How Do We Rank Streaming Services?

Let’s demystify what it is we do here at HowtoWatch.

It’s actually pretty simple: we want to help you find the best way to watch your favorite shows, channels, and sports. To do this, we show you your streaming options, ranked based on what will best help you watch the content in question.

We base our rankings on our own in-depth research, as well as the probability of a service working for you. For instance, we might rank Sling TV last for cord-cutters who want to watch The Bachelor because Sling TV offers access to that show in only eight markets. That doesn’t necessarily mean Sling TV is the worst option for your household—just that it’s the worst option for most people looking to watch The Bachelor.

Basically, there’s no one-size-fits-all streaming solution—at least not yet. Each streaming service has different strengths and weaknesses, all of which make it confusing to suss out which service you should sign up for. Again, that’s the whole reason we rank services—to help eliminate some of that confusion for you.

So how do we decide which services rank high and which services rank low?

We want to be fair in how we rank services, so we’ve developed our own in-house methodology to hold ourselves accountable and stay as unbiased as possible. This methodology takes the following factors into account:

  • Channel availability

The first, and arguably the most important, question we ask when ranking streaming services is whether or not the service in question offers the channel or channels you need. Services that offer the fullest, most comprehensive access to the content in question will naturally rank higher than services that offer limited access or don’t offer access at all.

  • Price/value

Most people’s primary motivation for cutting the cord is saving money. We understand—we love not being broke, too! That’s why a major factor in our rankings is how much it costs to get access to the show, channel, team, or sport in question. We also look at value, aka the cost per channel. So for example, YouTube TV and DIRECTV NOW cost the same, but DIRECTV NOW has more channels, making it a better value for the price. Without considering other factors, that would place DIRECTV NOW higher in our rankings than YouTube TV.

  • Local channel availability

Some of the most popular shows and highly anticipated games are broadcast on major networks like ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC. These networks depend on local affiliate stations to broadcast their content, which means streaming services have to strike deals with your area’s affiliate channel in order to offer live access in your market.

Some streaming services are better at this than others, meaning you’re more likely to get access to The Big Bang Theory with one provider than you are with another. We factor this into our rankings because we want to provide recommendations that will work for the largest number of people nationwide.

  • Streaming quality

We know that just because a streaming service offers the channels you want doesn’t necessarily make it the best service. When we analyze a service’s streaming quality, we want to know more about the entire experience. Is the service easy to use? Are the menus easy to navigate? Are there frequent delays, glitches, or bugs while using the service? Is the picture clear? Does the audio sync with the picture? We take all that into account when we make our rankings.

  • DVR capabilities

Like cable providers, streaming services offer DVRs with diverse storage capacities and features. Different viewers will consider different features a priority, but we favor services that don’t charge extra for DVR space, offer higher storage limits, and let you skip commercials while watching recorded content.

  • Live and on demand availability

Everybody consumes TV differently. You may prefer watching your favorite shows live, while your neighbor may prefer watching it on demand. When possible, we like to prioritize services that offer both live and on-demand access to the content you want. That way, our recommendation works for the largest number of people.

  • Playback features

Basically, we want to know if a service gives you the ability to pause, fast forward, and rewind—and we want to make sure you can skip commercials wherever possible. Consequently, we tend to prefer services that deliver the most playback features, regardless of whether you’re watching live TV, DVR recordings, or on-demand content.

  • Device compatibility

We don’t frequently take device compatibility into consideration, simply because the above factors are usually enough to establish ranking. On the rare occasion that we have a draw, though, we also compare the number of devices the service is compatible with and whether or not it’s compatible with the most popular streaming devices (typically game consoles, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV, and mobile devices).

We prioritize these factors depending on the type of content you want to watch. Why? Because different types of viewers have different priorities. For instance, a cord-cutter who wants to watch The Walking Dead will probably be more concerned about a service’s DVR capabilities than a cord-cutter who just wants to watch their nightly local news. Likewise, sports fans will likely be a lot more concerned about streaming quality than The Big Bang Theory fans, as even a split-second glitch could make you miss the most important play of the game.

Here’s how our priorities break down.

Channels/shows:

  1. Channel availability
  2. Local channel availability*
  3. Price/value
  4. DVR capabilities
  5. Streaming quality
  6. Live and on-demand availability
  7. Playback features
  8. Device compatibility

Sports/teams:

  1. Channel availability
  2. Price/value
  3. Local channel availability
  4. Streaming quality
  5. Playback features
  6. DVR capabilities
  7. Live and on-demand availability
  8. Device compatibility
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*Local channel availability becomes a lower priority if the channel is a cable network or a show broadcast on a cable network (cable network=any network that doesn’t have local affiliates).

Do we get paid for our rankings?

Our team needs to eat—trust us, you do not want to see our writers when they’re hangry. So, to keep our site afloat, we have established affiliate agreements with most of the major streaming services. That means we sometimes get a kickback when you use one of our links to sign up for a service, which keeps our site free to use.

Does this influence our rankings? Not really. Because we have agreements with so many different streaming providers, it’s pretty easy for us to maintain a fair approach to all the services. Honestly, our number one priority is that you’re informed about your options and that your choice works for you.

If you have any other questions about our ranking methodology, please feel free to reach out to us via email.

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