26 free TV apps to help you stream for less
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 such as 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 26 free streaming TV services you ought to know about.
Pluto TV helped popularize the concept of a free streaming service with round-the-clock, cable-style channels. Paramount, which acquired the service in 2019, has steadily added channels based on its back catalog, so you can watch marathon sessions of South Park, Star Trek, Jersey Shore, and Storage Wars. It’s a great stand-in for the “background noise” TV you might’ve enjoyed with cable, though it has a growing selection of on-demand movies and shows as well. [Pluto TV]
Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Samsung TVs, Vizio TVs, Comcast X1/Flex, iOS, Android, Windows, Fire tablets, web
In addition to a vast library of movies and shows, this Fox-owned service has become home to past seasons of Fox reality shows. It also offers free news channels and newscasts from local affiliate stations around the country. [Tubi]
Notable programming: Masterchef, The Masked Singer, Training Day
Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox consoles, PlayStation consoles, Samsung TVs, TiVo, Comcast X1/Flex, iOS, Android, Fire tablets, web
The Roku Channel
Despite the name, Roku’s free streaming service is available on a growing number of other devices, offering a solid selection of movies, shows, and round-the-clock channels, along with a budding collection of original series. 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]
Devices: Roku, Samsung TVs, Fire TV, iOS, Android, web
Unlike most streaming services from major media companies, NBC’s Peacock includes a free tier with plenty to watch, including recent network TV shows, exclusive series, and a selection of movies. It also has its own selection of live streaming channels for when you’re feeling indecisive. (You’ll have to pay for most seasons of The Office, though.) [Peacock]
Devices: Android TV, Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, LG TVs, Xbox consoles, PlayStation consoles, Comcast X1/Flex, Chromecast, iOS, Android, 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 standalone service. [Hoopla, Kanopy]
Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, iOS, Android, Fire tablets, web
Once owned by Sony and now by Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, Crackle offers some decent movies and shows that are easily browsable by genre, along with some original series. [Crackle]
Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Samsung TVs, LG TVs, Vizio TVs, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Comcast X1/Flex, iOS, Android, Fire tablets, web
Amazon recently-rebranded foray into free streaming includes a growing number of originals (Bosch: Legacy, Leverage: Redemption) plus some licensed shows you won’t find on other free services (LOST). [FreeVee]
Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Android TV, Apple TV, LG TVs, Xbox consoles, PlayStation 4, iOS, Android, web, and via the Amazon Video app on other devices
Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, Samsung TVs, LG TVs, Vizio TVs, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, 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 subnetworks 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]
Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku, iOS, Android, Fire tablets, web
PBS and PBS Kids
Even if you can’t get your local PBS channel from an antenna, you can still watch most programs on demand for free through the PBS and PBS Kids apps. New episodes arrive on the same day as their broadcast premieres, and you can also access a free livestream in certain markets. [PBS, PBS Kids]
Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, iOS, Android, web
Similar to Pluto TV, the Comcast-owned Xumo app offers a lineup of round-the-clock streaming channels, separate from the ones you’d find on cable. [Xumo]
Devices: Roku, LG TVs, Samsung TVs, Vizio TVs, Comcast X1/Flex, iOS, Android, web
With its rental kiosk business in decline, Redbox has launched its own free streaming service, though it’s fairly similar to others with a mix of round-the-clock channels and on-demand programming. [Redbox]
Devices: Roku, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Samsung TVs, LG TVs, Vizio TVs, Xbox, Playstation, iOS, Android, web
True to its name, Documentary+ is a streaming service just for nonfiction films. It’s the product of documentary studio XTR and arrived seemingly out of nowhere, with a surprisingly deep selection. [Documentary+]
Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, iOS, Android, web
Broadcast network apps
It can seem like a well-kept secret, but each of the major broadcast networks—ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and The CW—offers its own streaming app where you can watch recent shows for free. You might just have to be a little patient, as some shows have a delay of around one week for the latest episodes.
Streaming News apps
While you’ll still need a big pay-TV package for cable news channels such as MSNBC and Fox News, there are plenty of other ways to watch the news for free:
- Haystack News offers live news from several sources, including CBS News, ABC News Live, and Newsmax. It also offers local news clips, weather forecasts, and other stories based on your interests.
- Likewise, Amazon News pulls together various live streaming news sources on Fire TV devices, including CBS News, Bloomberg, and Cheddar. Local news from a growing number of cities is on the way as well.
- NewsOn provides local news from stations around the country, as does Vuit.
- Other apps mentioned above have news channels as well, including Pluto TV, Tubi, Stirr, Xumo, the Roku Channel, and Peacock.
Streaming Music Channels
While services such as Spotify or Apple Music might be your first choice for tunes, you might also check out a couple of other apps that are great for tuning in through your TV. Both of the apps below are available on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Apple TV:
- Xite is like a modern version of what MTV used to be, letting you watch music videos based on genre, decade, or mood.
- Dash Radio approximates the experience of the “Music Choice” channels you had on cable, with genre-based stations and no commercials.
This story is adapted from a Fast Company feature story that I wrote in 2021.