Stuck home, and want to watch some free TV? Luckily, there are more free options today than ever before.
Netflix might currently be the go-to streaming service, and Hulu might be the best live-TV offer, but both are still costing you money.
You may be trying to cut your streaming costs to -free- in the turbulent financial times of the coronavirus pandemic, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to suffer in boredom.
You’ll be happy to know numerous providers rolled out freebies and extended trial packages in response to the increase in streaming caused by stay-at-home orders.
But as the crisis is wearing on some of those deals, some have ended or morphed over time.
Nonetheless, there is still plenty available, and for the near future, many of the resources mentioned below will become free.
What are they doing?
Most of these programs are mainly ad-supported, so you won’t be able to skip past advertisements.
Most of them have older shows and films, sort of like basic cable reruns.
And certain network sites do not let you access any of their shows unless you’re a paid cable or satellite user — but others offer a range of content that you can view without logging in or paying for.
This article will explore the best free, legal ways to indulge your inner sci-fi nerd, drama fix, or whatever your entertainment mood.
Roku Channel is intended for people owning streaming gadgets from their business, but it can be used by anyone with a phone or PC device and an internet connection.
And now the company is providing free access to 20 plus premium channels for 30 days as part of its Home Together initiative.
The free channels include Showtime, Hallmark, Epix, Smithsonian, Acorn TV and more.
Sadly you might find that not all series are complete and in some cases, the service only provides one episode as a teaser (streaming company reps: if you’re reading this, stop doing that).
However, there are plenty of things to watch like a dedicated segment for kids and another for live news.
There’s also a good selection of older movies and awesome class.
The services might be free, but the companies offer them in the hopes that you’ll be tempted to subscribe to the premium services beyond the 30-day freebie above, much as you can on Amazon Prime Video (after the 1 or 6 months discounted Prime rate).
Where to watch:
You can get the Roku Channel, as you would imagine, on Roku devices like streaming dongles and Roku TVs.
The Roku Channel can be watched on any browser, or via the iOS or Android Roku apps, but there is no support for downloading shows for offline viewing. Roku costs a little bit of money to buy the hardware, but once you’ve got it, it has no running costs (with the exception of any premium channels you might want to add into your new entertainment centre).
A Roku Channel app is available on Samsung Smart TVs, too.
IMDb TV Launched as FreeDive in early last year and given a new name and an influx of content in July; this free service carries the iconic branding of the Internet Movie Archive, a motherlode of film history that has been a subsidiary of Amazon since 1998.
Amazon happens to be Roku’s biggest rival in streaming hardware with its Fire TV apps, so maybe that’s why you’re going to need a Fire TV — or a TV-hooked machine — to watch IMDb TV in the living room.
What you can watch: As you would expect, the service focuses mainly on movies such as Spider-Man (the Toby version) and Elf (Buddy the Elf, what’s your favourite colour?), but it also has a decent TV series range.
Where you can watch: Any Desktop or Mac browser or any Amazon Prime Video app on a phone or tablet can stream IMDb TV, but only Fire TV streamers and smart TVs running the Fire TV Version program are the only gadgets that get access.
And though it works perfectly with every Amazon account, you will need an account too.
Having recently launched Happy Hour, Sling TV provides free on-demand tv, movies and 50 live TV channels from 5 p.m. EST (10 p.m. GMT) wherever you are, before midnight.
What you can watch: Sling TV’s rebrand of its existing free streaming service includes the original Sling TV Blue that features hundreds of channels including Cartoon Network, Comedy Central and CNN content.
As an added bonus, a credit card is no longer needed for Sling TV’s seven-day trial.
Meanwhile, one of CNET’s favourite live TV streaming services is the paid edition of Sling TV at $30 a month
Where you can watch it: Sling TV’s Happy Hour is powered by the same apps that Sling is — they use the same app — and the list is extensive: from stream gadgets to handheld devices to consoles.
Crackle is an ad-supported subscription service that mainly provides movies, but also some television shows — including original content.
It is available on a wide range of devices and does not even require you to set up an account, but if you turn between devices, this helps you to save favourites, get suggestions and resume playback.
What you can watch: the commercially funded range of Crackle isn’t especially large, with just over 100 different series, and consists mostly of family sitcoms such as All in the House, Roseanne and Who’s the Boss.
Not every series is complete, as seen above.
In certain cases, you may only get one or two seasons or even even a partial season.
Where to watch: Most devices are protected by Crackle’s app list.
The software includes applications to all handheld phones, game consoles, and big streaming devices.
It even gets baked into many smart televisions. Take note it does not offer the option of downloading shows to use offline.
Pluto TV is a notable contender for offering live TV channels including news channels, not only on-demand movies. Of course, it is ad-supported but certainly one of the best free-content solutions available at the moment.
What you can watch: Pluto offers an awesome selection of live channels, all sorted in grid format into categories such as news, sports, comedy, and films.
On-demand TV content consists predominantly of crime and reality shows, but it appears the organisation of the live channels needs improvement (it might take some looking to find something decent).
One oddity: If you watch a stream live, there’s no way to pause.
Where to watch: Pluto TV operates in web browsers but provides a Windows app as well.
It has apps for Apple TV ($179 at Apple), Fire TV and Roku for Android, iOS and various smart TVs and channels.
Tubi TV provides far more movies than TV shows, but that’s not to suggest you shouldn’t search its vast library out there.
Just like Crackle, the ad-supported network is available on a number of devices and does not need an account, although you can save favourites and restart playback when switching between devices, by signing up for one.
What you will watch: Tubi TV is certainly not Hulu, as you would hope for a streaming cinema channel.
Its television range includes some of the reality shows we’ve come to expect, like Hell’s Kitchen and The Apprentice, with strange inclusions like regional drama shows you might not be interested in (or might be, whatever your fancy). Within its far wider content list, there’s no dedicated TV section, just a few TV-specific categories (comedies, dramas, reality TV and so on).
Where to watch: the number of apps on Tubi TV is rivalling that on Crackle. The company includes Android and iOS phones, the big game consoles and streaming devices, and a few Samsung TVs.
It is not offering the right to download content for viewing offline.
Network sites: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and PBS
Nearly every major network allows you to watch shows via a website or smartphone app that looks like fantastic news for cord-cutters.
So what if you can’t watch, say, The Simpsons’ most recent episode?
All you have to do is fire the Fox Now app up and stream it on request. That is the theory, at least.
What you should watch: If there is a show on the air at the moment, you are likely able to stream it live on a network website.
However, there is a Catch-22 in some cases: Many networks allow you to have an active service provider (such as a cable or satellite).
If this is the case, you won’t be able to watch, unless you are able to find your valid sign-in credentials.
That’s true with networks like AMC and Syfy, ensuring there are no episodes of The Walking Dead or Dangerous Class.
Yet CBS, TBS, The CW and a few others will let you watch, without a sign-in, at least some episodes of some series.
And you are going to have to dig around a little bit.
Where you can watch: It often differs from one network to another, with most allowing you to watch shows in a browser, on a mobile device or a streaming app.
But download options are few and far between so don’t plan to watch offline shows unless you’re paying for the premium services they offer.
Here is the list of big network streaming sites: