Roku has become the most popular streaming device in the cord-cutter’s toolkit. At the same time, ESPN promises to remain the dominant sports network on television. So how do cord-cutters watch ESPN on Roku without cable?
Check out these six options to find out!
- 1 ESPN and Internet TV Services
- 2 DirecTV Now
- 3 Sling TV
- 4 Hulu with Live TV
- 5 PlayStation Vue
- 6 YouTube TV
- 7 WatchESPN on the Roku
ESPN and Internet TV Services
The money ESPN makes from the cable companies is too good for ESPN to change its business model anytime soon. As a result, the only way to get ESPN is through a paid TV provider. That used to mean you had to have a cable or satellite TV subscription.
Over the past three years, a new breed of internet TV services has made cord-cutting easier than ever. Companies like DirecTV Now and Sling TV deliver live TV broadcasts over your home internet connection. Legally.
The channels they carry include the most popular cable and broadcast networks. None of the channels are in standard definition. Features like cloud DVRs usually don’t require extra rental fees. And all of them have apps for the Roku.
Even better, these internet TV services cost a fraction of a cable subscription. Monthly charges usually fall in the $40-$50 range.
Another bonus: ESPN treats the five internet TV providers DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV, PlayStation Vue, Sling TV and YouTube TV just like any other paid TV provider. That means the login credentials you use to access your internet TV provider’s app will unlock the live and on-demand content in the WatchESPN app.
DirecTV Now’s strength lies in its channel selection. The more than 120 channels you can get from DirecTV Now is more than any other internet TV service. That’s one of the reasons more than 1.2 million people have made DirecTV Now the second-largest service in the live TV streaming industry.
Subscription plans and channels
When you sign up with DirecTV Now, you have to choose between four subscription plans. Each step up in price adds more channels to your lineup. Even at its most expensive level, though, DirecTV Now’s $70 monthly cost is still a fraction of a cable bill.
- Live a Little: 60+ channels / $35 per month.
- Just Right: 80+ channels / $50 per month.
- Go Big: 100+ channels / $60 per month.
- Gotta Have It: 120+ channels / $70 per month.
If all you’re interested in are the big games from the major sports leagues, then the “Live a Little” plan might be enough for you. It includes the two flagship channels, ESPN and ESPN2.
Getting all of the ESPN channels DirecTV Now carries won’t require a huge payout. The next plan up, the “Just Right” plan, only costs $15 a month more.
DirecTV Now’s subscription plans give you access to live TV streams and to a large on-demand library with more than 25,000 titles. Only Hulu offers more on-demand choices.
If DirecTV Now has one critical weakness, it’s the lack of a cloud DVR feature. You can’t record programs or events to watch later. Neither can you pause live TV to fast forward through the commercials.
AT&T owns DirecTV and recently made it clear that its internet streaming service is critical to the telecom company’s future. A massive investment last year will produce new DirecTV Now features within a few months.
Most importantly, DirecTV Now subscribers will finally get a cloud DVR. Some subscribers have been beta testing the feature for several months. While DirecTV Now hasn’t defined the details, the beta testers have been able to record one hundred hours of content.
Another enhancement in the works is support for 4K ultra high definition channels. Anyone who owns a 4K-capable Roku will be able to send that programming to their 4K television.
Of course, the living room isn’t the only place where you and your family might want to watch TV. Right now, DirecTV Now households can only use two devices at the same time. That number will increase to three by the spring of 2018.
DirecTV Now’s app support isn’t the best in the industry. That won’t be a big deal since your Roku handles the living room television. The other devices your family is most likely to use are smartphones, tablets and computers. DirecTV Now has those covered.
As the first to market, Sling TV’s head start and $20-per-month starter plan let it quickly become the largest internet TV service in the United States. Today more than two million people get their TV from Sling TV.
Subscription plans and channels
Sling TV structures its subscription plans differently from DirecTV Now and PlayStation Vue. Rather than charging more as you add more channels, Sling TV offers two base plans with different channel lineups. You can subscribe to one or the other or both.
- Orange: 30 channels for $20.
- Blue: 45 channels for $25.
- Orange+Blue: 53 channels for $40.
You can only get ESPN and ESPN2 when you subscribe to the Orange or Orange+Blue plans. A $5 monthly fee will add a Sports Extra channel pack that includes ESPN Bases Loaded, ESPN Goal Line, ESPNews, ESPNU and ten other sports channels. As with the flagship ESPN channels, you can’t get the Sports Extra pack with the Blue subscription plan.
The Blue plan includes NBC and Fox as well as many popular lifestyle channels that you can’t get with the Orange plan. If you’re looking to replace your cable service, Sling TV only makes sense when you subscribe to the Orange+Blue combination.
The cloud DVR is not a standard part of Sling TV’s subscriptions. You have to pay an extra $5 per month to unlock recording features. Once you upgrade, you can record up to 50 hours of TV.
Support for devices is one area where Sling TV is easy to understand. Besides the Roku, you’ll find apps for the most popular streaming platforms.
However, Sling TV imposes weird limits on how you stream to the devices in your home. You can watch channels in the Orange plan on only one device at a time. You can watch channels in the Blue plan on as many as three devices at a time. Even when you subscribe to the Orange+Blue plan, the limits still apply.
Hulu introduced its live TV service in early 2017. Technically speaking, Hulu with Live TV is a public beta. Anyone in the United States can sign up, but Hulu is still tinkering under the hood. Football fans found out what that means the hard way. With one minute to go in the Super Bowl, and with Tom Brady leading the Patriots on a downfield drive to tie the Eagles, many Hulu customers lost their signal.
Subscription plans and channels
Growing pains aside, Hulu with Live TV has a strong offering. For $40 per month, you’ll get between fifty and seventy channels. The exact number depends on how many regional sports networks and local channels you can get.
The Hulu lineup includes five of ESPN’s cable channels: ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNews, ESPNU and ESPN Goal Line.
You also get complimentary access to Hulu’s industry-leading library of on-demand content.
Hulu with Live TV includes a cloud DVR with the monthly subscription. You can record up to fifty hours of programming. If that isn’t enough, a $15-per-month upgrade expands the cloud DVR to a full two hundred hours.
Besides your Roku, you can get Hulu with Live TV on a wider range of devices than any other internet TV service.
By default, Hulu caps your household’s streaming at two devices. Another $15 monthly upgrade removes the cap on your home network. You can stream to as many devices as your internet bandwidth can support. In addition, you can stream to as many as three devices away from home.
Hulu offers a nice discount to subscribers who want to get both the cloud DVR upgrade and the simultaneous device upgrade. Combined, the two upgrades only cost $20 per month.
Sony’s internet TV service, PlayStation Vue, looks very similar to DirecTV Now in the way it structures its subscription plans. But it has a fuller, more family-friendly set of features.
You may be wondering why we include a PlayStation service in an article about watching ESPN on the Roku. We added it here because PlayStation Vue is in fact available on Roku devices and many others.
Subscription plans and channels
PlayStation Vue makes deciding which plan to get easy. Each rung of the subscription ladder gives you more channels.
- Access: 45 channels for $40 per month.
- Core: 60 channels for $45 per month.
- Elite: 84 channels for $55 per month.
- Ultra: 87 channels, including HBO and Showtime, for $75 per month.
Like with DirecTV Now, you get both ESPN and ESPN2 with PlayStation Vue’s entry-level “Access” plan. Paying an extra $5 a month for the “Core” plan adds ESPNU’s college sports events and ESPNews’ coverage of sports news. At the “Elite” level, you get ESPN Deportes’ Spanish-language simulcasts and coverage of international soccer matches.
Die-hard sports fans can get even more sports channels by adding an expansion pack to their PlayStation Vue subscriptions. For an extra $10 monthly charge, the pack adds ESPN Goal Line, ESPN Bases Loaded and ESPN Classic as well as seven other sports networks.
PlayStation Vue’s cloud DVR has no storage limits — you can record as much as you want. Just not forever. The cloud DVR will delete the recordings after twenty-eight days.
Another nice feature for large households is the ability to stream live TV to as many as five devices at a time. PlayStation Vue’s device support extends far beyond Roku and the PlayStation itself. Just don’t expect support for the Xbox!
Sony does offer a few perks for sports fans who own a PlayStation 4 game console. PlayStation Vue on the PlayStation supports streaming of as many as three video streams at a time.
YouTube TV launched in early 2017 around the same time as Hulu with Live TV. Support for local TV stations is YouTube TV’s biggest strength — and its biggest weakness. YouTube decided that it would not enter a market unless it could stream the local affiliates of the national broadcast networks. Unfortunately, that means half of America lives in places where YouTube TV isn’t available.
Plans and features
If you can get it, YouTube TV is your best option for streaming local TV stations. You also get a strong package of features. The single $35-per-month subscription option gets you up to fifty channels, including ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU. You also get a mix of information, lifestyle and entertainment channels.
YouTube TV’s cloud DVR is one of the best you’ll find. You can record as many programs as you want and keep them for nine months.
Each YouTube TV account supports up to six profiles, giving family members their own profiles, favorites, recommendations and cloud DVR library.
YouTube TV’s support for streaming devices has been relatively weak. Since your Roku takes care of the family TV, however, YouTube TV’s apps for Android and iOS should have you covered.
If you have any Amazon Fire tablets, you may not see a YouTube TV app for a long time. YouTube and Amazon have such a bad relationship that they refuse to support each other’s products.
WatchESPN on the Roku
WatchESPN consolidates the live streams and on-demand content from all eight ESPN cable channels, the ESPN3 digital-only channel, and three regional channels focused on NCAA sports.
All you have to do to get WatchESPN is add WatchESPN’s Roku channel to your Roku. You can also find WatchESPN apps on a wide range of mobile and streaming devices. As long as you’re a subscriber to one of the internet TV services we just discussed, you’ll have everything you need to watch ESPN on Roku without cable.