Are you looking to lower or even eliminate your monthly entertainment bills in 2023? Free streaming services are emerging as a popular option to replace cable television, and in some cases, subscription streaming services.
Money expert Clark Howard is a big fan and has free streaming services on his own television.
“The hottest thing in streaming right now is free streaming products,” Clark says. “There are tons of them. And it seems like there are new ones all the time. You’re able to watch a ton of content at no cost.”
So how does it work?
Instead of paying your monthly subscription fee to streaming giants such as Netflix, you can stream content from a dozen or so companies that won’t charge you a dime. They don’t even ask for a credit card number.
Of course, there’s a trade-off involved. Instead of a monthly bill, you’ll have to endure advertisements embedded in the content. That’s how these free services make their money.
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Guide Summary: Understanding Free Streaming Services
If you’re new to the free streaming scene, it can be overwhelming to understand the differences between all these services.
It’s our goal to help you feel comfortable with your choices so that you can be confident in making changes to your entertainment budget. (Please visit our full streaming guide to get the full picture of the market.)
First, let’s set some expectations. Here’s what you will see from many of the free streaming services that are listed in this guide:
- Popular movies from yesteryear
- Full series of TV shows that are no longer in production
- Varying amounts of original content
- Lots of awkwardly placed commercials and advertisements
And here are some things you’re probably wishing you could get but just aren’t a part of the free streaming experience:
- Regular access to live pro and college sports (There’s no ESPN here.)
- Popular TV shows that have your friends talking
- New release movies that are fresh from the theater
With those expectations in mind, I reviewed several free streaming services. I downloaded each of their products and consumed content via web, phone, tablet and television streaming devices. I took notes on the content library, ease of sign-up, availability of apps, user interface and the volume of commercials you’ll endure.
In addition to this guide, I’d encourage you to visit the individual Team Clark reviews for these services (linked below) to ensure that you’re making the best choices for your household.
Best Free Streaming Services for Movies and TV
Below is a list of 13 free streaming services that could help you replace cable TV.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all replacement for live TV streaming services or video subscription services.
But the right combination of these free services could help you stay entertained while keeping your wallet happy. Read on to see which services I recommend for each type of streamer.
|Free Streaming Service||Pros||Cons||Team Clark Review||Try It Out|
|Crackle||Strong selection of hit movies||Lack of live TV options||Crackle Review||Crackle Official Site|
|DistroTV||App has quick load times and is easy to navigate.||On-demand content is underwhelming.||DistroTV Review||DistroTV Official Site|
|Freevee (formerly IMDb TV)||Amazon-backed content collection||Hidden in Prime Video on some apps.||Freevee Review||Freevee Official Site|
|Kanopy||Unique indie content||Requires a library card.||Kanopy Review||Kanopy Official Site|
|Plex||Integration of content from other streaming services||Weak TV series collection||Plex Review||Plex Official Site|
|Pluto TV||Mainstream live TV options||No DVR function on livestream||Pluto TV Review||Pluto TV Official Site|
|Popcornflix||Good selection of independent films||Weak TV series collection||Popcornflix Review||Popcornflix Official Site|
|Redbox Live TV||Easy-to-use app for live streaming TV||Content menu is not particularly strong.||Red Box Live TV Review||Official Site|
|Roku Channel||Great selection of TV and movies||Limited availability on non-Roku devices||Roku Channel Review||Roku Channel Official Site|
|Samsung TV Plus||Cable-like experience with recognizable brands and content||Available only on Samsung phones, tablets and TVs||Samsung TV Plus Review||Samsung TV Plus Official Site|
|Tubi TV||Quality user interface||Unpredictable commercials||Tubi TV Review||Tubi TV Official Site|
|Twitch||Gamers creating new wave of entertainment||May not connect with non-gaming crowd.||Twitch Review||Twitch Official Site|
|Vudu||Fandango-backed content selection||Sign-up is required.||Vudu Review||Vudu Official Site|
|Xumo||Blend of live and on-demand content||Live channels feature abbreviated content.||Xumo Review||Xumo Official Site|
|YouTube||Creators provide wide variety of content.||Lots of "junk" videos to navigate past.||N/A||YouTube Official Site|
Best for Live TV Experience: Pluto TV
If you’re looking to dip your toes into the live free streaming TV pool, my suggestion is that you start with Pluto TV.
This service is owned by ViacomCBS, so there are mainstream television options at your disposal.
Pluto TV also does a really good job of aggregating some of the popular free streaming offerings from across the web, so you can easily replicate that familiar “channel surfing” feeling that you get from cable or satellite TV.
The live channel selection includes well-known brands including Comedy Central, MTV, BET, VH1, Spike TV and Nickelodeon.
It is important to note that these are not livestreams of traditional channels. Instead, they’re more narrowly focused on types of content. For example, there are six different Nickelodeon channels that range from Nick Kids to Nick Movies.
Sports options include offerings from Fox Sports, MLB, PGA and the NFL. These are not live sporting events, though.
Pluto TV also features news streams from CBSN, NBC News, CNN, Bloomberg, Newsy and more.
Also Worth Checking Out for Livestreaming TV: XUMO, The Roku Channel
Best for On-Demand TV Series: The Roku Channel
In a move that likely has put DVD sales of old TV series to bed, there are several streaming services that offer complete series of formerly popular television shows for free.
