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How to watch TV online for free

Everything you need to know to catch your favorite shows without breaking the bank . . . or the law.

Our Favorite
Free TrialsAntennasFree ServicesNetwork WebsitesFind a Friend
CostFree$11–200 up frontFreeFreeFree (maybe)
PerksTotally legal
No obligations
Totally legal
No monthly fees
Totally legal
Niche programming
Totally legal
On demand
Totally legal
Lots of content
DrawbacksTemporary solutionNo DVR
Limited channels
Tons of ads
Mostly sucky channels
Time limits on episode availabilityYou may have to split the bill
Cost
Perks
Drawbacks
Our Favorite
Free TrialsAntennasFree ServicesNetwork WebsitesFind a Friend
Free$11–200 up frontFreeFreeFree (maybe)
Totally legal
No obligations
Totally legal
No monthly fees
Totally legal
Niche programming
Totally legal
On demand
Totally legal
Lots of content
Temporary solutionNo DVR
Limited channels
Tons of ads
Mostly sucky channels
Time limits on episode availabilityYou may have to split the bill

Listen, we all like to get more for less. After all, why pay for something you can get for free, right? But when it comes to illegal streaming, there are lots of reasons to steer clear.

Basically, illegal streams are like horcruxes:

  1. They corrupt your soul—and your hard drive. Illegal streaming goes down on some pretty sketchy sites (read: virus-infested internet cesspools).
  2. Every illegal stream destroys a talented, hard-working artist’s hopes and dreams.
  3. That dark (web) magic is most definitely illegal. What would your mother think?

Fortunately, there are better options that don’t violate federal regulations and mutilate your very soul.

Free trials

What we like: It’s free and doesn’t break any laws

Drawbacks: Free trials are limited-time offers

Who it’s perfect for: Fans who want to power-watch the latest season of their favorite shows

Pretty much every streaming service out there offers a free trial period. Sometimes it’s as short as five days, and sometimes it’s as long as a month.

If there’s an event you want to watch without paying, you may want to sign up for a streaming service. Take advantage of that free trial period to watch your event while it’s on the air, then cancel your service right afterward. Or you can binge-watch the entire latest season of your favorite show—all for free.

And who knows? Maybe you’ll like the service so much you’ll decide it’s worth keeping.

Digital Antennas

What we like: No monthly fees and access to the latest content

Drawbacks: No playback features or DVR

Who it’s perfect for: Cord-cutters who don’t mind watching everything live

Did you know that local channels broadcast over the air for free? Yep, you read that right. Free.

All you need to take advantage of these free broadcasts is a digital antenna. You can pick one up on Amazon for less than $40, and they let you watch live TV from PBS, ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC—plus any other local stations in your area.

If you’re wondering, “What’s the catch?” then here it is: digital antennas are pretty basic. You can’t record shows (at least not without paying for an extra service), and you can’t fast-forward, pause, or rewind live TV.

But hey, if saving money is the ultimate goal, maybe it’s worth sacrificing a few features in order to keep your hard drive virus-free.

Free services

What we like: Well . . . they’re free

Drawbacks: Lots of ads and limited channel availability

Who it’s perfect for: Fans of niche programming

If you’re looking for TV you don’t have to pay for, we have good news: there are legal, free TV services out there.

For starters, there’s Pluto TV, which features 86 live TV channels plus tons of on-demand content.

Just be warned: there aren’t a whole lot of popular networks available for free.

So if you’re trying to watch ESPN without paying for it, Pluto TV (and other free live TV services like it) aren’t going to be the best option.

Then there’s Crackle—the Netflix of free streaming. You can also check out Tubi TV, Popcornflix, or the Roku Channel (if you have a Roku).

Yahoo View is also a free, often overlooked service. New episodes of current shows are available the day after they air, and they’re completely free.

Finally, we want to mention Kanopy. This service lets you access free movie rentals, and all you need is a library card from your local library. Supporting legal streaming and your local library? That’s two Good Place points for you.

These services are all free and completely legal, but you do have to remember that these services need to make money somehow. So are you going to get the latest, hottest releases? Probably not. And you probably will have to sit through more ads than usual.

If that’s not for you, we’d suggest one of the other options on the list (or just holding your nose and paying for a TV service).

Network websites

What we like: Free access to the latest shows

Drawbacks: Time limits on episodes

Who it’s perfect for: People who have to know what happened on last night’s This Is Us episode

Networks also offer most of their recent content for free on their websites. It’s all on demand, so you won’t be able to watch your favorite shows live. But you can watch it on your own schedule (yay!).

The only downside is most networks keep recent episodes on their site for a limited time (usually around 4–6 weeks). In other words, you snooze, you lose.

Find a friend

What we like: Lots of content for a low(er) price

Drawbacks: Your friend may want you to chip in for the service

Who it’s perfect for: Anyone with a streaming device

This isn’t our favorite way to watch TV for free, but it does work.

Basically, most TV services are meant to be used by just one household, and households are usually defined as “members of the family that share the same permanent residence.”1 That being said, there are a few TV services that don’t block you out if you try to access the service on a device outside your home network.

Netflix, for instance, doesn’t have any regulations on password sharing—at least not in its contract terms.

DIRECTV and DISH also give their subscribers discretion in handing out their passwords, but they will crack down on anyone who’s using too many simultaneous streams.

Finally, Amazon Prime and YouTube TV allow subscribers to add users to their family groups.

Of course, not every service is down with password sharing. If you want to access a Hulu original show using your friend’s login, for example, you’re straight out of luck. PlayStation Vue will also lock you out if you attempt to sign in away from the primary user’s home network.

It’s definitely a gray area, but if you have a friend or family member who’s willing to share their password (and they have a service that’s okay with password sharing), it’s a great way to get free access to TV Everywhere apps and other services.

Just keep in mind that you’re definitely at the mercy of your friend. Hopefully they’re a good one who won’t make you split the bill or change the password on you.

In the end . . .

The best way to watch TV online is to pay for it. But if that’s not an option, don’t get discouraged. You can still watch your favorite shows without getting on the wrong side of the law.

You can take advantage of free trials, get a digital antenna, or use a free TV service. Networks also post a lot of their recent content online for free. Worst case scenario—you can ask a friend or family member for the password to their cable, satellite, or streaming service.

Did we miss anything? Let us know the free legal ways you’ve used to watch TV on Facebook or Twitter.

 

  1. Washington Post, “You don’t have to feel guilty about sharing your TV log-in

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