Need to cut back on your paid subscriptions to streaming services? We tell you about cost-free streaming services, but there will be ads—in some cases, a lot.
The cable TV bill is always a challenge to navigate. Cable companies rarely make it easy by having a viable flat rate for the channels you actually watch, and instead opt for oddly put together bundles that make little sense. Most egregious of all is the skyrocketing price of cable TV, which used to have the monopoly on television entertainment.
Then came the advent of streaming, starting in 2005 with the debut of YouTube. Two years later, DVD rental company Netflix turned its attention to streaming, and by 2012, it began to focus on original content. In 2010, aggregate service Hulu shifted from showing recent TV episodes with partners NBC/Universal and Disney to becoming a fully realized streaming service to compete with Netflix.
Both Netflix ($9 to $18/month) and Hulu ($6 to $71/month) are paid services which recently raised prices and presented a hierarchy of types of service. Amazon ($9 to $139/month) switched it's VOD model into a full-fledged monthly subscription streaming service.
It wasn't long before signature cable TV channels were beginning to fracture into their own streaming ventures: HBO MAX ($14.99/month), Showtime ($10.99/month), Apple TV ($4.99/month), Disney + ($8/month), YouTube TV ($65/month), Philo ($20/month), Fubo ($65 to $80/month), Sling ($35 to $50/month), Curiosity Stream (documentaries, $3/month)—all paid-for subscriptions.
If you want to watch "WandaVision," you need to have Disney+, if you want to watch "The Servant" or "Defending Jacob," you need to have Apple TV. Pretty soon, you have as many subscriptions which cost as much, if not much more than, the original cable bill.
If you can deal with commercial breaks, there are free streaming services—such as Crackle, IMDb, Kanopy, Peacock, Pluto TV, the Roku Channel, Tubi TV, Vudu and Xumo—to keep you entertained. Watch these on most streaming devices and smart TVs, and/or your laptop computer, smartphone or tablet, with most channels accessed through Amazon Fire TV devices, Roku devices and TVs, Apple TVs, smart TVs from Hisense, LG, Samsung and Vizio, gaming consoles as well as Android and iOS mobile devices.
SEE: Post COVID-19 return to work policy (TechRepublic Premium)
Stream for free
This free streaming service is a pioneer, starting in 2004 when Netflix was still known for its mail-in DVD rentals. It launched officially on Sony devices like the Playstation 3 in 2011 and immediately knew its video gamer audience.
Crackle is unique because it's a free service with original programming such as "StartUp," which stars Martin Freeman as an FBI agent with questionable morals who is determined to stop a shady tech company. Rupert Grint, of Apple TV's "The Service" (he's the hapless Julian/Juju), stars in "Snatch" which is based on the Guy Ritchie film of the same name and focuses on London's world of organized crime.
Watch it with Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV stick, Android TV and other Android devices, AppleTV and other Apple devices, Chromecast, LG TV, Roku, Playstation 4, Samsung TV, Vizio TV, Xbox One.
Since its debut in 2006 (the result of the merger of the failed UPN and WB networks), CW shows attracted loyal fans quickly and soon "CW" evolved into an adjective used in the common vernacular to describe a distinct type of series (pretty, fashionable, a tad emo and filled with unrealistic, overly articulate teens).
On The CW streaming service, viewers can watch many CW shows on-demand, such as full seasons of CW originals and DC content.
A sub-section is dedicated to magic (seriously) and includes "Masters of Illusion" and "Penn and Teller: Fool Us." It's limited to The CW and Warner Bros. productions.
Watch on AppleTV and other Apple devices, Amazon Fire TV and other Amazon Fire devices, Android TV and other devices, Chromecast, Cox Contour, Playstation 3 & 4, Roku, Samsung TV, TiVo, Vizio TV and Xfinity x1.
