Are you looking to lower or even 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 trade-off 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.
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Guide Summary: Understanding Free Streaming Services
If you’re new to the free streaming scene, it can be overwhelming to understand the differences between all 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. (Please visit our full streaming guide to get the full picture of the market.)
First, let’s set some expectations. Here’s what you will see from many of the free streaming services that are referenced in this guide:
- Popular movies from yesteryear
- Full series of TV shows that are no longer in production
- Varying amounts of original content
- Lots of awkwardly placed commercials and advertisements
And here are some things you’re probably wishing you could get but just aren’t a part of the free streaming experience:
- Regular access to live pro and college sports (There’s no ESPN here.)
- Popular TV shows that have your friends talking
- New release movies that are fresh from the theater
With those expectations in mind, 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 content library, ease of sign-up, availability of apps, user interface and the volume of commercials you’ll endure.
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 best choices for your household.
Best Free Streaming Services for Movies and TV
Below is a list of 13 free streaming services that could help you replace cable TV.
But the right combination of these free services could help you stay entertained while keeping your wallet happy. Read on to see which services I recommend for each type of streamer.
|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|
|Locast||Free access to select local TV channels||Many areas of U.S. still not served||Locast Review||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|
|Redbox Live TV||Easy-to-use app for live streaming TV||Content menu is not particularly strong||Red Box Live TV Review||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|
|Twitch||Gamers create new wave of entertainment||May not connect with non-gaming crowd||N/A||Twitch 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|
|YouTube||Creators provide wide variety of content||Lots of "junk" videos to navigate past||N/A||YouTube Official Site|
Best for Live TV Experience: Pluto 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.
Pluto TV also does a really good job of aggregating some of the popular free streaming offerings from across the web, so you can easily replicate that familiar “channel surfing” feeling that you get from cable or satellite TV.
The live channel selection includes well-known brands including 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, MLB, 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
Best for On-Demand TV Series: The Roku Channel
In a move that likely has put DVD sales of old TV series to bed, there are several streaming services that offer complete series of formerly popular television shows for free.
The Roku Channel is arguably the best among them.
That’s because it boasts a nice blend of popular TV series from both network and premium cable channels. It also recently acquired the entire content library from defunct streaming service Quibi and rebranded those shows as Roku Originals.
Available titles tend to come and go from free streaming services, but here are some of familiar TV shows that you could stream for free with The Roku Channel at the time of this writing:
- The Bachelorette
- Hell’s Kitchen
- The First 48
- The Beverly Hillbillies
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. That may not be a barrier, as there’s a free Roku Channel 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, IMDb TV
Best for On-Demand Movies: Crackle
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 mixes. And Crackle is one of the best at it.
Crackle is owned by Sony and Chicken Soup for the Soul productions, so it has access to movies associated with those companies.
It offers recognizable movie titles across all genres and features Hollywood stars such as Russell Crowe, Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman and more.
Like most free streaming services, Crackle often shuffles movies on and off its menu within a matter of weeks. So if you see something you’d like to watch, you should take advantage of it while you can.
Also Worth Checking Out for On-Demand Movies: Vudu, The Roku Channel, Tubi TV, IMDb TV
Best for Local Channel Access: Locast
Many people who are considering cutting the cord give up on the idea when they find out they may lose access to their local channels.
Thanks to a free streaming service called Locast, many can cast aside those concerns.
This not-for-profit service offers free access to local channels (ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS and PBS affiliates) for 33 U.S. markets that reach more than 50% of the country’s population.
That means you can sign up and live stream your local news or favorite network broadcast shows without paying a penny. (You may want to donate to both help the product thrive and increase the quality of your streaming experience, but you can read more about that in Team Clark’s review of the service.)
Here’s a look at the coverage map as of June 2021, but you’ll want to visit the website to see if your ZIP code is in the coverage area at this time:
Check Team Clark’s guide for accessing local channels without cable for a complete list of tips.
Best for Children’s Content: Tubi TV
If you’re a cord cutter who has children, finding a good selection of kid-friendly content for free is likely a top priority.
Tubi TV may be a perfect fit for your household. In addition to a strong on-demand movie and TV show library that is likely to please the adults in the family, the FOX-owned service offers a “Tubi Kids” section that is dedicated to the youth of the house.
In this section, you’ll be able to find movies and TV shows that are appropriate for children. The programming is “siloed” so that kids can navigate without easily stumbling upon inappropriate content.
Some of the recognizable characters available on Tubi Kids at the time of this review included The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, My Little Pony, Sonic the Hedgehog, Barbie and Barney the Dinosaur.
Family movies available included Free Willy, Annie, Little Big League, The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland and Kung Fu Panda.
Also Worth Checking Out for Children’s Content: The Roku Channel, PBS Kids
Best for Original Content: YouTube
Many of the free streaming services that are backed by major film and broadcast companies are working on original television series and shorts for you to enjoy, but most of the high-quality streaming shows and movies are found on subscription services.
When it comes to free streaming entertainment, you may find that your best original creators are on YouTube.
After gaining popularity as a place to find funny or interesting video clips in the early 2000s, YouTube has morphed into a video streaming site that allows for full-length shows and movies as well as interactive livestreams.
YouTube has a section of its website dedicated to original content that highlights creators who produce things strictly for the streaming service. But it doesn’t stop there.
I’m just scratching the surface of the original content that you can find on the platform, as sports leagues and news channels are getting more comfortable with the idea of live-streaming their product here.
Major League Baseball live streams one game per week exclusively on YouTube. And you’re not only able to watch for free, but you can also interact with other fans and experts in real-time as the action happens.
Also Worth Checking Out for Original Content: Crackle, Twitch, IMDb TV, Vudu
Best for Gaming and Interactive Viewing: Twitch
If you’re from a certain generation, the concept of watching other people play video games may not seem like your idea of entertainment.
But it’s a very real and emerging force on the free streaming market. There are millions of people being entertained daily by content creators on platforms such as Twitch.
Twitch, which is owned by Amazon, is a website and app that allows you to stream live and recorded content from across the globe.
Esports, which is basically competitive video gaming, is the primary function of this streaming site. You can watch live tournaments of some of the most popular video games in real time, and comment and engage with the players as you watch along.
But as the site has grown in popularity, it’s turning into more than just live streams of game play.
There are also interactive talk shows migrating to the platform because it is so easy for people to post their comments. And Twitch content creators can monetize this through the ad-supported portion of the platform or charge a subscription fee for exclusive content.
This may not be traditional television consumption, but it is a new wave of streaming entertainment that is completely free to try out.
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 their content catalogs.
Personally, I’d start with a mix of Pluto TV, Tubi TV, YouTube and The Roku Channel to get a mix of live TV, on-demand TV, kids options and original content.
But it’s important to remember that there is no formula for achieving a perfect content mix.
My suggestions likely aren’t going to fit your entertainment needs perfectly. 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.