Cut the Cord from Cable TV using these 32 Streaming Services
Finding the best streaming services to replace your cable TV subscription will depend on your personal needs.
This guide is written for people who are thinking about cutting the cord, but feel a little overwhelmed, and for people who have already braved the uncharted territories of streaming live TV and on-demand.
It’s time to level the playing field so you can be a more discerning customer when it comes to picking your own cord cutting options. By the time you finish reading this guide, you won’t even need me. You’ll become your own expert.
There are plenty of great shows, and movie streaming services that you’re probably not even aware of if you’ve used cable or satellite TV for most of your TV-watching adult life. So I’m going to give you the heads up on free streaming services like Pluto TV or Crackle, and niche subscription-based ones like FilmStruck and Shudder.
There are about a half dozen live TV streaming services on the market right now. I’ll quickly cover all of them – big, small and unheard of.
These new pay-TV services are a lot cheaper than cable. You will also learn about high quality, but lesser known on-demand services like FilmStruck. I’ll also give you a rundown of free streaming services, which might be enough for you.
Everything listed here falls under two camps. I’m either using it right now or I have used it in the past. So, this isn’t some random, thrown-together list. It’s functional. And it’s been road tested over time.
Finding what’s out there: Cable TV vs Streaming
About a half dozen live TV streaming services deliver networks that you used to only see exclusively on cable. We’re talking A&E and CNN, and yes, even sports networks like the coveted ESPN, or Big Ten Network.
But the majority of what’s out there are known as on-demand platforms. We’re talking about streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, which maintain vast inventories of movies, TV shows and original content.
There are lesser known live TV streaming services like Philo, which gets you a bunch of must-have networks like AMC starting at $16 per month. You can even get HBO cheap (like for $5 per month), and a better price for Showtime.
The subscribe-to-everything streaming myth: Don’t fall for it
There’s a false narrative out there in news stories, hot takes and opinion columns that you need to subscribe to everything to watch your favorite networks, TV shows or movies. These so-called experts say you’ll end up paying just as much as cable or – gasp — even more just to watch TV!
I say: Get lost.
I know the subscribe-to-everything idea is bogus because I ditched cable years ago. Now I have almost too much to watch– more than I have time for. And I’m saving even more money today than when I started out years ago. I even taught myself how to pay a lot less for Internet. I’ll teach you how to do the same.
More on that later.
There’s one more false narrative that we need to get out of the way before we begin. It goes like this: most people want all of their TV watching options under one app. A growing number of TV viewers suggest otherwise.
Cable companies have lost 3.4 million subscribers since 2012, while streaming services have been on the rise, according to a recent study. Streaming isn’t going anywhere, my friends – except to your living room and smartphone. Even the biggest entertainment giants in the world like Disney are furiously at work to get in on the streaming business.
Free TV channels: Stream NBC, ABC, CBS and FOX
There’s a lot I’ve already said about getting NBC, ABC and CBS for free by using a TV antenna.
You can read How to Choose the Best TV Antenna & DVR and even learn to stream over-the-air channels to a Roku, Apple TV or Fire TV.
I encourage you to read my reviews of the HDHomeRun Extend and Plex. And my extensive study that resulted in The Best Indoor TV Antennas: The Definitive Cord Cutter’s Guide. I’ll cover how to get some of these same local channels using live TV streaming services below.
What’s the best live TV streaming service?
This is a very common question with a simple answer. You need to make a list of all the channels you want, and then match them up with the live TV services available below. That’s exactly what my wife and I did years ago when we cut cable once and for all.
Making that list is really the easiest way to answer what the best streaming service is for you and your family.
Because my list of must-have channels might include National Geographic and Viceland. Your list might have ESPN and HGTV.
We may even have some overlap on our two lists, but we all have different needs and tastes. You may not get a perfect one for one match, where you’ll get every last channel that you desire.
But you’d be surprised what you don’t miss when it comes to clipping one or two networks from your channel lineup. Seriously, how valuable is a channel that you really want, but in reality only watch once or twice a month? I encourage you to check out the channel lineups on each of these live TV streaming sites as you (and ideally a partner, spouse, child, etc.) put together your lists of must-have channels and shows.
Cut the cord by picking your spots
Before you start on that list, let’s do a quick exercise that those so-called experts fall flat on. That subscribe-to-everything garbage is still floating out there. I can smell it. Maybe some of it is even in your head. It’s been put there to grow fear and doubt about your ability to cut the cord once and for all. (The cable company likes that.)
