7 Ways to Watch TV Shows Online for Free

You can stream TV for free by leveraging free trials, taking advantage of cell phone carrier offers and purchasing a digital antenna.

Lauren SchwahnMarch 5, 2020
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7 Ways to Watch TV Shows Online for Free

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Scrapping cable is a popular way to save money, but cutting the cord doesn’t mean giving up TV cold turkey — as long as you have internet access.

You can still watch TV shows online for free with a little ingenuity (and maybe a generous neighbor). Here are seven ways to catch the big game, or the hottest new series, without shelling out for cable.

1. Leverage free trials

Most major streaming services offer free trials to first-time users. For example, Netflix and Hulu are free for one month, and HBO Now, Sling TV and DirecTV Now are free for seven days. Sure, a trial period is a temporary fix, but it’s a smart way to find out which services you like in case you decide to replace your cable package with an alternative subscription. Remember to cancel your account at the end of the trial period to avoid any charges.

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2. Use a free TV streaming site or app

If you don’t want to bother with a fleeting trial and aren’t ready to commit to a paid subscription, you still have options. Websites like PlutoTV and Sony Crackle provide libraries of select TV content for free. Be prepared to sit through ads, though.

Network sites and apps, including NBC and Fox, let you view free episodes of current and popular shows on that network. However, to watch full seasons or live TV, you’ll typically have to log in to an existing account with a cable provider. Make sure an app or website is reliable before you stream. Read user reviews in the app store and look for secure URLs that start with “https” rather than “http."

3. Look for offers from cell phone carriers

Television and cell phones have become increasingly intertwined, so it’s unsurprising that some of the major mobile carriers now throw in streaming services as a bonus for customers. Verizon is currently offering a year of Disney+ for free with its unlimited plans, for example. T-Mobile includes a standard Netflix subscription with select plans and AT&T customers get an HBO subscription with select unlimited plans.

4. Invest in a digital antenna

A digital antenna can ease the pain of a cable break-up by giving you access to live TV, including sports and local news, without an internet connection. You can snag a top-rated high-definition antenna for less than $20.

The channels you can access vary by where you live, but many antennas pick up major networks like ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX, as well as a handful of other channels. One downside of a digital antenna: signal can be spotty, especially if you live in a dense urban neighborhood where buildings and other obstacles interfere with your picture quality.

5. Borrow with your library card

You don’t have to trek to your local library branch to put your library card to use. Public, campus and other library systems in many areas, including Dallas and Miami, have partnered with streaming services that let patrons borrow TV shows and movies online at no cost.

Many libraries have partnered with streaming services that let patrons borrow TV shows and movies online at no cost.

Hoopla Digital and Kanopy offer mostly educational and family-friendly entertainment via web browser or app. You can sign up for a free account with your email address and library card. Ask a librarian or visit the aforementioned sites to find out if your library participates.

6. Share a friend's or relative’s account

A generous parent or roommate with a streaming subscription can be your ticket to free TV. Most services have plans that let users view content on multiple devices simultaneously. If you and an Amazon Prime account holder live at the same address, you can create an Amazon Household to share benefits, including Prime Video, the marketplace’s streaming service.

Hulu members can add up to five extra profiles on their accounts, and HBO Now subscribers can share accounts with their household members. If a friend or relative is willing to let you get in on the action, make sure to work out the details respectfully.

7. Check your app store for free downloads

Digital stores like iTunes and Google Play feature free TV sections that are worth investigating. You can browse and download full-length episodes of select shows on your phone, tablet or computer. But don’t expect a robust assortment. Collections often are limited to pilots and episodes from older or more obscure series.

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