PBS is a local broadcast channel that is available free as an over-the-air TV channel, and through eight other streaming services or apps.
You can watch PBS without cable on:
- PBS Video app and website
- Local Now (Coming Soon)
- PBS Passport
- YouTube TV
- DIRECTV STREAM
- Amazon Prime
PBS has been maximizing options for its viewers in recent years, especially cord-cutters who no longer pay for a cable TV subscription. You can now watch thousands of local and national PBS shows without a pay TV provider.
“Masterpiece”, “PBS NewsHour”, and the latest Ken Burns documentaries are among the PBS programs that you can watch for free. The same is true for new shows that are on PBS Kids such as “Sesame Street” and “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.”
How to Watch PBS without Cable
I watch and record my PBS station using a TV antenna and OTA DVR. It’s a dependable way for me to save my favorite episodes of “Austin City Limits” and “Front and Center.”
If you have an internet connection, you can also use a number of streaming apps with a Smart TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast or Apple TV to start watching PBS.
Here is a quick look at all of your options.
PBS Video app and website
The PBS Video app and its website now live stream local PBS stations without any membership, subscription or fee.
You can start watching local PBS member stations on your TV with five easy steps:
1) Download the PBS video app to your Smart TV or streaming device.
2) Go to pbs.org/activate using a web browser or smartphone, and enter the activation code on your TV screen.
3) Create a free PBS account, or proceed using an account you already have with Google, Facebook or Apple.
4) Read and accept the terms of service and click the “Create an account” tab.
5) Once your account is activated, open the PBS app on your TV and click on the “Live TV” tab.
Aside from live TV, you can build a watchlist of favorite shows. The PBS app is available on a number of Smart TVs that run Android TV or Google TV. VIZIO SmartCast and Samsung TVs have the app.
You can also find a PBS app on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and Chromecast with Google TV. Mobile devices including iPhones, iPads (with recent iOS software) and Android smartphones and tablets can use the PBS app.
With the PBS website, you should make sure you are using an updated web browser such as Firefox, Safari or Google Chrome for the best streaming experience. Want to watch PBS shows on the big screen? Smart projectors with Android TV support the PBS app.
Local Now (Coming Soon)
The free streaming service, Local Now, will soon be adding PBS content to its lineup of channels.
On December 13, 2022, the Allen Media Group announced a new partnership with PBS. The deal will bring live streaming of local stations and a “KIDS 24/7” channel, which will likely feature PBS Kids shows.
You automatically get full access to PBS Passport, an on-demand streaming service, when you make a $5 per month (tax-deductible) donation to PBS.
PBS Passport has current shows that you will find on a local PBS station along with past seasons of shows such as “NOVA,” “Frontline,” “American Masters,” and “Great Performances.”
Passport members get early access to select new series and episodes.
And it’s a decent way to binge watch favorite PBS shows such as “American Experience” and “Antiques Roadshow” on the cheap. You can sign up for PBS Passport on the PBS website, then log in to the PBS app using your account.
YouTube TV carries local PBS stations in its Base channel plan. The Base plan has 128 live tv channels and unlimited Cloud DVR. A subscription costs $64.99 per month.
Subscribers get other local channels such as ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX stations. The channel lineup includes ESPN, CNN, and NFL Network.
You can watch live TV or episodes of PBS shows on-demand. Subscribers can watch live TV on three screens at once through the YouTube TV app.
Subscribers can use Smart TVs, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku and Chromecast. You can also watch TV live on a PC with your subscription. You can get a free trial for seven days.
DIRECTV STREAM carries PBS in its Entertainment channel bundle. But it’s the most expensive option at $74.99 per month.
Subscribers get more than 75 live TV channels in the Entertainment bundle. There is unlimited Cloud DVR for recordings, and 40,000 on-demand shows. You can watch live TV on up to 20 screens at once.
You can watch DIRECTV STREAM on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast with Google TV and Apple TV.
New customers can have a 5-day free trial without any obligations. Subscriptions run month to month. There are no contracts or obligations.
Amazon Prime members should search for “PBS” in the search bar to find series such as “Poldark” and “Victoria” available to stream without an additional charge.
Prime members have the option to add on-demand channels that PBS has launched.
- PBS Masterpiece ($5.99 per month / 7-day free trial)
- PBS Documentaries ($3.99 per month / 7-day free trial)
- PBS Kids ($4.99 per month / 7-day free trial)
All three PBS-themed channels are exclusive Amazon channels and require an Amazon Prime Video membership. You can get a free trial of each channel that lasts for seven days. PBS Living is only available through a subscription on Apple TV Channels.
You can find some PBS content on Netflix, but there is not any kind of PBS hub, or steady stream of shows. Your best bet is to use the search icon and type in “PBS” to find what shows are available.
Netflix is not an option to live stream PBS, but you may find full seasons of a show you wanted to binge watch.
How to Watch PBS for free with a TV antenna
There is an easy way to watch your favorite TV shows on PBS for free without any kind of streaming service or internet connection.
A TV antenna can receive local TV stations, including PBS, ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC for free.
People living within 30 to 40 miles of local broadcast towers have an excellent chance at getting local broadcast channels with a well-made antenna.
Local channels broadcast digital signals in 1080i or 720p, which is High Definition. You can use the free tool at AntennasDirect to see whether PBS is available in your area.
If you are new to TV antennas, here is a list of resources that I have written to get you started.
- How to Choose the Best TV Antenna
- How to Connect Multiple TVs to One Antenna
- Review: The Best Indoor TV Antennas
- Review: The Best Outdoor TV Antennas
How to Watch PBS without Cable FAQs
These are questions readers ask while researching ways to watch PBS without a pay TV provider.
How to watch PBS Passport on a Smart TV
You can watch your Passport subscription on a Smart TV by logging into the PBS app. You will need the account information from when you first became a PBS donor to sign in to the PBS app.
Where and how can I watch PBS NewsHour?
You can watch PBS NewsHour live or on-demand through the PBS app, or on the PBS website. You can also watch local PBS stations for free by using a TV antenna.
How can I watch Sesame Street on PBS?
You can watch current “Sesame Street” episodes for free on the PBS Kids app. New episodes are also available free on local PBS stations using a TV antenna.
You can subscribe to YouTube TV, DIRECTV STREAM and HBO Max to watch the latest episodes of “Sesame Street.” But only HBO Max has all 53 seasons of the show on-demand.
Is PBS free on Amazon Prime?
There is no live stream of PBS on Amazon Prime Video. Amazon Prime members can subscribe for a few Amazon channels that carry PBS content. But it will cost you another monthly fee. PBS Masterpiece, PBS Kids and PBS Documentaries are all available as subscription options through Amazon Channels.
How can I watch PBS documentaries for free?
The PBS app lets you watch local PBS stations live. Most PBS content is available on-demand on the PBS app and the PBS website for roughly two weeks before it goes into the library of PBS Passport.
How can I watch PBS Kids?
PBS Kids is a broadcast TV network that’s available for free as an over-the-air channel. You can also watch current episodes for free using the PBS Kids app.
What’s the best way to stream PBS?
The PBS Video app live streams local stations for free in most markets. You can also get local member stations using a TV antenna, or by signing up for YouTube TV or DIRECTV STREAM.
For more news on streaming, how-to guides and reviews, head over to the main page of The Cord Cutting Report or follow the CCR on Google News.
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble