Move.org has compared the pricing and reliability of dozens of TV plans from the nation's top providers to determine whether cable or satellite TV is better for your home and your budget.
Cable vs. Satellite TV Service 2024
Moving is hectic and exhausting. Move.org is here to help save you time by helping you choose between cable and satellite TV service. Overall, we think that cable is the superior service.
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 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
Data as of 2/10/2023. 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 ($64.99–$154.99 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 $79.99–$109.99 monthly.
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 $109.99 a month.
$109.99 ÷ 290 = $0.38 per channel
That’s a solid CPC. In fact, 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 Astound Broadband powered by 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 $30 a month.
- Service 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.
- Regional sports network (RSN) fees: Y’all want FOX Sports South? The Longhorn Network? It’ll cost you up to $13.99 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. Some companies offer free installation or self installation.
- Self-installation fee: This is also a one-time fee. It covers the self-install kit and associated shipping costs.
- 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.
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.
Cable and satellite TV provider customer satisfaction ratings
Data as of 2/10/23. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
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.
Yes (very limited)
Data as of 12/2/21. 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 ($6–$30/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. Premium sports add-ons (NFL SUNDAY TICKET, NBA League Pass, MLS Direct Kick), for example, are $20–$400 per season or per month, depending on the add-on.
- 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 its partners like Frontier and CenturyLink in some areas.
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.
Move.org analyzes and ranks TV service providers using a five-step research process:
- Compare prices. We checked the prices for dozens of TV plans from the nation’s top providers to compare affordability.
- Compare channels. We checked the total number of channels offered by TV providers to determine which ones give you the most entertainment options for your money.
- Compare service quality. We analyzed the service quality and reliability of the television service types (satellite, cable, streaming, etc.) that each provider offers.
- Compare availability. We analyzed each TV provider’s availability to ensure that providers we recommend can service readers in different regions.
- Annual review. We annually revise our TV reviews and update them throughout the year to keep our recommendations up-to-date.