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7 Ways to Watch TV Online for Free

You can sign up for a streaming service's free trial, use a no-cost app or website and take advantage of cell phone carrier offers.
Jan. 28, 2020
Managing Money, Personal Finance
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If you’re wondering how to save money, scrapping cable is an easy way to pocket more cash each month. Besides, cutting the cord doesn’t mean giving up TV cold turkey — as long as you have internet access.

Explore these ways to watch TV shows online for free, but be aware they may not match the standards you’re used to with cable in terms of the quality and variety of content.


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1. Sign up for a free trial

The bad news is that the closest substitutes for traditional cable are paid subscription services. But here’s the good news: 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.

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.

On network sites and apps, including NBC and Fox, you can 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. 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.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s guide to frugal living

4. 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.

5. Redeem rewards points

Some companies have rewards programs that come with perks fit for TV lovers. With Microsoft Rewards, you can earn points for performing tasks like taking quizzes, using the search engine Bing, making purchases from the Microsoft Store or surfing the internet with the Microsoft Edge web browser. You can redeem these points for gift cards from retailers like Amazon and Walmart, where you can buy streaming or downloadable TV content online.

However, you must accrue points, so the payoff isn’t immediate. Most tasks pay between five and 50 points, and 5,000 points are worth about $5, according to Microsoft. Points may be capped daily or monthly, depending on the task. But if you’re willing to invest time in exchange for freebies, consider joining this or a similar program, like Swagbucks or InstaGC.

Don’t want to expend extra effort to score free content? If you have a rewards credit card, you might earn points or cash back from the purchases you’re already making. These rewards, too, often convert into partner gift cards that you can use for TV show purchases or streaming subscriptions. Check your card’s benefits or apply for a card with applicable rewards if this strategy appeals to you.

6. Look for offers from cell phone carriers

Television and mobile have become increasingly intertwined, so it’s unsurprising that some of the major phone 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.

Compare the total cost of your current phone plan and paying for a streaming service out of pocket with the cost of a new plan to determine whether or not you’ll save money by switching.

7. Get on 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.

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