Sling’s approach to live TV — a kind of make-you-own-bundle channel buffet — is cheaper for people who like fewer channels, but it can add up quickly for the folks who prefer, for whatever reason, to have a buncha channels on hand at all times. Hulu + Live TV, on the other hand, is a pretty unremarkable cable replacement system on its own, but it brings along its hyper-current on-demand library, Disney+, and ESPN+. Let’s get down to some details.
Hulu + Live TV started out as a joint venture to rival Netflix. And of the original parties (News Corp/Fox, NBCUniversal, and an equity firm), only Comcast (NBC) remains as a silent partner to late-comer Disney. This is why the service now comes bundled with Disney+ and ESPN+.
The live service has only one plan, with a couple add-ons and the option to get Hulu on-demand with or without ads (spoiler alert: without ads is more expensive). But this makes sense given that the base plan includes pretty much everything most subscribers would want.
Sling TV’s base packages are half the cost of Hulu + Live TV. But they only have half the channels.
Also, right away, you’re faced with a decision: Blue or Orange? Sling says Blue is recommended for “entertainment and news,” while Orange is recommended for “NBA and families.” It’s more accurate to say the plans are similar but Blue offers Fox and NBC channels and Orange offers ESPN and Disney.
You can always get both, which is a pretty good deal, but bumps the price up that much closer to the bigger services. In other words, the key to making Sling work for you successfully is to make your choices wisely, with the knowledge you can cancel and subscribe to different packages month-to-month.
|✔ Low-priced base packages||❌ Weak local coverage|
|✔ Lots of varied channel options||❌ No RSNs|
|✔ Free antenna for local stations||❌ Confusing add-on structure|
Hulu + Live TV
|✔ Well-rounded channel lineup||❌ Relatively expensive|
|✔ Great local channel coverage||❌ No AMC channels|
|✔ On-demand library, ESPN+, Disney+||❌ Only 2 screens at once|
Sling TV and Hulu + Live TV approach streaming in very different ways.
Comparing prices for Hulu + Live TV and Sling feels like comparing grocery prices in the store. The ginormous $69.99/mo package is obviously a better buy than the regular size $35/mo one. But if you don’t want that much, why pay the higher price, even if it’s a better per-unit bargain?
The ginormous package in this scenario is Hulu, which is, at $69.99/mo, now one of the most expensive streaming services. But it does offer a lot for that price. Add-on bundles are all under $10/mo.
Sling TV’s base packages are $35/mo for either one, or $50 for both. Extras are bundles of 5-10 channels for $6-7/mo each ($11/mo for sports or $15/mo with the Orange & Blue plan). You can also get deals on them like the Four Extras deal which is $13/mo (basically getting two free). A la carte channels start at $3/mo, and most are under $10/mo
Hulu, for better or worse, follows the kitchen sink channel lineup model — as in, everything but the. With the odd but glaring omission of AMC (sorry, The Walking Dead fans), they have all the channels (over 85 in the base package) you’d expect from a standard cable service.
Sling, of course, isn’t aiming for comprehensiveness. It’s going for customization and affordability. And, all in all, they do a pretty good job. Obviously, customization is going to include lots of decisions. So if you’re the kind of person who gets overwhelmed by the Starbucks menu, you should maybe go with Hulu.
Hulu + Live TV carries all the major networks except Univision (and if you have a burning desire for Univision’s telenovelas, there is a stand-alone streaming service). As with all networks, there must be an affiliate in your area. This is almost always the case with ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC. It is less often the case with Telemundo and The CW.
Sling TV’s take on local channels is they’re called free-to-air for a reason, and they should be free. To that end, they offer free antennas and deals on set-top boxes that integrate the antenna with your Sling TV and even let you DVR off of it (depending on the model). Antenna aside, their local channel support is pretty weak; over about half the country you can get NBC and Fox with Sling Blue. Bottom line: you should take the antenna if you want access to your local network affiliates.
Cutting to the chase, Sling’s big sports weakness is its complete lack of any regional sports networks (RSNs). Understandable, since they are some of the most expensive channels to carry, but it is a deal-breaker for a lot of fans who like following their home team.
If you get your networks through an antenna, some stations carry a lot of your home team’s games. If you don’t follow a particular team, or, even better, if your favorite team is outside your home area, one of the out-of-market sports subscriptions will probably have you covered.