Let’s say you go to an all-you-can-eat buffet. It’s not just any buffet. This one is stocked only with your favorite foods. Do you eat absolutely everything that’s offered?
Of course not.
Instead you pick what you really want. You might even toss in a little salad because deep down you know it’s good to have. If you do eat everything, maybe you shouldn’t be reading about watching TV…
There’s another important reason why you should be willing to let less important networks go. You’re going to be dealing with a flood of new things to watch soon, and it’s coming right at you.
The flood is called: free streaming.
People get so worried about losing a beloved channel that they’re not even thinking about all the cool stuff that they’re not even aware of yet.
Here’s a quick example. I’m a huge fan of the Live Music Replay channel on Pluto TV. It’s free, it’s just like live TV and I’d really miss it if it went away. Just like you might miss A&E, a well established network with lots of quality TV shows.
Leveraging free trials to your advantage
Just about every streaming service on the market has a free trial that typically lasts a week. Some go as long as two weeks or even a month. All of them allow you to cancel online if you don’t want to keep the service.
So you can try out more than one streaming service and have no contract or obligation. As long as you set a reminder on your smartphone or write yourself a note to cancel, you won’t end up paying anything.
Unlike cable TV or satellite subscribers, cord cutters are free to lead a more nomadic lifestyle when it comes to watching TV.
So for part of the year, Dick and Jane might subscribe to Sling TV because Dick wants to watch baseball on his regional sports network. Jane may want to check out Viceland on the weekend because she’s a huge fan of “Huang’s World”. Later in the year, Hulu with Live TV makes more sense because Jane wants Smithsonian Channel and Dick wants to catch up on episodes of “Atlanta” and “Baskets”.
The object here is to get what you want to watch and pay less than you’re paying now.
Best Live TV Streaming Services
Philo: The skinniest live TV bundle
Philo is now the least expensive way to get live TV channels like AMC, BBC America, A&E and Discovery Channel. For $16 per month, there’s a 37 channel bundle. You’ll get 9 more channels for another $4 per month.
It’s the cheapest way to watch The Walking Dead on AMC or Live PD on A&E. My favorite channels on Philo are AXS TV and MTV Live because I’m a huge live music fan. So I get a lot great concerts to watch on the weekend and a healthy dose of “Austin City Limits” and “Live… with Jools Holland” on MTV Live.
Philo launched in late 2017, and you can use its service on a Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, PC, Mac or iPhone. You can access apps for AMC, and nearly every other network in the Philo lineup on Apple TV, Fire TV, Roku and other devices.
I’ve been using Philo since December 2017. You can read my review of Philo that I wrote after three months of subscribing. The menu isn’t very sophisticated, but I’m very happy with the service.
DirecTV Now: The biggest channel lineup
DirecTV Now has become really popular and offers four different channel bundles. The cheapest option is called the “Live a Little” package, which has 60+ channels for $40 per month. The largest package is called “Gotta Have It”, which has a whopping 120+ channels for $75 per month.
It’s probably the best streaming service if you have a need for a lot of channels, or live in a household where the list for must-have channels is long.
Live a Little has a mix of sports channels like ESPN and FOX Sports 1, and entertainment channels that include Investigation Discovery and National Geographic. When I was subscribing, I was impressed with the huge on-demand movie selection.
There’s a lot of on-demand content with the service, but you can’t always find a full season of a show. So your better option is to use your DirecTV Now account to sign into apps like A&E, FX Now and USA NOW.
Cloud DVR is now rolling out to customers, and you can have up to three streams at once.
DirecTV Now has supported apps for Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV and Fire Stick. You can watch on a PC as well. Since DirecTV Now is owned by AT&T, it’s a platform that touted as one that’s equally as good for watching live TV on your iPhone.
DirecTV Now has a free 7-day trial.
Sling TV: Slim channel bundles with lots of add-ons
Sling TV wore the crown as the cheapest cable alternative for a few years, but that all changed when Philo came on the scene.
Starting at $25 per month, Sling TV is still plenty cheap and gets you a nice mix of live TV networks. Cloud DVR costs another $5 per month for 50 hours of storage.
Sling TV has two main channel bundles: Sling Orange and Sling Blue. Sling Orange gets you ESPN, AMC and CNN as part of a 30+ channel lineup for $25 per month.
Sling Blue gets you 45+ channels with additions like FX, FS1, FS2, both National Geographic channels and regional sports for $25 per month. You have the options of mashing both bundles together for $40 per month as well.
