Cable vs. Satellite TV Service 2020

Moving is hectic and exhausting. Move.org is here to help save you time by helping you choose between cable and satellite TV service. First, let’s learn to tell them apart:

Cable TV comes into your house via a “cable” that plugs directly into your television. It’s more reliable than satellite television but also more expensive unless you bundle with internet and home phone service.

Satellite TV signals reach your screen through a dish installed on your roof. Then it travels down a cable and into your TV. Satellite television is not as reliable as cable since weather can cloud your reception, but it’s the more affordable service.

Cable TV vs. satellite TV pros and cons

CABLE TV

  • High channel counts
  • Bundling
  • Poor contracts
  • Bloated packages

SATELLITE TV

  • High channel counts
  • Best cost per channel
  • Wide availability
  • Poor contracts
  • Limited bundling opportunities
  • Poor reliability in bad weather

Now we’ll dig in deeper and see if cable or satellite emerges as superior.

Cable vs. satellite TV pricing

Is cable or satellite TV cheapest? It depends on the provider. You can find great deals on cable packages with certain providers, but satellite is ultimately the better value (at least in the first year).

Cable vs. satellite TV price comparison

Cost factorsCable TVSatellite TV
Package price range (TV only)$25.00–$90.00/mo.$40.00–$134.99/mo.
Channel counts55–425+44–330+
Cost per channel$0.21–$1.09$0.32–$0.91
Cost factors
Package price range (TV only)
Channel counts
Cost per channel
Cable TV Satellite TV
$25.00–$90.00/mo. $40.00–$134.99/mo.
55–425+ 44–330+
$0.21–$1.09 $0.32–$0.91

Data as of 08/25/20. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Because of area availability and competition, pricing for standalone cable TV packages can vary wildly between providers. Expect to pay $59.99–$90.00 a month for the more popular plans—but watch out for price hikes in the second year.

In the US, DIRECTV and DISH have a duopoly on satellite TV service. Also, satellite television service has almost 100% availability nationwide—so pricing is more stable.

That said, DIRECTV’s prices ($59.99–$134.99 per month for the first year) balloon by 30–40% in the second year. DISH, on the other hand, has a two-year price guarantee on its packages, which cost $59.99–$94.99 monthly.

Heads up exclamation

A THIRD SATELLITE PROVIDER?

A THIRD SATELLITE PROVIDER?

Orby TV debuted in 2019 as a simpler, less frustrating alternative to DIRECTV and DISH. Orby has no contracts, hidden fees, or paper billing—and offers only one package of 44+ mostly popular channels for $40 a month.

Sounds great, right? Well, Orby has super high startup costs ($190–$350) because you buy your antenna, dish, DVR, and receiver outright. And in our experience, its customer service is pretty bad—but the service is pretty good.

Cable vs. satellite TV cost-per-channel

But a more helpful detail than package price is cost-per-channel (CPC). To know a TV plan’s value, calculate its CPC by dividing the price by the channel count.

For example, DISH’s America’s Top 250 package has 290+ channels for $94.99 a month.

$94.99 ÷ 290 = $0.33 per channel

That’s a solid CPC. In fact, temporarily forgetting Orby, DIRECTV, and DISH have the best cost per channel numbers: $0.32–$0.41.

That’s not to say you can’t find great value with cable TV providers. After we drop the $1.09 cost per channel (reflecting a single Chicago-area plan from RCN), cable plans cost $0.21–$0.92 per channel.

As you can see, satellite TV packages usually have the best value.

Cable vs. satellite TV hidden fees

We’ve all done a spit-take when we’ve received a bill for more than we expect to owe. Hidden fees—that’s how they (cable and satellite) getcha.

Thankfully, providers generally disclose these fees when you first order service. But here’s a list so you know what to expect before you call.

  • Taxes: The rate will vary depending on where you live.
  • Device fees: Some providers charge a monthly fee for equipment—DVRs, receivers, multiroom viewing devices, etc. These generally don’t exceed $20 a month.
  • Regional sports network (RSN) fees: Y’all want FOX Sports South? The Longhorn Network? It’ll cost you around $9.99 a month—but in some areas, that covers a lot of channels.
  • Broadcast TV service charges: TV providers pass this expense on to us, the customers. Aw, thanks, The Establishment!
  • Professional installation fee: This is a one-time charge for hooking up your stuff.
  • Self-installation fee: This is also a one-time fee. It covers the self-install kit and associated shipping costs.
  • Activation fees: A most dubious fee, this one-time charge appears on your first bill. Ask nicely and a provider might waive this one. No guarantees.
  • Late fees: All but the most retentive of us know about these, which suck.
  • Reconnect fees: So you’ve missed a payment. Now you want your provider to click the box that reactivates your TV service. It’s gonna cost you. Insult, meet injury.
Bullhorn

HATE FEES? TRY LIVESTREAMING

HATE FEES? TRY LIVESTREAMING

Do you hate hidden fees? Consider a livestreaming TV service like AT&T TV NOW, Hulu + Live TV, Sling TV, or YouTube TV. They have fewer channels, so the cost-per-channel is higher, but you’re getting quality over quantity—plus no contracts and no hidden fees.

Cable vs. satellite TV availability

Cable TV providers greatly outnumber satellite TV providers—but satellite is more widely available. That’s because a satellite can beam the big game to almost anywhere on the planet.

Enter your zip code below to see which cable and satellite providers are in your area.

Cable vs. satellite TV customer experience

Each year, Move.org’s partner site, CableTV.com, asks cable and satellite TV customers to rate their providers in several customer satisfaction categories.