The Roku Channel is arguably the best among them.
That’s because it boasts a nice blend of popular TV series from both network and premium cable channels. It also acquired the entire content library from defunct streaming service Quibi and rebranded those shows as Roku Originals.
Available titles tend to come and go from free streaming services, but here are some of the familiar TV shows that you could stream for free with The Roku Channel as of January 2023:
- 2 Broke Girls
- Cold Case
- Hell’s Kitchen
- The Mentalist
- Without a Trace
The one hassle with The Roku Channel is that you’re going to need a Roku.com account and most likely a Roku device to stream it on your television. That may not be a barrier, as there’s a free Roku Channel app for your phone or tablet, and you can also view from your laptop’s web browser without logging in.
Also Worth Checking Out for On-Demand TV Shows: Crackle, Tubi TV, Freevee (formerly IMDb TV)
Best for On-Demand Movies: Crackle
Ready to get your popcorn and hunker down on the couch for a few hours?
Good news: Many of the free streaming services we reviewed rely heavily on the on-demand movie market for their content mixes. And Crackle is one of the best at it.
Crackle is owned by Sony and Chicken Soup for the Soul productions, so it has access to movies associated with those companies.
It offers recognizable movie titles across all genres and features Hollywood stars such as Russell Crowe, Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman and more.
Like most free streaming services, Crackle often shuffles movies on and off its menu within a matter of weeks. So if you see something you’d like to watch, you should take advantage of it while you can.
Also Worth Checking Out for On-Demand Movies: Vudu, The Roku Channel, Tubi TV, Freevee (formerly IMDb TV)
Best for Children’s Content: Tubi TV
If you’re a cord-cutter who has children, finding a good selection of kid-friendly content for free is likely a top priority.
Tubi TV may be a perfect fit for your household. In addition to a strong on-demand movie and TV show library that is likely to please the adults in the family, the FOX-owned service offers a “Tubi Kids” section that is dedicated to the youth of the house.
In this section, you’ll be able to find movies and TV shows that are appropriate for children. The programming is “siloed” so that kids can navigate without easily stumbling upon inappropriate content.
Some of the recognizable characters available on Tubi Kids at the time of this review included The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, My Little Pony, Sonic the Hedgehog, Barbie and Barney the Dinosaur.
Family movies available included Free Willy, Annie, Little Big League, The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland and Kung Fu Panda.
Also Worth Checking Out for Children’s Content: The Roku Channel, PBS Kids
Best for Original Content: YouTube
Many of the free streaming services that are backed by major film and broadcast companies are working on original television series and shorts for you to enjoy, but most of the high-quality streaming shows and movies are found on subscription services.
When it comes to free streaming entertainment, you may find that your best original creators are on YouTube.
After gaining popularity as a place to find funny or interesting video clips in the early 2000s, YouTube has morphed into a video streaming site that allows for full-length shows and movies as well as interactive livestreams.
YouTube has a section of its website dedicated to original content that highlights creators who produce things strictly for the streaming service. But it doesn’t stop there.
I’m just scratching the surface of the original content that you can find on the platform, as sports leagues and news channels are getting more comfortable with the idea of livestreaming their products here.
ABC News and NBC News keep continual livestreams of their content going on YouTube.
Major League Baseball livestreams one game per week exclusively on YouTube. And you’re not only able to watch for free, but you can also interact with other fans and experts in real time as the action happens.
Also Worth Checking Out for Original Content: The Roku Channel, Twitch, Freevee (formerly IMDb TV), Tubi TV
Best for Gaming and Interactive Viewing: Twitch
If you’re from a certain generation, the concept of watching other people play video games may not seem like your idea of entertainment.
But it’s a very real and emerging force in the free streaming market. There are millions of people being entertained daily by content creators on platforms such as Twitch.
Twitch, which is owned by Amazon, is a website and app that allows you to stream live and recorded content from across the globe.
Esports, which is basically competitive video gaming, is the primary function of this streaming site. You can watch live tournaments of some of the most popular video games in real time, comment on the action and engage with the players as you watch along.
But as the site has grown in popularity, it’s turning into more than just livestreams of gameplay.
There are also interactive talk shows migrating to the platform because it is so easy for people to post their comments. And Twitch content creators can monetize this through the ad-supported portion of the platform or charge a subscription fee for exclusive content.
This may not be traditional television consumption, but it is a new wave of streaming entertainment that is completely free to try out.
Final Thoughts for Free Streaming Services
Are you ready to get started with free streaming TV in your household?
The best part about these services being free is that you can move in and out of any service with practically no barriers. That means trying them out is extremely easy.
Keep an open mind to different services, make notes on which suit your needs best, and watch for new releases as services build out their content catalogs.
Personally, I’d start with a mix of Pluto TV, Tubi TV, YouTube and The Roku Channel to get a mix of live TV, on-demand TV, kids options and original content.
But it’s important to remember that there is no formula for achieving a perfect content mix.
My suggestions likely aren’t going to fit your entertainment needs perfectly. The good news is that there are enough options out there that a satisfactory setup can be achieved — with a little tweaking and some patience.
What is your favorite free streaming service? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the Clark.com community.