CW Seed offers non-CW shows with not new, but new-to-you if you haven't seen it, programming. "Schitt's Creek," "Pushing Daisies," "90210" and "Limitless" are examples of shows that were developed and produced elsewhere. You can only watch CW Seed live on a computer/laptop.
Filmocracy is a free ad-supported streaming channel, which CEO Paul Jun describes as "a film and virtual festival streaming platform that rewards users for discovering independent films. Users earn virtual popcorn for watching and rating movies, which can be spent in our shop to redeem movie tickets, gift cards or attend virtual film festivals around the world. Filmocracy shares 10% of its revenue each month with its top users who have earned the most popcorn on the site." Launched less than a year ago, it currently has 25,000 users.
The ad-free version the Plus plan costs $7.99/month and Festival Premium, which provides access to four to six film monthly film festivals, it's $29.99/month.
With a library card, Hoopla Digital provides access to your local public library so you can borrow movies, music, audiobooks, ebooks, comics and TV shows to watch on computer, tablet, phone or TV. Titles can be streamed immediately, or downloaded to phones or tablets for offline later. They have hundreds of thousands of titles to choose from, with more being added daily.
Stream titles through a desktop browser or Hoopla Digital's mobile app. If you use the mobile app, you can also download titles to your device for offline playback later, where Wi-Fi may be unavailable. Titles are automatically returned and removed from your device at the end of the lending period.
You can download the app from the App store, Amazon, Apple TV, Fire TV, Google Plus, Chromecast, Android TV and Roku.
Access IMDb's free, ad-supported ( IMDb says it airs half the ads of traditional TV) streaming service through Amazon. IMDb offers "thousands" of free movies and TV shows. It also has live channels. There's even original programming, including the surprisingly good "Alex Rider."
You can stream IMDb through these devices, with more coming: Fire TV, Prime Video, AndroidTV, PS4, Roku, Google TV, Amazon Fire, Amazon Echo Show, LG and XBox.
Kanopy Free is accessed with a public library card or university ID and is designed for critical thinkers—the intellectuals. An "educational resource," Kanopy promises to "enrich" and "entertain" its viewers through a selection of thoughtful films and documentaries. Viewers will find critically acclaimed films like the heartbreaking "The Farewell," award-winning foreign films like "Bicycle Thieves" and "Seven Samurai," and acclaimed documentaries including Frontline's "Battle for Hong Kong," and the James Baldwin documentary "I Am Not Your Negro." Anime fans will also appreciate the selection that's available.
The newest on the list, Local Now was just launched by my college classmate Bryon Allen, founder and CEO of Allen Media Group, who said in a press release, "After more than three years in development and a significant investment in the platform, Local Now is extremely unique as it uses proprietary software and artificial intelligence to produce, aggregate, curate and stream--in real time--local news, weather, sports, traffic, movies, TV shows, documentaries and channels geo-fenced to the user's ZIP code. No other streaming service has this capability and advanced technology. We are well-positioned as the new global standard for free streaming."
Local Now has a growing slate of original genre-based and binge-worthy channels. Powered by the vast content libraries across Allen Media Group, The Weather Channel, Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures and content partners including Lionsgate, Cinedigm, Maverick, Gravitas, Sonar, Filmrise, Quiver, Freestyle Digital Media and more.
Free custom channels include: Adrenaline Rush (action/adventure movies), Local Now Zen and Fireside (chill and relaxation), Fear This! (horror/thriller movies), Ha! That's Funny (comedy movies), Local Now Sports, Weather Gone Viral, Highway Thru Hell, Local Now Music (music), Romantique (romance movies), Local Now Discover (food and travel content) and Family Flicks (family movies).
In addition to all the original and local channels, the news and entertainment content expands the "free TV" offering with premium channel partners including Yahoo! Finance, People TV, Kevin Hart's LOL, Court TV, Bloomberg, Cheddar, Newsy, Black News Channel, Johnny Carson, Comedy Dynamics, World Poker Tour, Wired 2 Fish, GameToon, Lacrosse Sports Network, Loupe Art, Shout! Factory TV, America's Funniest Videos and others.
