Officially, cord-cutters aren’t welcome to use video-streaming apps from TV channels such as ABC, Discovery, The Food Network, and many others. Known in the industry as “TV Everywhere” apps, they’re really meant for paying cable or satellite subscribers, who can enter their account credentials to access a trove of on-demand shows and live channel streams.
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But if you look in the right places, these apps can provide a trove of ad-supported free TV for cord cutters, ranging from guilty-pleasure reality shows to late-night variety.
To be clear, you’ll probably need a pay-TV subscription (or a mooched cable login) to binge on full seasons within these apps. That’s because they tend to limit the free stuff to only a handful of recent episodes. Still, for content that’s less serial in nature, you can squeeze hours of entertainment from TV Everywhere apps without paying a dime.
Here’s a list of TV channel apps that offer free streaming shows, and how you can find the good stuff in each one:
What to watch: Jimmy Kimmel Live, Modern Family, “throwback” series like Sports Night and Dinosaurs.
How to watch it: Most shows offer a handful of recent episodes for free (just make sure there’s no key icon on top of the video thumbnail), and Roku devices have a “no sign-in required” section. All throwback series are free to watch as well.
Devices: Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV (first-generation only, for some reason)
What to watch: The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Saturday Night Live, American Ninja Warrior.
How to watch it: Most shows offer a handful of recent episodes for free (provided there’s no key icon on top of the video thumbnail). The Roku app also has a handy “latest episodes, no sign-in required” section in the main menu.
Devices: Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, Chromecast (from Android only)
What to watch: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Person of Interest, I Love Lucy
How to watch it: Although CBS requires a $6-per-month All Access subscription on streaming-TV boxes, the mobile app includes a selection of episodes for free with Chromecast and AirPlay support for watching on the big screen.
Devices: Chromecast, Apple TV (via Airplay only)
Cooking Channel, DIY Network, Food Network, HGTV, and Travel Channel
What to watch: Chopped, House Hunters, Rehab Addict, Expedition Unknown
How to watch it: Each channel has its own app, but they all have the same design. The “stream for free” section (on all devices except Android TV) provides some shows to watch without a cable login.
Devices: Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Android TV
History Channel, A&E, and Lifetime
What to watch: Pawn Stars, The First 48
How to watch it: These are all separate apps, but the design is the same for all channels. On Roku, each show has a section for “unlocked episodes” that you can watch without a cable login; on other devices, you’ll have to look for videos that don’t show a lock icon.
Devices: Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV
Discovery, Animal Planet, TLC, Investigation Discovery, and Sci
What to watch: Deadliest Catch, Dr. Dee: Alaska Vet, Misfit Garage, Outrageous Acts of Science
How to watch it: These are all separate apps, but the design is the same for all channels. On Roku and Apple TV, each app has an “unlocked” section with full episodes for free. On Chromecast you’ll have to look through the “recent episodes” list for shows without a key icon on top.
Devices: Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast
What to watch: Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Lionguard, PJ Masks
How to watch it: There’s no easy way to find the free stuff, but a decent number of shows offer a smattering of episodes without a cable login—enough, at least, to keep the kids busy while you’re making dinner. Just look for shows that don’t have a key icon on top.
Devices: Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, Chromecast
PBS and PBS Kids
What to watch: Frontline, Austin City Limits, Thomas & Friends, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
How to watch it: As a public broadcaster, PBS has the friendliest app for cord cutters. You can stream any video you want, no authentication required.
Devices: Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV
What to watch: The Real Story, Major League Legends, Secrets
How to watch it: For a cable channel, Smithsonian offers a huge number of documentaries and educational programs on demand, without having to navigate to a special section of the app.
Devices: Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast
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