Sling TV is unique because it offers a lot of add-on bundles. Example: Sports Extra is another $5 per month and gets you another 14 channels like NHL Network, SEC Network and beIN Sports. There are add-ons for news, lifestyle, premiums like HBO and the list goes on.
The channel lineup for Sling TV will give you a lot of browsing the potential for you to create your own channel lineup more than any other live TV streaming service.
fuboTV: sports centric with entertainment channels
fuboTV began as a sport-first service, but has branched out into offering a mix of entertainment channels like AMC, History, IFC and HGTV. Right now, the entry-level subscription gives you 80+ channels for $44.99 per month. You’ll get 30 hours of Cloud DVR storage with your subscription. You can add up to 500 hours.
For sports channels, there’s NBCSN, FS1, FS2, CBS Sports Network, NBA TV, Golf Channel, beIN Sports, and Pac 12 Networks. fuboTV has been aggressive with adding regional sports channels as well to its offerings. In New England, subscribers can get NESN (home to the Red Sox and Boston Bruins games) and NESN Plus. There are regional FOX Sports and NBC Sports networks available across the U.S.
fuboTV has added dozens of local NBC, CBS and FOX stations to its roster. (But no ABC or ESPN.)
Subscribers also have the option of add-on channel bundles focused on cycling, international sports, expanded PAC 12 coverage and adventure networks like Outside TV. You can add all 9 Showtime channels for $10.99 per month.
A new fubo extra bundle includes Baby TV, Cooking Channel, DIY Network, Sony Movie Channel and others. Look over the fuboTV’s channel lineup to see what might match your must-have list that you’re building. fuboTV has a free 7-day trial and if you keep it, the first month is billed at $19.99 before the regular rate kicks in.
Hulu with Live TV: live channels and huge on-demand library
Hulu with Live TV offers quite a decent value at $40 per month. You’re getting about 60+ live TV channels for $40 per month with 50 hours of Cloud DVR included. The extra value for subscribers is getting unlimited access to Hulu’s full on-demand library – the same one people pay $7.99 per month and up for.
So you’re essentially getting two of the best streaming services in one. The on-demand library includes Hulu Originals like “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Path”.
You can watch Hulu with Live TV on up to two screens at once. For a little extra, you can also have “unlimited screens” if two devices at once isn’t enough. HBO, Cinemax and Showtime can be added on as well.
The Hulu’s channel lineup also has more locals than any other streaming service on the market right now. So if getting a local NBC, ABC or FOX station is important to you, then this is probably the service you want.
Sign up for a free trial of Hulu with Live TV that lasts a week to see if it’s a good fit.
PlayStation Vue has popular live TV and sports
PlayStation Vue has four channel bundles that are between $45 per month and $80 per month. The entry-level Access bundle has channels like Animal Planet, BBC America, ESPN and Science Channel. I used PlayStation Vue for more than a year and remained very happy with the service until I decided to switch gears after a price hike.
Subscribers get unlimited Cloud DVR, lots of on-demand content and the ability to log in to dozens of apps to networks that are within your subscription.
Local NBC, ABC and CBS are offered in many areas of the U.S. FX, Disney Channel, Animal Planet, Discovery ID, TBS and TNT are among the big network channels. Sony, the parent company of Vue, recently went through a highly publicized breakup with Sinclair Broadcasting. That led to Vue customers losing some local channels.
YouTube TV for locals, sports and entertainment channels
With YouTube TV, you get more than 50 live channels for $40 per month and unlimited Cloud DVR. I currently subscribe to YouTube TV and remain impressed with the selection of channels and the picture quality. YouTube TV has recently added support to Roku and Apple TV recently.
For local channels, you’ll find ABC, NBC, FOX and CBS in many parts of the U.S. Big Ten Network, FS1, FS2 and four different ESPN channels round out sports. Bravo, the FX family of channels, IFC, TBS and TNT are among the major networks here.
CBS All Access: Live streaming, originals and on-demand library
CBS All Access has pushed into the exclusive series space with shows like Star Trek Discovery and The Good Fight.
It’s a smart move, but it’s surprising how large the CBS library once you start looking it over. Forget about shows for a minute. This streaming service is even rich with news programming for daily and weekly consumption for a mere $5.99 per month.
60 Minutes, CBS Evening News, Sunday Morning, CBS This Morning and Face the Nation are among the marquee news programs. There’s also a new CBSN on Assignment, an offshoot from the networks 24/7 online platform CBSN.