Local Now is available on: Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Xfinity, Vizio, Samsung, Hisense, Android and iOS handheld devices. The Local Now standalone channel is also available on YouTube TV, Sling, Xumo, FuboTV and Dish.
NewsON streams free, live local news channels by partnering with station groups Berkshire Hathaway, Cox Media Group, Dispatch Broadcast Group, Fort Myers Broadcasting Company, Forum Communications, Graham Media Group, Gray Television, Hearst Television, Heritage Broadcasting Company, Hubbard Broadcasting, McKinnon Broadcasting, Meredith Corporation, Sinclair Broadcast Group and TEGNA. This means access to NBC, CBS and ABC affiliates, among others.
The service works nationwide. Filter through the available channels based on location, or what's airing live elsewhere. NewsON will show you the range of the closest channels, so if the news isn't live where you are, it may be live in a nearby city.
NewsON also has pre-recorded local news channels, some in just clips and others in an entire time slot. It's easy to use, but not available on as many devices as other free services.
You can access PBS free through its video app. Watch "PBS NewsHour," "Frontline," and episodes from the documentary series "Nova," episodes from "Masterpiece" and Ken Burns' miniseries "Jazz," which tracks the evolution of the genre. Stream more than 4,000 PBS and local shows on demand. Beware, however, that despite the free content anyone can access, some requires the PBS Nine Passport which has a fee.
The app is available to download on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV and other Android devices, Apple TV and other Apple devices, Roku, Chromecast and Samsung Smart TV.
Peacock is the reason everyone with Hulu was told to watch as much of "The Office" as possible, since it was leaving Hulu for Peacock. Look for the WWE network on Peacock. Peacock Premium is $4.99/month and Peacock Premium Plus is $9.99/month (Premium has a free seven-day trial). Providers are Xfinity and Cox.
You can watch on Android TV, Apple TV, Cox, LG TV, Roku, Vizio, Xfinity for TV, Chrome OS, macOS, Windows, Android phones and tablets, iPhone, iPad as well as PlayStation and XBox game consoles.
Stream more than 130 channels free on Plex and watch more than 20,000 free on-demand movies and shows from Warner Bros., Crackle, Lionsgate, MGM and others. You can upgrade to watch and record local shows, news and sports. Users can also curate and stream their personal collection of movies, TV shows and photos anywhere on all devices. They offer a free 30-day trial for the Plex Arcade for gamers—it's $2.99/month after the trial.
"If you've gotten into the habit of on-demand streaming, PlutoTV offers it, too. Films aren't the newest, but they can only be seen free on PlutoTV. There are reports its search feature could use a clarity update.
Watch it on AppleTV and other Apple devices, Amazon Fire TV and Firestick, Android devices, Chromecast, HiSense, Playstation 4, Roku, Samsung TV, Vizio TV and Pop TV.
You can still avail of their main source of revenue—renting or buying movies online—but Redbox's website has started releasing free, ad-based live content and programming including access to TMZ, USA Today, Fail Army, Funny or Die, among others. There are also many films to choose from. Look for the "Free Live TV" link at the top of the webpage.
The Roku channel's "thing" is that there is an "always-changing selection of free movies, shows, live news, kids' TV and more." Roku offers instant access to free Live TV. The premium subscription includes Kocowa, which boasts that it's "the biggest Korean entertainment library." Like competitors, Roku also has a Premium (pay) version.
Watch on Roku players and TVs, The Roku Channel website, Roku mobile app and Samsung smart TV (premium subscriptions aren't available on Samsung). The Roku webpage also has a shop to buy one of their devices.
