Netflix may be the, and Hulu the , but they both still cost you money. In the uncertain times of the pandemic, you may be looking to cut your streaming costs to, well, free. The ? As long as you’ve got the internet, you can enjoy a wealth of free TV.
First and foremost, many of these services are ad-supported, so you won’t be able to skip commercials. Most have older shows and movies, sort of like basic cable reruns. While some network sites won’t let you stream all their shows unless you’re a paid cable or satellite subscriber, there are services like the newfrom NBCUniversal, which has a free tier in addition to subscription options.
Let’s take a look at some the best free streaming sites, legal ways to indulge your inner couch potato, which we’ll update regularly. Prefer movies? Check out these.
Peacock is NBCUniversal’s attempt at creating a Netflix-like subscription service, with plenty of NBC content as well as movies and original programming. Unlike Netflix, Hulu and competitor CBS All Access, however, Peacock has a free tier. There are also $4.99 Premium and $9.99 Premium Plus ad-free tiers.
What you can watch: The free version has thousands of hours of television shows, movie streaming, news, skit-style clips and exclusive big-budget original programming. Peacock’s launch slate of originals includes Brave New World, Peacock’s adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s novel, and a Psych movie sequel. With the free version you won’t get access to every episode of the original series, and you’ll also miss out on a lot of the other content Premium subscribers get. Paying for Peacock unlocks the full 20,000-hour library; with the free version you get about two-thirds of that.
Where you can watch: Peacock is available on Apple devices, Google (Android TV, Chromecast), Xbox One, Vizio and LG TVs. It’s not yet available on Roku or Amazon Fire TV devices.
Roku Channel is a free TV streaming service designed for people who own the company’s streaming products, but anyone with a phone or PC browser can use it for free content.
What you can watch: The Roku Channel just added 100 live channels, including a channel guide, to its existing selection of on-demand content. While the linear TV includes live news and lifestyles channels, the on-demand content is heavy on reality TV (Hoarders, Hell’s Kitchen) and crime shows (Cold Case). Unfortunately, not every series is complete and the service only offers a single episode in some cases. There’s plenty of stuff to watch, however, including a dedicated kids section. There’s also a solid array of classic movies including Stand By Me, The Karate Kid and Donnie Darko. In addition, you can subscribe to premium services including HBO, much like you can on Amazon Prime Video channels or the Apple TV app.
Where you can watch: As you might expect, you can get the Roku Channel on Roku devices including streamers and Roku TVs. However, you can also watch the Roku Channel on its streaming website in any browser or via the iOS or Android Roku apps, though it doesn’t offer the option to download its free online movie and TV shows for offline viewing. There’s also a Roku Channel app on Samsung Smart TVs.
IMDb TV/Screenshot by John Falcone/CNET
Launched early last year as FreeDive, this service now bears the venerable branding of the Internet Movie Database, a motherlode of movie lore that’s been an Amazon subsidiary since 1998. Amazon happens to be Roku’s biggest competitor in streaming hardware with its Fire TV devices, and perhaps for that reason you’ll need a Fire TV — or a computer hooked up to a TV — to watch IMDb TV on an actual TV.
What you can watch: As you might expect, the service focuses primarily on films, for example Paddington, Spider-Man (the 2002 version) and Elf, but it also has a solid selection of TV series. Starting July 15 you’ll be able to watch all seven seasons of the AMC classic Mad Men, and the service also includes five seasons of feel-good pick Schitt’s Creek (which is also available on Netflix commercial-free). Other titles include A&E’s Cold Case Files, History’s The Hunt for the Zodiac Killer and nine seasons of the Gen X classic Little House on the Prairie, starring Michael Landon.
Where you can watch: Any PC or Mac browser or any Amazon Prime Video app on a phone or tablet can stream IMDb TV, but the only actual TV devices that get access are Fire TV streamers and smart TVs that run the Fire TV Edition software. You’ll also need an account, although it works seamlessly with any Amazon account.
Sling TV/Screenshot by Ty Pendlebury/CNET
While the Happy Hour Across America promotion has now ended, Sling TV Free still offers free on-demand TV, movies and a number of live TV channels.
What you can watch: Sling TV‘s free streaming service includes a limited selection of live channels (ABC News Live, The Film Detective) and on-demand selections such as Adventure Time, Dance Moms and Al Jazeera Live. Meanwhile, the paid version of Sling TV is one of CNET’s favorite live TV streaming services at $30 a month.
Where you can watch: Sling TV’s Free service is supported by the same devices that Sling is — they use the same app — and the list is extensive: from streamers to consoles to mobile devices.
Crackle is an ad-supported streaming service that offers mostly movies, but also some TV shows — including original content. It’s available on a wide variety of devices and doesn’t even require you to set up an account, though doing so enables you to save favorites, get recommendations and resume playback if you switch between devices.
