Best Streaming Services for 2021: Every Option Explained

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Are you cutting the cord and hoping to get the best bang for your buck with TV streaming services?

The streaming content options available to you in 2021 are plentiful! There are live TV streaming subscriptions, video streaming subscriptions and even services that offer quality content for free.

But that variety of choices can make for some tough and sometimes confusing decisions that impact your monthly budget.

“The beauty of this is that you can build a bundle that fits your life,” money expert Clark Howard says.

“The ugly of it is that it keeps changing. And if you’re not careful, you’ll blow a hole in your wallet.”

Team Clark has its finger on the pulse of each area of the streaming TV industry.

In this article, I’ll explain the differences between the different types of streaming services, point you to some more detailed reviews on the content providers and give you information that should help you determine which type of service best fits your monthly budget.


Table of Contents


Cutting the Cord in 2021: What Are My Options?

Cutting the cord in 2021 is different than it was even a couple of years ago.

The landscape of streaming services has changed dramatically, leaving even the most experienced streamers reevaluating their content choices.

The streaming content available now can be broken down into three broad categories:

Live TV StreamingVideo StreamingFree Streaming
Starting from:$25 per month$4.99 per monthFREE!
Content offered:Traditional TV channels, live sports and newsAd-free catalogs of popular TV shows and moviesAd-supported streams of older TV shows and movies
Services include:YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, Sling TVNetflix, Prime Video, HBO Max, Disney+Pluto TV, Tubi, The Roku Channel

In this article, I’ll go a little more in-depth into each of these options to help you develop the right custom content mix for your household.


Live TV Streaming Service Options for 2021

Live TV streaming services are far-and-away the most expensive option for cord cutters.

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This is because, just like cable or satellite, you’re paying to see live streaming of traditional cable networks such as ESPN, HGTV, CNN and TBS.

This type of service most closely mimics the traditional television experience by offering live channel feeds that can be recorded with DVR and viewed later.

After a few years as a “discount” alternative to traditional cable, several of the top live TV streaming options now cost $65 or more per month.

Here’s a look at some of the top competitors in this space:

Live TV ServicesStarting Monthly FeeMore InfoSign Up
YouTube TV$65Team Clark ReviewOfficial Site
Hulu + Live TV$65Team Clark ReviewOfficial Site
Sling TV$35Team Clark ReviewOfficial Site
DIRECTV STREAM$70Team Clark ReviewOfficial Site
fuboTV$65Team Clark ReviewOfficial Site
Philo$25Team Clark ReviewOfficial Site

How To Determine Which Is Best for You

Team Clark has a guide to live TV streaming services to help you determine which of these services is the best for your personal situation.

Things you’ll want to evaluate in the guide revolve around three key elements: pricing, channel availability and features (such as DVR functionality and concurrent streaming).

Team Clark recommends YouTube TV for the best overall live streaming experience, but Sling TV or Philo could offer you a more cost-effective solution.

Check our guide for more detailed advice.


Video Streaming Service (VOD) Options for 2021

Video streaming services, which sometimes are referred to as subscription video on demand (VOD), are emerging as one of the most popular ways to stream on a budget.

These services have content libraries that contain thousands of hours worth of modern and classic movies and TV shows.

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But this space is no longer just about Netflix or Hulu. Giant brands, including Disney, Apple, Amazon and AT&T, are now players in this space along with some major television networks and film production companies.

For just a few dollars per month per service, you can binge entire seasons of your favorite shows.

Here’s a quick look at the players in this increasingly crowded category:

Video Streaming ServicesStarting Monthly FeeMore InfoSign Up
Netflix$8.99FAQOfficial Site
Disney+$6.99Team Clark ReviewOfficial Site
Prime Video$8.99FAQOfficial Site
Hulu$5.99FAQOfficial Site
HBO Max$9.99Team Clark ReviewOfficial Site
Apple TV+$4.99Team Clark ReviewOfficial Site
Paramount+$4.99Team Clark ReviewOfficial Site
Peacock$4.99Team Clark ReviewOfficial Site
Discovery+$4.99Team Clark ReviewOfficial Site

How To Determine Which Is Best for You

Team Clark has a video streaming services guide to help you determine which of these services are the best for your personal situation.

You’ll want to evaluate pricing and the availability of original and legacy content.

Team Clark recommends Netflix for the best overall video streaming experience, but services like Disney+, Peacock and Paramount+ offer quality on-demand experiences at a fraction of the monthly price.