If you live in a region where a live stream of CBS is available, you’ll be able to watch NFL football and any other sports carried by the network. But CBS is best known for primetime dramas like NCIS, CSI and Blue Bloods, which are all included.
Even if you get your local CBS station with an antenna, it’s still a good service to plumb the huge on-demand library. That’s especially true if you’re a diehard Star Trek fan. You may already know that Star Trek: Discovery is exclusively produced for CBS All Access. But the streaming service also has 79 epsiodes of the original series, Deep Space Nine, Star Trek Enterprise, The Next Generation, Voyager and Star Trek: The Animated Series.
On the Sci-fi front, there is 156 episodes of The Twilight Zone, 30 episodes of Twin Peaks and all three seasons of Under the Dome, based on the popular Stephen King novel.
CBS All Access is offering a free 7-day trial.
Best Streaming Services on-demand
Netflix: Cut the cord with this staple of streaming
Most of you reading this probably already have Netflix. That’s because this streaming service has turned itself into a must-have entertainment platform. That won’t be changing anytime soon. Netflix has committed millions and millions of dollars to create original movies and series. I’m a huge fan of “Black Mirror”. Just about all the Marvel Universe series “Daredevil” and “Luke Cage” are very entertaining even if you didn’t read about these characters when you collected comic books decades ago.
Netflix molded itself into an alternative to cable early on. One way the company accomplished this was by frequently acquiring rights to popular TV shows. So you’ll find all past seasons of “The Walking Dead” and “Better Call Saul” from AMC there. You’ll notice that seven seasons of “Shameless”, a Showtime produced series is there as well. With a broad selection of genres, Netflix aims to be all things for most people. And currently it’s doing a better job at it than any other streaming service on the market. You can even try out Netflix free for a month. The most basic plan is $7.99 per month. A subscription with HD quality costs $10.99 per month. Ultra HD (4K) will cost you $13.99 per month. You can try out Netflix free for a month.
Hulu: lots of network TV, movies and original series
If you want to follow a number of shows from a cross section of networks, then Hulu’s on-demand service provides a lot to watch. The most basic service costs $7.99 for limited commercials. If you’re not into leveraging commercials for bathroom breaks and raiding the fridge, then you can pay a little more for the commercial-free plan.
Either way, you get unlimited access to full seasons of primetime TV. Comedies and drama from the likes of NBC, FOX, CBS are staples on Hulu. There are shows from AMC, A&E and HGTV. But understand you won’t find every show from a particular network.
Other streaming platforms may have already bought up the rights. So if you want to watch every season of The Walking Dead, that’s on Netflix. But Fear of the Walking Dead (at least Season 1) is on Hulu.
Hulu, like many streaming services, has been staking its claim on exclusive rights for a period of time. A couple shows on FX are a good example. If you want to watch the much-lauded series Atlanta, you’ll only see it on Hulu. The same is true for Season 1 of Taboo.
It’s worth taking in a general overview of Hulu’s library and checking out a free trial of Hulu for a week.
Amazon Prime Video: original shows, movies and exclusives
Amazon Prime Video has a pretty huge collection of newer movies, and more importantly, exclusive shows that are really well done. It’s now $119 per year, and comes with an assortment of other perks like free shipping, a one million song library and access to free Kindle books. But for me, the value comes with Amazon’s homegrown movies and series. Many, if not all, are shot in 4K HDR (Ultra HD) so it’s nice to have that option without having to pay more for it (like Netflix).
I’ve watched Amazon produced shows like “Bosch” (now on Season 4), “Goliath” and even the cut-loose-too-soon series “Mad Dogs”. Amazon is also in the movie business these days so you can catch its award-winning produced films like “Moonlight” and “Manchester By the Sea”. And it has gotten into the business of scooping up movies from film festivals around the country like Sundance Film Festival and Toronto Film Festival. Amazon has a much longer free trial of 30 days.
Amazon Channels: alternatives to getting HBO, Showtime and other premium streaming
These add-ons are called Amazon Channels. Some channels are ones you’ve heard of. Many others you haven’t. Amazon Channels range in price and can sometimes the premium ones like Showtime are slightly cheaper than subscribing directly to the platform. It’s worth looking over Amazon Channels to see if there’s a combination of streaming options that works for you to replace cable TV.
CuriosityStream: Science, Nature and Docs in 4K
CuriosityStream has that kind of fortifying experience you used to be able to find on certain cable networks years ago.
