Published on: January 4, 2023
TV viewers have been able to shift from cable to live TV streaming services to get local channels.
Tried and true cord-cutters still use a TV antenna for local ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX stations.
But now, free streaming services and streaming sites powered by major cable and broadcast companies such as Comcast, and Charter are ushering in a new era of online alternatives.
Free, ad-supported television (a.k.a. FAST channels) dedicated to local TV are just one of the newest avenues that cord-cutters can use instead of subscription-based TV plans. FAST services that include local or regional channels allow you to keep up on news, community events and region-wide affairs.
Free streaming services such as NewsOn, XUMO Play, Pluto TV and many others already stream national news, local news on TVs and on smartphones for people on the go.
For example, Cox Media Group, Hearst Television, Sinclair Broadcast Group, and many others have been collaborating on broadening the online accessibility of their news stations since 2015 by leveraging local TV stations into the NewsOn app.
While there are far more options with getting local TV now, you will find even more coming in 2024.
I have been streaming TV since 2016, and I have been using a TV antenna for years before that. So this article I have rounded up the best free streaming services you can use to watch local channels for free based on my hands-on usage and testing.
The PBS Video app and website now stream local stations for free, without needing membership, subscription, or fees.
I’ve long enjoyed PBS as a free channel using my TV antenna. Now, the app offers free access to local programming. A simple sign-up process is all it takes, and you can do it on any device.
Once the app recognizes your local PBS station, you gain access to its broadcast content. To access the entire TV show library, consider subscribing to PBS Passport. But for shows airing a day or two prior, the free version suffices, negating the need for a cable subscription.
PBS’s reach has grown in the streaming era. Most U.S. regions can live stream local stations through the app. Check show times and availability for live, free viewing. On-demand content typically posts the day after airing and remains free for about two weeks before moving to the PBS Passport library.
To start watching local PBS on your TV, follow five steps:
- Download the PBS Video app on your Smart TV or streaming device.
- Visit pbs.org/activate and enter the activation code displayed on your TV.
- Create a free PBS account or use an existing one.
- Accept the terms and click “Create an account.”
- Activate your account, open the app on your TV, and select “Live TV.”
The PBS app is available on various platforms, including Smart TVs, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and Chromecast with Google TV. It’s also accessible on mobile devices like iPhones and Androids. Ensure optimal streaming by using updated browsers like Firefox, Safari, or Chrome. Smart projectors with Android TV also support the app.
NewsOn stands out as a leading free streaming service for those seeking news from local TV stations. This ad-supported platform offers live and on-demand coverage from 258 stations in 137 markets covering 91% of the U.S. TV market.
For a broader perspective, platforms like CBS News or NBC News Now are also viable, yet NewsOn excels in providing an in-depth look at local events. It offers nationwide access to local broadcasts without geo-blocking, ensuring crisp video quality and straightforward navigation.
Unique for its unrestricted access, NewsOn allows viewers to watch local newscasts from anywhere in the country. Its video quality competes with paid services, and it’s celebrated for its user-friendly interface.
For those broadening their perspective on national events, NewsOn offers an extensive array of local viewpoints.
Local Now is an excellent choice for fast, local weather forecasts. This free service, a spinoff of The Weather Channel, includes various state and regional news stations.
Under the “My City” tab, you can find live feeds that give news and weather reports from local broadcast channels such as FOX and NBC. You can also find live streams from local PBS station in many parts of the U.S.
Local Now stands out for hyperlocal weather updates, directly sourced from The Weather Channel. It’s my go-to app for quick and accurate forecasts, launching directly into local weather upon opening, followed by regional radar. Its responsiveness and specificity outshine other weather apps on platforms like Roku.
Owned by Allen Media Group, Local Now also offers FAST channels and on-demand movies. However, my primary use is for its reliable weather updates.
As you shift from cable to streaming, Local Now provides the quick, local updates you’re used to, all for free.
Haystack TV / Haystack News
Haystack News offers an elegant solution to access news feeds from local ABC and CBS channels and international news. It provides quick local weather updates and global news insights.
For a tailored experience, sign in with Facebook or Google, select your location, and choose the local stations you prefer. With over 300 local, national, and international streams, Haystack stands out as a comprehensive, free news source.
Tubi features about 106 local news feeds across the U.S., offering both live and recent broadcasts.
It has 234 FAST channels, covering national news, sports highlights, business news, entertainment and local news. For TV viewers who love genre based sub-channels that are available over-the-air, you can find a few of their digital siblings such as GRIT Xtra, ION Plus and Bounce XL.
