Earlier this year both YouTube and Hulu launched their own live TV services. This review will compare YouTube TV vs. Hulu TV and help you find out which is the best live TV streaming service for you.
2017 is turning into the year of the cord-cutter as more services start delivering TV content to people who have canceled their cable subscriptions. These so-called over-the-top companies give you subscription-based access to cable and broadcast networks over your home broadband connection.
Although Hulu has been offering on-demand streaming since 2008, it just launched the “beta” version of its live TV service this year. Hulu TV carries live streams from more than 55 networks. Combined with its deep catalog of on-demand content, this makes Hulu TV a compelling over-the-top solution for cord-cutters.
YouTube built its reputation on user-generated content. Now it wants to offer the YouTube Generation a way to watch any kind of video content on any device. It rolled out its YouTube TV service in early 2017. At first only available in a dozen cities, YouTube TV quickly expanded to cover most of the major television markets in the United States. One thing to note: YouTube TV is a separate service from YouTube Red which lets you watch YouTube videos without ads. If you subscribe to both, then you can watch your YouTube favorites through YouTube TV.
YouTube TV Versus Hulu TV – How to Decide?
To answer that question, we’ll take an in-depth look at each service. First we’ll go over how to get each service. Then, we’ll compare price and device support. Next, we’ll evaluate the content Hulu and YouTube have to offer. Finally, we’ll review the features that give each service its special sauce before making a final choice.
Getting Hulu TV and YouTube TV
Subscriptions and add-ons
YouTube TV wins a strictly by-the-numbers comparison. Its $35-per-month subscription is cheaper than Hulu’s $39.99-per-month base plan. YouTube even offers a more generous fourteen-day free trial (Hulu’s is seven days).
Hulu TV, on the other hand, gives its customers much more flexibility to enhance their experience with additional monthly charges (we’ll talk details later in the review):
- $4-per-month to go commercial-free
- $14.99 for more DVR features
- $14.99 for unlimited streams
- $14.99 for HBO
- $9.99 for Cinemax
- $8.99 for Showtime
By comparison, YouTube’s upgrades are limited to three premium channels:
- $11 for Showtime
- $15 for Fox Soccer
- $10 for YouTube Red
Maxing out the options with Hulu will raise your monthly bill to more than $100 – well into cable territory.
In terms of coverage, the YouTube TV versus Hulu TV contest ends in a tie. Whether you think one has better coverage than the other will depend on whether you can get the services where you live – and whether you can stream your local TV stations.
If you’ve read AddonHQ’s coverage of live TV streaming, you’ll know that it’s a mess. Licensing issues prevent over-the-top services from streaming networks’ local affiliates in some markets but not others. The only way to find out if you’re covered or not is to check your zip code with each service.
Both Hulu TV and YouTube TV offer their services in most of the major markets in the United States. Out of the largest cities in the US, only residents of Detroit and El Paso can’t get YouTube TV. Hulu does not provide local streams to all markets either, but it is not as forthcoming as YouTube in explaining where the service is available. In both cases, you’ll need to check your zip code to see what your service will be like.
The two services assign your local streams based on where you are. New Yorkers living in LA won’t be able to stream the stations in the Big Apple. When you travel in the United States, both services will change the local streams to match whatever city you’re in, so no keeping up with what’s happening back home. And if you leave the country, then both services cut off your access.
Hulu wins this category for its broad platform support. You can watch live TV through the Hulu apps for iPhones, iPads, Apple TV (4th and 5th generation), Android phones and tablets, Amazon Fire devices, and both Xbox One and Xbox 360’s. PC and Mac users can watch TV through their browser. An update is in the works for Hulu’s Roku apps that will add live TV capabilities, but no word on plans for PlayStation support.
YouTube’s app support, by comparison, is much more limited. Browsers and both iOS and Android devices are your only options. You can cast or Airplay video from those apps to a Chromecast or Apple TV, but that’s it.
We’ll have to call this one a draw. YouTube TV versus Hulu TV? It all depends on your TV-watching preferences. Both services stream content from more than fifty networks. About three dozen of those networks are on both services. The remaining networks unique to each service don’t give either one a clear advantage over the other.
Hulu TV’s lineup makes it look more like a traditional cable service. It offers more options for unscripted content with the Travel Channel, Food Network, and History Channel. Hulu also has A&E, TBS, TNT, and USA which could make a difference if you’re a fan of shows like The Last Ship or Mr. Robot.
YouTube TV has more diversity in its network lineup. Spanish-language channels include Universo and Telemundo. BBC World News provides an outside perspective on US politics and world events. BBC America airs period dramas, edgy crime series, and Doctor Who. WE (formerly Women’s Entertainment) has original unscripted programming and syndicated dramas that target women. Sundance and IFC stream alternative films and documentaries.
