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YouTube TV vs. Hulu

YouTube TV and Hulu icons on Apple TV
(Image credit: WhatToWatch.com)

One of the hottest battles in the U.S. streaming arena is YouTube TV vs. Hulu. Or, more precisely, Hulu With Live TV.

In one corner we have YouTube TV, the live streaming service from Google that sports more than 3 million paid subscribers as of October 2020. (Google hasn't given updated numbers since then.) And in the other corner is Hulu With Live TV. It's owned by Disney, which noted that the service had 4 million paid subscribers as of Jan. 2, 2021.

It's possible that these two services will trade places at some point on our list of the biggest live streaming services. Or they may not. But given the lead that they have over everyone else (Sling TV is No. 3 with about 2.3 million subscribers), there's no doubt that it's going to be all about YouTube TV vs. Hulu for a while to come.

The good news is that you've got two great options here. So let's take a look at the two U.S.-based streaming services side by side.

YouTube TV vs. Hulu — price

On paper, the price of YouTube TV vs. Hulu With Live TV is a wash. Both cost $64.99 a month, plus tax. Both have a free trial period. (For more, read about the YouTube TV free trial.) And both let you cancel without any sort of fee.

That's only part of the story, though, because Hulu actually has a pretty big ace up its sleeve. A couple of them, actually.

First is that along with the Hulu With Live TV subscription comes the entire on-demand catalog from Hulu. That means a world of movies shows that you might have seen elsewhere at some point, and it also means Hulu exclusives like The Handmaid's Tale, A Teacher, and more. And there's also FX on Hulu, which is where you'll find all of the FX network shows, as well as new FX on Hulu exclusives like Devs and Mrs. America.

Then there's the bundle that will get you Hulu With Live TV (and on-demand), ESPN+ and Disney+ — all for just $70.99 a month, or $7 more that what you're paying for the basic Hulu With Live TV service. That is a really good deal if you plan on watching either ESPN+ or Disney+ at all.

So, yeah, it's YouTube TV vs. Hulu With Live TV on paper. But in reality it's actually more than that.

YouTube TV vs. Hulu With Live TV — channels

Both YouTube TV and Hulu have pretty healthy rosters of live channels. The usual caveats also apply to both — what you actually get will vary a little bit by market, and that's especially true for your local broadcast affiliates (Hulu lost a bunch of CBS stations, for example), followed by the regional sports networks. So you'll want to be sure to check which channels are actually available in your area.

But the broad strokes show a good bit of overlap between the two services on most of the major channels. The edges are where things start to differentiate.

YouTube TV has more channels overall, as well as more exclusive channels, from AMC and BBC America, to The Young Turks and Universo.

Here's how they break down:

Channels shared by both YouTube TV and Hulu With Live TV: ABC, ABC News Live, ACC Network, Animal Planet, BET, Bravo, BTN, Cartoon Network, CBS, CBS Sports Network, Cheddar News, CMT, CNBC, CNN, Comedy Central, Cozi TV, Dabl, Discovery Channel, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, E!, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNews, ESPNU, Food Network, Fox, Fox Business, Fox News, Freeform, FS1, FS2, FX, FXM, FXX, Golf Channel, HGTV, HLN, ID, MotorTrend, MSNBC, MTV, Nat Geo, Nat Geo Wild, NBC, NBCSN, NewsNation, Nick Jr., Nickelodeon, Olympic Channel, Oxygen, Paramount Network, Pop, QVC, SEC Network, Smithsonian Channel, Start TV, SYFY, TBS, Telemundo, TLC, TNT, Travel Channel, TruTV, Turner Classic Movies, TV Land, Universal Kids, USA, VH1, WE TV

Channels only on Hulu With Live TV: Adult Swim, A&E, Bloomberg TV, Boomerang, CNN International, Crime & Investigation, ESPN College Extra, FYI, History Channel, Lifetime, Lifetime Movies, Localish, Military History, NASA TV, Vice

Channels only YouTube TV: AMC, BBC America, BBC World News, BET Her, BTN Overflow, CNBC World, Comet TV, Court TV, IFC, Local Now, MLB Game of the Week, MLB Network, MLB Network Alternate, MTV Classic, MTV2, NBA TV, NBC News Now, NBCLX, Newsy, NFL Network, Nicktoons, OWN, PBS, PBS Kids, Sundance TV, Tastemade, Teen Nick, TYT Network, Universo

YouTube TV as seen on a phone

YouTube TV as seen on a phone. (Image credit: Screenshots)

YouTube TV vs. Hulu — premium add-ons

The basic set of channels is just one way to look at YouTube TV vs. Hulu. But we also have to compare the various premium add-on services that are available. You have to pay extra for these — they're not included in the monthly subscription fee. But there's also no way to properly size up YouTube TV vs. Hulu without it.