The three-year-old streaming service focuses on non-fiction programming about nature, history, science and technology. Remember when you could actually learn something from Discovery Channel, History and The Learning Channel?
John Hendricks does too. He founded the Discovery Channel years ago. He jumped into the cord cutting market by creating CuroisityStream.
After spending a few weeks trying out CuriosityStream, I’m really impressed with their unique and satisfying programs. The cheapest subscription is $2.99 per month, and you can stream a number of episodes for free.
If you want to marvel at all the eye-popping potential of your 4K television, CuriosityStream is one of the most reliable ways to do it. A 4K streaming subscription costs a little more ($9.99 per month), but I’ve been enjoying it, especially with shows that take you to places like the Galápagos Islands.
My favorite series so far has been Deep Ocean narrated by David Attenborough. Most people will recognize Attenborough’s omniscient narrative from the wildly popular Planet Earth series.
With Deep Ocean, you’ll get to see the kinds of fish and creatures that live miles below the ocean in the Mariana Trench.
Right now, CuriosityStream is letting new customers use their service for free between now and Dec. 31. You just need to sign up. After that, you’ll be charged the monthly rate for a subscription, but right now, it’s an absolute steal.
STARZ: Original programming with some movie gems
The crime drama “Power” is enough of a reason to get a free trial of Starz. Just to give you fair warning: you’ll get hooked pretty quick. The acting is really on point, and the plight of “Ghost”, a drug kingpin trying to go straight before he gets arrested, makes for a compelling story line.
The movie selection is a bit of a grab bag, but part of the fun is discovering something unexpected. I was happy to see a couple of new titles, “All the Money in the World” and “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” in the queue. I found a couple of classics too. “Manhunter”, an early Michael Mann film from 1986, is something I’ll gladly watch again.
I don’t get out to Redbox too often, and I probably wouldn’t think to hunt them down these titles on VUDU or something like that.
The real value in Starz is the original series; namely, “Power”, “American Gods” and “Counterpart”.
I do wish my Roku app on Starz gave me a live stream of the actual channel, but you can watch anything the network has on demand. And you can see a live stream of the network through your web browser. Starz costs $8.99 per month, so it’s the cost of renting a couple of movies. Check out a free trial of Starz that lasts a week.
Sundance Now: a cheap alternative for indie movies and series
Sundance Now, an AMC-owned streaming service, has movies, compelling documentaries and series that were big hit in the UK and elsewhere around the globe. A subscription costs only $4.99 per month – much less than the typical streaming service.
The movie catalog within Sundance Now has innovative movies from the past like “Taxi Driver”, and critically acclaimed foreign films, including “Amor”. This service was once known as Sundance Doc and the service still has great and offbeat documentaries. I watched “Love & Terror on The Howling Plains of Nowhere” and thought it was both haunting and offbeat.
Sundance has been developing original programming by picking up the rights to overseas hits. “Riviera” starring Julia Stiles has been getting some attention since arriving. As of this writing, the BBC hit “Motherland” is about to debut. Sundance Now offers a free 7-day trial.
Shudder: a horror fan’s streaming service
Shudder is geared for horror fans, and it carries more than just movies. There are classic movies that you’ll recognize like “Reanimator” and “Hellraiser”.
There’s campy horror, and foreign horror. There are a number of series from overseas. One of the better ones, “Beyond The Walls”, is a three-part mini-series that starts when she inherits a house across the street from her apartment. It was willed to her by an elderly man she never met. There are also longer series like Jordskott and sci-fi based Missions.
This streaming service will give you a free taste of its offerings through its streaming window called Shudder TV. Shudder is also owned by AMC Networks and costs $4.99 per month. Start out with a free 7-day trial.
Acorn TV: Best streaming service for British dramas, comedies and mysteries
Acorn TV is easily the best way to tap into a huge reservoir of comedies, dramas and mysteries primarily from the UK. There are also programs coming to you from Australia and New Zealand.
“Midsomer Murders” has been around for about 20 years across the pond, and has become a hit here thanks to Acorn TV. There’s offbeat comedies like Detectorists and dramas with actors familiar to U.S. audiences. (e.g. Behaving Badly starring Judi Dench.)
One of the great untold stories of streaming is the import of UK, and overseas series and movies. Acorn TV is playing a big role in bringing British programming to a larger U.S. audience. The streaming service only costs $4.99 per month. You can get a free 7-day trial either directly from Acorn.tv or from Acorn TV on Amazon Channels.
