While many cord cutters are stretching their budgets to accommodate all the marquee titles out there, we also have the option to stream a ton of content for free, as long as we’re willing to put up with occasional advertisements.
These services are often called ad-supported video on demand (AVOD) or free ad-supported television (FAST). The number of commercials will vary, depending on the service and the content you’re streaming. Some services have an easy interface, while others feel clunky and slow.
We’ve reviewed each of these services to give you an idea of what you can expect and which are most worth your time. Happy streaming!
Best Free Services
The Streamable’s Choice
Perhaps the most well-known free streaming service, Pluto TV deserves its reputation as a heavyweight in the space. Pluto TV’s default presentation appears in the form of 250 live streaming channels, with some dedicated to specific genres and others simply showing 24/7 loops of different TV shows.
Pluto TV also has a few channels that feel like traditional live news, like Sky News, NBC News Now, and Bloomberg News.
In addition to this, Pluto TV has a large selection of on-demand titles, including some major blockbusters and award winners that rotate through the service, like “The Hunger Games” saga, “RoboCop,” and “The Fighter.” If you see a title you like, you can add it to your watchlist.
You’ll also get several channels that show music videos from various genres or specific eras.
If you like a specific channel, you can “pin” it to the top of your channel lineup as a favorite.
Whether you feel like throwing on some background TV or settling in for a movie night, Pluto TV is up to the challenge.
- Huge variety of live streaming options
- Watchlist feature
- Wide variety of content
- Spanish language options
- Live streaming channels can grow stale with repeat viewing
- Commercial breaks tend to be highly repetitive
With 30,000 movies and shows, Tubi is the rare free streaming service that offers some quality amid the low-budget fluff. You’ll see some films and shows you recognize.
Tubi offers many well-curated categories like anime, action, faith, comedy, LGBTQ, romance, and sci-fi & fantasy. There are also more thoughtful categories like cult classics, highly rated on Rotten Tomatoes, and “not on Netflix.” This ability to navigate titles makes it a standout in the category.
You’ll also find exercise videos, travel shows, and stand-up comedy performances. There’s even a separate kids section so parents can switch to that mode without fear of their children stumbling back into the more adult titles. Tubi’s variety is quite impressive, and original content will be coming to the service soon.
- Large library includes some A-list titles and award winners
- Separate section for kids
- Watchlist feature
- Lots of variety
- Some films not presented in original aspect ratio
- No virtual live channels for mindless viewing
Peacock is the rare free streaming option that can be upscaled to a more premium service. There’s a free tier, another for 4,99 US$ / månad and one for 9,99 US$ / månad. For that middle tier, you’ll see some ads, but you’ll have access to more content. The 9,99 US$ plan removes ads entirely.
For the purposes of this guide, we’ll focus on the free tier. You will find some virtual live channels here, usually aligned to NBCUniversal properties. There’s one channel running an endless loop of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” another with “Saturday Night Live,” and another with endless episodes of “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.”
The on demand catalog has some quality content, like 100 free episodes of “The Office,” 30 free episodes of “Parks and Recreation,” and blockbuster movies like “Jurassic Park,” “Pretty Woman,” and “The Matrix.”
Peacock is also a must-have for wrestling fans, thanks to its partnership with the WWE. While some wrestling content is paywalled, there’s plenty to see for free.
- Service-exclusive content, like classic sitcoms and some Universal movies
- WWE wrestling library
- Flexibility of virtual live channels or on demand viewing
- Some NBC News programming
- User profiles
- Latino section
- Free content intermingled with premium
- Lots of made-up categories clog navigation
Like its namesake streaming device, The Roku Channel offers a simple, clean interface packed with content. One major strike against it is that it doesn’t work with all devices, but it’s a great choice if you have one of the supported options.
You’ll find 190 live linear streaming channels and more than 40,000 free movies and TV shows on The Roku Channel. Users will have access to several popular shows, including “The Bachelorette,” “24,” and “Alias.”
