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How To Watch TV for Free: Extreme Cord Cutting 101

Is your streaming bill is getting too high? There are a number of free streaming services you can use to watch free broadcast TV.

Samsung TV Plus Free TV Channel Guide

In our article “Does Cord-Cutting Make Sense Financially” we discussed how the cost of cord-cutting can be as, or more, expensive as a cable or satellite bill as a result of the number of services you subscribe to and how often streaming services may raise their fees.

However, there are also two free TV options available that might satisfy some or all of your entertainment fix.

Getting something for free always sounds good, but does that mean you are getting what you are looking for? Let’s Discuss. 

Option #1: Free Streaming Services

In addition to subscription-based streaming services, there are a number of streaming services you can watch for free. 

Free Streaming Apps

Most free services place ads at the beginning and/or within the show or movie you are watching, just like you would see on broadcast TV channels. That is how they pay the bills without requiring a subscription fee. 

Free streaming services don’t have the most recent movies and many times don’t have the most recent seasons of popular TV shows. However, some of these services include a small selection of free sports channels that may have replays or, in some cases live events.  

XUMO Screenshot
XUMO

Some of the content on multiple free streaming services overlap. This means that although a specific free streaming service may have some exclusive content, a lot of the TV shows and movies are shown on multiple free services. 

  • TIP: Keep in mind that although there is a lot of free streaming content, you still have to pay for your internet service. 
Crackle Screenshot
Crackle

Here is a list of popular free video streaming apps that provide movies and shows on-demand from their libraries, with some also providing live TV viewing options.

TIP: Some of these services may suggest or require a sign-in or account set-up, but it’s free. Sometimes extra navigational or content organization features are provided for those with accounts. 

Click on each one to explore:

TIP: In addition, some local broadcast TV channels have their own free streaming apps that allow you to catch up on local news, sports, and other select content. 

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Free Option #2: Antenna

Another free TV viewing option is to watch free over-the-air TV.

Channel Master Antenna

To do this connect an antenna to your TV and scan for all your available local TV channels (consult your TV’s user guide). This will enable you to access local news and weather, as well as programs from major national or regional networks, such as ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, MeTV, COZI TV, and Antenna TV.

  • TIP: There is no such thing as an HDTV or 4K TV antenna. That is all marketing hype. Any TV antenna that can receive both VHF and UHF TV broadcast frequencies will work. However, there are some things that do affect TV reception. 

Distance: TV signals are transmitted digitally just like computer data (1s and 0s). This means that the signal doesn’t fade gradually as distance increases. You receive full quality all the time, intermittently, or not at all. The location at which the signal is not receivable is referred to as “the digital cliff”.

  • TIP: If you are too close to a TV transmitter, the signal may overpower the tuner and could cause damage. 

Geography and Other Obstacles: TV signals are affected by physical obstacles, including hills and trees. The earth’s curvature can also affect TV signal reception if the station is far enough away. 

House Construction Materials: Stucco, concrete, aluminum siding, metal roofs, foil-lined ducts/conduits, and solar panels can limit the effectiveness of indoor or attic antennas.

Other Factors: Weather, interference from electrical equipment, and cell towers may sometimes affect a TV signal.

Number of TVs Connected to One Antenna: If you use a splitter to connect more than one TV to the same antenna, you will experience some signal loss for all the TVs. You may actually create your own “digital cliff”.

TV Signal Direction: You might have several TV stations in your local area, but their transmitters may not be in the same location as the station. As result, you might be receiving local station signals from several directions. 

Antenna Type: If you have a directional antenna, it may not receive signals from multiple transmitter locations. If you have a multi-directional or omnidirectional antenna, interference is more likely.

  • TIP: Here is an excellent guide that can aid you in deciding what type of antenna (indoor, outdoor, multi/omnidirectional, or straight directional) might work best for you. 

Rotors and Masts: Antenna rotors and high outdoor TV masts might provide better reception, but that isn’t always possible if you live in a condo or apartment where you may be limited to an indoor antenna.  

ATSC 3.0/NextGen TV

If you are buying a new TV check to see if it has a built-in ATSC 3.0/NextGen Tuner. TV broadcasting is in the process of changing to a slightly different system over the next several years, but there is no hard date where the current system will be discontinued.

ATSC 3.0 NextGenTV Logo

ATSC 3.0/NextGen TV will allow stations to broadcast in 1080p and/or 4K as well as expand content offerings and other services. In the coming years, more TVs will be equipped to receive the new signals (select Sony, Samsung, LG, and Hisense so far). 

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Here are some examples:

For TVs that don’t include a NextGen TV tuner an external box can be used, but that incurs additional cost.

Here are two examples:

Tablo ATSC 3.0 QUAD HDMI Over-the-Air [OTA] DVR
Tablo ATSC 3.0 Quad HDMI Over-the-Air [OTA] DVR

Check out if stations are broadcasting with the new system in your city or when they will be. TV stations are currently required to transmit in both the current and NextGen systems until any actual switchover is mandated.  

  • NOTE: There is also such a thing as receiving Pay TV channels via Antenna. Currently, it is very limited, but you may encounter more of it in the future.

Conclusion

In addition to subscription-based streaming services, you do have the ability to access free content via antenna or free streaming services.

However, if you don’t want to miss out on the latest Star Wars and Marvel shows on Disney+ (including IMAX Enhanced movies), Netflix/Apple TV+/Amazon Prime originals, or recently released theatrical films, then you have to pay. 

If you resort to illegal means to gain access to content that is not available to the general public on a free video streaming service, then you are stealing, which contributes to higher prices for the rest of us. 

Related reading: Is it time to cancel your cable subscription?

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Ric

    January 19, 2022 at 7:18 pm

    This touches the surface of free and legal TV streaming. FAST free ad supported television is on the rise. The CW app shows recent broadcasts for free days after aired. There’s a lot of bootleg illegal IPTV on the web that I do not watch. It reminds me of Napster years ago, where the recording industry went after the individuals who bootlegged the content. The Free2View app on Roku is a great legal source of small independent networks.

    • Robert Silva

      January 20, 2022 at 4:54 pm

      This article was purposely designed to provide an overview of free streaming options as a starting point for readers to explore, so not all possibilities were listed or discussed. Your CW suggestion is a good one, but in some cases, to access Network affiliate apps, you have to verify that you also subscribe to a cable or satellite service package that offers that channel – which kind of defeats the goal of “free streaming” in those situations.

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