What you can watch: Crackle’s commercial-supported selection isn’t particularly extensive, with only a little over 100 different shows, and mainly consists of family sitcoms such as All in the Family, Roseanne and Who’s the Boss. As above, not every series is complete. In some cases you might get only one or two seasons, or even just a partial season.
Where you can watch: Crackle’s list of devices covers most platforms. The service offers apps for all mobile platforms, game consoles and major streaming devices. It’s even baked into many smart TVs. It does not offer the option to download shows for offline viewing.
Pluto TV/Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET
What you can watch: Pluto offers an impressive selection of live channels, including a new infusion of content in July with the addition of select ViacomCBS shows like the first 10 episodes of South Park and episodes of Survivor, Star Trek: The Next Generation and American’s Next Top Model. Everything is sorted into categories like news, sports, comedy and movies in a grid format. On-demand TV content consists mostly of crime and reality shows, and it’s not organized nearly as well as the live channels. One oddity: If you’re watching a live stream, there’s no way to pause. You can only mute it.
Where you can watch: Pluto TV works in desktop browsers, but also offers a Windows client. It has apps for Android, iOS and various smart TVs and channels for Apple TV, Fire TV and Roku.
Tubi TV/Screenshot by Ty Pendlebury/CNET
The name belies the content: Tubi TV offers considerably more movies than it does TV shows, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t check out its extensive library. Similar to Crackle, this ad-supported network is available on a wide variety of devices and doesn’t require an account, though signing up for one enables you to save favorites and resume playback if you switch between devices.
What you can watch: As you’d expect for a free movie service, Tubi TV definitely isn’t Hulu. Its TV selection offers some of the reality shows we’ve come to expect, such as Hell’s Kitchen and The Apprentice, plus oddball inclusions such as the Australian drama McLeod’s Daughters. There’s not a dedicated TV section, just a few TV-specific categories (comedies, dramas, reality and so on) within its much larger content list.
Where you can watch: Tubi TV’s list of devices rivals that of Crackle. The service offers apps for Android and iOS, the major game consoles and streaming devices, and some Samsung TVs. It doesn’t offer the option to download content for offline viewing.
Network sites: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and PBS
Just about every major network lets you stream shows via a web site or mobile app, which seems like great news for cord cutters. So what if you couldn’t watch, say, the latest episode of Bob’s Burgers? Just fire up the Fox Now app and stream it on demand. At least, that’s the idea.
What you can watch: If there’s a show that’s currently on the air, chances are good you can watch it online at a network site. However, in some cases there’s a Catch-22: Many networks require you to have an active service provider (like cable or satellite). Unless you can supply valid sign-in credentials, you can’t stream. That’s true of networks such as AMC and Syfy, meaning no episodes of The Walking Dead or Deadly Class for you. But CBS, TBS, The CW and a few others will let you watch at least some episodes of some shows without a sign-in. So you’ll have to poke around a bit.
Where you can watch: This also varies from one network to another, but in most cases you can watch shows in a browser, on a mobile device or via a media-streamer app. But download options are few and far between, so don’t expect to be watching shows offline unless you pay for them. Here’s the list of major network sites.
Starting as a way for users to stream content stored on users’ computers, Plex has been evolving to incorporate other sources such as OTA broadcasts, Tidal, and now free streaming TV. You don’t even need to install the Plex server on your PC or NAS, you just need to sign up for a Plex account.
What you can watch: The service’s free offering started with a modest slate of ad-supported content, mostly movies, in December, but in May 2020 it entered a partnership with Crackle, offering thousands more TV shows and movies from that service, including Snatch, Kitchen Nightmares, Roseanne and Third Rock from the Sun. Plex also has a couple of programs streaming free, namely: On Point, a basketball docuseries, and Yelawolf: A Slumerican Life, about a Cherokee rapper.
Where you can watch: Plex is offered on a multitude of platforms including browsers, Roku, Apple TV, Android and iOS.
Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET
Got a library card? Check to see if your library has partnered with Hoopla. This digital-media service allows you to check out all kinds of stuff — from ebooks to movies to TV shows. When you “borrow” one, you have 72 hours in which to watch it. Your library determines the total number of titles you can borrow each month.
What you can watch: Hoopla’s TV selection is something of a hodgepodge, with a smattering of well-known shows mixed in with a lot of self-help, documentary and family fare. For example, you’ll find three seasons of the SyFy original Humans, both seasons of The Jim Gaffigan Show and lots of Ken Burns documentaries. Hoopla also has instructional videos from The Great Courses series, various PBS Kids shows and plenty of Acorn TV content that would otherwise require a subscription.
Where you can watch: Hoopla content can be viewed just about anywhere: mobile devices, streaming devices and on your PC in a browser. Surprisingly, the mobile apps offer not only streaming, but also a download option for offline viewing.
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