If you’ve been hanging around cord cutting blogs long enough, you’ve probably heard a lot about “skinny bundles” (and if you haven’t been hanging out at cord cutting blogs, now’s a great time to bookmark ours). Or maybe you’ve heard of “live TV streaming services,” or “OTT multichannel services,” or any number of other clumsy terms that all, as it happen, refer to the same sort of service. So what is a skinny bundle, or an OTT live TV service, or whatever else people are calling it? Is it just cable by a different name? Is it “cord cutting,” or isn’t it, or is it something in between? Let’s take a closer look at this relatively new type of service and how it’s changing the cord cutting game.
Prehistory: Cord Cutting Before “Skinny Bundles”
To understand what skinny bundles are and where they came from, it might help to take a trip back in time. Let’s set our time machine’s dials to the long-lost year of 2014, when the best answer to the question “what is a skinny bundle?” would have been “well, nothing, yet.”
In 2014, none of the skinny bundles we’re talking about here had gotten a full release yet. Cord cutters relied on on-demand content for movies and TV shows, using apps like Netflix and Hulu, just like they do now. Cord cutters were increasingly using free over-the-air (OTA) TV, too, so they did have a live TV option.
But OTA TV doesn’t have network television channels like AMC or TBS. The only way to watch those channels live was to subscribe to a legacy pay TV service like cable or satellite. And those services were bulky and overpriced. Then, as now, cable and satellite loved to bundle hundreds of channels together. Customers who just wanted to watch TBS or ESPN had to pay for FXX, MTV2, and ESPN8 too (okay, the last one isn’t real). And the cable giants would even bundle those bundles into super-bundles with phone and internet service – just as they still do today, of course.
If only there were a way to watch these channels without cable, cord cutters dreamed. Maybe they could stream online, just as on-demand content does on Netflix. And maybe they could slim down those bulky bundles, too.
In January of 2015, we got a very exciting answer: from now on, there would be a way to get all of this. It was called the “skinny bundle.”
What Is a Skinny Bundle?
In January of 2015, Sling TV was the first skinny bundle to get a widespread release. How it worked then is pretty similar to how it works now, and it’s also more or less how the competition works.
Sling TV works like this: it’s a streaming service, like Netflix, but also a pay TV “multichannel” service, like cable or satellite. Sling TV is actually owned by a satellite company – Dish – but that doesn’t mean that it’s not disrupting the old rules. Sling TV’s bundles are a great deal slimmer than the ones you’re used to from cable and satellite, and Sling TV also offers customers the ability to customize their bundle with add-ons.
The model for the skinny bundle, then, is simply this:
- A skinny bundle will provide you with a bundle of live TV channels, just like cable, except
- That bundle is generally going to be smaller than the ones that cable offers, so
- Skinny bundles tend to be cheaper than cable packages. Finally,
- Skinny bundles are streaming services, so you can watch them all over the place on all different devices (including on your Smart TV, Roku, or other streaming device).
And that’s pretty much it!
Skinny bundles can vary a bit, of course, and the business space has evolved. Sling TV’s model allows customers to choose a base package and then customize it with little add-on bundles of channels, but other services – like PlayStation Vue, which emerged later on in that same year, 2015 – offer tiers of service with pre-selected bundles of different sizes. Vue and other competitors, like DIRECTV NOW, even offer some pretty fat skinny bundles, with the largest skinny bundles reaching toward 100 channels and beyond – not so skinny at all, really! Some skinny bundles offer cloud DVR services, either included or at an additional price. Nearly all use the add-on model for premium channels like HBO and Showtime
But all skinny bundles (or live TV streaming services, or OTT multichannel services, or whatever else you’d like to call them) offer live streaming TV while using smaller bundle sizes and other measures to keep costs lower than what you’re used to from cable. That’s it!
Meet the Skinny Bundles
What is a skinny bundle? Well, now you know – but you don’t know which services are skinny bundles. Here are a few of the largest and most trusted skinny bundles on the market right now. Each of these services offers a free trial, so checking out one or two would be a good way to familiarize yourself with the world of skinny bundles.
AT&T’s version of the skinny bundle offers a selection of bundles that range from the smallest, “Live a Little” ($35 per month) on up to much less skinny options. You can read our review of DIRECTV NOW here, or you can check it out for yourself by taking a look at its week-long free trial offer – the link is below.
fuboTV started life as a soccer-specific streaming service before rebooting and re-launching as a more general-interest skinny bundle. Fans of some sports will still find that fuboTV has some advantages for them, but there’s something for everyone in the service now. Read our review of fuboTV here, or check out the free trial below.
Streaming video on demand (SVOD) service Hulu also has a skinny bundle option. The appropriately named Hulu With Live TV costs $39.99 per month for its only skinny bundle option. You can learn more about Hulu with Live TV by reading our review here.
Philo’s goal is to be the cheapest of the skinny bundles, and it’s doing a pretty good job of it. Philo keeps the prices on its twin bundles down to just $16 per month and $20 per month, respectively. That’s possible in part because of what Philo doesn’t have: sports and local channels. By skipping those costly bits of skinny bundle fare, Philo is able to offer everything else at crazy competitive prices. If you don’t need sports or local channels, Philo is a fantastic option.
PlayStation Vue is available for all sorts of different platforms, including Roku and Fire TV devices, so don’t let the name scare you off just because you’re not a PlayStation owner. PlayStation Vue offers subscribers a choice of bundles that range from the $39.99 per month “Access” bundle up to much larger ones. PlayStation Vue offers a five-day free trial.
Sling TV got some attention in this article, because it was the first service to being to define live TV streaming services and answer that question in our title: what is a skinny bundle? In Sling TV’s view, it’s an a la carte bundle that you build yourself by starting with a base package (the $20-per-month Sling Orange or the $25-per-month Sling Blue) and then adding add-on bundles for $5 or more a pop. You can check out Sling TV for free for a week.
YouTube TV is Google’s version of the skinny bundle. As of this writing, YouTube TV is still in the midst of a region-by-region rollout. But it’s available in many areas already, and it’s a very strong service that earned good marks in our YouTube TV review. YouTube TV costs $40 per month and includes a lot of great channels. You can check it out for free for a week by signing up for its free trial offer.
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