Note that Hulu + Live TV itself has weak support of RSNs. They only carry the NBC Sports and SportsNet New York channels. If you live outside that relatively small coverage area, you should check out the DIRECTV STREAM Choice plan, which offers pretty much every major RSN.
When it comes to national sports channels like ESPN and FS1, the two services are similar. Hulu offers the less popular channels like ESPNU, FS2, and B1G in its base plan whereas you need the Sports Extra add-on with Sling. The only major sports channel that Sling doesn’t offer is CBS Sports Network (CBSSN).
|Channel||Sling TV||Hulu Live|
|A&E||🟠 + 🔵||✔️|
|AMC||🟠 + 🔵||❌|
|American Heroes Channel (AHC)||💲||💲|
|AXS TV||🟠 + 🔵||❌|
|BBC America||🟠 + 🔵||❌|
|BBC World News||💲||❌|
|BET||🟠 + 🔵||✔️|
|Big Ten Network||💲||✔️|
|Bloomberg Television||🟠 + 🔵||✔️|
|Cartoon Network (Adult Swim)||🟠 + 🔵||✔️|
|CBS Sports Network||❌||✔️|
|Cheddar||🟠 + 🔵||✔️|
|CNN||🟠 + 🔵||✔️|
|Comedy Central||🟠 + 🔵||✔️|
|Comet||🟠 + 🔵||❌|
|Cowboy Channel, The||💲||❌|
|Crime & Investigation||❌||✔️|
|Food Network||🟠 + 🔵||✔️|
|fuse TV||🟠 + 🔵||❌|
|Game Show Network||💲||❌|
|Hallmark Movies & Mysteries||💲||❌|
|Heroes & Icons||💲||❌|
|HGTV||🟠 + 🔵||✔️|
|History Channel||🟠 + 🔵||✔️|
|IFC||🟠 + 🔵||❌|
|Investigation Discovery||🟠 + 🔵||✔️|
|Law & Crime||💲||❌|
|Lifetime||🟠 + 🔵||✔️|
|Local Now||🟠 + 🔵||❌|
|MLB Strike Zone||💲||❌|
|Nat Geo Wild||💲||✔️|
|NBC News Now||❌||✔️|
|Nick Jr||🟠 + 🔵||✔️|
|Stadium||🟠 + 🔵||❌|
|TBS||🟠 + 🔵||✔️|
|TNT||🟠 + 🔵||✔️|
|Travel Channel||🟠 + 🔵||✔️|
|Vice TV||🟠 + 🔵||✔️|
|World Fishing Network||💲||❌|
Hulu + Live TV’s premium offerings are a little sparse. It’s got HBOMax, Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz. Sling doesn’t have HBOMax or Cinemax, but it does have Showtime and Starz, and in any case, all four are available as stand-alone subscriptions.
Sling also features around 40 other premium a la carte channels featuring dogs, Christian inspiration, Indian films, sports betting, horror movies, karaoke, and cooking, just to name a few. Hulu honestly doesn’t have anything like it.
Hulu Live‘s live TV Guide is a stand-out feature in its interface. It optionally breaks down channels by genre or type: TV, Movies, Hulu Originals, Sports, News, Kids. These make it more convenient to browse a subset of all the channels Hulu + Live TV offers. You can browse shows (and set up recordings) up to two weeks in advance, and the Guide is smooth and responsive when scrolling and navigating.
Sling TV’s most popular interface feature is its mini-guide, judging from subscribers’ reactions to its removal in Sling’s UI overhaul last year. The mini-guide allows viewers to bring up a menu ribbon along the bottom of the screen so they can browse other channels while still watching the original show. Mini-guide aside, the update did a lot to modernize Sling’s look, and make it more consistent with its competitors’ slick, intuitive UIs (like Hulu’s).
Sling TV offers a barebones cloud DVR with 50 hours of storage. You can upgrade this to 200 hours with DVR Plus for an extra $5/mo.
Hulu + Live TV used to provide roughly the same DVR but with limitations. As of early 2022, Hulu offers unlimited cloud DVR storage. The recordings last a maximum of 9 months.
One plus of Sling is that the recorders are permanent. You don’t have a lot of storage but whatever you have recorded will always be available.
Neither Hulu nor Sling are especially great when it comes to streaming on multiple devices. Hulu only allows you to stream on two devices at once. Sling is, well, complicated.
