Nowadays there appears to be an over abundance of streaming channels and services for Cord Cutters to choose from. Though competition historically means more choice for consumers, it can also lead to confusion for those considering cord cutting. From choices like Sling, YouTube TV, and Playstation VUE to the flurry of newcomers like the much anticipated Disney+, it can all get to be overwhelming and quite frankly expensive for those who are unsure of what their best options are. This has also lead to the continued stream of misinformation from networks and cable providers alike telling consumers that cord cutting is actually more expensive than simply sticking with cable. See Cord Cutters News’ recent rebuttal to NBC’s recent anti – cord cutting story here.
But what if you truly want to break free from pay TV altogether? Let’s face it – almost all streaming services that are in use today are nothing short of pay TV. And the fact that so many networks are breaking free and pulling their content from the likes of Netflix in favor of launching their own pay to stream services has even lead some to believe that this is all part of a clever tactic by the networks and cable providers to scare consumers back to cable or, worse yet, to set the cable providers up for future offerings of “bundled” streaming content much like standard cable packages.
So is there truly a way to still enjoy quality content without paying for any streaming service? The answer is OF COURSE YOU CAN!!
Start With The Basics
I’m sure by now you’ve heard it time and time again, from myself or any number of online sources, that the very foundation of your cord cutting setup should be an antenna. There are many to choose from, and what you buy depends primarily on your location, as well as simple cosmetics. Check out Channel Master’s extensive list of antennas here. Another recourse I like to suggest is this handy tool from Antenna Web that helps you pinpoint signal strengths of the over-the-air channels closest to you, thus giving you a general idea of the number of channels you can expect to receive. I personally receive 42 over the air channels with my antenna.
Back when I first decided to end our ties with cable, one of the first things my wife and I considered was the fact that we would be willingly giving up on some shows and specials that we had become accustomed to watching – primarily those on premium channels like HBO. We asked ourselves, “do we absolutely HAVE TO have those shows?” as well as, “are these shows worth it?” Obviously the answer for us was ultimately “no”. Moreover, we also wanted to change TV viewing habits in our household overall – from reducing the amount of TV consumed overall, to the type of content available in our home. Simply put, we wanted change. As such, if you want to take on a bare-bones, free approach to Cord Cutting, be ready for change. I believe that you will find it to be a refreshing (and of course cheaper) change!
And Now, Without Further Ado…
Here is my list of what I consider to be some of the best free options available today. Keep in mind, these aren’t the only free streaming channels available, and results will vary. However, I suggest anyone who hasn’t tried them yet should at least give them a test drive.
Up first is considered by many to be the champion of free streaming services – Pluto Tv.
Pluto Tv offers a traditional, grid style guide setup with 100+ channels available, including some of your own local channels (my Pluto includes 6 local channels). There are also hundreds of on-demand movies and TV shows available. Although its interface is pretty straight-forward, it can be a bit clunky at times but folks at Pluto TV keep a very regular update cycle so the app continues to improve. One other notable criticism is the sometimes ill-placed ads (commercials) but Pluto seems to be getting better with that over time as well.
I surprise myself including Sony Crackle on this list, but the fact is it has done nothing but get better over time. Before it’s re-branding, I had used Crackle before but found it to be simply atrocious. Poor content offerings and HORRIBLY ill-placed ads while viewing were my major reasons for hating it. But since Sony’s acquisition in 2006, it has seen some much needed improvements on both of those fronts as well as others. However, it is worth noting that it has been sold off once again, this time to Popcornflix owners CSS Entertainment, with an announced re-branding to “Crackle Plus”. It’s not clear at the moment if the “Plus” will mean “no longer free”, but for the time being it’s still a worthy free option to consider. You will also find many reviewers still rank Sony Crackle anywhere from “poor” to “don’t even bother”. Perhaps I’m a bit more forgiving by considering the fact that it’s FREE, it is at least worth having.
What would happen if Panasonic and MySpace had a baby, you may wonder? It would be Xumo. Dad jokes aside, that’s truly what Xumo is – a joint venture between MySpace parent company Viant and Panasonic, started in 2011. Xumo offers over 160 live streaming and on-demand channels (my personal favorite being the “This Old House” channel). It also offers the ability to create favorite channels, so that you don’t have to keep going back to the guide to find the channels you watch most. The interface itself is clean and well laid out, although I find it to have a very sluggish response time. Hopefully that will continue to improve with subsequent updates.
Launched in 2014, tubitv is nothing short of a “must-have” in any Cord Cutter’s arsenal of free streamers. With lucrative deals with the likes of NBC Universal, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Lionsgate, Warner Brothers, and Paramount Pictures, it touts a hefty library of over 7,500 movies and TV shows. The interface is well organized, and the app itself streams well without sluggishness or buffering.
Sinclair Broadcast Group’s streaming offering STIRR is more of a local-focused service, with a focus on local news and sports. with additions such as Dove Channel , Dust Anthology and Cheddar News sprinkled in. Its most interesting feature is Stirr City, from which you can select the primary city you want to view content from. Select your closest metro location (if available) to view content from that area. These cities are divided geographically by East, West, Midwest and South with major cities in each area being added over time.
Lastly, and certainly not least, is kanopy. Kanopy is an on-demand streaming video platform for public libraries and universities that offers viewers a large collection of award-winning films and documentaries. Kanopy includes children’s programming with its subdivision Kanopy Kids. To use Kanopy, you simply need a library card. Once you setup your account, you will have access to thousands of titles available at your local participating library. If your local library isn’t a participant, chances are a library near you is. You can change libraries from within the Kanopy account setup page to a participating library near you. For the most part, all libraries have the same content because Kanopy licenses the films for distribution directly from the owners. Sometimes the distribution rights differ in markets so that public libraries may have access to fewer or more titles than the academic libraries. Kanopy currently touts a selection of a whopping 30,000 titles. What sets it apart from the other free streamers is the lack of ads. The service is dependent on libraries subscribing on behalf of their members, so library members are not charged directly for using the service. The libraries provide the service through tax dollars or tuition.
As I mentioned earlier, these are of course not the only free streaming services available. Rather, I believe these are good starting points for those looking for free alternatives to the continued onslaught of pay services.
One important factor to keep in mind is the old axiom of finance – “there is no such thing as a free lunch”. As such, these content providers have to pay licensing fees in some way, so as one might imagine it boils down to advertising. Yep, commercials.
And finally, don’t forget to check the channel store of your streaming device of choice for your local news and weather stations’ own streaming channels. On my Roku TVs, each of my local providers offer their own streaming channels with on-demand news content as well as live streaming during their respective broadcast time slots.
If you’ve decided to go all-in with free services only, let me know what you think about these choices once you’ve tried them out. Or, if you have others you believe deserve mentioning, please feel free to comment below!