You’ll also find some hit TV series from the past few decades, including “Quantum Leap,” “Highway to Heaven,” “The A-Team,” “Coach,” “Hart to Hart,” “Who’s the Boss?” “Bewtiched,” “Benson,” and “What’s Happening!!”
The movie catalog is strong, featuring some major hits like “The Fugitive,” “In the Line of Fire,” “Signs,” “Memento,” and “Galaxy Quest.”
A nice kids section allows you to browse by specific characters or by the age of your child.
You’ll also find the old Quibi catalog rebranded as “Roku Originals.” The service will roll out more original content in the months ahead.
- Lots of content, including some high-profile movies
- Kids section
- Flexibility to upgrade
- Roku Originals
- Not compatible with all devices
- Navigation can sometimes be an endless scroll
- Not always easy to separate TV and movies
Best for Kids
If you have small children, PBS Kids is nothing short of a godsend. With a strong lineup of beloved shows, the app can keep kids mesmerized for hours. The available episodes do rotate every few weeks, so parents won’t feel trapped by hearing the same episodes over and over into infinity.
The service allows for offline downloads to keep your little ones entertained when you’re away from Wi-Fi.
If your family loves the content, you can upgrade to an inexpensive subscription through Amazon Prime that allows access to every episode of the PBS Kids lineup.
- Offline downloads
- Beloved children’s content
- Worry-free library for parents
- Nothing of interest for older children or adults
- Library limited to a few episodes per show unless you upgrade
Best for Anime
If you love anime, Funimation has you covered with free viewing options. The service offers hundreds of dubbed shows. Funimation’s search options and interface are sleek and easily navigated.
You’ll get access to a solid collection of classic anime like “One Piece” and “Sword Art Online.” If you enjoy the free option, you can upgrade to different tiers for ad-free viewing, offline downloads, and more.
For a more detailed comparison of anime streaming services, see The Streamable’s Anime Guide.
- Lots of dubbed anime
- Straightforward UI
- Quality content
- Only good for anime fans
- Anime catalog not entirely comprehensive.
Plex is an incredible option for users who may have movies or music on their personal computers, since you’re able to use the service to curate your own private on demand streaming library. You could also share those libraries with friends (as long as you’re not sharing copyrighted material).
Beyond that amazing feature, Plex does offer free on demand content as well. What’s interesting is that most of the Crackle catalog is incorporated into Plex, but Plex offers even more, which essentially nullifies the need for Crackle altogether. There aren’t as many A-list titles on Plex as you’ll find with some other services, but there are some gems if you’re willing to dig.
Live virtual channels are fairly thin, but there are channels dedicated to specific music genres and eras. There are even karaoke channels.
Plex also allows for podcast integration, so it can be your one-stop streaming destination for nearly anything you’d like to enjoy.
- Incredible versatility
- Ability to stream and share personal libraries
- On demand and live streaming options
- Virtual live streaming channels lack compelling content
- Commercials can be significantly louder than other services
- Free movie and TV library feels lacking
- Advanced features may be confusing for some users
- No designated kids section
Another great option if you have kids, Sensical is a free streaming service for children ages 2-10. It includes on-demand access to 15,000+ hand-selected videos and 50+ topic-based channels.
Sensical serves three distinct audiences: preschoolers (ages 2-4), little kids (ages 5-7), and big kids (8-10). Each child can have his or her own profile, and parents can get weekly or monthly reports on what their children are watching and learning.
Every video is viewed, vetted, and rated by dozens of individuals trained in child development.
While PBS Kids offers a slightly better experience for children, Sensical is a worthy addition to a parent’s child-calming arsenal.
- Great parental controls
- Different content curated by age
- Virtual live streaming channels by topic
- Slim library may get stale
- No offline viewing
- Almost no movies
Much like Pluto TV, Xumo launches with a virtual live TV channel lineup. There are some unique offerings here, including History Shorts, Hallmark Movies & More, and channels with magazine ties like Vogue, GQ, Cooking Light, Field & Stream, and Time.
Xumo’s movie library is fairly thin, quality-wise. You can browse by genre, and most sections offer 100-200 films, though you may have only heard of 3-4.
The on demand library tends to pull primarily from Xumo’s streaming channels, so you won’t find much by way of blockbuster titles.
Xumo does offer some more thoughtful streaming options, like a science and tech section.
- Offers both virtual live channels and on demand
- Science & Tech channels
- Streaming music channels
- Latinx streaming channels
- Movie library is weak
- Less well-known entertainment options
Entertainment fans may not find much to love about Crackle, but the service is free. The library feels more scattershot than some other services, and it feels more geared toward nostalgic audiences.
Even more puzzling, most of the Crackle library is available through Plex, which somewhat nullifies the reason for Crackle to exist as a standalone service.
You will find a small library of Crackle original titles and a decent stand-up comedy library, but it’s unlikely you’ll make Crackle part of your regular viewing habit unless it has a show you love.
- A handful of classic movies and shows
- Some original shows and movies
- Stand-up comedy videos
- Lots of poor content crowds out the gems
- Poor user interface
- No profiles
- No kids section
- Limited advertisers means seeing multiple ads for the same product
If you have a Fire TV, IMDb TV might be a fair option for free streaming, but there are no other device apps available at the moment. If you use anything other than a Fire TV or a web browser, you’ll have to open Amazon Prime Video’s app and scroll down several rows until you see “IMDb TV: Popular movies and TV — Free with ads.”
The content selection here ranges from great movies like “Aliens” and “Snowpiercer” to groundbreaking shows like “Mad Men,” “Schitt’s Creek,” and “Lost.” You’ll also find some classic TV shows like “Bewitched” and “Columbo.”
You’ll also see a handful of IMDb TV originals specifically focused on the movie industry.
Ultimately, the poor user interface makes it nearly impossible to find things unless you’re willing to scroll endlessly. Until they resolve that issue, IMDb TV is probably better saved for when you feel like you’ve exhausted the other services on this list.
- IMDb Originals
- Occasional blockbusters and classics
- Must be accessed through Amazon Prime Video unless you have a Fire TV
- Terrible user interface
If you enjoy watching local news, VUit might be the perfect free streaming option. The service harnesses content from over 200 partner stations around the United States, allowing users to get a look at news and events across the country.
While this is a narrowly focused service, it can be a fun diversion or a comforting lifeline for homesick people who miss the towns where they grew up.
- Tons of local news content
- Glimpse into lots of small markets
- Brutally repetitive commercials
- Generally low production value
Stirr has a few interesting viewing options, but it probably won’t be your go-to service.
You can watch limited episodes (3-4) of “CSI: Miami,” “The X-Files,” and “Quantum Leap,” along with some curious TV artifacts like the live sketch show “Fridays” that featured a young Michael Richards and Larry David.
Movies are mostly the low budget variety, like “The Fast and the Fierce,” which really wants you to assume it’s another movie franchise.
The service does have an interesting library of stand-up comedy.
In markets where viewers have a Sinclair-owned TV station, users will be able to view local news content on some devices.
The overall lack of content makes Stirr a nice option if you’re bored with the other services, but you’ll be scraping the bottom of the barrel here.
- A few interesting TV artifacts
- Nice stand-up comedy options
- Local news for some users
- Weak library only offering a few episodes per show
- Lack of blockbuster movies
- No kids section
- Poor user interface
Local Now aims to combine an on demand catalog of movies and TV with virtual live streaming channels, similar to Pluto TV. You also get access to some local content, as the service provides streams from major markets like New York, Denver, Detroit, Cleveland, Kansas City, Nashville, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Diego, and West Palm Beach.
The on demand catalog is so comically bad that it’s barely worth mentioning. There is a small section of Local Now original programs, however.
- Variety of content
- News streams from some major markets
- Some customization based on your location
- On demand content is laughably bad
- Not as much variety as top-tier free services
It’s also worth checking to see which service your local library aligns with. Kanopy and Hoopla are the most popular, and each allows a limited number of movies and TV shows available for free, as long as you put in the information from your library card.
One thing we can guarantee: Almost every free service, no matter how small, will have at least one Nicolas Cage movie.