Sling Blue lets you stream on up to three devices at once (the industry standard). But Sling Orange limits you to viewing on one screen, all the time. If you subscribe to Orange & Blue, you can still only watch one Orange channel at a time, but you can watch them at the same time as the three blue channels, for a potential total simultaneous streaming of four channels.
Hulu also lets you upgrade your simultaneous screens to unlimited for $9.99/mo.
Both Sling and Hulu provide great support for streaming devices and TVs:
- Amazon Fire TV
- Android Mobile Devices
- Android TV (Sony,Sharp,TCL)
- Apple TV
- iOS Mobile Devices (iPhone,iPad)
- LG TV
- Samsung smart TVs
- VIZIO smart TVs
- Xbox One.
Which Is Best
So which one is better? Well, that entirely depends on you and how you watch TV. Does your household have lots of viewers who all like to watch different popular channels? Do you consider being able to watch your home team’s games a dealbreaker? Do you have one or more Disneyphiles, Star Wars fans, or Marvel-holics in your house? Then Hulu + Live TV may well be the way to go.
Or, are you a smaller household that doesn’t watch more than a dozen different favorite channels? Do you have niche interests like British TV or horror movies? Is your #1 complaint about cable that it’s just too much: too many channels, too many bells and whistles, and too much money? Then Sling TV is probably right up your alley.
This is not an either-or situation, of course. There are a lot more choices than just Sling and Hulu. Check out their competition:
- FuboTV: The “Netflix of soccer,” Fubo brings you all the excitement of European and South American soccer, plus a full range of general sports channels, more RSNs than Hulu, and a broad selection of non-sports channels. It costs $69.99/mo and comes with 1,000 hours of cloud DVR and streaming on up to 10 devices. (FuboTV review)
- DIRECTV STREAM: Providing the most cable-like experience of the streaming service, it gives you everything you expect for $69.99/mo. Or upgrade to Choice ($89.99/mo) for full access to its outstanding RSN collection. All plans come with unlimited cloud DVR and streaming on up to 20 devices. (DIRECTV STREAM review)
- Philo: The service priced so cheap, many get it as an add-on to another service. For instance, Hulu + Live TV subscribers who want AMC: here’s your AMC, only $25/mo. No sports, news, or locals, but you do get unlimited DVR and streaming on 3 devices. (Philo review)
- Vidgo: An odd duck of a streaming service, subscriptions start at $59.95/mo for lots of family-friendly content, right-leaning news channels, and college sports. No DVR, but they have limited ABC and Fox channels, and an excellent Spanish plan. (Vidgo review)
- YouTube TV: It wants to be Hulu + Live TV so bad, but Google just doesn’t have video entertainment resources Disney can bring to bear. Still, it’s missing A&E instead of AMC, so if you can’t live without Better Call Saul, then you better call YouTube TV.
Sling TV was already well-established as an alternative to cable TV when Hulu began offering live TV in 2017. By 2019, Hulu had passed Sling as the #1 live TV streaming service, a position it still enjoys today, with over 4 million subscribers. And while Sling has dropped to #3 (behind YouTube TV), it still has over 2.5 million subscribers. The takeaway isn’t that Hulu + Live TV is “better” than Sling, but that Sling TV just isn’t for everyone. The choice is yours!
How does Sling compare to Hulu on-demand content?
Sling doesn’t really compare to Hulu’s on-demand service. But that doesn’t mean that their on-demand library sucks or anything. It has currently over 8,000 movie and TV titles. It’s just not a selling point compared to Hulu’s on-demand library that basically defines the on-demand streaming industry.
Hulu’s on-demand library predates its Live TV service and is a product of Hulu’s collaborative origins. Hulu was originally founded by NBC and News Corp (Fox), and then Disney brought ABC and ESPN to the party too. That’s a lot of pooled content, from a lot of different providers. Times have changed a bit, and as contracts expire, some of the networks and studios have opted to instead keep their content for their own streaming services (Peacock, Paramount+, etc.). But it’s still one of the biggest on-demand libraries around.
Does Sling have an on-demand library?
Sling TV offers an on-demand library. It comes in two flavors: video on-demand and catch-up TV. Catch-up TV is about what you would expect: recently-aired programs you can watch like with a DVR but without using your DVR storage. It doesn’t work with all channels, but it works with most.
Video on-demand is more like Hulu’s library, where you can find shows and then browse seasons and episodes. Some of Sling’s channels (especially the a la carte ones) are on-demand only, meaning you can watch anything on it anytime; there’s no schedule.
Are you ready to try one or both of these services?