Check our guide for more detailed advice. And for a fun way to save money in this space, I put together a guide for streaming video services for an entire year for under $100.


Free Streaming Options for 2021

Did you know that you can actually stream a bunch of content you’ve actually heard of without spending a dime each month?

Major companies including Amazon, Roku, Walmart and ViacomCBS are dabbling in this ad-supported space as a way to generate revenue from legacy content.

That means some of the movies or TV shows you watch on these platforms may be dated, but there are some modern, live elements available as well such as ABC News, CBS Sports HQ and CBSN.

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Free Streaming ServicesMore InfoSign Up
Pluto TVTeam Clark ReviewOfficial Site
Tubi TVTeam Clark ReviewOfficial Site
The Roku ChannelTeam Clark ReviewOfficial Site
CrackleTeam Clark ReviewOfficial Site
IMDb TVTeam Clark ReviewOfficial Site
VUDUTeam Clark ReviewOfficial Site
XUMOTeam Clark ReviewOfficial Site
PopcornflixTeam Clark ReviewOfficial Site
Redbox Live TVTeam Clark ReviewOfficial Site

The free streaming ecosystem extends well beyond services that are built to replicate traditional television.

Popular social media channels such as YouTube (owned by Google) and Twitch (owned by Amazon) are quickly becoming streaming homes for professionally produced live content such as interactive talk shows and news networks.

That even includes some live sporting events. Within the last year, YouTube and Facebook Live have carried select Major League Baseball games, and Twitch has supported a live feed for the NFL’s Thursday Night Football.

How To Determine Which Is Best for You

Of course, Team Clark has you covered here too. Our free streaming services guide should help you determine which of these services you want to check out.

They’re all free, but your time is still valuable. Save a bit of time by evaluating the offerings in terms of the content library, user interface and prevalence of ads.

Team Clark recommends Pluto TV for the best overall free streaming experience, but Tubi, Crackle and The Roku Channel are also great free options.

And be open to the idea of streaming live content from non-traditional sources. YouTube, Facebook Live and Twitch may have live and on-demand content that entertains you for hours.

Check our guide for more detailed advice.


How To Watch Local Channels

One of the major concerns potential cord-cutters have is where they’ll be able to find the content from their local channels.

There are several potential solutions that can at least partially replicate the cable experience in this area.

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Team Clark breaks down those options extensively here, but the short version is this:

  • YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV both offer a full menu of local channels for most subscribers. However, many of the other live TV streaming services are lacking in this area. Sling offers only select NBC and FOX affiliates, while Philo doesn’t offer them at all.
  • If you live in an urban or suburban setting, there’s a reasonable chance that an antenna could be all that you need to access your local channels over the air.
  • There are free services, including Amazon News and NewsON, that offer varying levels of local channel news content for people who live in select markets.
  • If you’re after network TV shows, you can find many of them on video streaming services such as Hulu, Paramount+ or Peacock. You also may have success getting access for free on the individual network’s app.

How To Stream Live Sports

Another area of concern for people who are considering breaking away from cable or satellite is how they will watch live sports.

Several of the available live streaming subscriptions offer packages that include the ESPN family of networks, as well as league-specific channels like NFL Network, MLB Network and SEC Network. You can use our channel guide to find which of them offers the channels that air the games you care about.

One sore spot for cord-cutters is the lack of regional sports networks (RSNs) on most live streaming services. Only DIRECTV STREAM carries these. That leaves millions of streamers without access to local baseball, basketball and hockey games that air on networks like Bally Sports South (formerly Fox Sports South).

If you really only care about the games for one or two sports, you could sign up for a league-specific subscription service that gives you access to all televised games. Local blackouts do apply but can be worked around with the use of a VPN.

More information on those can be found here:


5 Things To Consider When Picking Your Streaming Content

Are you overwhelmed with all the choices out there? You’re not alone.

To help, here are some simple questions to ask yourself that may help guide you in your decision making.

1. What Is My Monthly Streaming TV Budget?

Before you decide on your optimal streaming content mix, you need to know what type of budget you’re working with.

It’s really easy to spend too much on streaming without even noticing it. That’s what a bunch of seemingly harmless $4.99 subscriptions can do to you.

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Set yourself a budget and try to stick to it. If your budget is under $30 per month, you may want to consider skipping on live streaming TV altogether to get the most value for your money.

2. What Type of Content Do I Stream the Most?

Once you have a clear understanding of your budget, the next step is to determine what type of content you plan to consume.

