If you’ve quit cable TV but still want to watch your local stations without setting up an antenna, Locast may be a solution.
Locast.org is a nonprofit service that streams broadcast TV over the internet for free. It launched in 2018 and has expanded to more than 30 major cities, despite an ongoing legal challenge from ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know before you start streaming local stations with this service.
1. How Does Locast Work?
Locast takes an antenna, collects over-the-air signals and streams the channels over the internet to users located in select cities.
To sign up, register at Locast.org by providing an email address and password. Once you confirm your email, you’ll be able to stream using the Locast app or by visiting Locast.org.
The service works with Android TV, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Roku streaming platforms, among others.
Before you can stream from a supported device, the service requires that you enter an activation code. Simply go to locast.org/activate and enter the code that’s displayed on your screen.
Once you’ve finished the initial setup process, you’ll see a live TV guide that looks something like this:
From my home market in South Florida, Locast streams ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS and a number of digital subchannels. It’s the same broadcast channels that I get with my Mohu Leaf indoor antenna.
The live TV guide is simple and cannot be customized. It lets you preview the TV schedule up to a week in advance.
2. Where Is Locast Available?
Locast is not available everywhere. As of June 2021, the service operates in 34 markets. If you’re located outside of a market that Locast serves, you won’t be able to stream.
Here are the cities where the service is available at last check:
- Columbus, Ohio
- Los Angeles
- Madison, Wisconsin
- New York
- Puerto Rico
- Rapid City, South Dakota
- San Francisco
- Scranton, Pennsylvania
- Sioux City, Iowa
- Sioux Falls, South Dakota
- Tampa Bay
- Tri-Cities (Bristol, Johnson City, and Kingsport, TN)
- Washington, D.C.
- West Palm Beach
3. Is Locast Really Free?
There is no charge to use Locast, but the streaming TV service relies on individual donations to offset its operating costs.
When you’re streaming for free, the user experience is severely impacted by donation requests. Expect programming to be interrupted every 15 minutes or so with an ask for support.
To eliminate these interruptions, you can donate as little as $5 a month plus a processing fee of 50 cents.
When I tested out Locast, I found the interruptions unbearable and made a donation to stop them. However, most people sit through the donation requests to access the service at no charge.
4. Is Locast Legal?
Locast is not without controversy. The New York Times reported in July 2019 that ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX joined together to sue the nonprofit organization for copyright violations.
Locast has defended itself in a countersuit and alleges the broadcasters colluded against the service, according to CNN.
“Locast operates under the Copyright Act of 1976 that allows nonprofit translator services to rebroadcast local stations without receiving a copyright license from the broadcaster. The federal statute (17 U.S.C. 111(a)(5)) states that a nonprofit organization may retransmit a local broadcast signal and collect a fee to cover the cost of operations. Locast asks viewers to donate as little as $5 per month to help cover operating costs. The donation is voluntary and not required.” – Locast news release, August 2020
Clark.com emailed communications executives at ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX for this article. Only CBS responded to our request, and a spokesperson declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.
Locast founder David Goodfriend told me the service will continue to operate normally as the legal drama plays out.
If you don’t want to rely on an antenna, Locast offers another way to pick up local channels without cable. But there are several reasons why I still prefer an antenna in most cases:
- An indoor antenna costs $40 or less and provides a lifetime of free over-the-air TV. If you live close enough to broadcast towers, an antenna may pick up the same channels as Locast.
- Streaming Locast to a TV requires an internet connection and a supported device.
- Locast interrupts live TV with donation requests about every 15 minutes, so the free version can be difficult to watch. There are no interruptions with an antenna.
That said, Locast might be a good solution if you can’t get all of your broadcast channels with an antenna. During my month-long test of the service, I experienced no issues with video quality or buffering.
Have you streamed local channels with Locast? Leave a comment below to add to this review!
This article was originally written by Michael Timmermann and published on August 31, 2020.