Although there are streaming services designed to replace cable TV, and individual subscription services offering recent movies, TV shows, and original content you still have to pay to watch.
Depending on the number of service(s) you select, you may find yourself paying more than you expected, but there is also a large selection of free streaming services you can take advantage of to keep your streaming costs down.
Here is what to consider regarding free streaming services.
- Free streaming services don't have the most recent movies and many times don't have the most recent seasons of popular TV shows.
- Some of the content on multiple free streaming services overlap. This means that although a free streaming service may have select exclusive content, you may find a lot of the same TV shows and movies that you can find on other free streaming services.
- To pay for the costs of providing content free for viewers, most free services place Ads at the beginning and/or within the show or movie you are watching, just like you would see on broadcast TV channels.
- Don't forget, you still have to pay for your internet service.
Popular Free Streaming Services
There are a lot of free streaming services available you can take advantage of – more than we can cover in this article. However, let's take a look at a selection of popular services.
Pluto TV is a very popular free streaming service. It's owned by CBS/Viacom providing access to its large content library as well as content from MGM, Columbia TriStar, DHX Media, Nelvana, Fremantle, Monstercat, King Features Syndicate, and more.
One part of Pluto TV includes "live" streaming channels laid out in a channel guide (much like cable TV). This means if you want to watch a specific show or movie, you need to know what time it will be shown. However, many shows are repeated throughout the week.
If you don't have the time to catch a show or movie "live" Pluto TV also provides an On-Demand section. If you know the name of the show or movie, it may be offered in this section so you can access it anytime you want. Also, if you like to browse, the On-Demand section is divided into Genres (Action, Sci-Fi, Drama, Comedy, etc...) to make finding content easier.
Since Pluto TV is owned by CBS/Viacom, as an added free bonus, it will also offer a preview sampling of content from its Paramount+ subscription streaming service (Paramount + Picks) on channel 126.
No parental controls are provided.
You can access closed-captioning for live TV and on-demand content if it is provided by the program or movie. Setup depends on the device you are using to watch Pluto TV.
- Smart TVs: Sony, Samsung, LG, Roku TVs, Fire Edition TVs, and more.
- Media Streamers: Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV (4th Generation), and Chromecast (and TVs with Chromecast built-in).
- Computers: PCs and Macs.
- Game Consoles: Sony Playstation 4 (not available for Xbox One).
- Cable: Comcast Cable Infinity X1.
- Smartphones: Android and iOS
- Pluto TV and Vizio: Vizio has partnered with Pluto TV to offer Watch-Free on its SmartCast and select VIA+ model TVs. Watch Free is a dedicated input source (along with HDMI, Antenna, etc...) instead of an app selection. It has the same Pluto TV-style interface (live and on-demand programming), but not all content on Pluto TV is necessarily available on Vizio Watch-Free. However, it's a very convenient free streaming option for Vizio SmartCast TV owners. Check out the Watch-Free FAQ page.
Internet Speed: Pluto TV suggests an internet speed of 5mbps.
Tubi is a free ad-supported streaming service that patterns its on-screen menu after Netflix. Their menu even includes similar features such as a "Continue Watching" option that allows you to pick up where you left off if you can't finish in one sitting.
Other menu categories similar to Netflix include Recently Added, New Releases, and Trending Now.
Tubi divides its guide into genres which include Action films, Comedy, Documentary, Drama, Horror, Foreign Movies, Movies for Kids, and more. Three interesting categories are: Not on Netflix, Only Free on Tubi, and Highly Rated on Rotten Tomatoes.
There is also a Leaving Soon! category, which allows viewers to keep track of shows and movies they haven't had time to watch, but don't want to miss.
Tubi has a large library of movies from MGM, Paramount, and Lionsgate, as well as a large number of TV shows. The total number of titles is 50,000+.
Tubi also offers a Tubi Kids free streaming service.
Parental controls are available via the settings category (You need to create a free account to set them).
