To find the best cheap TV provider, focus on the value you’re getting for your price. Not just how many channels you’re receiving, but more importantly, which channels. The best way to do that? Think about the specific channels you watch the most; get quotes for each provider in your area; and then compare their channel packages, installation fees, and any other recurring costs.
There was no provider that stood out as the single best, so we’re featuring the top nine. TV service providers are relatively similar to each other, and those small differences hold different weight for different shoppers. We’ve laid out the best and worst features of these nine providers so you can compare based on what you need from your TV service.
How to Find the Best Cheap TV Providers
In our search, we compared the nine most widely available and best ranked providers — AT&T, DIRECTV, Verizon FiOS, Charter Spectrum, Xfinity from Comcast, DISH Network, Optimum by Cablevision, Mediacom, and Cox Communications.
Before we jump in, it’s important to note that television service providers, much like internet providers, are going to vary based on location. Their packages, prices, and channel lineups can vary too. We pulled package and pricing data for each provider in their top service areas, but the only way to be sure of your options is to get a custom quote.
Think about the channels you value most.
TV providers love to upsell hundred-channel packages, but more doesn’t always mean better. Most people aren’t regularly tuning in to FidoTV or the Gem Shopping Network.
In 2016, Nielsen Company found that, of an average of 200 channels being paid for, about 19 of them are being watched by consumers. To help you compare, we looked at how many of the 35 most-watched channels each package offered.
If you’re looking for a well-rounded lineup, the two cheapest packages from any provider will cover most, if not all, the big names. However, to find the best plan for you, you’ll need to create your own channel wishlist and compare it against each provider’s channel packages.
Watch out for installation and equipment fees.
While installation is just a one-time cost, fees range from $35 to $200 depending on the provider. Satellite providers don’t charge for installation, but they do require a one-year contract commitment. If you’re planning to move or on the fence about TV service, you might get hit with early termination fees.
You’ll also need basic equipment. Simple set-top cable boxes are tools to control the more basic service you receive, and they’re usually free. You can scroll through the channel guide with them, but can’t record or manipulate live TV. To record live TV, you’ll need a DVR. Most plans offer DVR service as an add-on to your monthly subscription — like renting a router and modem from your internet provider. On average, DVRs cost an extra $10–$15 per month, but some providers, like Charter Spectrum, will give you one for free.
But don’t set high expectations for customer service.
TV service providers are notorious for unreliable service, but some are better than others. To see how they stack up, we compared customer satisfaction scores from J.D. Power, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), and Consumer Reports Reader Score. The best score among them is relative — of the 43 industries the ACSI tracks, TV and internet providers are consistently ranked last. If you value clear and efficient communication, responsive technical support, or reliable equipment over price alone, these ratings should weigh more heavily.
The Best Cheap TV Providers
With five different channel package options, AT&T provides the most variety. It offers both the smallest and largest channel packages of all our picks, basic at 20 channels and U450 at 550 channels.
AT&T’s most basic package, aptly named Basic, has 20 network channels: ABC, NBC, FOX, PBS, the CW. If you only want cable for basic network TV shows and live events, this could suffice. But if you want more variety with channels like Disney Channel, HGTV, Animal Planet, or Discovery Channel, you’ll be happier with the $50 Family package that’s around 200 channels and includes 12 of the top 35 channels.
For even more — ESPN, MTV, A&E, TBS, CNN, Lifetime, and Bravo — you’ll want the U200 plan’s 360 channels. It has 34 of the 35 most popular channels (only missing Hallmark Movies). Upgrade to U300 or U400 for HD replicas, international news, and more sports.