ESPN+: for sports fans wanting MLB, NHL games
The streaming service ESPN+ shouldn’t be mistaken as a straight out replacement of ESPN that’s available on cable TV, and some of the live TV streaming services listed above. But there’s a lot of live sports you can get for $5 per month. That includes daily coverage of Major League Baseball during the regular season. You’ll also get daily games during the regular season of the NHL.
There are Major League Soccer and PGA events, too. You won’t get Monday Night Football or NBA games.
ESPN+ is coming to you through a redesigned ESPN app. This will also be the same ESPN that you can use for TV Everywhere access if you subscribe to a live TV streaming service, or (ahem…) cable.
ESPN+ costs $4.99 per month, or $49.99 per year. There’s a 7-day free trial that you can use to check ESPN+ out for yourself.
How to get HBO cheap (less than $15 per month)
Adding HBO to your cord cutting setup should be one of the last things you do. You may be able to get HBO cheaper as an add-on to another service you’re already subscribing to compared to getting a standalone HBO Now subscription.
If you subscribe to DirecTV Now, you can add HBO for $5 per month. Same goes for adding Cinemax — $5. Showtime or Starz will cost you an added $8 per month. It doesn’t matter which channel bundle you subscribe to, so you can even just get the 60+ channel bundle for $35 per month. Parent company AT&T has offered this deal since 2016, and there’s no indication that it is going away anytime soon.
Already subscribing to Hulu for $7.99 per month? You can add HBO for $4.99 per month. That price only lasts for 6 months before the regular $14.99 monthly rate kicks in. But that’s half a year of a good deal, and you can shop around for another promo if you want a lower rate.
Amazon Prime Video subscribers should look over what HBO content is already in your membership. There are already full seasons of older, but popular shows like “The Wire” included in your Prime Video subscription. There are plenty of other ways to subscribe to HBO. You can get HBO added to Amazon Channels or a Sling TV subscription, but you’re paying $15 per month in either case. So before you start binging on Game of Thrones, shop around and see what you can get.
How to get Showtime cheap (less than $11 per month)
You can apply the same thinking to adding Showtime to streaming lineup. If you plan on subscribing to other services, then get it last. Shopping around for Showtime can save you a few bucks compared to the full price of subscribing directly to the streaming service. Like I just mentioned, Showtime is only $8 per month on DirecTV Now.
With Hulu (either on-demand or Hulu with Live TV), Showtime costs $8.99 per month as an add-on.
Amazon Prime Video members can add Showtime through Amazon Channels for $8.99 per month. And DirecTV Now offers Showtime as an add-on for $8 per month. There are other live TV streaming services that offer Showtime as an add-on, but they might cost you a little more. So again, shop around.
Best Free Streaming Services
YouTube: a free streaming service with just about everything
If you’ve ever doubted the excellence of YouTube, perform this simple exercise. Pick a favorite band or musical act, type in its name followed by “live” or “in concert”. It doesn’t matter what era we’re talking about, you’re going to find something amazing to watch – and it won’t be a program that you’ll ever find offered by Comcast, Spectrum or any other cable TV or satellite company.
You can perform the same exercise for subjects of documentaries, travel and even just browsing through the 4K section is fun if you own a 4K HDR television.
YouTube is also essential for learning how to do just about anything – from fixing a leaky kitchen sink to solving a complicated math problem. These days, the variety and depth of programming may only be limited to your imagination.
Pluto TV: Watch free movies online and live sports
Without question, Pluto TV is one of the best free streaming services out there.
Pluto TV aggregates shows from various spots online and organizes them into channels. Aside from that, there’s a pretty big selection of free movies. These are available on a couple of movie channels, and through its huge on-demand section. .
The movies are available because of a deal that Pluto TV struck with a number of major studios, including Lionsgate, MGM and Warner Bros. You can find documentaries alongside independent films and major studio blockbusters. It’s easily one of the best ways to watch free movies online.
Pluto TV has 90 live streaming channels. There are a dozen news channels. NBC News & MSNBC to The Weather Network are there showing recent news. Under sports, you’ll find pro-wrestling, kickboxing and college football with channels like Big Sky Conference.
The live movie channels have action, and some are genre specific fare like Horror 24/7. My favorite live TV channel is Live Music Replay, which turns out live concerts around the clock and performances rarely seen anywhere else.
Speaking of music, there are 32 channels that give you every genre of music you can think of. You’ve seen channels like this in cable packages like Comcast. But really, this could also be as decent as Pandora.