- Little Kids (G, TV-Y7, TV-G)
- Older Kids (PG, TV-PG, TV-Y7)
- Teens (PG-13, TV-14)
- Adults (R, TV-MA, NC-17)
Compatible Devices: Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TVs, Android (including Sony Android TVs), Chromecast, iOS, Apple TV, Xbox, PS4, Vizio Smartcast TVs.
Internet Speed: 1mbps internet speed is the minimum requirement for SD (540p) content, but 4mbps is best for HD (720p) content.
XUMO is similar to Pluto TV and, to some extent, Tubi. Its main attraction is the 190 free live channels that include news, movies, TV, and sports as well as a growing selection of conveniently available on-demand content.
Some of the on-demand categories include:
- TV & Movies
- Kids & Family
- Food, Drink, & Travel
- Pop Culture
- Science & Tech
Some of the featured live channels include:
- 129 Bloomberg News
- 201 Funny or Die
- 272 The Asylum
- 317 Rifftrax
- 350 History
- 355 Popular Science
- 405 Bon Appetit
- 602 Toon Goggles
- 708 World Poker Tour
Note: Offered channels and numbers are subject to change and may vary depending on the device.
Compatible devices include:
- Smart TVs: Hisense, Sharp, Magnavox, Panasonic, Philips, Sanyo, VIZIO.
- iOS: iPhone/iPad
- Android: smartphone, media streamers, smart TVs
- Roku: Streaming sticks, boxes, smart soundbar, Roku TVs.
- AirPlay and Chromecast.
- Xumo and LG: Xumo also provides a variation of its service for use on LG TVs (LG Channels). Although most of the channels and features are the same, there are some differences that accommodate LG's preferences such as combining over-the-air TV listings within the LG Channels listings.
Xumo collects viewing data to create a library of recommended TV shows and movies based on your previous searches and viewing selections.
XUMO also provides closed caption settings.
Internet Speed: For optimum quality, Xumo recommends using an Internet speed of at least 10Mbps.
IMDB TV is an Amazon-owned ad-supported free streaming service. It’s not the same app as Amazon Prime Video but is included either as a category within Amazon Prime Video or a separate app depending on the device.
Where Amazon Prime video focuses more on recent movies and TV series, along with originally-produced content, IMDb TV features older movies and TV series. IMDB also sometimes features celebrity interviews, documentaries, and delayed film festivals and award show coverage.
Compatible Devices: You can watch IMDb TV via the IMDb website, Fire TV devices, or Amazon Prime Video apps on smart TVs, mobile devices, tablets, Echo Show, or other Alexa-enabled smart display, and Apple TV.
Internet Speed: IMDb TV requires the same internet speeds as Amazon Prime Video: 1 Mbps (SD) and 5 Mbps (HD). IMDb doesn’t offer 4K content.
The Roku Channel
Roku is well known for its popular streaming devices which host streaming apps from thousands of providers. However, Roku has also entered the streaming service landscape with the Roku Channel app that provides access to free, live, and subscription streaming content.
The on-screen navigation menu looks similar to Netflix, which makes it easy to browse, search, and watch content without switching between different apps.
Free movies and TV shows are not the most current and titles are cycled in and out periodically.
Free content offerings are Ad-supported. The Roku Channel does not provide content in 4K.
Some of the TV and Movie categories include:
- Live TV (includes News, Weather, TV shows, and movies that can be accessed by clicking directly on the channel or selected from a linear timeline guide similar to TV channel listings).
- Recently Added
- Browse Premium Subscriptions (requires a fee payment to watch content)
Compatible Devices: Roku streaming sticks, boxes, and Roku TVs in the U.S. and Canada, the Roku mobile app, as well as Fire TV, and Fire Edition TVs in the U.S., most web browsers, and compatible Samsung TVs in the U.S.
Note: Premium Roku Channel content (content you have to pay for) is only available in the U.S., and not available on Samsung Smart TVs.
Internet Speed: Roku suggests a minimum internet speed of 1.5mbps (SD) and 3mbps (HD).
You might think of YouTube mainly as the home of user-created content, but the site also has movies in the Free to Watch section under Movies & Shows. The offerings are different from those on YouTube Premium (formerly known as YouTube Red), which bundles videos, original movies, TV shows, and music as part of an ad-free plan that costs $12 per month.
