Cord-cutters have more free TV news options than ever

Here's how to stay up to date without a pricey pay TV bundle.

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It’s been a few years since I last wrote about how cord-cutters can watch the news without cable, but as TV news consumption soars during the novel coronavirus pandemic, now seems like the time for an update.

In 2020, there are more ways than ever to watch the news wtihout paying for a bloated TV bundle. While you’ll still need a big pay TV package to watch cable news channels such as CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, there are plenty of free alternatives.

Here are all the ways you can stay informed even after you’ve cut the cable TV cord:

Local news

When you want to watch local newscasts, your first stop should be NewsOn (pictured up top), a free app for Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, iOS, and Android. NewsOn offers full-length live and on-demand newscasts from more than 200 stations around the United States. The app will automatically show the latest newscasts from nearby stations at the top of its home screen. To find previous newcasts, head to the “All Stations” tab, and then select one of your local stations for a list of recent airings.

Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Stirr app also includes newscasts from the broadcaster’s local stations. To find the most recent airing, head to the tile that says “News powered by [your local station],” and then select “Latest Newscast.”

The free Haystack TV and Plex apps include clips from local news stations as well. You can read more about those options in the “Personalized Newscasts” section, below.

You might also be able to watch the local news with an antenna. I suggest using the site antennaweb.org to determine whether your local stations are close enough to receive with an antenna. Our buying guide will help you pick the best option.

Nightly news shows

Even without an antenna, you can still watch primetime news from several major broadcast networks for free, albeit with a tape delay in some cases.

NBC Nightly News, for instance, posts full episodes on YouTube right after the original broadcast. You can use the YouTube app on pretty much any streaming TV device. You’ll also find those newscasts within the NBC app on Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV and more.

nbcnews NBCU

The NBC News app has full episodes of its nightly newscast, as does the NBC News YouTube channel.

PBS NewsHour also streams for free on YouTube. New episodes are available live and on-demand, and the YouTube channel has been hosting live streams for breaking news events as well. Meanwhile, the free PBS app hosts even more news programs, including Amanpour & Co, Washington Week, and Frontline.

The ABC app offers full newscasts for World News Tonight, Nightline, and 20/20. It’s available on Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV, Chromecast, and Samsung smart TVs.

CBS offers free episodes of CBS Evening News and 60 Minutes, but only on mobile devices and web browser. There is a workaround, however, if you have a Chromecast: Using the CBS mobile app, select “Watch free episodes,” instead of signing in. You’ll then be able to hit the Chromecast icon and watch the newscasts (along with some other recent CBS content) for free.

Round-the-clock news channels

When you want to replicate the live news experience of cable networks, you have lots of options that don’t require a big bundle.

The best one is Pluto TV, which is available on a wide range of devices, including Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, PlayStation 4, Xfinity X1 and Flex cable boxes, Vizio TVs, and Samsung TVs. Pluto TV tries to replicate the cable experience with a grid guide of streaming channels to surf through. The app’s news section offers dozens of channels, including CBSN, NBC News, Cheddar News, Newsmax, Sky News, and Bloomberg, many of them with live anchored coverage. (There’s a “CNN” channel as well, but it’s just a highlight reel of clips rather than a duplicate of the cable channel.)

plutotvweb Jared Newman / IDG

Pluto TV’s cable-style experience has lots of free news channels.

Xumo takes a similar approach, though it has some channels that Pluto TV doesn’t, including ABC News Live, CBC News, and USA Today. The free app is available on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and various smart TVs.

If you have a Roku device or Samsung smart TV, you can also check out The Roku Channel. While its selection of news channels is not vastly different from what you’d find across Pluto TV and Xumo, it’s a good one-stop shop if you’re already heading to The Roku Channel to watch its selection of free movies and shows. A recent Roku update has even added a “Latest News” shortcut to the home screen, so you can quickly jump into certain live channels.

Personalized newscasts

For a slightly different experience, the free Haystack TV and Plex apps can string together clips from a variety of local, national, and international news sources. In both cases, you can choose favorite topics and sources for a personalized stream of stories, or you can drill into individual playlists for each topic.

haystack Haystack TV

Haystack puts together a personalized newscast based on your favorite topics and news sources.

Of the two, I think Haystack’s experience is superior. It lets you browse other topics and sources while the news plays in a smaller window, and at least in Cincinnati, where I live, it covers more local news sources. The app is available on Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Android TV, Samsung TVs, LG TVs, and Vizio TVs.

While the Plex news experience is more bare-bones, it’s just one facet of the broader Plex experience. With Plex, you can build your own over-the-air DVR, run a media server, listen to podcasts, and access a selection of free movies and shows. If you’re already using Plex for any of those purposes, newscasts are a nice bonus.

For those who need cable news

Hopefully by now I’ve established that you don’t need a big bundle of cable channels to watch the news. That said, I understand the allegiance people have to specific cable news channels and personalities.

For that, you’ll still need some kind of pay TV package, whether it’s delivered through cable, satellite, or streaming. (The lone exception is Fox News, which is streaming for free through its apps and website during the coronavirus pandemic.)

slingtvnews Sling TV

Sling TV is one of several live TV streaming services with cable news channels.

Here’s a rundown of those options for cord-cutters:

  • AT&T WatchTV ($15 per month) includes CNN and HLN along with more than 30 other channels.
  • Sling TV Blue ($30 per month) includes CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Bloomberg TV, and HLN, along with dozens of other cable channels. A $5-per-month News add-on covers additional sources, including CNBC, Fox Business, and BBC World News.
  • YouTube TV ($50 per month) offers local channels (including PBS), CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, HLN, Fox Business, CNBC, and BBC World News, along with dozens of other cable channels.
  • Hulu + Live TV ($55 per month) includes local channels, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, HLN, Fox Business, CNBC, and CNN International, along with dozens of other cable channels.
  • FuboTV ($55 per month) includes local channels (except ABC), CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, HLN, Fox Business, and CNBC, along with dozens of other cable channels. More news channels are part of a $6-per-month “Extra” add-on, including CNN International CNBC World, and BBC World News.
  • AT&T TV Now ($55 per month) includes local channels, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, HLN, Fox Business, CNBC, and CNBC World, along with dozens of other cable channels.

In some cases, you might be able to watch clips from these cable news programs without a big channel bundle. CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC all offer highlights on their respective YouTube channels and in their respective apps for various streaming platforms. But for live newscasts and full episodes, you’ll need a bundle that includes a whole lot of other channels.

With so many free alternatives, perhaps it’s no surprise that a growing number of people are choosing not to pay for those big bundles anymore.

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