Are you looking to lower or eliminate your monthly entertainment bills? Free streaming services are emerging as a popular option to replace cable television and — in some cases — subscription streaming services.
So how does it work?
Instead of paying your monthly subscription fee to streaming giants like Netflix, you can instead stream content for free from a dozen or so companies that don’t charge you a dime. They don’t even ask for a credit card.
Of course, there is a tradeoff involved. Instead of a monthly bill, you’ll have to endure advertisements embedded in the content. That’s how these free services make their money.
Table of Contents
- Guide Summary
- Free Live Streaming Services Chart
- Live Streaming TV Picks
- On-Demand Movies Picks
- On-Demand TV Series Picks
- Original Content
- Avoiding Commercials
- Final Thoughts
Guide Summary: Understanding Free Streaming Services
Given the emergence of free streaming services as a replacement option for subscription services, Team Clark decided it was time to better understand what each free service offers.
For the purposes of this guide, I individually reviewed several free streaming services. I downloaded each of their products and consumed content via web, phone, tablet and television streaming device. I took notes on things like content library, ease of signup, availability of apps, user interface and the volume of commercials you’ll endure.
If you’re new to the free streaming scene, it can be overwhelming to understand the differences in some of these services. It is our goal to help you feel comfortable with your choices so that you can be confident in making changes to your entertainment budget.
In addition to this guide, I’d encourage you to visit the individual Team Clark reviews for these services (linked below) to ensure that you’re making the right choices for your household.
Best Free Streaming Services for Movies and TV
|Free Streaming Service||Pros||Cons||Team Clark Review||Try It Out|
|Crackle||Strong selection of hit movies||Lack of live TV options||Crackle Review||Crackle Official Site|
|IMDb TV||Amazon-backed content collection||Hidden in Prime Video on some apps||IMDb TV Review||IMDb TV Official Site|
|Kanopy||Unique indie content||Requires a library card||Kanopy Review||Kanopy Official Site|
|Pluto TV||Mainstream live TV options||No DVR function on livestream||Pluto TV Review||Pluto TV Official Site|
|Popcornflix||Good selection of independent films||Weak TV series collection||Popcornflix Review||Popcornflix Official Site|
|Roku Channel||Great selection of TV and movies||Limited availability on non-Roku devices||Roku Channel Review||Roku Channel Official Site|
|Tubi TV||Quality user interface||No original content||Tubi TV Review||Tubi TV Official Site|
|Vudu||Walmart-backed content selection||Signup is required||Vudu Review||Vudu Official Site|
|Xumo||Blend of live and on-demand content||Live channels feature abbreviated content||Xumo Review||Xumo Official Site|
Best for Free Live Streaming TV
In the free streaming world, your options for live TV are often isolated to individual services promoting products on standalone platforms. But there are a handful of services that both aggregate live options and mix in live content of their own. This creates a “channel surfing” experience that is similar to what you might expect from a cable or satellite service.
Before you get too excited, it’s worth noting that the quantity and quality of the content on these live streaming TV aggregators is not nearly as good as that of the subscription services.
For instance, you are not going to find many live sports streaming options without paying for them. If you want to watch your favorite team’s big games, you’re likely going to need a subscription of some sort.
Still, there are some free streaming TV options that are worth checking out if you’re looking to save money.
Team Clark’s Top Pick for Free Live Streaming TV
If you’re looking to dip your toes into the live free streaming TV pool, my suggestion is that you start with Pluto TV. This service is owned by ViacomCBS, so there are some really mainstream television options at your disposal. It also does a really good job of aggregating some of the popular free streaming offerings from across the web.
The live channel selection includes well-known brands like Comedy Central, MTV, BET, VH1, Spike TV and Nickelodeon. It is important to note that these are not live streams of the traditional channels. Instead, they are unique streams that are more narrowly focused on types of content. For example, there are six different Nickelodeon channels that range from Nick Kids to Nick Movies.
Sports options include offerings from Fox Sports, Major League Soccer, PGA and the NFL. These are not live sporting events, though.
Pluto TV also features news streams from CBSN, NBC News, CNN, Bloomberg, Newsy and more.
Also Worth Checking Out for Live Streaming TV: XUMO, The Roku Channel
Live Streaming TV: If You Like This, You Should Try That…
|Like This?||Try That!|
|Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, MTV||Pluto TV|
|ABC News, NBC News, CBS News||XUMO|
|Free streaming for kids||Pluto TV|
Best for Free On-Demand Movies
Ready to get your popcorn and hunker down on the couch for a few hours?
Good news: Many of the free streaming services we reviewed rely heavily on the on-demand movie market for their content mix.
There also are similarities in the way movies are presented on these streaming services. No matter which service you pick, the movie library is likely to be sorted into familiar genres like comedies, action flicks, drama, thrillers and more.
While movies often rotate on and off services based on terms of agreement between the streaming services and the owners of the content, there are some constants we can take away from the services Team Clark reviewed.
For example, Crackle is owned by Sony and Chicken Soup for the Soul productions, so it has access to movies associated with those companies. IMDb TV (Amazon) and Vudu (Walmart) also have very large companies backing their content selections.
Others, like Kanopy (large library of indie productions), follow a theme with their content choices that make it easy to set expectations beyond what content is available on the platform on any given day.
Lastly, it’s important to set expectations for release dates appropriately. Many of the new releases are found on subscription services, while the options for free streaming are generally a few years into circulation.
Team Clark’s Top Pick for Free On-Demand Movies
This was actually a really tough choice, as there are several services that offer a strong selection of movies. It’s really up to personal film preferences.
Vudu moved to the top of my list due to the availability of some really popular films that you might expect from a subscription like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video.
