A group of friends eating popcorn and watching TV.
Syda Productions/Shutterstock

So, you’ve ditched the cable company, but now you’re stuck with a dozen streaming services and their rising prices. Fortunately, you can watch TV online for free. It just takes a little effort and a little patience.

Streaming Services Are Getting Pricey

If you hate paying for TV, then you’ve probably calculated the yearly price of services like Netflix or Hulu. As it turns out, a subscription to Netflix and Hulu will cost you more than $200 a year, and additional services will only bring that number higher.

When you consider the current cost of streaming services, the yearly price hike of Netflix and Amazon Prime, and the addition of new services like Disney+, the future looks bleak—or at least expensive. We tend to think of these services as an escape from cable, yet they’re starting to look a lot like cable companies. Is there an escape from streaming services?

Luckily, you don’t have to pay for Netflix or Hulu to get your online TV fix. There are plenty of ways to watch TV online for free, and some of them will make you wonder why anybody pays $12.99 a month for a streaming service subscription.

Borrow Somebody’s Login

HBO Go sign-in to watch Game of Thrones

When it comes to account sharing, streaming services are pretty lax. In fact, most streaming services encourage account sharing, at least within a family, with separate user profiles and multi-user pricing plans. You ask a friend for their login info, add a profile to their account, and go to town.

You can also borrow a friend or family member’s cable login information to stream content directly from the websites of TV networks, like FOX or HBO. Some cable services, like DirecTV, even have their own streaming portals. It’s crazy how a single username and password can bring you so much free content.

Piggybacking on a friend or family member’s streaming or cable subscription can save you a lot of money, but in the end, somebody’s still paying that bill. If you’re trying to ditch streaming services and the ghost of cable entirely, then you’ll have to find a different path to the world of free TV.

This may be against the terms of service for some streaming services, but others encourage you to share with family members.

The Best Free Streaming Sites: Pluto TV and Crackle

Watching The Dictator on Pluto TV for free

If you won’t (or can’t) borrow someone’s login information, then you’ll have to find free TV in the wild. Luckily, there are plenty of streaming websites that offer free content, and most of them have a handful of grade-A shows and movies.

The most popular free streaming sites are Pluto TV, which offers over one hundred live channels showing movies and TV shows, and Sony’s Crackle, which provides a variety of TV shows and movies for on-demand streaming. Pluto and Crackle have commercials, of course—but so does cable TV and you pay for that! You can watch these in your web browser, in a smartphone or tablet app, or even on your TV with a Roku or similar device.

If these sites aren’t doing it for you, then you should check out Tubi, Popcornflix, Share TV, and Yidio. You can also use services like YouTube to fuel your entertainment obsession, but you’ll have a lot of trouble finding full episodes of TV shows.

You can find a ton of other free streaming platforms on Google, but you should avoid streaming from any website that looks dubious. These websites are usually operated illegally, and they aren’t always safe to use.

Watch on a TV Network’s Website

Watching Adult Swim on the web for free

If you’re trying to watch a show from a specific network, then check their website. It sounds silly, but most sites will allow you to stream some (or all) episodes of a series for free. Lifetime, for example, allowed people to stream the R Kelly docuseries for free for a short time, and networks like Adult Swim routinely stream live TV for free.

Need a list of networks that offer free content? Check out FOX, BETCBS, AMC, ABC, The CW, Cartoon Network, and NBC. You can also stream free shows from public broadcasting networks, like PBS or the BBC (but you’ll need a VPN to watch shows from the BBC because the service is exclusive to Europe).

Dust Off Your Library Card

As odd as it sounds, you can stream shows and movies from your local library. All you need is a library card and a website like OverDrive or Hoopla. Your public library is guaranteed to have a wide variety of shows and movies, enough that you may forget about streaming services entirely. And you can forget about that Disney+ subscription for a while because most libraries carry a decent selection of Disney films (well, the classic Disney films).

If you’re trying to save money, these websites are a lifesaver. You can use them to borrow digital copies of books, comics, music, and audiobooks from your public library. And don’t worry, you may not even have to drive to a physical library to apply for a library card. Just Google the name of your local library card along with the word “apply.”

Your local library offers other free digital content, too, from eBooks and audiobooks to online newspapers. And, if you’re willing to head to the library in person, you might find a nice selection of Blu-Rays, DVDs, and CDs you can borrow for free.

RELATED: Not Just Books: All the Free Digital Stuff Your Local Library Might Offer

Take Advantage of Free Trials

Free Netflix trial

Free streaming sites don’t always have the shows that you want. Luckily, services like Netflix and Hulu usually offer a month-long free trial. These trials are useful when you know exactly what you want to watch, but you should think of them as a last resort. Free trials can only be used once (kind of), and you can end up with a bill at the end of the month if you forget to cancel your account.

That being said, you can sometimes rig the free trial system to work forever. Most streaming services identify you by your email address and card information. By signing up for a free trial using different cards and email addresses, you can perpetually hang onto a free trial. Sadly, this method isn’t just a test of your moral fortitude; it’s also a little half-baked. Streaming services can verify your identity by checking your IP address or your credit card’s mailing address, and they’ll (justifiably) deny you a free trial if they smell anything fishy.

Andrew Heinzman Andrew Heinzman
Andrew Heinzman writes for How-To Geek and Review Geek. Like a jack-of-all-trades, he handles the writing and image editing for a mess of tech news articles, daily deals, product reviews, and complicated explainers.
Read Full Bio »