When cord-cutting became a thing, it was all about saving money. Now, cord-cutting costs are catching up with cable.
Just Disney Plus is $8 a month with its must-watch package of Marvel Universe, Star Wars, and Disney films. Netflix starts at $10 a month, too. Plus, with internet TV streaming services such as YouTube TV, which costs $65 a month, your streaming bill can easily climb up to $80 or more, which is within spitting distance of a cable TV bill.
You can save some money by going with an inexpensive TV-bundling service like Philo TV. At $25 a month for up to five simultaneous streams of 58 popular channels -- including AMC, Comedy Central, Food Network, IFC, Nickelodeon, Science, and The History Channel -- it's a steal.
There are plenty of good free services to try, and good old-fashioned over-the-air (OTA) antenna TV. Yes, you do have to put up with commercials on all of these -- and none of them includes DVR features -- but they are free. The key feature in this category is the combination of how many channels you get and whether you like them. With so many selections to choose from, I can guarantee you'll find something to watch that won't hurt your pocketbook by even a single penny.
Best free video streaming service
Tubi TV, a Fox Entertainment division, is one of the better free VoD services. It comes with perhaps the biggest video library of any of the free services, with over 45,000 titles. That's thanks to its access to Lionsgate, MGM, Paramount Pictures, and Starz Digital's libraries. Recent popular selections include Anna, Stars fell on Alabama, Queen of Hearts, and all the Twilight movies. It also offers not quite a hundred live channels.
If you register, which I recommend you do, you can resume play from where you stopped to let in the cat. For a free service, where you often don't have control over the stream, that's a nice benefit.
- Excellent selection of older movie titles
- Good live TV streaming choices.
- Most shows broadcast at 720p or less.
Another top free option
You probably know about Pluto TV. It offers access to over 250 streaming networks with a single interface. Some of these "channels" aren't that interesting, but then there are others, like the classic Dr. Who, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (classic MST3K shows), and RiffTrax, which bring a smile to my face. Besides these 24x7 streaming channels, you can also watch some shows as VoD.
Since ViacomCBS bought Pluto, it also includes live TV shows such as CBS News and CNET. It also now includes free on-demand movies and TV shows. It also offers 4K streaming.
You can watch Pluto TV without signing up for an account, but that would be a mistake. When you create your free account and log in, you can set up your favorite channels. That makes Pluto much easier to navigate. You also get a very handy search feature for finding channels or shows. Last, but far from least, you can pause on-demand videos and then start it where you left off on another device.
- Great selections of streaming networks.
- Excellent add-on features.
- Some 4K video.
- None I can think of!
Best family-friendly streaming service
You probably know Vudu as Walmart's online rental Video on Demand (VoD) service. Now, You probably know Vudu is Fandango's online rental service. What you probably didn't know is it also offers free movies and shows with commercials.
On the VoD side, Movies cost between $5 and $25 to buy, and between $1 and $6 to rent.
Vudu currently offers just over 10,000 free movies and over 800 free TV series. These are usually older, more family-friendly shows, such as The Dresden Files, 3rd Rock from the Sun, Benji, The Little Princess, and His Girl Friday. For free, what's to argue with?
- Selection tends to be family-friendly.
- Customers report numerous streaming delays and technical problems.
Hoopla and Kanopy
Best picks from your local library
These first two -- Hoopla and Kanopy -- require you to have a library card with a library system that supports either of them. Their offerings aren't quite identical, but they both offer high-end movies and documentaries. They also come with many PBS and The Great Courses (a personal favorite) titles. Hoopla also offers audible books, ebooks, and music, while Kanopy comes with movies from the Criterion Collection.
Unfortunately, you almost certainly can't get both services. And, I'm sorry to say, in some places you can't get either. Darn it!
- Excellent high-end video collections.
- Odds are you can get one or the other but not both.
Best for TV shows and movies
Crackle is perhaps the best-known free streaming TV and movie service. Crackle boasts TV shows and movies from the 80s through the 10s. Some recent selections include Bewitched, My Favorite Martian, and What's Happening.
You'll also find newer films on it sometimes. It also has a bit of original content such as StartUp, a dark show about technology companies. Call it organized crime 2.0. It's a hidden gem of a show with actors such as Martin Freedman, Ronald Perlman, and Adam Brody. Give Crackle and StartUp a try.
- Decent selection of free movies and TV shows.
- Its streaming quality tops out at 1080p.
Best obscure selection of TV shows and movies
For another good free VoD network, check out FilmRise. This streaming service is for independent TV shows and movies. So, as you might expect, its shows tend to be more obscure, but it offers a good selection of popular TV shows such as Third Rock from the Sun, 21 Jump Street, and Roseanne.
- With a film catalog of 40,000 videos, chances are you'll find something you like that you've not seen before.
- Watchers agree, FilmRise has too many commercials and all too often they're placed at inconvenient spots on the stream.
The Roku Channel
Best for Roku devices
Roku is also offering its own network now: The Roku Channel. It borrows free movies and TV shows from other streaming networks and its own free content. It offers a mix of older and current TV shows and films. Altogether it has about 10,000 videos, some recent selections include Growing Pains, Trouble with the Curve, and The Beverly Hillbillies.
It has two interesting features. You can watch its shows not only with your Roku but on the web via The Roku Channel for the web. You can also use the Roku Channel app as a Roku remote.
- It offers both VoD and live channels.
- The video selection, even more so than most free networks, seems to be all over the place.
What is the best free video streaming service?
Pluto TV is No. 1
The best free streaming service is Pluto TV, followed by Tubi TV, due to their large selection of TV shows and movies. But, hey, they're free! Get both.
And, since the rest of our picks are free, just try each of them and find out which one works best for you. For example, I'm a big Mystery Science Fiction 3000 fan so I have Pluto TV. I also like Leverage and its sequel Leverage: Redemption so I "subscribe" to FreeVee.
Free Video Streaming Service
# of Titles
720p or less
Hundreds of free channels
Hoopla and Kanopy
1,062+ movies and more than 70 TV shows
The Roku Channel
Are there free TV streaming services that offer new TV shows and movies?
Yes, there have been services such as Showbox and Admitme.tv that offered new movies and shows. These sites were illegal and have since been shut down. Similar services still pop up from time to time but I would trust any of them with my money. They also tend to get closed down with no notification. Don't waste your time with them.
Can I watch free video streaming services outside my country?
Yes, you can with a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that offers its services both in your country and the country where the service is offered. This is a legally gray area. The streaming services don't have the right to transmit their shows in some countries But, you can bypass those restrictions with a VPN. Personally, I have used VPNs for watching shows, but it's up to you.
Not all VPNs are good for streaming. Check out the ZDNet list of the best streaming VPNs to make the best choice for you.
Is there a TV Guide service for streaming networks and shows?
Finding the show you want to watch on streaming services can be a real pain. Roku offers a cross-service search function, but it only works on Roku devices and it doesn't bridge the gap between VoD and the live TV streaming services. Fortunately, there are two services to help you out. These are JustWatch and ReelGood. Both let you pick out the streaming services you use and you can then search for your shows and movies with one search across all your services. I highly recommend both programs.
How did we choose these free video streaming services?
My dad was a TV repairman and I grew up working on TVs and setting up TV towers. In those days in rural West Virginia, we had to set up 100-foot towers just to give two or three stations. Things have changed.
Since then I've been watching streaming TV in the early 90s when tiny IPTV stations were the name of the game. In short, then and now I've watched a lot of TV and there are very few streaming networks I haven't tried over the years.
Are there alternative video streaming services worth considering?
Here are some other options to consider: