Choosing which channels you want on a live TV streaming service depends on personal preference. However, as one who covers TV streaming, it feels like a bit of a cop-out to say when asked which live streaming service has the best channel lineup. So I want to come up with a more quantitative analysis and give a definitive answer on which live TV streaming service is the best value for channels. To better guide readers on which service to chose, I’ve come up with 2 measures for live streaming services, a Channel Lineup Strength (CLS) and Channel Lineup Value (CLV).
In the analysis below, I’ve come up with a Channel Lineup Strength (CLS) and Channel Lineup Value (CLV) for Hulu Live TV, Philo, Vidgo, FuboTV, Sling TV, DIRECTV STREAM, and YouTube TV. You can skip ahead to see which service came out on top, but first, I want to explain how I came up with CLS and CLV and the data behind both metrics.
Determining Channel Lineup Strength and Value (CLS and CLV)
While we could rely on survey data to rank which channels are popular and channels people expect in a channel package, I wanted to take a more scientific approach. Studies show there is a difference between what people say they want and their behavior. People may say that they like prestige dramas on AMC, but when you look at their viewing habits, they spend 90% of their day watching Game Show Network. With this in mind, I wanted to take a viewer-based approach to rank each channel and then assign a value to each channel, with 10 being the highest score and 1 being the lowest. I then totaled the points for each channel lineup to get the Channel Lineup Strength or CLS. The Channel Lineup Value or CLV is simply the cost per point for a streaming services CLS.
Determining the Value of A TV Channel Lineup
When figuring out how to determine the value of a channel to a viewer, I could have just used ratings. However, ratings are more geared towards marketing and don’t always capture the number of individual viewers. Instead, I decided to look at raw viewership. I also wanted to account for prime-time viewing since these are when the most popular shows are on. If a show has a lot of prime-time viewers, that indicates the network caries popular shows that streamers would want to watch on-demand. So to come up with a number, I took the average prime time viewership (8 pm – 11 pm daily) in 2020 and added it to the Average Total viewership for each channel, weighting in favor of primetime viewers.
Using this method, I took the top 115 TV networks in the U.S. and assigned each network a viewership score. I then ordered the list and broke the channels into 10 percentile groupings. Each grouping was given a score from 1-10, with the channels in the top grouping got a 10 and channels in the bottom grouping receiving a 1. The groupings are listed below. Networks like ABC, FOX, CBS, NBC, The CW, and PBS are not listed below. I had to handle those another way, which I’ll explain—first, the percentile groupings.
- Top 10% (10 points): FOX News, MSNBC, CNN, ESPN, HGTV, TLC, Hallmark Channel, TBS, TNT, History Channel, Food Network, and USA Network
- 90th Percentile (9 Points): Discovery Channel, A&E, Investigation Discovery, INSP, TV Land, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, Nickelodeon, Lifetime, Bravo, FX, and Adult Swim/Cartoon Network
- 80th Percentile (8 Points): AMC, Game Show Network, FreeForm, WE TV, Syfy, Paramount Network, Animal Planet, Disney Channel, Travel Channel, National Geographic, MTV, and BET
- 70th Percentile (7 Points): Disney Junior, Comedy Central, Nick Jr., Oxygen, E!, VH1, HLN, LMN, OWN, Science, and Nat Geo Wild
- 60th Percentile (6 Points): CNBC, WGN, MotorTrend, DIY Network, NBCSN, CMT, FXX, FS1, BBC America, Sundance TV, IFC, and NFL Network
- 50th Percentile (5 Points): ESPN2, Pop, TruTV, The Weather Channel, FETV, Cooking Channel, FOX Business, TV One, UP-tv, FXM, and fyi
- 40th Percentile (4 Points): Newsmax, Galavision, REELZ, Smithsonian Channel, NickToons, Hallmark Drama, Golf Channel, Boomerang, AHC, and Disney XD
- 30th Percentile (3 Points): Great American Country, Destination America, TUDN, NBC Universo, MLB Network, Discovery Esp, TeenNick, Viceland, Ovation, RFD-TV, MTV2, and Discovery Life
- 20th Percentile (2 Points): AXS TV, Discovery Family, BTN, Logo, NBA TV, ESPNU, Tennis Channel, Baby TV, FOX Deportes, BET Her, and Universal Kids
- 10th Percentile (1 Point): DISCOVERY FAMILIA, ESPNEWS, ESPN Deportes, CNN ESP, FS2, Fuse, Justice Cental, beIN esp, Newsy, El Rey, beIN, and Comedy.TV
Handling Network and Specialty Channels
As I said, network channels like ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, The CW, and PBS needed to be handled differently. The reason is the channel availability changes for each streaming service based on the TV market. To account for this, I gave each streaming service a Network TV score. The service with network channel availability highest availability for those channels received the highest score of 50 (ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox are 10 points each, The CW was 8 points, while PBS was worth 2 points.) The assigned “Network TV” score for each streaming service is assigned and adjusted based on channel availability. Here is how the streaming services scored for local networks.
