13 Ways to Watch TV for Free
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Television is a standard, if not expected part of life, no matter how little or much of it you watch. Yet there’s also a relatively high expense associated with it, and people can spend upwards of $1000 each year for a pay TV subscription, which can be a travesty if you and your family aren’t watching it all that much.
However, you can spend that money on more important things while still enjoying the occasional program or event. While there is the ongoing cord-cutting trend that is increasing in popularity with the rise of streaming services, paying for several services each month can get expensive, so we want to focus on other methods in this piece (even if you’re likely to have a subscription to one of them already).
Some of these methods will be more social, and others will require the use of a one-time buy piece of technology. Others instead will rely on vigilance and good timing, so when you review these consider your personal situation to see if they apply to you. We won’t focus on blatantly illegal options such as piracy, as they generally aren’t worth the effort, can get you in trouble with the law or your ISP, and infest your computer with malware.
Yet without further wait, let’s see which of these options are best for your household:
1) Use an OTA DVR
You might think that a DVR requires a cable subscription, and while it is true that DVR services are offered through cable and TV providers, this is absolutely not the only option. On the market are also OTA (over the air) DVR boxes, which with a bit of setup allow you to catch and record the broadcast airwaves freely available in your area. In some ways, this works much like an antenna, except for the fact that you can watch at your leisure and depending on your model, record multiple shows at once and hold enough content to last you for months.
There are many different models available, and while we don’t have any strong recommendations when it comes to a specific box, we do suggest you consider the memory, number of allowable concurrent recordings, and how easy it might be to install with your current setup. You may also have personal preferences regarding the user interface and design of the device.
In terms of initial cost, it will vary, but it can range from anywhere between $80-$300. For comparison, that can be 3-6 months of cable bills, so it will eventually pay for itself.
2) Wait a While, then Check Online
Often network television and well-known channels will stream episodes of shows shortly (if not immediately) after their original airdate on their websites. There will probably be ads, but still less than you’d encounter on traditional television. And even then, the ads might not play depending on your browser and what region you happen to live in.
As we mention regions, we would like to mention that due to regional broadcasting rights and often complicated laws, it might not always be possible to use one of these sites. Using a VPN might be the only way to access them properly (and that isn’t always reliable). Additionally, over the years the players used have gotten a general reputation for being poor, and you might not be able to use your TV (only a computer monitor or phone) to watch them.
Ultimately, we think that these websites can be a great option if you miss a show one week and forgot to record it. It can be an excellent supplement to one or more of the other options on this list.
3) Get an Antenna
We might seem a little old fashioned for suggesting this in the first place, but you can still pick up broadcast TV over an antenna much like you can using an OTA DVR. Not only that, but modern antennas are often able to pick up very clear signals, as opposed to the static-filled, questionable pictures and sounds of yesteryear. They’re cheap (an antenna for one TV shouldn’t cost you more than $40), an excellent option if you only occasionally plan on watching broadcast TV and are a way to differentiate yourself from the crowd.
When looking for one, consider whether it’ll be compatible with your TV, your space, whether there might be interference with the signal, and whether you might want to use one for your whole household (a bit more complicated of a setup).
This is something you’ll want to put a little bit more research into on your own, as different types and brands of antennas are better for different homes or apartments in different locations. If there’s a signal, you’ll be able to pick it up (and likely do so easily), but optimization will take a little bit of time. There are plenty of sites that will go into more detail on selection and setup, so we’re confident you won’t have any trouble.
4) Free Streaming Services
While Hulu has vastly changed its business model from its original inception and some of what you find here might overlap with the other options on this list, it should be noted that free streaming services still exist and are available for your consumption. It’s not free in the sense that you’ll still have to watch ads and perhaps put up with some inconveniences, but you won’t be spending a great amount of money for maybe the one episode you want to watch.
Some of the major options or searching strategies include:
- If you enjoy older or classic shows, try searching for services that offer access to plenty of options from the past of television, so you can better understand and appreciate what we have today. Not only that, but many old shows still have plenty to offer in terms of entertainment, and we have the benefit of knowing which ones stood the test of time.
- Other helpful sites include Popcornflix, Yidio, Crackle, and more. While not all the films and shows on each site may be to your interest or liking, they’re worth checking out before you pay for content elsewhere. Other websites are liable to be created in the future, so keep an eye out for new developments and offerings as well.
You’re the only one who knows how interested in the above options you might be, but a quick check can save you plenty of money if you find something you can get hooked on.
5) Head Out to the Bar or a Watch Party
Watching TV was, is, and can still be a social event. You don’t need to spend half a day’s pay to watch the big game if you’re willing to share your passion with others at a bar or place with a public TV that will show such events (sporting or otherwise), and there is almost certainly a bar that will have what you’re looking for. It may not be the best scene for everyone, especially if you watch TV to relax alone, but for some of you, it might be the perfect environment you’ve never considered.
For other occasions, especially high-profile weekly shows, you might want to try attending a watch party your friend is hosting or see if a group is a bit more open and willing to meet like-minded fans. You might not find anything, but if you don’t look, you certainly won’t find any opportunities.
It could also be something a bit smaller, where just a few of your friends meet up regularly at someone’s house each week to watch something together. We don’t suggest you take advantage of someone’s friendship just to watch a show (the travel time probably wouldn’t be worth the savings anyway) but saving money while enjoying people’s company can make for a great evening. To be more polite, it might be best to bring snacks.