While opting for streaming offers a replacement for cable TV, Sling TV presents itself as a "guide to ditching cable and making the smart choice for live TV." It offers sports, news and entertainment with more than 30 channels and more than 80,000 shows and movies on demand. You can also record TV shows with 50 hours of free DVR storage, or you can upgrade to 200 hours for $5 monthly. Sling has two pay subscriptions, Sling Blue and Sling Orange, both $35 monthly.
Watch free Sling on AirTV, Fire TV, Android TV, Chromecast, iOS, LG, Oculus, Roku, Samsung, Tivo Stream, Windows, XBox One and Apple TV.
For those who like to watch home, garden and lifestyle content, there's the free Smart.Healthy.Green.Living.
Users can stream SHG Living on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, iOS and Google Play. Look for do-it-yourself programming that walks the viewer through each step of the project.
Tubi TV doesn't require registration, just download the app onto a device or laptop. Tubi TV is affiliated with Fox, which translates into getting Fox content a little earlier, and viewers will have access to some 20,000 movies and TV shows available on-demand. Tubi offers movies and TV shows from Lionsgate, MGM, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. You'll find live news, including some national channels like NBC Now, NewsNow from Fox, Bloomberg, Fox Soul, Fubo Sports, financial network Cheddar and others.
While the British streaming services like BritBox or Acorn require a subscription, Tubi offers content from the U.K. found in its "British Invasion" section for free, such as "Whose Line Is It Anyway?," "QI," and "The Goes Wrong Show," to name a few.
Tubi's channels section lists on-demand programs from networks like Fox, A&E and Lifetime. News shows are actually live. Watch on AppleTV and other Apple devices, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV and other devices, Chromecast, Cox Contour, Playstation 3 & 4, Roku, Samsung TV, TiVo, Vizio TV and Xfinity x1.
If you didn't know already, Vudu, founded in 2004, was owned by Walmart. Sign in to Vudu with a Vudu, Facebook or Walmart account. It's best for those who want to "try out" a series on a pay service, as it offers the first episodes of the popular "Outlander," "Billions," "Watchmen" and "Game of Thrones."
A year ago, and after a decade under Walmart, Vudu was acquired by Fandango, which is owned by NBCUniversal, which is owned by Comcast. Vudu sets itself apart from Peacock because it operates in the "transactional movies" space (buy or rent movies individually) and it has an integrated digital locker space for streaming digital copies of films purchased as home video at retail.
You can stream Vudu on nearly every platform. It doesn't offer live TV, and free content includes about 10,000 movies. Vudu offers a 30-day free trial for its premium content.
Xumo and Pluto TV operate similarly, and you'll find much of the same selection of national news broadcasts on Tubi. However, Xumo has its own curated channels and on-demand content; a total of more than 160 channels.
Best of all, there is a premium channel dedicated just to K-Pop, called NEW K.ID.
Xumo has the actual History Channel and comedy channels like Funny or Die, as well as a few cooking channels. Even paid services have annoying interfaces—let's just say Xumo's could benefit from an upgrade.
Available on a slew of smart TVs, including Hisense, Magnavox, Panasonic, Philips, Sanyo, Sharp, Sony and VIZIO. Also on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and available for download on iOS and Android.
YouTube, on which you can buy or rent movies, may incessantly be plugging its pay service-the pop-ups on "regular" YouTube are super annoying-but regular old YouTube offers free streaming movies and ad-supported content. Available are critically acclaimed options as well as several animated films. Go to its Free to Watch page to choose.
Free, but with a catch
If you're good at remembering to cancel subscriptions, some of the heavy hitters are offering their services for a limited amount of time. If you want to keep your streaming strictly free, though, set a notification or alarm on your phone so you don't forget to stop it before it rolls into a pay service. To register for the free trial period, you do have to include your name, email and enter your credit card number.
Stream all of Showtime without ads for free, but only for a 30-day trial period. If you're judicious in how you schedule your free viewing, you may be able to catch originals as they were intended, without interruptions. Showtime's popular originals include "Your Honor," "Desus & Mero," "Billions," "The Chi," "Shameless" and "City on a Hill."