When I was test-driving the app, I was able to see hit movies from the popular Batman and James Bond series. It also had some hits from seemingly every genre. Looking for an 80s flashback? Vudu has The Karate Kid series. Need some laughs? There’s Ace Ventura and Caddyshack. Want a scare? I was able to watch Final Destination and the Saw series.
No Country for Old Men and Will Smith’s Ali are some other examples of award-winning movies available through Walmart’s free streaming option.
Also Worth Checking Out for On-Demand Movies: Crackle, The Roku Channel, Tubi TV, IMDb TV
On-Demand Movies: If You Like This, You Should Try That…
|Like This?||Try That!|
|Big budget Hollywood films||Crackle, Vudu, The Roku Channel, Tubi TV|
Best for Free On-Demand TV Series
In a move that likely has put DVD sales of old TV series to bed for good, there are several streaming services offering a complete series of formerly popular television shows for free.
That sounds exciting, but it’s all relative to your appetite for content that may not be the latest and greatest.
For example, you’re not going to find HBO smash-hits Game of Thrones on a free streaming service. But you can stream the once-popular 1990s TV series Roseanne and 3rd Rock from the Sun from beginning to end on no less than five of the free streaming services we have reviewed.
If you set your expectations for older television series, you may find that there are hours upon hours of free TV out there for you to consume.
Team Clark’s Top Pick for Free On-Demand TV Series
The Roku Channel
This was another close call with some really worthy services but I ultimately decided on The Roku Channel because of the combination of relatively newer hits and classic TV series across several genres.
The Roku Channel features older classics like The Beverly Hillbillies, The Partridge Family, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeanie and Sanford. It also has newer series like The Bachelorette, Dog the Bounty Hunter and Cold Case. There’s even a little something in between, with shows like Who’s The Boss? and Growing Pains.
The Roku Channel also has plenty of children’s content, with recognizable characters like Thomas and Friends, Bob the Builder and Barbie.
The one hassle with The Roku Channel is that you’re going to need a Roku.com account and most likely a Roku device to stream it on your television. Still, that’s probably not a barrier that would drive non-Roku device owners away. There is a free app for your phone or tablet and you can also log in to view from your laptop’s web browser.
Also Worth Checking Out for On-Demand TV Shows: Crackle, Tubi TV, Vudu, IMDb TV
On-Demand TV Series: If You Like This, You Should Try That…
|Like This?||Try That!|
|Reality series like Duck Dynasty or American Pickers||Tubi TV|
|Vintage classics like All in the Family or The Beverly Hillbillies||Crackle, The Roku Channel, Tubi TV, Vudu|
|80s and 90s sitcoms||IMDb TV, Crackle, The Roku Channel|
Best for Original Content
Original content from a streaming service that does not have a guaranteed stream of revenue is tough ask. That’s why many of the free streaming services on the market choose to pass on the idea of creating content of their own. Instead, they’ll happily air someone else’s content for a chance to make advertising revenue.
But there are a handful of original content options in the free streaming services market.
IMDb TV, which is owned by Amazon, and Vudu (owned by Walmart) have the financial backing necessary to create original content. IMDb TV has an animated short that features Modern Family star Eric Stonestreet, for example.
Team Clark’s Top Pick for Best Free Original Content
While I would consider Crackle a top choice for both on-demand movies and TV series, it takes home the top spot on my rankings for original content from a free streaming service.
At the time this service was reviewed, it featured 16 original television series and 11 original films with some pretty big names attached to them.
Ashton Kutcher, Jeremy Renner and Vin Diesel are each executive producers on different projects for Crackle. And Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston is one of the voices for an animated original series on the platform. Other recognizable names with projects on Crackle include Rob Riggle, Kate Bosworth and Dennis Quaid.
Also Worth Checking Out for Original Content: IMDb TV, Vudu
Best for Avoiding Commercials
As we mentioned earlier in this guide, advertisements are the lifeblood of free streaming services. It’s difficult to avoid them because it’s hard for the services to survive without them.
With the exception of Kanopy, which has a different business model, all of the free streaming services we reviewed have some element of commercials added to the content.
The good news is that pretty much all of these services have an advertising experience that produces fewer and shorter commercial breaks than traditional television networks. So if you’re cutting the cord, you’re also cutting the amount of time that you’ll spend waiting for your content to return from commercial break.
Still, it’s far from perfect. Some services have repetitive ads that will annoy you the 11th time you see them during a two-hour film. Others have glitchy ads or ads that increase the volume on your device and try to get you to click a link.
One tip that is effective for a handful of the services is timing out the commercial breaks and using that time to do something else instead. You can spot when the breaks are coming on the progress bar for your content. Some of the services will give you a timer in the corner of the screen to let you know how long before the commercial break ends.
Be sure to check the individual reviews on these streaming services. I broke down the specifics on advertisements for each.
Team Clark’s Top Pick for Avoiding Commercials
Kanopy wins the contest for avoiding commercials because it’s one of the few free streaming services that does not have them.
No subscription fee and no commercials? That’s a big win for content consumers, but you may be wondering how that works.
Kanopy is a streaming service that is made available for free through public and university library systems. You’ll need a library card or a university ID from a participating partner to be able to access the content. Kanopy then charges the library a usage fee when you watch content.
Final Thoughts for Free Streaming Services
Are you ready to get started with free streaming TV in your household? The best part about these services being free is that you can move in and out of any service with practically no barriers. That means trying them out is extremely easy. Keep an open mind to different services, make notes on which suit your needs best and watch for new releases as services build out content catalogs.
Personally, I’d start with a mix of Pluto TV, Crackle, Vudu and The Roku Channel. But it’s important to remember that there is no formula for achieving a perfect content mix. My suggestions likely aren’t going to perfectly fit your entertainment needs. The good news is that there are enough options out there that a satisfactory setup can be achieved — with a little tweaking and some patience.