20 great free streaming services for cord cutters
Why spend money on even more subscriptions when you can freeload?
By: Jared Newman
Article originally published in Fast Company on Feb. 11, 2019. The original article can be found here.
The best thing about cutting the cable cord is that you get a lot more control over your monthly TV bill. Instead of spending $100 per month or so on a bloated bundle of TV channels, you can throw together a few streaming services like Netflix or Hulu and save a lot of money.
Alternatively, you can take things to the extreme and trim your TV bill to zero dollars per month. These days, there are so many free streaming services that you can watch hours of TV every night and spend nothing.
Whether you’re chasing that mythical $0 TV bill, or just trying to pad out your paid subscriptions with a few more things to watch, here are 20 free streaming TV services you ought to know about.
It may not have the name recognition of Netflix or Hulu, but Tubi claims to be the largest ad-supported free streaming service, and it plans to invest upwards of $100 million on content licensing this year alone. You don’t even need an account to use it, but you can create one to synchronize your watchlist across devices. [Tubi]
Notable programming: Up in the Air, Reservoir Dogs, Kitchen Nightmares, a bunch of old Jackie Chan films
Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Samsung TVs, TiVo, Comcast X1, iOS, Android, Fire tablets, web
What sets Pluto TV apart from most other free streaming services is its cable box-style menu, with dozens of round-the-clock streaming channels that live in a kind of parallel dimension to cable. Pluto is a great stand-in for the “background noise” TV you might’ve enjoyed with cable, but it has an on-demand catalog of movies and shows as well. The concept has proven so popular that Viacom just bought the service for $340 million. [Pluto TV]
Notable programming: 19 movie channels, live news streams from CBSN and Cheddar, endless Mystery Science Theater 3000 reruns, a channel dedicated to cat videos.
Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Samsung TVs, Vizio TVs, Comcast X1, iOS, Android, Windows, Fire tablets, web
HOOPLA AND KANOPY
While most of the free streaming services on this list are ad-supported, Hoopla and Kanopy offer commercial-free movies and shows through libraries around the country. All you need is a library card, and you can “check out” titles on-demand through Hoopla’s and Kanopy’s respective apps. (There’s a limit to how much you can watch per month, which varies by library.) Kanopy, notably, offers several films from The Criterion Collection, so you might not have to pay $11 per month for Criterion’s forthcoming service. [Hoopla, Kanopy]
Notable programming: Seven Samurai, The Battle of Algiers, Moonlight, RBG, Frida
Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, iOS, Android, Fire tablets, web
Probably best known for Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Crackle is still chugging along with a healthy selection of movies, TV shows, and original series. [Sony Crackle]
Notable programming: Drive, Whiplash, The Critic, a rotating selection of Seinfeld episodes
Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Samsung TVs, LG TVs, Vizio TVs, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, iOS, Android, Fire tablets, web
THE ROKU CHANNEL
Even if you don’t have a Roku player or smart TV, you can still access Roku’s free movies and shows on your phone, a web browser, and Samsung smart TVs. Roku also prides itself on having a fairly light ad load for a free service, so you might not even get annoyed by too many commercial breaks. [The Roku Channel]
Notable programming: When Harry Met Sally, This Is Spinal Tap, Hotel Rwanda, classic Batman
Devices: Roku, Samsung TVs, iOS, Android coming soon
Amazon’s foray into free streaming video isn’t drastically different from other offerings, though it helpfully uses IMDb rankings to surface popular movies and shows. You can find the selection in the Prime Video app on most devices by scrolling down to the “Freedive” section on the home screen. [Freedive]
Notable programming: Fringe, Safety not Guaranteed, Donnie Brasco, Tiny House Nation
Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku, Samsung TVs, LG TVs, Vizio TVs, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, iOS, Android, web
Mega-broadcaster Sinclair’s side bet on streaming lets you watch local news and a handful of live streaming channels, some of which mirror the digital sub-networks you might get from cable or an antenna. There’s a small selection of on-demand video as well, but the focus is mainly on live TV. [Stirr]
Notable programming: Buzzr for retro game shows, Comet for classic sci-fi
Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku, iOS, Android, Fire tablets, web
PBS AND PBS KIDS
Although you can’t yet stream live, local PBS channels, you can still watch most programs on-demand through the PBS and PBS Kids apps. New episodes typically arrive a day after they air and remain available for two weeks. [PBS, PBS Kids]
Notable programming: Masterpiece, Austin City Limits, Sesame Street, Wild Kratts
Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, iOS, Android, web
Walmart’s streaming service isn’t just a place for movie rentals and purchases anymore. You can also watch a selection of ad-supported movies for free, though you’ll have to create a Vudu account to do so. [Vudu]
Notable programming: Batman Begins, Spaceballs, Dear White People, Cabin in the Woods
Devices: Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Samsung TVs, LG TVs, Vizio TVs, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, iOS, Android, web
Want to watch live-streaming weather forecasts without cable? You could subscribe to FuboTV for $45 per month or DirecTV Now’s “Just Right” package for $55 per month just to access the Weather Channel, or you could instead download WeatherNation, which provides a similar meteorologist-on-a-green-screen experience for free. [WeatherNation]
Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Roku, Samsung TVs, LG TVs, Vizio TVs, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, iOS, Android, Fire tablets, web
THE CW AND CW SEED
While fellow broadcast network CBS charges $6 per month to stream its shows, The CW streams new episodes of its original series for free the day after they air. One caveat: Most shows only provide a handful of recent episodes, so you’ll have to stay on top of things to avoid missing your favorites. The CW also offers a separate–and still free–streaming service called CW Seed, which mostly includes full seasons of older shows. [The CW, CW Seed]
Notable programming: The Flash, Riverdale, Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox One, iOS, Android, Windows, Fire tablets, web
Similar to Pluto TV, Xumo offers a lineup of round-the-clock streaming channels, separate from the ones you’d find on cable. The biggest difference is its focus on video from traditional print brands like Sports Illustrated and Bon Appetit, which you otherwise might only watch in a web browser. [Xumo]
Notable programming: Arcade Cloud for amusing video game videos, The Hollywood Reporter for celebrity interviews, Austin Music Live for concerts.
Devices: Roku, LG TVs, Samsung TVs, Vizio TVs, iOS, Android, web
Good news: With Locast, you no longer need an antenna to watch free broadcast channels in your area. Bad news: Locast is only available in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, and Denver at the moment. [Locast]
Notable programming: Live, local broadcasts for ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS
Devices: Roku, iOS, Android, web
FREE STREAMING NEWS
At the moment, you can’t watch CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News without a pay-TV package, be it a streaming bundle such as YouTube TV or traditional service from a cable or satellite provider. Maybe that’s not a catastrophe when you’ve got plenty of free options from respectable sources. Some notable ones:
- CBS News for live, anchored news coverage.
- NewsOn for local news from select stations around the country.
- Plex or Haystack TV for a personalized newscast that pulls in clips from various sources (including local stations).
You’ll also find live news sources within Pluto TV, Xumo, Stirr, and The Roku Channel, all linked above.