Pluto TV works on a PC with a viewer you can download. Consider it your portal to free TV online. There are Pluto TV apps for smartphones and tablets. It’s also available on all major streaming devices like Roku, Fire TV and Android TV. (Streaming device app has on-demand movie menu.)
Smithsonian Channel: Free TV online, on-demand episodes
You don’t need a cable TV subscription to enjoy full episodes from Smithsonian Channel. There is a rotating selection of about 28 episodes that covers the spectrum of programming that Smithsonian Channel offers.
Episodes like “Hunt for Atlantis”, The Great Galveston Hurricane and Castro’s Secret Reef are currently available to stream for free. Aerial America is one favorite show that my wife and I always watch. It makes for great background eye candy while you’re in front of the TV doing something else like reading.
Stream free episodes online from the Smithsonian Channel website or use the app on Roku, Fire TV and Android TV. “Aerial America” gives you an eye opening/bird’s eye view of beautiful spots around the U.S.
The CW: Live stream or on-demand
Super heroes are all the rage these days. Being an avid comic book collector as a teen, I have no bones about it. Personally, I’m more of a Marvel guy.
If you’re fans of “The Flash”, “Supergirl” or “Arrow”, The CW offers up free episodes. What’s interesting is that you can get The CW a number of ways. It comes with cable packages. You can find it on live streaming services like fuboTV, and even get the channel with your antenna. But you really don’t need a pay-TV option to watch it.
The CW website has full episodes online and even notes if there’s a casting device on your home network. The app works well, too.
Comet TV: Stream classic Sci-Fi and watch free movies online
A free Sci-Fi channel is pretty cool, especially when you notice the pay-TV content that’s on it. With shows like “Stargate Atlantis”, and “Stargate SG-1”, “The Outer Limits” and “Mystery Science Theater 3000”, you’ve got a nice variety sci-fi on Comet TV.
Speaking of Stargate, MGM just rolled out a digital platform called Stargate Command, which also gets you all kinds of access to the long running series. “The Outer Limits” has stood the test of time and can also be found on Netflix these days. Mystery Science Theater episodes also reside on Pluto TV at the moment. Cost to you? Nada.
You can get a live feed for Comet TV directly on its website. For antenna users, it’s also available as a sub-channel in many parts of the U.S.
CBSN: Live Streaming News platform
There are few networks dealing with this migration to live streaming better than CBS. Their standalone live streaming channel CBSN functions with its own news anchors and has a vibrant roundup of breaking news from around the world. So it really kicks cable-stalwart networks like CNN in shins. CBSN has original programming, including CBSN: On Assignment.
CBSN also draws upon segments from some of its anchor shows like 60 Minutes and Sunday Morning.
So even if you don’t have those shows in your DVR wheelhouse, there’s a good chance for you to catch up some of the compelling interviews and features that both shows are known for. If you have a need for more news options, look at my comprehensive roundup of the best news apps for live streaming on Amazon Fire TV & Roku.
You can get a live feed of CBSN directly from the web, or apps for popular streaming devices like Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Android TV devices like NVIDIA Shield TV.
CBS SPORTS HQ
The newest leg of CBS’s digital effort is a free sports streaming service called CBS Sports HQ. There is no games or any other sporting events. CBS Sports aims to be a destination for game highlights and talk about your favorite teams. It will be interesting to see where CBS takes this platform in the months ahead. CBS Sports HQ is available on the web or within the CBSN app.
Crackle: Watch free movies online, and original shows like Snatch
Crackle, a Sony-owned platform, has original programming like “Snatch”, loosely based on the popular movie directed by Guy Ritchie that was released in 2000.
“From the Basement” is another hidden gem on Crackle that has such great live music in just about every episode. You can see performances from bands like The Shins and ex-‘Til Tuesday frontwoman Aimee Mann. On the network TV front, the entire season of “The Blacklist: Redemption” is available to stream.
You can watch free movies online with Crackle, too. The movie selection has some hidden gems like “Mission Impossible 3” and the original “Flatliners” starring Julia Roberts and Kiefer Sutherland. “Harry Brown”, “The Professional”, and “The Ides of March” are also all available as of this writing.
Stream Crackle on your computer or download the app to any Fire TV device, Roku or Android TV device.
Bloomberg TV: Live stream business news
If you want live, around-the-clock take on the stock market and business news, Bloomberg TV fill out any needs that a cable channel might satisfy.
