By Jim Kimble / August 11, 2020
You can easily save money if you cut the cord, and watch local channels without cable.
For years, cable and satellite companies have been paying millions of dollars to broadcasters to bring local ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and PBS stations into your home.
And the cost of those agreements are passed on to you through your cable TV or satellite bill.
You don’t need the cable middleman anymore. Use these free or low-cost alternatives to watch local channels without cable.
1) TV Antenna: Free local channels without cable
The easiest way to get free local channels without a cable subscription with a TV antenna.
Using a TV antenna isn’t that complex. After testing various models for a number of years, there are three tips I share with family and friends.
It’s important that you invest in a quality TV antenna. No matter what, avoid the cheaply made models that claim outlandish ranges (100+ miles), which is impossible due to a thing called physics. Avoid $10 to $15 antennas that you see at the drug store. This is the biggest mistake antenna newbies make. You have spent hundreds of dollars for years to pay for local channels through cable. Why not invest in hardware that will get you free local channels for life?
You are going to need either an indoor TV antenna or outdoor TV antenna to watch local channels. To help determine what you need, use a free online tool. AntennasDirect has a free online tool that shows you where broadcast towers are in your area. All you need to do is type in your zip code, and hit the “View Channels” button for a list of channels that should be in range.
A multi-directional antenna is the best option if broadcast towers are located in two or more areas (e.g. towers located to the east and south of a home).
Choosing a TV antenna
The best indoor TV antenna is the ClearStream Eclipse.
The best outdoor TV antenna is the Antop 400-BV.
How to record local channels
Recording free local channels and watching them on a Roku, Fire TV or even multiple TVs is also pretty simple.
An OTA DVR is made specifically for recording free over-the-air channels such as NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX and whatever sub-channels a TV antenna pulls in.
HDHomeRun and Tablo DVRs are two of the best on the market based on my months of hands-on testing. Read my review on the best OTA DVRs for more detailed recommendations.
2) Haystack News
Haystack News is a really elegant way to get news feeds from local ABC and CBS channels along with international news feeds.
Haystack News has apps for every major streaming device including Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Android TV devices.
Once you add the app to your streaming device, you can get a quick look at the local weather and find out what’s happening across the world.
To get the most out of Haystack, you should sign-in either with a Facebook or Google profile. Make sure you pick your local town or city you live in, and what local stations you want to see in your live stream.
So where I live in Boston, I was able to add feeds from my local ABC and CBS stations. There are options to add local news channels from neighboring states too.
Haystack has more than 300 local, national and international news streams, and it’s all free.
3) Peacock: New NBC shows for free
Peacock, the new streaming service from NBCUniversal, has a free tier that carries current seasons of NBC shows, news and sports. You won’t find your local news station, but the NBC programming is free.
Under the free plan, current NBC shows will air new episodes one week after they air on cable and live TV services.
The free plan on Peacock may not have your local NBC station, but you will get highlights from “NBC Nightly News”, NBC Sports, “Meet the Press”, CNBC, MSNBC, E! News and “Noticias Telemundo”.
Peacock also has two other plans. Peacock Premium ($4.99 per month) has more movies and TV shows. New episodes of NBC shows air one day after they appear on cable.
Peacock Premium Plus ($9.99 per month) has all the same shows and movies, but removes most advertising except for a select few.
Peacock is currently not available on Roku or Amazon Fire TV. But you may have a Smart TV or another streaming device that’s compatible.
Peacock is available on Android TV, Chromecast, iOS, XBox One, Vizio SmartCast TVs and LG Smart TV.
4) PBS Video app
The PBS app has a robust lineup of news and shows, and you can get access to local programming through the app. No cable sign-in is needed. There is a simple sign-up process that you can complete on a smartphone, tablet or PC.
Once the app knows your nearby PBS station, you will get access to whatever programming appears on the local PBS channel.
For access to the full library of shows on PBS, then you’ll need to subscribe to PBS Passport. But if you’re watching shows a day or two after airing, then the free content is as just as good as having a local channel without paying for a cable TV subscription. The PBS app is available across all major streaming devices including Roku and Fire TV.
5) Hulu on-demand
If you just want local channels to watch a favorite show on FOX or NBC, Hulu on-demand is a cheap alternative to a TV antenna.
At $5.99 per month, you get some coverage of the latest comedies, dramas and reality TV shows.
Hulu is also an inexpensive way to catch up on past seasons from cable channels such as A&E, History and Science Channel. Hulu has a free trial for new customers.
The Locast app is a free app. It delivers local ABC, FOX, CBS, FOX and sub-channels in 21 markets. Locast.org is a non-profit.
So the app does hit you up for a donation regularly. But a donation is not a requirement.
It’s easy to check to see if you’re in one of the 21 markets that Locast serves. You do need to set up a basic profile to use Locast.
The NewsOn app is the best resource for people who ditched cable TV, but still want local newscasts. It doesn’t matter if you live in Houston, Texas or Bangor, Maine. You can find your local newscasts just like you still had cable, but without footing the bill.
Pretty impressive. NewsOn is available on most streaming devices such as Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV.
8) CBS All Access
CBS All Access is pretty well known for originals such as The Good Fight and Star Trek: Picard. If a live, local CBS channel is really important to you, then a subscription to CBS All Access is an inexpensive cable alternative.
A subscription to CBS All Access is $5.99 per month with limited commercials. The $9.99 per month plan is without commercials. CBS All Access currently has a free trial for new customers.
Plex is emerging as an app that aggregates free TV shows, movies and even some local news. Under the news tab, you can find some content from local TV stations in your area. It’s in snippet form, so it’s not like watching a local, live TV station, but it is much of the same content that you would get from a local TV channel.
Plex is also worth checking out because it has a huge on-demand movie collection, and 80+ live TV channels that you won’t find on cable and podcasts. This app can be used to stream your personal movie and music collection that you have on a hard drive or computer.
Plex is free, but if you subscribe to its $5 per month Plex Pass then you can get access to new features, and use it as a hub for watching and recording live, over-the-air channels from your TV antenna.
10) Live TV Streaming Services
There are a number of ways you can replace a cable TV or pricey satellite TV service.
By subscribing to live TV services (a.k.a a multichannel video programming distributor or MVPD), you can get local channels and cable-like networks such as ESPN and CNN. Here is a quick rundown of what kind of local channels you can find on these services. These services are the more expensive ones in this list. So that’s why they are last on the list.
AT&T TV Now ($55 per month) has ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX as part of a 45+ channel bundle.
fuboTV ($60 per month) has ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX as part of a 100+ channel bundle.
Hulu + Live TV ($55 per month) has ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX as part of a 65+ channel bundle.
Sling TV ($30 per month) has limited NBC and FOX coverage in the Blue channel bundle.
YouTube TV ($65 per month) has PBS, ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX as part of an 85+ channel bundle.
For a more detailed description of these services, you can read my review of the best live TV streaming services.