- YouTube TV – 50 points
- Hulu Live TV – 45 points
- Fubo TV – 40 points
- DIRECTV STREAM – 40 points
- Vidgo – 20 points
- Sling Blue – 12 points
- Sling Orange – 0 points
- Philo – 0 points
Regional sports channels generally have an average viewership too low to compare with network and cable channels. They are also highly specific to each viewer, so they have been left out of the channel analysis. If you do not see a channel mentioned in the analysis above, then that channel is worth 0 points.
Totaling the Scores
The points are totaled for each streaming services channel lineup resulting in a Channel Lineup Strength or CLS. The CLS is the total score for the entire lineup of channels in a streaming service. However, this doesn’t factor in the price of the cost of the channel. We use a Channel Lineup Value or CLV, which takes the CLS and divides it by the monthly cost of the streaming service. Ultimately, the CLV is the monthly price per CLS point for that channel lineup.
How Each Streaming Service Scored
Since each streaming service has various channel options we tried to stick to the most popular offerings. The channel lineups we scored were:
- Hulu Live Channel List
- YouTube TV Channel lineup
- Philo TV Channel lineup
- fuboTV Channel lineup (Starter Plan)
- Vidgo Channel lineup (English Plan)
- Sling TV Channel lineup (Blue and Orange)
- DIRECTV STREAM Channel lineup (Entertainment Plan)
Each Channel Plan was assigned the following scores
- Channel Lineup Strength or CLS – A score representing the strength of the total channel lineup based on viewership. The higher, the better.
- Channel Lineup Value or CLV – This score represents the value you receive for the cost of a channel lineup. The CLV is the CLS divided by the monthly cost of the package. The lower the CLV, the better the value.
And now how each streaming service scored. Keep in mind this is only meant to gauge the channel lineup of each service. There may be other considerations to take into account when choosing a live TV streaming service like DVR features, On-Demand, Device support, etc.
|Hulu Live TV||452||$65||$0.14|
|DIRECTV STREAM Ent.||453||$70||$0.15|
The table above is sorted by CLV, which is the value metric. It’s no surprise that Philo came out on top when looking at the value of each channel lineup. What is surprising is how far ahead Philo is on value. Philo has twice the CLV of the average service and is far ahead of the next best value proposition (Sling Blue.) It’s the obvious choice for those wanting live cable TV channels on a budget. We’ve also learned that Sling Orange is to be avoided by those seeking value from a streaming channel lineup. Its CLV is 25% higher than the most expensive channel lineup on the list (DIRECTV STREAM’s Entertainment package.)
As for the strength of the channel lineup, YouTube TV comes out on top with the highest CLS (492) compared to DIRECTV STREAM’s Entertainment Package (CLS=453) and Hulu Live TV (CLS=452). Furthermore, YouTube TV has a better CLV score than those services at $0.13. However, keep in mind this value judgment only considers channels. For example, Hulu Live TV includes Hulu’s streaming library, which contains thousands of on-demand TV titles you won’t find on other services. Fubo used to rank up with the top of the pack, however, the recent loss of History, A&E, Lifetime, and other channels dropped them down to the middle with a CLS=394 and CLV of $0.16
A closer look at the numbers also shows Vidgo is trying to find its place. It’s middling in both channel lineup strength and value. Considering its features are sub-par compared to other services, I can’t see it being a contender for the best live streaming service without making a few changes. Equally surprising is how poorly Sling TV performed in this analysis. I expected Sling TV to be a decent value proposition. Sling Orange is at the bottom of the list in both CLS and CLV. While Sling Blue is 2nd in CLV, it’s also at the bottom of the CLS list. Putting both packages together doesn’t really improve Sling’s situation. Its value is on par with fuboTV, but its channel lineup strength is only slightly ahead of Philo.
I plan to refine the analysis and improve on the CLS and CLV metrics. I plan to refresh the analysis as new data becomes available. I’m also investigating ways to do this type of quantitative analysis with other streaming service features to develop more comprehensive measurements to help our readers make better decisions when it comes to choosing a live TV streaming service.
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