Is YouTube TV the best cordcutting replacement for cable?

(Graphic: The Desk)

Five years ago, if you wanted to “cut” the cable cord but still watch cable shows, you had a few options: You could wait for the show to come out on DVD or hope a streaming service like Netflix, Amazon or Hulu picked up the series, but that involved waiting several months — or as long as a year or two — and gambling on the chance that a service may never pick it up at all.

Or you could subscribe to Dish Network’s Sling TV, then a groundbreaking way to access a handful of basic cable channels over the Internet at a blockbuster price of just $20  a month. But at launch, Sling TV wasn’t very dependable — the service was buggy, it only had a handful of Disney and Turner channels and it lacked a DVR option. If you were fortunate enough to have a PlayStation, you could shell out $40 a month for around 50 cable channels, but you were out of luck if you didn’t own a game console.

Fast forward a half-decade later and there’s now a dizzying array of so-called “over the top” (OTT) services delivering cable channels through the Internet at prices significantly lower than what traditional cable and satellite companies charge.

One option that comes up often among cordcutters is YouTube TV, a Google-powered OTT service that offers a good amount of features for a decent-enough price. While it’s not the biggest OTT service in terms of subscriber numbers — that honor belongs to Hulu with Live TV — it consistently ranks at the top as the service of choice for cordcutters looking for access to popular cable channels without breaking the bank.

But whether it’s right for you depends on a few things, including the features you want, channels you’ll miss and even where you live.

Good: Price, channel selection, features

One of YouTube TV’s biggest selling points is its price: For $50 a month, you get access to more than 70 basic cable channels, including a wide variety of general entertainment networks, sports channels and kids programming.

YouTube TV has inked deals with many of the country’s biggest entertainment distributors, including the Walt Disney Company, Fox Corporation, AT&T’s WarnerMedia, Comcast’s NBCUniversal and AMC Networks, which means the service is able to offer cordcutters access to linear feeds from ESPN, the Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, TBS, TNT, AMC, IFC, USA, Bravo, E!, NBC Sports Network, Fox Sports 1, Turner Classic Movies, Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, BBC World News and others. YouTube TV also has a handful of digital-only channels, including Cheddar News, Newsy and Tastemade, along with NBC-operated Spanish stations Telemundo and NBC Universo.

In most of the country, YouTube TV also features local broadcast affiliates of ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox along with a handful of other local channels, though exact availability will depend on where you live. For instance, in the Sacramento market, YouTube TV has agreements to rebroadcast both CBS-owned stations (KOVR, Channel 13 and KMAX, Channel 31) along with affiliates of NBC (KCRA, Channel 3), ABC (KXTV, Channel 10) and Fox (Channel 40). A partnership with PBS also allows YouTube TV to offer access to two PBS member stations: KVIE (Channel 6) and KVIE-DT3 (Channel 6.3, PBS Kids).

But there are a few local channels missing, including two other digital subchannels of PBS member station KVIE as well as a sister-station of NBC affiliate KCRA. It isn’t exactly clear why YouTube TV’s deal with the Hearst Television, the parent company of the local NBC affiliate. doesn’t also allow it to carry sister-station KQCA (Channel 58), but it’s missing from the lineup.

In some TV markets, one or two major network affiliates may be missing, though it’s more likely smaller network affiliates, like channels that carry programming from CW or MyNetwork, or independent stations aren’t offered. In most cases, the missing channels can be supplemented by adding an antenna into the mix, but the lack of carraige on YouTube TV means customers can’t take advantage of YouTube TV’s generous cloud DVR space.

And it is, indeed, generous: YouTube TV offers the most cloud DVR space of any OTT service on the market. Subscribers are allowed to record any program from any channel, and the program is saved to a user’s cloud DVR for nine months from the initial airing. If the program is repeated within the nine months, the clock simply resets, even if it airs on another channel. Want to build a large movie library, or record every episode of “The Simpsons?” YouTube TV’s cloud DVR makes it possible.

YouTube TV also has a robust offering of on-demand programs that’s incredibly similar to competing features offered by cable and satellite companies. And YouTube TV plays nicely with TV Everywhere, allowing subscribers the option of watching shows and movies through YouTube TV or through a network’s own app, which sometimes offers access to a bigger library of content (like competing services, YouTube TV credentials don’t work with TV Everywhere-supported apps offered by AT&T’s WarnerMedia).

Bad: Price, missing channels, Internet caps

One of YouTube TV’s biggest selling points could turn some would-be subscribers off. Unlike competing services, YouTube TV has one base package of channels for a flat fee of $50. There’s no option to pay a bit more for access to other channels, nor is there a way to trim costs by eliminating channels  you don’t watch or features you don’t want. It’s a take-it-or-leave-it kind of situation.

YouTube TV has also fallen victim to a trend of price hikes that competing services and traditional cable and satellite operators have faced in recent years. When it first rolled out several years ago, YouTube TV offered around 50 channels for $35 a month; after adding AT&T WarnerMedia networks, the price went up by $5 a month and increased yet again last year when YouTube TV started including channels from Discovery Networks like Animal Planet.

And yet, YouTube TV is still missing a handful of big-name cable networks. You won’t find cable channels from the newly-formed ViacomCBS, which means no live feeds or on-demand access to Comedy Central, VH1, MTV, Logo or Nickelodeon. While YouTube TV does have an agreement with CBS, that agreement doesn’t extend to the Viacom channels, and it’s unclear if YouTube TV will add them when their current contract with CBS expires or if adding them will result in a price increase.

YouTube TV also doesn’t have an agreement with A+E Networks, which means no access to A&E, FYI, the History Channel, Vice TV or Lifetime. While not a major loss, A&E does have one of the top-rated reality shows on cable TV to date, and the History Channel regularly comes in as a top 10-rated network overall.

Fortunately, there’s a way around YouTube TV’s lack of carriage deals for ViacomCBS and A+E Networks: Many YouTube TV customers also subscribe to Philo, a $20-a-month streaming TV service that has agreements with both distributors as well as niche programmers like AXS TV, the Cooking Channel and Revolt TV.

One thing to be mindful of: Big-name Internet providers like Comcast and AT&T have recently started imposing data caps on home broadband Internet similar to data caps offered by mobile phone companies. Watching YouTube TV a few hours every day on one set likely won’t result in a customer hitting their data cap, but watching YouTube TV on several sets at a single time or leaving YouTube TV streaming throughout the day and night will quickly result in a customer hitting that cap. Fortunately, some devices, like those built by Roku, offer “bandwidth saving” features that automatically cut off streams if a user doesn’t press a button on their remote after four hours, but this feature isn’t compatible with all streaming services, and not all devices have it. If you’re going to switch to an OTT service like YouTube TV or Philo, you have to get into the practice of closing out of the app before you turn off your set — and if you’re going to stream on multiple TVs or devices at a time, it might be a good idea to call your Internet provider and see if there’s a way to pay a little extra to lift the data cap (both Comcast and AT&T will do this for about $30 more a month).

Overall, YouTube TV is a great option for households that are looking to save money on their cable bills while staying connected to the TV shows and movies they love. It’s one-price-for-all-access plan won’t break the bank and its generous cloud DVR storage space ensure streamers won’t miss a single episode of their favorite shows. Just make sure you keep an eye on how much data you’re using.

YouTube TV costs $50 a month and is available on most major streaming TV platforms, including Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Chromecast, XBox One and PlayStation 4. It’s also available as a native app on most newer Samsung, LG, Sharp, HiSense and Vizio TVs, and it’s available to stream through Internet browsers and on Apple’s iOS and Android devices.

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