Aside from the live feed, there’s on-demand content that you’ll also find on the Bloomberg TV cable channel. Bloomberg TV has the antiseptic vibe of the PBS News Hour mixed with CNBC. Watch Bloomberg TV online or watch it on Fire TV and Roku using streaming apps.
Tubi TV: Watch Free Movies and TV online
There’s a huge selection of shows on Tubi TV, including ones that you would regularly see on channels like A&E and National Geographic.
Fans of stand-up comedy have an entire section of specials to watch from pros like Gary Gulman and DL Hughley. There are shows for kids and family movies.
The way Tubi TV organizes its movies and shows makes it easy to find something to watch. Some of my favorite sections are “Docuseries”, “Highly Rated on Rotten Tomatoes”, “Indie Films” and “Award Winners & Nominees”.
There’s also a very handy Leaving Soon!” section. So you don’t need A&E to watch Season 7 and Season 8 of “Dog The Bounty Hunter”. Tubi TV has it for free. The movie selection on Tubi TV is huge. The best place to start looking is the “Most Popular” section.
You can either watch free movies online or stream them from a Roku or Amazon Fire TV. Either stream Tubi TV directly from its website or download apps to Roku, Fire TV and Android TV devices so you can stream on your TV.
Popcornflix: Watch free movies online and National Geographic on-demand
Want to watch free episodes of “Alaska State Troopers”? Popcornflix has a section dedicated to National Geographic/Nat Geo Wild shows.
If your guilty pleasure is that old reality TV show “Cheaters”, Popcornflix will hook you up with 87 episodes.
The movie selection on Popcornflix is poor compared to what you can find on other free sites and apps like Pluto TV, Crackle and Tubi TV. But it’s another way to watch free movies online, and it’s worth looking over their section of foreign films and indie flicks.
On Windows 10, you’ll need to download the free Popcornflix app to access its library of movies and shows. Otherwise, download the app to your favorite streaming device.
You know you want to watch some “Cheaters” when no one else is home. Go ahead. I won’t judge.
Shout! Factory TV: Free TV online from the ’60s and ’70s
The best way to access Shout! Factory TV is through Pluto TV because that’s where you’ll find the best shows and movies it offers. The Shout! Factory TV channel has movies from the 1960s like “The Pink Panther”. If you watch Shout! TV Factory through its website, head over the Specials section under TV.
When you’re perusing the selection of movies and TV shows, Shout! Factory TV is like strolling through aisles of neatly arranged VHS boxes on display at a Major Video store in 1987.
There’s an episode of “The Glenn Campbell Goodtime Hour”, featuring a performance by Stevie Wonder that you can find around 5 min. and 50 seconds in. Just about every episode of “Soul!” has great performances by talents like Al Green and conversations with James Baldwin. His thoughts about race relations are as relevant today as they were back in the ’60s.
Stream Shout! Factory TV from its website, Pluto TV or via an app on just about any streaming device.
Hoopla: Free on-demand movies for library card holders
A library card can be a powerful thing. With hoopla, you can use your library card to borrow movies and TV shows each month. The selection might not exactly be as current as what you’ll find in your local Redbox parked outside the grocery store, but it’s a massive resource to watch free movies online. It’s worth considering since it’s right in front of you.
The best way to browse through Hoopla is to search by category. You can also borrow music, audio books, ebooks and comics.
You can stream Hoopla content online or on Apple TV and Chromecast.
How do I pick what streaming services to get?
You might be feeling a little overwhelmed at all this information coming at you. This is only a portion of the available streaming services out there, and there’s more to come. So where do you begin? Well, I always tell people to first learn how to negotiate or find a good deal on getting Internet without cable.
Then take a look at that list you’ve been putting together. How is it looking? Chances are it may appear a little messy with many side notes and some networks scribbled out. If so, good. Maybe for the first time in your life, you’re taking a hard look at what you are spending on a channel by channel basis. That’s essentially the worst nightmare of cable TV operators.
Once you have a decent price on Internet locked in for a year or two, you will not only be free to cut the cord. You’ll be able to lead that more nomadic lifestyle from your living room couch with what you watch and what streaming service that you watch it on. It’s a learning process, but it’s certainly not a hard one.
For more a more general overview on how to cut the cord, read my guide: Cord Cutting 2018: The Definitive Guide.
And before you go, tell readers what streaming services you use. Is Netflix better than Hulu? What’s your favorite way to live stream sports (legally, of course)…
Note: This guide was originally published May 26, 2018 and has been updated.