Choices for viewers seeking local stations and cable channels expanded in December when Google-owned YouTube TV debuted its streaming live option to Colorado Springs and 34 other U.S. cities.
That gives cord-cutters who don't want to pay for hundreds of channels another option, but every option has advantages and drawbacks. All of the streaming options are less than half the cost of cable or satellite options, but none offers all six affiliates of the major television networks, and they also are missing some popular cable channels.
To use any of the streaming options, you need a newer TV or a streaming device such as Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, PlayStation or Xbox One, to name a few.
While the streaming services offer network shows on local channels or through an on-demand service, live game broadcasts of some college or professional sports are blacked out because the stations and networks don't have rights to stream games live.
However, most Colorado Springs residents can watch local channels free with a digital antenna, though reception in some areas can be spotty.
College and professional sports also are available through a number of online sources.
The primary players in the streaming live universe include DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV, PlayStation Vue, Sling TV and YouTube TV as well as streaming options offered by Comcast Corp. and CenturyLink Inc. Some are in the test phase, and others are being rolled out in dozens of cities at a time.
DirecTV Now is offered by the AT&T-owned satellite TV provider DirecTV, while Sling is offered by satellite provider Dish as a less-expensive alternative, along with the Comcast and CenturyLink services, to retain the growing number of cord-cutting customers.
All of the streaming options have been launched since 2015; Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV and the Comcast and CenturyLink streaming options all were rolled out last year.
Other services such as Netflix offer movies, some TV shows and their own content, and many cable channels, such as HBO, offer individual subscriptions.
Jeff Tarbert, a Colorado Springs-based communications consultant who formerly headed the cable television operation that was acquired by Comcast, said streaming customers also need to heed the speed of their internet service. YouTube TV requires a minimum speed of 3 megabits per second, and DirecTV Now requires 12 megabits per second for high-definition broadcasts, with the rest of the services falling somewhere in between.
Tarbert, for example, lives in Manitou Springs and can only get 1.5 megabit-per-second service, so he can't use streaming services.
"Bandwidth is king, and there are parts of the area that don't have enough bandwidth" to use streaming services, Tarbert said. "Bandwidth is costly to develop and build, so those with considerable bandwidth are okay. Those without enough have little choice but to stay with" cable or satellite options.
Streaming options also are likely to grow, Tarbert said.
T-Mobile, which has agreed to acquire Denver-based Layer3 TV Inc., plans to launch a TV service this year. AT&T owns DirecTV, which can be streamed on mobile devices. Verizon Wireless also is expected to offer a streaming TV option.
A recent study by technology giant Accenture shows that consumers want all of their TV content in one place - 86 percent of the 21,000 consumers in 19 countries who completed a recent online survey said they were tired of juggling multiple streaming subscriptions and want a simple, centralized experience.
Which of the streaming services is best for you depends on the channels you watch the most.
None of the options includes PBS, but members who donate at least $60 a year have access to all shows through the pbs.org website.
Here's a quick summary of the options:
- Xfinity Instant TV (Comcast): Includes all local channels for $18 a month, but bundles including kids and family, entertainment, sports and news add $60 a month more.
- CenturyLink Stream: The most expensive option at $45 a month and includes NBC affiliate KOAA, ABC affiliate KRDO and many popular cable channels but not CBS affiliate KKTV, Fox affiliate KXRM, CW affiliate KXTU or AMC, CNN, Fox News, TBS or TNT.
- Hulu with Live TV: Costs $39.99 a month and includes all local channels except CW affiliate KXTU but is missing AMC, Discovery and Nickelodeon.
- YouTube TV: Costs $35 a month and includes KKTV and KRDO and 50 other channels but not KOAA, KXRM, KXTU and CNN, Discovery, HGTV, History, Nickelodeon, TBS and TNT.
- Sling TV: Costs $20 a month but has no local channels (can be integrated through an AirTV player for $129), Fox News, Nickelodeon, TBS or TNT.
- DirecTV Now: Costs $35 a month and includes many popular cable channels but has no local channels or Nickelodeon.
- PlayStation Vue: Costs $39.99 a month and has KKTV and 45 cable channels but is missing History and Nickelodeon.
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