viacom networks (MTV, Cartoon Network, etc) though none of those stations carry any live sports. That channel addition also coincided with a $15 price increase, which makes their service the 2nd most expensive we reviewed.
Youtube TV’s app is still one of the best on any platform, and it’s unlimited DVR is an invaluable feature for any college football fan. With just a few clicks, you can record every CFB game that airs every weekend on every channel, perfect if you spend a Saturday tailgating and want to spend the week catching up on everything. Still no Pac 12, Longhorn, or NFL Networks, and no access to my Astros on ATT Sportsnet.
Speaking of which....
ATT TV Now
I continue to struggle to figure out who in America that ATT TV Now is for. It is quite literally what happens when a cable provider tries to create a streaming service, not realizing that the major reason people want a streaming service is to get away from a costly cable provider. It’s the most expensive service on this list, while not even having premium options like YouTube TV’s endless DVR (though their 500 hour base offering is very robust) or special channels like NFL Network. User reviews on their software continue to point out buggy issues with playback on multiple platforms. And locally, ATT Now STILL does not carry Fox Sports New Orleans in Louisiana, a problem the service has had since it launched years ago.
The one good thing ATT has done in the last year is that the most inexplicable carriage problem in sports has finally been fixed: ATT Now finally carries the ATT Sportsnet networks. Why it took nearly three years for ATT to add the sports networks owned by ATT to the streaming service owned by ATT, I’ll never understand. They do carry Texas’ Longhorn Network, but it is only available to users in Texas, not nationally.
Hulu + Live TV
Hulu continues to be a lower cost all-arounder in the streaming sports game, and while that does have some drawbacks for pro sports fans (no NHL, NBA, or NFL nets), college folks will be almost completely covered. Cubs fans will want to be aware that this is the only service I reviewed that currently carries the new Marquee Network, though only in the Chicago area.
Hulu also has an ace up it’s sleeve with the “Hulu + Disney+ + ESPN+” bundle discount that will save you a bit of cash if you use all of those services.
The budget option continues to survive, as Sling remains the cheapest way to get SEC Network. And that trend will continue as Sling now guarantees their price wont go up until Aug 2021. Sling has a few perks over other services, notably they are one of two I reviewed that carry the elusive Pac 12, NFL, and beIN sports networks, including NFL Redzone. They are also the only service that carries Longhorn Network nationwide.
The trade off for that low cost is that Sling still has some major gaps in it’s lineup. No Big 4 locals in most areas including no ABC or CBS at all. No Fox RSNs or Big 10 network. No CBS Sports network. Also Sling has some strange restrictions, like no live pause or rewind on ESPN stations. If you’re extremely tight on budget, Sling is still the cheapest, but better options can be had for not much more money.
As I continue to have to say at the end of these round ups, the perfect streaming service for sports still does not exist. Fubo’s addition of ESPN is a game changer for college football, but the lack of Turner networks kneecaps it for the college basketball season, and the missing FSNs are a huge problem if your MLB, NBA, or NHL team is on one of those. I still think Youtube TV is the best bet for me personally, but the only thing they’ve really done in the past year is raise the price $15. Hulu may be the best option if you’re a normal human being who lives with other people who don’t watch sports 24/7. Sling has a lot of flaws, but remains unbeaten on price.
ATT Now is just bad.
But as I always say, the best way to find out what works is to just try them. All of these services still off free trials of a week or more and none of them require you to do anything more than pay month-to-month. And they all still offer a deal that is better, maybe a LOT better, than what you would pay for cable.