The freely available TV shows and movies aren't the most recent. They include some past popular and "B" movies and a mix of older TV series. Movies and shows will contain Ads.
On a TV or PC web browser, the free TV shows and movies section can be found by scrolling down to the popup menu on the left side of the screen to the Movies and TV shows icon. Once in, one of the categories you will find is "Free To Watch".
Each month title offerings are added and deleted, so if there is a movie or show you would like to watch, do so during the month you notice it is available as YouTube doesn't announce ahead of time what will be deleted or added.
Note: On a PC the menu is accessible by clicking on the three bars on the top left of the YouTube screen and scrolling down to "More from YouTube".
Compatible Devices: YouTube is compatible with almost all smart TVs, streaming devices, web browsers, and mobile phones. Check out more details.
SD 360p - 0.7 Mbps
SD 480p - 1.1 Mbps
HD 720p - 2.5 Mbps
HD 1080p - 5 Mbps
UHD 4K - 20 Mbps (YouTube Free-to-Watch movies are not available in 4K).
Crackle is another free streaming service that provides program and movie viewing that contains ads, but one thing that makes Crackle different from other free streaming services is that it offers a small selection of originally produced shows and movies without having to pay an extra fee.
Crackle places content in several traditional Genre categories such as Drama, Comedy, Action, and Sci-Fi. There is also a category for Originals. You may find some TV shows and movies placed in more than one category to make things easier to find. Some of the more unusual categories include a Home School Channel and Music Lover's Channel (TV shows and movies centered around music).
Note: Crackle used to be owned by Sony, but is now owned by Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment (CSSE). Crackle is in the process of being included in a new Crackle+ bundle. Crackle will continue to operate as a free ad-supported streaming service with its app but is expected to also be included within the subscription-based Crackle+ bundle with CSSE's other services, Popcornflix, Truli (faith-based content), and Pivotshare (a subscription video-on-demand service).
Compatible Devices: Crackle is available for use on a variety of devices including Smart TVs, media streamers, and more. Check out their complete listing and troubleshooting.
Internet Speed: For the best viewing results, a minimum download speed of 9.0 Mbps for HD (720p) content is suggested.
Plex (Stream For Free)
Plex is a popular service that allows you to access and organize your audio, video, and still image content on media servers and other compatible network devices for viewing and listening on several devices.
Plex also offers a free TV and movie streaming service. This provides access to content (most of which is ad-supported) in a variety of categories, such as thousands of movies and shows that can be accessed on-demand, approximately 100 live TV channels accessible via a real-time listing guide, Web shows, selected News apps, and Podcasts.
Plex provides TV and Movie content direct from studios such as WB, MGM, Lionsgate, Legendary, and Magnolia. Plex also features content from the Crackle streaming service.
Compatible Devices: Device support for viewing free Plex services include: Android and iOS smartphones and tablets, Android TVs (and media streamers), Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku streamers and TVs, Xbox and PlayStation, and Windows laptops and PCs.
Plex also offers a premium paid tier, Plex Pass. This includes several perks, including DVR service for recording and storing over-the-air TV content for later viewing at your convenience on all compatible playback devices registered to your account.
Note: Due to copyright and distribution restrictions, the DVR feature can’t be used to record streaming content.
Plex supports up to 4K resolution but will vary depending on the streaming content being accessed and the device used to play the streaming content back. For example, Plex/Crackle content is maxed at 720p.
DistroTV™ is a free streaming service that provides access to about 150 free live channels and on-demand shows, movies, sports, news, and other entertainment, from the U.S., Canada, the UK and other countries. Ads may be included with some content.
Entertainment: Electric Now (drama, adventure, sci-fi, fanstasy), Law and Crime, Kaloopy. Movies: KweliTV, FrightFlix, and ConTV News/Opinion: Newsy, Euronews, The First, and OAN
Celebrity Gossip: People TV, HollyWire, Young Hollywood Local/Global Live Sports: Stadium, ACC conference, 4 MMA channels, World Poker Tour, Ski TV, VENN and Dot Esports
International: India, China, Korea and South-East Asia on MATV Live, Filmeraa and Bollywood TV.