Do you love live sports? You’re probably going to have a hard time finding the games you enjoy without either a live TV streaming subscription or a sport-specific subscription such as MLB.TV or NHL.TV.

If you’re more of the “binge an entire season of a show over the weekend” type of person, it’s possible that you can skip live TV altogether. Maybe focusing on video streaming services is the right option for you.

3. Are There Any Shows I “Can’t Miss” and Where Do They Live in the Streaming World?

If you’re the type of person who can’t go without streaming The Office or has to stay current on the latest HBO drama, you’re going to need to do a little homework.

Where do these shows live in the streaming world? You need to find out so you can adjust your budget accordingly.

In the case of The Office, it recently moved from Netflix to NBC’s Peacock.

That’s good news if you’re looking to save money with Peacock but bad news if you want to watch The Office AND keep your Netflix account. That’s a double whammy to your streaming budget.

4. Are Live Sports and News Channels Important to Me?

I teased it in Question #2, but this really is a big enough deal that it deserves a question of its own.

If you love sports and news networks, you’re almost certainly going to require one of the live TV streaming services that charges at least $35 per month.

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And for many sports fans, the $35 subscription from Sling TV won’t be enough. YouTube TV and fuboTV offer a superior menu of sports channels at $65 per month.

Streamers who want access to regional sports networks like Bally Sports South (formerly Fox Sports South) are limited to DIRECTV STREAM’s $85 monthly package to receive those channels. We have some cost-saving advice for streamers looking for access to ballgames here.

If news and sports mean very little to you, the $25 per month subscription from Philo offers a great value for some mainstream channels.

5. What Type of Device Am I Using To Stream?

As time moves along, device compatibility seems to become a smaller and smaller issue.

But it is something you should still check before making your final streaming decisions.

If you have a Roku or Amazon Fire TV device, you’ll want to make sure the streaming services you’re planning to get will work with your device.

And if you do a lot of streaming from your cell phone or tablet, you’ll want to make sure you can access the streaming services’ apps from those devices.


Clark Howard’s Strategy for Streaming TV in 2021

So we’ve walked through all the streaming options and all the key elements that you should evaluate, but you may still be wondering … What would Clark do in this situation?

It should come as no surprise that his thoughts on the ever-changing streaming market are primarily about guarding your wallet.

Analyze Your Streaming Habits

“The first question you should always ask yourself is: How much do you actually watch your streaming services?” Clark says.

“With so many options out there now, I think you have to be honest with yourself: You don’t have 3,000 hours per day to watch video content. You can’t get everything.”

Clark says if you sign up for a new streaming service, try to keep track of how much time that you spend using it early on to see if it’s worth keeping around for the long term.

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And if you’ve subscribed to a certain service for a while now, think back to the last time that you watched it. If it wasn’t very recently, you may want to consider dumping it — at least temporarily.

Give Free Services a Fair Shot

Clarks says that opting for a free streaming service can be a way to save some cash without giving up your dreams of content consumption.

“A lot of these free services offer parallel content to the paid services,” Clark observed.

“You can watch all the video you ever wanted to for free with all the ad-supported streaming services.”

Some examples of what Clark is talking about can be found on Pluto TV. You can catch content from Comedy Central, MTV and other networks that also are a part of the catalog of services like Paramount+.

And often you can find a free streaming service offering some of the same movies you’ll find on Netflix or Prime Video.

Ultimately, Clark wants both your entertainment appetite and wallet to be happy. Value shopping your subscription services and mixing in freebies when you may just be your best path to satisfying both areas.

Grab a Discount Deal When You Can

Clark is a fan of finding a discount deal or bundle for your favorite streaming services.

“If there is something that you really like and you know you’re going to watch it, then you should buy the annual plan — as long as the discount for that year is substantial enough that it is worth doing,” Clark says.

For example, Disney+ offers a monthly rate of $7.99 and an annual rate of $79.99. So Disney fans could save roughly $16 per year by choosing to pay by the year.

Clark also says to be on the lookout for potential discounts.

He points to a recent T-Mobile deal that gets wireless customers $10 per month off YouTube TV or Philo live streaming packages.


Final Thoughts

With so, so many options out there, it can be easy to get lost when picking your streaming services.

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But try to stick to the basics and you should have some success.

Stay disciplined with your monthly streaming budget, target the streaming services that offer the content you’re most likely to actually watch and don’t be afraid to reassess your choices every couple of months.

The nice part about most of these streaming services is that they don’t require long-term commitments.

So making adjustments as you go is not only smart, it’s also easy!


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