Here's how they break down, including monthly fees:

Premium add-ons on Hulu: HBO Max ($14.99), Cinemax ($9.99), Showtime ($10.99), STARZ ($8.99), Español (CNN en Español, Discovery en Español, Discovery Familia, ESPN Deportes, Fox Deportes, History Channel en Español, NBC Universo for $4.99), Entertainment (American Heroes Channel, CNBC World, Cooking Channel, Crime + Investigation, Destination America, Discovery Family, Discovery Life, DIY, Great American Country, Military History Channel, Science for $7.99) 

Note that the Español and Entertainment add-ons are only available if you also have Hulu With Live TV. All others are available with the basic Hulu on-demand service.

Premium add-ons on YouTube TV: HBO Max ($14.99), NBA League Pass ($39.99/$124 a year), Sports Plus (includes NFL RedZone, Fox College Sports, GOLTV, Fox Soccer Plus, MAVTV Motorsports Network, TVG and Stadium for $10.99), Showtime ($11), STARZ ($9), Hallmark Movies Now ($5.99), Cinemax ($9.99), EPIX ($6), Curiosity Stream ($3), AMC Premiere ($5), Shudder ($6), Sundance Now ($7), ALLBLK ($5), Acorn TV ($6), HBO ($14.99)

YouTube TV also now has a bundle for $29.99 a month that includes HBO Max, Showtime and STARZ, saving you $5 a month.

YouTube TV vs. Hulu — what's different

YouTube TV has a couple of features available for free that Hulu makes you pay for. YouTube TV allows for unlimited DVR recording — that is, you can "save" just about anything for later playback, and save as much as you want. YouTube TV also now allows you watch on as many devices simultaneously as you want. No limits.

Hulu also has both of those things — unlimited screens and "enhanced cloud DVR," which gives you 200 hours of cloud-based storage. So not quite as much as "unlimited."

And while Hulu serves up some of its on-demand content in 4K resolution, it doesn't do anything live in 4K. YouTube TV has said that it's preparing "a new add-on option that lets viewers watch available shows in 4K." It's not yet known whether that means it'll be a free option, or if we'll have to pay extra for it. Nor does it say what content will be available in 4K resolution — which is important because right now there's very little live content that's offered in 4K on any live streaming service. (As in next to none.)

Hulu With Live TV on the web

Hulu With Live TV on the web. (Image credit: Hulu)

YouTube TV vs. Hulu — the devices

What good is a streaming service if you can't watch it anywhere, right? In that respect, it's basically a wash for YouTube TV vs. Hulu. They're both available on just about every platform available.

The two biggest traditional streaming platforms are Roku and Amazon Fire TV — and you can watch Hulu on both of them. Same goes for the two mobile platforms, iOS and Android. The Hulu and YouTube TV apps work just fine on both of them, too — and neither has any sort of special sauce that gives one a leg up over the other.

You'll also find Hulu and YouTube TV available on a number of smart TV platforms. (Hulu probably has the advantage here, because the on-demand service dwarfs both Hulu With Live TV and YouTube TV.) But if for some reason it's not available baked in as a full-fledged app, you can stream via Chromecast or AirPlay, which is definitely better than nothing.

YouTube vs. Hulu — the interfaces

This part is going to be a bit subjective. And because both YouTube TV and Hulu With Live TV have free trials, you should definitely take both for a spin.

Hulu's interface tends to be a little busier than YouTube TV. Both work real hard to putting content they think you'll want to watch in front of you before you even realize you want to watch it. But Hulu goes a little further because it pushes entire networks (channels, really) and not just individual shows.

Both live guides tend to look like live guides. Hulu's is designed a little nicer, but YouTube TV's has bigger type. YouTube TV also has a couple features with its guide that I love. First and most important is the ability to set a custom arrangement with the channels on the live guide. You can put things in whatever order you want, which is an incredible feature, especially because you can't flip through channels like you might have in the old days, so it's more important to give channels a sense of primacy.

Second (and less important because it's kind of niche) is that YouTube TV gives you a live preview of what's on a channel at that particular time before you elect it. It's a small but very cool feature that'll save you from saying spotting a something you'd like to watch, only to click straight into a commercial. It works great on mobile devices, and also on Apple TV. 

YouTube TV vs. Hulu — which is better?

Boiling down which is better — YouTube TV vs. Hulu — is tough. Both are really good and are easy to use. Both have strong channel lineups.

YouTube TV has more optional premium add-ons, and options are always good. But those cost extra money. Hulu With Live TV, meanwhile, comes with the full Hulu on-demand catalog and all the content that comes with it. (It's possible to subscribe to Hulu with Live TV without the on-demand part, but you're only going to save $1 a month that way, and that's just a silly trade-off.)

Hulu With Live TV also can be bundled with ESPN+ and Disney+, saving you some more money — and that's no small thing.

But — and this is the part that I think you need to pay the most attention to — YouTube TV and Hulu have different sets of channels. Yes, there's a good bit of overlap, but there also are a good number of channels that you can only get on one service or the other. 

So you've got a decision to make. The good news? You can cancel one or the other anytime you want, without penalty, and try the other.

So you almost can't go wrong either way.

Phil Nickinson

Phil spent his 20s in the newsroom of the Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal, his 30s on the road for AndroidCentral.com and Mobile Nations, is the Dad part of Modern Dad, and is editor of WhatToWatch.com.