I’ve watched Tubi evolve over the years, especially after Fox Corporation’s $440 million acquisition in 2020, which brought significant content upgrades. However, its FAST channel performance lags behind competitors like Pluto TV. For example, the Tubi app on Roku can be sluggish compared to competitors, and there is no category section that can help you quickly navigate through the channel list. Unfortunately, local channels is at the bottom of the menu, so it can sometimes take a while to get to them.
Seamless channel surfing while watching TV remains a priority for me, so the Tubi app could use a refresh.
The Roku Channel
The Roku Channel is essential for regular TV viewers, continuously updating with new channels and free content. It offers close to 400 live TV channels, a vast array of free movies and TV shows, and even houses discontinued HBO shows from Warner Bros. Discovery.
It currently offers 26 local channels, covering news, weather and sports.
For those new to cutting the cable cord, The Roku Channel is an excellent introduction to a post-cable world. You don’t need a Roku streaming device to use the Roku channel because it now has apps for other major streaming devices such as Amazon Fire TV and even Smart TVs.
Catch nightly news from ABC News Live or NBC News Now, access local weather, or enjoy channel surfing—all without a cable subscription.
The “Featured Free” section on Roku’s menu stands out by compiling free content from various channels like Discovery and National Geographic, as well as platforms like Pluto TV. You can watch without downloading individual channels.
Also noteworthy is “My Feed.” While initially appearing as a rental or purchase tool, it’s actually a treasure trove for free content discovery. Add an actor or director’s name, and you’ll get recommendations from free apps like Tubi and Pluto TV. It transforms into a personalized media guide, streamlining your search for entertainment.
The Very Local app covers a total of 28 TV markets across the United States, encompassing a diverse range of cities and regions from Albuquerque, NM to Winston-Salem, NC. These markets include major metropolitan areas as well as smaller cities, providing a wide coverage of local news and content.
Hearst Television launched Very Local on September 20, 2021 which offers news programs from its TV stations and nationally produced shows such as “Matter of Fact” and “Chronicle.”
Pluto TV, a staple in the free streaming service universe, has 16 local news stations.
You will find local news feeds for cities such as Boston, Baltimore, Chicago, and others. These FAST channels provide 24/7 coverage of events in the local communities just like a local TV station would.
With about 350 channels, Pluto TV excels in user experience among its free platform peers. The live TV guide is intuitively organized, offering easy access to a variety of genres like action, comedy, and horror. I particularly enjoy the Pluto Thrillers.
Even if you are familiar with Pluto TV, it deserves a fresh look for its updated homepage featuring “Most Popular Movies,” “Top TV Series,” and “New Movies This Month.”
While these sections may seem standard, they’re supported by a vast library from Paramount Global, including content from Paramount Pictures, CBS, Nickelodeon, and Showtime.
Keep an eye out for its pop-up channels featuring marathons of specific shows, movie franchises, or genres.
Pluto TV balances the needs of those who enjoy channel surfing and those looking for a specific movie. A standout feature is its expansive on-demand section, a continually improving library of high-quality movies dating from the 70s to recent years, all in High Definition.
While you might not find the latest releases from Netflix or Amazon Prime, Pluto TV offers a collection of desirable movies, making it a must-have for Roku users.
Xumo Play has a comprehensive range of over 25 local news channels, including ABC, NBC, and CBS affiliates from major cities across the United States. These channels cover diverse regions, from Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, to New York, ensuring that users have access to a wide array of local news and events.
Xumo Play does not require you to create an account, and has a total of nearly 300 channels. Beyond local news, Xumo Play has movies from multiple genres, sports, lifestyle shows, and kids’ programs.
Sports fans will find channels like beIN SPORTS XTRA, NBC Sports, and Golfpass. Crackle Plus and Filmrise Free Movies are two of the movie channels. There’s also a range of lifestyle and reality TV options, including Tastemade and Antiques Roadshow UK, alongside specific channels for comedy, music, crime, and even international content.
Xumo Play’s emphasis on local news is a valuable resource for viewers in major metropolitan areas who are looking to stay connected with their local community.
If you’re willing to take a different approach with leveraging your internet connection to stream local channels, you might want to consider a Tablo.
There are no monthly subscriptions or bills, unlike cable TV or live TV streaming services.
All you need is a Tablo and a TV antenna. Your local channels can be streamed across TVs and smartphones within your home. Sling TV users could also consider an AirTV 2 to combine free streaming channels with local TV stations. But after reviewing these options in depth, I think the Tablo is the better of the two.