TV provider customer satisfaction ratings

ProviderOverall customer ratingConnection type
Cox3.97 / 5.00Cable
DIRECTV3.96 / 5.00Satellite
Spectrum3.94 / 5.00Cable
Verizon FiOS3.89 / 5.00Fiber
Optimum3.88 / 5.00Cable
Xfinity3.86 / 5.00Cable
DISH3.81 / 5.00Satellite
Frontier3.73 / 5.00Cable
Suddenlink3.55 / 5.00Cable
AT&T TV*NAStreaming
RCN**NACable
Orby TV*NASatellite
Overall customer rating Connection type
3.97 / 5.00 Cable
3.96 / 5.00 Satellite
3.94 / 5.00 Cable
3.89 / 5.00 Fiber
3.88 / 5.00 Cable
3.86 / 5.00 Cable
3.81 / 5.00 Satellite
3.73 / 5.00 Cable
3.55 / 5.00 Cable
NA Streaming
NA Cable
NA Satellite

Data as of 08/25/20. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
* New service; no survey score.
** Not enough survey respondents.

Read CableTV.com’s full survey to see how each provider scored in categories such as channel selection, DVR satisfaction, installation and setup, monthly billing, signal reliability, tech support and customer service, and value.

Cable vs. satellite TV services

What else, besides live TV, do you get for your money when you sign up for cable or satellite TV? These are the most common services offered by providers.

Comparison table

Cable TVSatellite TV
Bundling✔ Yes✔ Yes (very limited)
DVR✔ Yes✔ Yes
Multiroom viewing✔ Yes✔ Yes
Mobile app✔ Yes✔ Yes
Premium add-ons✔ Yes✔ Yes
Pay-per-view/rentals/purchases✔ Yes✔ Yes
On-demand library✔ Yes✔ Yes
Bundling
DVR
Multiroom viewing
Mobile app
Premium add-ons
Pay-per-view/rentals/purchases
On-demand library
Cable TV Satellite TV
✔ Yes ✔ Yes (very limited)
✔ Yes ✔ Yes
✔ Yes ✔ Yes
✔ Yes ✔ Yes
✔ Yes ✔ Yes
✔ Yes ✔ Yes
✔ Yes ✔ Yes

Data as of 08/25/20. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

  • Bundling: Cable companies are all about bundling (satellite, not so much). See if you can save cash by ordering TV, internet, and phone service from the same provider.
  • DVR ($4–$20/mo.): Ideally, you want high storage capacity, the ability to record the most shows at once, a voice remote, and integrated streaming apps. Some providers charge a fee for this service.
  • Multiroom viewing ($5–$10/mo.): Many providers offer additional devices so you can watch TV in more than one room. Expect a small monthly rental fee for each device.
  • Mobile app: Most providers have a free app that allows mobile watching, downloading for offline viewing, account management, bill pay, and other features.
  • Premium add-ons ($6–$20/mo.): Before signing up, make sure that your provider has the premium channels and add-on packages you want at a reasonable price.
  • Rentals/purchases ($2.99–$30 per title): Can you rent or purchase titles through your provider?
  • On-demand library: Many providers have libraries with thousands of titles available to watch at your convenience. It’s like having a free streaming service.

Our pick: cable TV

Hey, Mover—you’re almost done. By now, TV time probably looks as alluring as a siren singing on a seafaring sofa. So we’ll get to the point: cable TV is better than satellite TV. Not only is it the more reliable service, but cable bundles will save you time and money when it matters most.

But if you’re already set with internet and need only TV service, live TV streaming services have benefits that will make life easier on you: simple plans, no filler channels, no contracts, no installation appointments, and no hidden fees.

FAQ about cable vs. satellite TV

What is IPTV?

Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) is a fancy way of saying “streaming TV.”

Is DISH or cable better?

Cable is better. Here’s why:

  • Some cable providers don’t have contracts (or at least offer no-contract plans for a fee). DISH has two-year contracts.
  • Cable providers that do have contracts will raise prices in the second year. DISH has a two-year pricelock guarantee.
  • DISH, in addition to its two-year pricelock, has some of the lowest prices around—but some cable plans have better-to-comparable pricing.
  • Most cable providers have way more channels than DISH.
  • Cable is more reliable than satellite TV (DISH), which is affected by weather.
  • Cable providers also offer internet and home phone service, so you can probably save money and time by bundling. DISH doesn’t sell internet, but it does have bundling opportunities through Frontier in some areas.
  • All cable providers offer HBO®—DISH doesn’t.

What is the difference between cable and satellite TV?

Cable TV signals reach your TV via a cable. Satellite TV signals get to you through a satellite dish. Since satellite reception is affected by weather, cable is the more reliable connection.

Is cable better than DIRECTV?

Cable is better than DIRECTV.

  • DIRECTV has two-year contracts. Some cable providers have no contracts, or at least no-contract plans (with higher prices).
  • DIRECTV prices are pretty good for the first year, but they go up by 30–40% in the second year. Cable prices can also increase in the second year.
  • Some cable providers have way more channels than DIRECTV.
  • Cable is more reliable than satellite TV (DIRECTV), where weather can affect your signal.
  • A cable company usually also offers bundles with internet and phone service. DIRECTV doesn’t have either service—but it does have discounted bundles with its parent company, AT&T.
  • DIRECTV has NFL SUNDAY TICKET and includes the current season free for new customers.

About Randy Harward

Randy Harward
Randy Harward’s scribblings have appeared in HARP, Guitar World, Blurt, and a couple dozen other publications since the late ’90s. When he’s not watching TV professionally for CableTV.com, he’s eating burritos, playing disc golf, and caring for his tarantulas. Like everyone else on the internet, he thinks his cat is awesome.