Documentaries: MagellanTV, Reelz, and Sword & Shield. Music Channels: Qello Concerts, LoopTV (music videos), and free Karaoke. DistroTV™ updates content offerings regularly.
The frequency varies by the content partners, which includes live content, new daily content and movies and shows updated monthly. Most DistroTV™ content is provided in 720p or 1080p, with periodic 4K resolution offering. However, 4K does require higher broadband speed. The streaming speed is automatically adjusted by DistroTV™ based on the user's connection speed.
This means if the content you want to watch is in 4K, but your streaming speed isn't supported, DistroTV™ will lower the speed and the resolution so you can still watch the content. DistroTV™ is available on most browsers as well as smartphones (iOS, Android), and Amazon Fire TV and Roku streaming devices.
Paid Streaming Services That Offer Some Free Content
Although there are several free streaming services there are some paid streaming services that offer a free tier of programs and movies that you can enjoy. Here are two.
Vudu (Movies on Us)
Vudu is an online video-on-demand streaming service that provides access to movies and TV shows. There is no monthly fee, but with a free account, you get access to a large library of movies and TV titles that may be rented or purchased for a fee for online viewing.
Although Vudu's focus is mostly on Rentals ($.99 to $5.99) and purchases ($4.99 to $24.99) it also offers a large library of TV shows and movies that you can watch free (with Ads). Vudu refers to this feature as "Movies on Us".
To access the free content, which consists of older and lesser-known TV and movie titles, you need a Vudu account, but you don’t have to provide payment information.
Compatible Devices for Vudu include:
- Smart TVs: Select models from LG, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio
- Media Streamers: Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, and Nvidia Shield TV, TIVO DVRs.
- Game Consoles: Xbox 360/One, PlayStation 3/4.
- Mobile: Android/iOS
- PC Web Browsers: Chrome, Firefox, and more.
Internet Speed: Vudu suggests an internet speed of 5 Mbps for SD and HD content, at least 11 Mbps is required for 4K content.
The Peacock streaming service offers content from the NBC TV and Universal Studios series and film libraries, news, and original programming. To get full access to all its content offerings, you need to pay a subscription fee. However, there is a lot of content you can access.
Peacock incorporates a Rotten Tomatoes (RT) score (if available) that appears when you hover over each movie title.
Peacock states its streaming service is designed for viewers over 13 years old. You are notified every time your child accesses Peacock. However, you can’t block specific shows and movies.
For non-paying users, Peacock Basic is free but contains Ads. This includes a large selection of NBC and some Telemundo content, and limited access to live sports. Free access to Peacock’s original content is not available. When you select a TV show or movie, it will notify you if a premium account is required for viewing.
Peacock may also provide free access to the first episode of a new original to get you to sign up for a paid plan such as:
- Peacock Premium - $4.99 per month (contains Ads) - Access to all Peacock TV shows and movies plus Live Sports, exclusive original peacock series, next-day access to NBC broadcast content, and select Telemundo Spanish-language programming.
- Peacock Premium Plus - $9.99 per month - Access to entire Peacock offerings mostly Ad-Free)
Note: Xfinity Cable subscribers that have an X1 box or a Flex device, can access the Peacock Premium subscription tier free. Cox subscribers with Cox Contour boxes and Cox Stream Players can access Peacock’s Premium tier free until 2021.
Compatible Devices: Peacock can be installed on Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Safari web browsers, iOS or Android phones, LG, Vizio, and Android, smart TVs, Apple TV, Chromecast, and the Xbox One. Peacock can also be installed on Roku devices. It's not available directly for Fire TV devices, but you can use Fire TV's side-loading feature, which allows you to install select apps that may not be available in the Amazon app store.
Internet Speed: Peacock recommends an internet speed of 2.5 Mbps for viewing on a single device. However, an internet speed of 5 Mbps or higher is suggested when running more than one internet-accessible device at the same time. 450Kbps is recommended for 3G/4G mobile phones. Streaming is allowed to three devices at the same time.
Note: Peacock doesn’t stream in 4K.