You’ve decided to part ways with your expensive cable or satellite service, but you still want access to your favorite shows. What’s a TV enthusiast on a tight budget to do? Like most problems these days, there’s an app for that.
We’ve assembled a list of free TV apps that can help fill the void left by cutting the cord. Here’s what you can expect from each one and where to find them.
For mainstream programs
Major TV network apps are home to the shows you likely know and love the most. Here are some options worth checking out, but note that they may limit access to shows or have restrictions on when you can watch some episodes.
What it offers: The ABC app offers free full episodes of select comedies, dramas, reality TV and news programs. Catch recently aired episodes of current shows like “Modern Family” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” plus full seasons of older favorites like “Ugly Betty” and “The Bachelor.” Viewers who sign into their existing accounts with a cable or satellite provider can unlock the latest episodes of some shows and — in select areas — stream live TV.
Available for: iOS, Android, Amazon Fire, Apple TV, Android TV, Roku
What it offers: With CBS, you can watch full-length episodes of programs like “Criminal Minds” and “60 Minutes” the day after they are broadcast. You’ll also get episodes from current CBS shows and classics like ”Frasier” and “I Love Lucy” for free. But the app’s complete collection of episodes, titles and live TV is off limits unless you sign up for a paid CBS All Access subscription, which starts at $5.99 a month after a free trial.
Available for: iOS, Android, Amazon, Windows 10
3. The CW
What it offers: Unlike most other networks, The CW makes all of its app’s content available with no hidden costs or subscriptions. You’ll find the five most recently aired episodes of shows like “The Flash” and “Supernatural” at no cost.
All content in The CW app is available with no hidden costs or subscriptions.
For binge-watchers, The CW boasts a second free streaming app — CW Seed — that features entire seasons of shows, including “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and older series from other networks, such as “Everwood” and “Pushing Daisies.”
Available for: iOS, Android, Amazon Fire, Windows, Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV, Xbox One, Amazon Fire TV
What it offers: The Fox Now app is home to recent episodes of select programs like “Bob’s Burgers” and “Empire.” However, the majority of its streaming content — including FX and National Geographic shows and movies — is restricted to logged-in cable customers. To locate the free options, look for episode titles without a lock icon.
Available for: iOS, Android, Amazon Fire, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Chromecast, Xbox
What it offers: NBC’s app offers a robust free library. You can watch the latest episodes of many shows in the current catalog, plus full seasons of certain programs — past and present. For example, we spotted seasons of “This Is Us” and “Will & Grace.” A more expansive video collection and live streaming are available to users who link to their TV provider.
Available for: iOS, Android, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV, Roku, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Samsung Smart TV
What it offers: If you’re interested in educational, historical or cultural content, the PBS app is right up your alley. It features a wide variety of PBS programs like the Ken Burns documentary series, “The Vietnam War,” and “Antiques Roadshow,” as well as broadcasts from your local member station. If you want access to the whole video library, including Masterpiece dramas like “Downton Abbey,” you’ll need PBS Passport, a member benefit that is part of an eligible donation.
Available for: iOS, Android, Amazon Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV, Roku, Windows 10
Check out other TV network apps to see what they offer. Most won’t let you watch full-length videos without a cable or satellite login, but you might find a rare gem.
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For an eclectic mix
Finding desirable shows in free TV apps that aren’t network-specific can be a bit onerous. However, if you’re willing to sort through the hodgepodge, you can find something you like — or discover new titles in the process.
What it offers: Crackle, a streaming service owned by Sony, isn’t the best choice for contemporary TV titles. But it does have an assortment of movies, originals and older or lesser-known TV series, all available to watch on virtually any device at no cost. We found multiple episodes of “Seinfeld” and “Heroes.” If you register for a free account, you can add shows to your list and pick up videos where you left off when you switch devices.
Available for: iOS, Android, Windows, Amazon Fire, Sony TV, Samsung TV, LG TV, Vizio TV, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, PlayStation, Xbox
What it offers: Verizon’s Go90 app features films, TV, original series and live games from select sports leagues. Options to stream range from short video clips to full-length episodes and series. Familiar titles are sparse; highlights include every episode of “Fringe” and “Veronica Mars.” Still, all content is free, and you don’t have to be a Verizon customer to watch.
Available for: iOS, Android
What it offers: With the Hoopla Digital app, you use your public library card to borrow TV shows, audiobooks, movies, music and e-books on your compatible device. The collection spans most genres, but is heavy on educational programs, children’s shows and period pieces like “Wuthering Heights.” Hoopla Digital’s major draw is that it’s both cost- and commercial-free. Visit the website to see if your library grants access.
Available for: iOS, Android, Amazon, Apple TV, Google Chromecast
10. Tubi TV
What it offers: While the content isn’t the most up-to-date and you’ll probably recognize more movie titles than TV shows, there’s plenty to enjoy in the Tubi TV app. We spotted the entire “The IT Crowd” series and the first season of the ’80s sitcom “ALF,” among other works. You can watch as a guest or create a free account to save shows for later and sync between devices.
Available for: iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Samsung Smart TV
What it offers: Walmart’s streaming service, Vudu, is loaded with content. But here’s the catch: Most current and popular titles are only available to buy or rent. The app lets you watch some TV without paying a cent. Create a free Vudu account or sign in with an existing Walmart account, then browse the app’s “free” section. Here you’ll find kids’ TV programs, comedy specials, anime, full seasons of certain shows and first episodes of shows like “The Simpsons.”
Available for: iOS, Android, smart TVs, Roku, Google Chromecast, PlayStation, Xbox
Limitations with free apps
Free streaming apps often have underwhelming libraries. Major streaming service apps — like Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV and Amazon Prime Video — will offer the best selection in terms of quantity and quality.
These are free to download, and free to use with a trial, but to enjoy the content long-term, you’ll need to pay for a plan. If unpaid options aren’t to your liking, try a subscription or reconsider cutting the cord.