6) See What Your App Store Has to Offer
The modern app store (for either major mobile OS) is versatile and likely has something for every need. And why shouldn’t there be apps that allow you to more easily watch TV and even stream free TV? The marketplace changes rapidly so making too many specific suggestions would be a poor idea, but again, a quick search online with a critical mind will get you exactly what you need.
This is something you will want to be careful about using, however, as you will want to make sure that apps are current and safe. Avoid third-party app stores, and read reviews whenever possible. If an app asks for too much personal information, seems suspicious in any way, or otherwise doesn’t seem worthwhile, don’t use it. No app is worth identity theft or a broken device.
7) Use YouTube
While we don’t encourage you to search out and watch pirated content on YouTube (it’s an unreliable method, the quality is often poor or the audio desynced, and the original creators rarely if ever benefit), there are plenty of official YouTube channels from either content creators or networks that will put up shows or segments of shows on their YouTube channel to be watched free of charge.
While this is somewhat less likely with scripted shows, if you’re just someone who wants a late-night talk show fix or would be interested in segments of reality or documentary series, by piecing all videos together you basically have a season fully available for your viewing, on-demand and with fewer ads as well. Just search for a few of your favorite shows (just watch out for spoilers) and see what you can find!
8) Consider Sharing Plans
Family plans exist for a reason, and there are probably many people close to you that you consider as close as family. As long as service plans don’t get overburdened (there’s usually a screen limit on some service and streaming plans), then you can save money and make the most of everyone’s plans without paying $100 a month to keep up with everything you might want to.
Naturally, you will want to do everything in good faith, and not abuse any privileges you might have based on your connections. We’ll leave it to you to determine the best practices and consider who you might want to consider sharing with in your family.
One last note is that there can be more to this than just the standard sharing of streaming services or online accounts. If you have family members with a Pay TV subscription and you live close by, then you can often use an online login to watch live or on-demand television from another device. Most major cable companies have a version of this, so look it up and see if it would be worth the trouble. This method can be great for couples who live apart for work reasons or students living away from home.
9) Use Your Library Card
If you have a DVD or Blu-ray player and don’t mind waiting until a series comes out on DVD, you can use your library card to borrow a season of a show and watch it at home at your leisure, usually with enough time by the renewal date so you don’t have to binge-watch all day. There isn’t too long a wait except for the most popular of shows, and for those, there are likely several copies in circulation anyhow.
And while in previous decades you might have been limited to tapes that were only in your town’s library, now you can likely use an interlibrary loan system online from the comfort of your home to have a box set of what you want to watch shipped to your library for pickup in a few days. This gives you a vast array of options and often replaces any need for a pay TV subscription or a streaming service. Just make sure you return what you borrow on time!
10) Hoopla (in Conjunction with that Library Card)
On top of getting DVDs with your library card, there’s an excellent site called Hoopla that you can potentially use to watch a decent amount of programming each month. In short, the site has partnered with various libraries across the United States to provide access to e-books, audiobooks, other media, and most notable for the current topic, television programs. There is a limit each month depending on your library, and it’s not available with every library in the country, but it’s certainly worth your consideration.
11) Streaming Service Partnerships
Streaming services and even sometimes TV providers have partnerships with other companies, memberships, or stores that allow for trials or provide for several months of a subscription to content. While you shouldn’t seek these out for their own sake, you can and should take advantage of worthwhile opportunities that come along.
Just remember that oftentimes these deals and partnerships have some sort of contract or automatic renewal built into them, so you should read the fine print and make sure you aren’t setting yourself up for trouble or unwanted expense down the line.
12) Use Free Trials to Your Advantage
Sometimes many of the things you’d like to watch on TV are gated out either by the requirement of a cable subscription or a paid account for a streaming service. However, many of these sites, which probably have TV shows you want to keep up with, offer a free trial for either a week, two weeks, or even a month which you can use to watch to your heart’s content.
Using a series of these trials with some decent schedules can lead to a pretty strong plan for entertainment, especially if you only want to watch a few shows from each service and are committed to the plan. This can be a great option if you’re in an exploratory mood and want to sample different genres and ideas.
The most important thing is to cancel the free trial either as soon as possible (if you’d still be eligible to watch shows during the trial period) or at the very end right before your credit card would be charged. You might also want to turn off marketing emails so you don’t get inundated with spam for months on end.
13) Take Advantage of Other Free Offers and Downloads
There are very few specific suggestions that we could list here due to the ever-changing nature of this suggestion, but stay on the lookout for methods to gain free access to the shows you love, whether that means deals with companies or services you were using anyway, offers to get you into some streaming service or partnerships with another product, or something else entirely. On rare occasions you might be able to watch TV via something you never expected!
Naturally, you shouldn’t spend more money just to get access to content like this, but you already might qualify for a few options you aren’t already using, so take a chance to review everything when you can!
You will want to take the same precautions as you would with any other free offers, and watch out for scams as you would with anything online. If it’s from a trusted name, it’s probably fine. If not, some further research can keep you safe, and a lack of information is a reason for mistrust.
Not all the above methods are going to be reasonably applicable to you and your family, and that’s perfectly fine. We hope that at least one of the above methods will be useful for you to watch the shows you like without having to pay an exorbitant amount of money. And while a few of the methods above may involve buying an item or two, the services or devices often have other uses and are still cheaper than a service subscription. Whatever you wind up doing, we hope you find exactly what you want and can easily enjoy your favorite shows.