How to get TV for free
When times are tough, a little entertainment can go a long way. TV can be expensive, but there are options when you need screen time on a budget. Whether you’re looking to recession-proof your finances or just save a few bucks each month, if you’re wondering how to get low-cost TV, you’re in the right place.
One of the best ways to get free TV—if not the best—is to use a digital antenna. TV antennas pull in over-the-air (OTA) signals and pipe them to your TV, enabling you to get a surprisingly large number of broadcast channels for free (well, besides the cost of the antenna). The selection includes ABC, CBS, FOX, PBS, The CW, and more, so there’s plenty to watch.
These aren’t the antennas you may remember fiddling with way back in the day, either. They’re compact and sleek, and the channels they pull in are HD quality, so you don’t have to worry about your favorite shows being a blurry mess.
HD antennas can be purchased for less than $15, but you can also spend $150 or more for powerful outdoor antennas with a longer range. How much you need to spend depends on the features you want and whether you need to mount the antennas indoors or outdoors.
Recommended HDTV antennas
Here are some of the best antennas on the market.
Mohu Leaf Supreme Pro
- Range: 65 miles
- Number of channels: 42
- Price: $$
Winegard Elite 7550
- Range: 70 miles
- Number of channels: 73
- Price: $$$$
1byone Amplified HDTV Antenna
- Range: 50 miles
- Number of channels: 46
- Price: $
Free streaming services
There are a number of free streaming services available that offer both live and on-demand content. Several of the national news networks offer content in free apps, and there are free streaming services for kids, too. The general rule with these services is that they’re ad-supported, so you’ll be watching commercials. However, if you’re looking for no-cost content, these services are definitely worth checking out.
Crackle might be the most well-known free streaming option. It’s a totally free, ad-supported service with a solid collection of content that rotates on a regular basis (currently monthly).
Crackle is probably the best option for free, on-demand streaming. There’s plenty to watch, although it’s worth mentioning that what’s available feels a bit older or less mainstream than what you’d find on Netflix or Hulu.
Some of the shows and movies currently available include Hell’s Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, 21 Jump Street (the original), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Croczilla.
Pluto TV takes a different approach to streaming TV. In addition to on-demand content, it offers scheduled programming, much like broadcast TV. Like Crackle, it’s entirely free and ad-supported.
Pluto has a much more modern-feeling catalog than Crackle. There’s a fair bit of mainstream content available, including big-name movies that you’ve actually heard of, like the Transformers franchise. There’s also a healthy selection of news channels and even a Bob Ross Channel, which seems to play The Joy of Painting 24/7.
Kanopy is a unique streaming service that you may want to check out even if you’re still paying for TV. It’s totally free with a library card or university email address, and there are no ads (yes, really). It’s 100% free. The only catch is that some content consumes what Kanopy calls Play Credits, and you can only stream up to 10 of these each month. Other content, including Kanopy Kids, is unlimited.
The Kanopy library is the other unique thing about the service. It consists primarily of independent films, documentaries, and a few big-name partners (HBO Documentary Films, Paramount, PBS, Samuel Goldwyn Films, and more). There’s a ton of content available, with options for all ages.
Current content includes Lady Bird, Chinatown, The Central Park Five, and Moonlight.
Although Sling TV offers paid streaming for less than its competitors, it also has a free version. You can create an account without even adding a credit card, which gives you access to free content indefinitely. You’ll watch more ads and have fewer options than the paid plans, and most of the channels are just reruns of old shows (one plays the Bob Ross 24/7/365), but you’ll get 80 channels, including ABC News Live, AMC, CBSN, Discovery, and IFC.
Considering Sling's pay plans give you only 30–50 channels, that’s a sweet deal! Even if you’re considering a paid plan with Sling, we recommend trying the free version first. It might be all the TV you need.
Network websites and apps
Many major networks allow you to stream content for free by visiting their website or installing a mobile app. Some of the bigger names here include FOX, ABC, and NBC. This is generally scheduled content, not on-demand. However, that does mean that it’s actually live, so you can catch some programs as they air. Peacock TV, for instance, has a free version with less content than its paid version. The parent company of Paramount+, similarly, offers the free app Pluto TV.
You can’t stream everything these networks offer—to get full access you need to log in with a cable provider. However, there’s enough of a free selection that it provides a great supplement to other methods, like a TV antenna or free streaming service.
You can also get full access to some of these networks with a subscription to certain streaming providers, like Hulu and YouTube TV. ABC, for example, allows full access with a login to one of these services.
Other affordable options
If you want to supplement the above options, or you don’t need your TV to be totally free, there are also some solid low-cost options to consider. These include some of the more affordable streaming services, as well as budget plans from cable companies for live TV and basic cable.
Learn more about how to save on your TV bill.
Low-cost streaming services
There are several highly affordable streaming options. Hulu’s ad-supported plan is less than $8 per month right now and offers a ton of excellent content.
Peacock also has a very affordable premium plan, at around $5 per month for the ad-supported version. Technically, Peacock also has a free plan, but we found it frustrating—the content is gated in such a way that it strongly pushes you toward upgrading.
Lastly, if you’re subscribed to Amazon Prime, you have access to Amazon Prime Video as part of your perks. Prime is around $140 per year at this point, but you do get a lot for your money, including a very solid streaming catalog.
Roku smart TV boxes are among the best on the market, but they get even better when you realize there are dozens of free channels available for them. The Roku Channel is packed with free content, and some of the other options include PBS Kids, TED, the Bob Ross Channel, and the previously mentioned Crackle and Pluto TV.
Great TV doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg
If you need to save a little on your cable bill, you have plenty of options, from the low-cost to the totally free.
Enter your ZIP code below to see low-cost TV providers in your area, or check out our roundup of the best cheap TV providers.
Dave Schafer is a freelance writer with a passion for making technical concepts easy for anyone to understand. He’s been covering the world of gadgets, tech, and the internet for over 8 years, with a particular focus on TV and internet service providers. When he’s not writing, Dave can be found playing guitar or camping with his family and golden retriever, Rosie.
Bri Field has a background in academia, research writing, and brand marketing. She has edited scientific publications, conference papers, digital content, and technical communications. As Assigning Editor, she enjoys ensuring all content is accurate, clear, and helpful. In her free time, you can find her in the kitchen trying a new recipe, out on a hike, or working through her massive TBR list.
Endnotes and sources
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