Hulu is the clear winner here. The Hulu TV subscription includes access to its deep catalog of on-demand movies and TV shows. YouTube TV, on the other hand, is limited to whatever episodes each network makes available for on-demand viewing. Here’s a quick run-down of how Hulu TV and YouTube TV compare for some popular shows on TV:
- The Blacklist – NBC limits both Hulu TV and YouTube TV to the last five episodes of Season 4.
- The Simpsons – Fox gives both services access to the entire catalog.
- Blue Bloods – Hulu TV has CBS’ entire seven-season catalog, but YouTube only has three episodes from Season 7.
- Better Things – The FX comedy’s current season plays on both services, but the only way to catch up on the first season is with a Hulu TV subscription.
Right now Hulu TV wins for original content if for no other reason than that they got a running start. Hulu adopted The Mindy Project as an on-demand series after Fox canceled it three years ago. Hulu’s latest in-house production, The Handmaid’s Tale, received seven nominations and took home two Emmy Awards this year. Hulu now spends $2.5 billion a year on its original productions, enough to create a steady pipeline of traditional, high-quality content.
YouTube is new to the game of original content, and it is still ramping things up. People familiar with the matter told Bloomberg that YouTube has budgeted “hundreds of millions of dollars” for original content in the next year. Ryan Seacrest will create a music competition called Best.Cover.Ever. Ellen DeGeneres will produce behind-the-scenes videos from her daytime show. Ralph Macchio will assume his Karate Kid role in Cobra Kai.
Big-name celebrities (and c-listers like Macchio) are not the only ones getting YouTube bucks. The company has backed dozens of YouTube creators, like Rhett & Link’s Buddy System, to help them step up their game.
The thing is, YouTube’s original content is not exclusive to YouTube TV. It is either free-to-watch on YouTube itself or included with the YouTube Red ad-free subscription program. If you subscribe separately to YouTube Red, then you can watch it on YouTube TV.
Both YouTube TV and Hulu TV break away from the long-established electronic programming guide. This takes some adjustment if you grew up navigating a cable box’s grid of channels and times. If you grew up with YouTube, however, getting used to either service won’t take much time at all.
YouTube’s coolest feature is the live thumbnails. At a glance, you can see what’s on right now – and which networks are in the middle of a commercial break. It’s an impressive approach, but only if you run YouTube TV on relatively recent hardware. Older computers and tablets may struggle to keep up.
Hulu calls its service a “beta” project – and it shows. When you arrive at the hulu.com site, you won’t see any obvious way to watch live TV. The link is hidden in the profile drop-down and sends you to a different interface. The experience in the Apple TV app is similar – you have to dig two levels down into the Browse section before you’ll see your live TV options.
Judging the interfaces of YouTube TV versus Hulu TV is tough. YouTube gets the win since it fully embraces its service unlike Hulu’s arms-length attitude towards its “beta” service.
YouTube TV and Hulu TV take different approaches to their DVR functions – and YouTube’s wins.
YouTube acts like the cloud-native company it is. It doesn’t pretend that its DVR is a box with a fixed-capacity hard drive. You can “record” as much content as you want. However, you can only keep it saved for nine months.
Hulu, on the other hand, acts more like a cable company. It treats its DVR like a physical cable box – and uses it to milk more money out of its subscribers. You can keep your saved programs as long as you want, but you can only save up to fifty hours of content. The $14.99-per-month upgrade will quadruple the DVR’s “capacity” to two hundred hours.
YouTube takes this category, hands down. You can give six people access to your YouTube TV account. They get their own log-ins and their own DVR library. It’s a great way to let family or roommates stream the video they want without cluttering your recommendations with their weird taste in TV.
Hulu’s base subscription limits your account to two simultaneous streams and does not allow for additional accounts. You can, however, upgrade to unlimited streams at home and up to three mobile streams for another $14.99-per-month.
This one’s a wash since both YouTube TV and Hulu TV treat advertising the same way. Hulu does get a slight edge for its commercial-free upgrade which eliminates ads on all on-demand content. YouTube only offers ad-free experience on YouTube videos if you have a YouTube Red subscription.
The live TV streams, of course, have all the ads you’d get if you were watching cable. If you pause a show, you can fast forward through the commercials during the live broadcast. If you record the show to the DVR, you might be able to do the same thing – or you might not.
Both YouTube and Hulu both limit you to bookmarking the on-demand version of an episode rather than recording the actual live feed. As a result, if you DVR a live TV show you may be stuck watching all the normal Hulu / YouTube ads that pop up when you watch on-demand content.
Best for Cordcutters: Hulu TV
Category-by-category the YouTube TV versus Hulu TV match-up was evenly balanced. When you add it all up, though, Hulu TV is the best choice for cord-cutters who want to replace their cable subscription with an over-the-top solution.
YouTube’s new service shows a lot of promise and its unlimited DVR and shared accounts make if family friendly. But its relatively weak supply of original programming and on-demand content push YouTube TV into second place.
Although upgrades can make it pricey, Hulu TV’s combination of live network streams and deep on-demand catalogs make it a great replacement for your cable subscription.