Stream on iPad, iPhone, Apple TV, Android, Android TV, Chromecast, PS4, Fire TV, LG, Oculus, Roku, Samsung and XBox. Don't forget to cancel after 30 days, or the credit card you entered when you enrolled for the free trial will roll over to $10.99/month.
Formerly CBS All Access, Paramount+ extended its original seven-day trial to 30 days. It offers movies, TV shows, originals and live sports.
AT&T wireless, internet and/or TV customers get HBO Max free; it retails for $14.99/month.
Amazon Prime Video
You can get a 30-day free trial if you are not yet an Amazon Prime member. You'll get free two-day shipping and access to the vast content available through Prime Video. After 30 days, it costs $12.99/month or $119/year.
Current non-members of Netflix get 30 days free, and then it costs $8.99-$15.99/month depending on the plan you pick.
During the COVID-19 pandemic Hulu included a free live news stream so viewers can keep up with the COVID-19 situation. They're currently offering the first 30 days free. The regular Hulu plan is $5.99/month after the trial and the commercial-free version is $11.99/month.
Criterion Channel is offering a two-week free trial. It streams a mix of more than 1,000 classic and contemporary films curated by the Criterion Collection organization. After two weeks, Criterion costs $10.99/month or $99.99/year. MLB TV T-Mobile customers will get a free annual subscription to Major League Baseball's MLB TV (reg. $121.99/yr). MLB TV is also offering a free seven-day trial.
If you buy a new Roku device you'll get Starz for 30 days free. Access Starz on a new Roku device within 30 days of purchase to qualify for the 30-day free trial. After the trial, it costs $9/month ($5/month for six months for first-time subscribers).
Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+
Verizon Wireless customers get a year of Disney+ for free. If you opt for Verizon's unlimited plan you get Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ free for a year.
Disney+ offers a free 7-day trial, which includes Disney, Pixar, Marvel and "Star Wars" films. It retails for $8/month.
More seven-day free trials
- A&E Crime Central has classic crime series and specials; after seven days, it's $4.99/month
- Acorn TV streams British TV shows; after seven days, it's $6/month
- AMC Premiere has "The Walking Dead," "Better Call Saul," and more; after seven days, it's $4.99/month
- Apple TV+ offers original programming; after seven days, it's $4.99/month
- Broadway HD shows plays and musicals; after seven days, it's $8.99/month or $99.99/year
- Cinemax offers movies for seven days free via Hulu, Apple TV and Amazon; after seven days, it's $9.99/month
- DOX documentaries; after seven days, it's $2.99/month or $14.99/year
- Epix movies and TV; after seven days, it's $5.99/month
- Fubo offers live sports and TV channels; after seven days, it's $54.99/month
- Hallmark Movies NOW features Hallmark Movies, some only shown on this channel; after seven days, it's $59.99/year or $5.99/month
- History Vault streams more than 2,000 History Channel documentaries; after seven days, it's $4.99/month
- Lifetime Movie Club has a listing of Lifetime movies; after seven days, it's $3.99/month
- NFL Game Pass offers full broadcast replays, condensed games and more; after seven days, it's $18/mo or $199/year
- Noggin by Nick Jr. features popular preschool shows; after seven days, it's $7.99/month
- Philo offers live and on-demand movies and TV; after seven days, it's: $20/month
- PureFlix has faith-based, family-friendly content: $12.99/month
- Shudder all horror programming, all the time; after seven days, it's $4.75/month
- Smithsonian Channel Plus has documentaries; after seven days, it's $4.99/month
- Sundance Now has indie films, documentaries and more; after seven days, it's $6.99/month
- Urban Movie Channel offers Black-oriented films and TV; after seven days, it's $4.99/month
- YouTube TV also has local and cable channels; after seven days, it's $49.99/month
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