In last week’s Cord-Cutter Confidential, I highlighted the many streaming video options available to anyone who can mooch a pay-TV password.
But watching free, streaming video on your television doesn’t have to be a morally dubious enterprise. As more people abandon their pay-TV services and the ridiculous prices that go with them, TV networks are putting more of their shows online where you can access them for free (well, you’ll need broadband service and a streaming device or video-game console).
You might have trouble getting your TV fix from these apps alone, they’re great supplements to a Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime subscription if you’re cutting the cable cord. Here’s a list of networks that offer free streaming video on televisions, what they have to offer, and what hardware they require:
Comedy Central hides a lot of its shows (including Tosh.0 and Key & Peele) behind a cable pay-wall, but it also has a selection of full episodes for non-subscribers, including recent episodes of The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, South Park, and Workaholics.
Restrictions: Some older episodes have clearly marked expiration dates, but there’s a lot of free stuff here.
Sure, it’s the same video you can get for free with an over-the-air antenna, but the app lets you watch shows like Austin City Limits, Frontline, Antiques Roadshow, and Nature on your own schedule. You can view shows from your local PBS affiliate as well.
Restrictions: None, but there’s a donate button in the app if you’re feeling generous.
Like its adult counterpart, the PBS Kids app offers hundreds of full episodes for free. But instead of documentaries and Antiques Roadshow reruns, you get Sesame Street, Curious George, and The Cat in the Hat.
This haven for offbeat reality TV offers full episodes of a handful of series for free, including Storage Wars, Country Buck$, and Beyond Scared Straight. Everything else, alas, is trapped behind the cable paywall.
Restrictions: Check the “featured” section first for full episodes, but you may find the occasional freebie elsewhere in the app.
Much like A&E, the History Channel mainly offers reality programming—Pawn Stars is a staple—but occasionally makes good on its name with history-minded variants like Museum Men and Search for the Lost Giants.
Restrictions: The “featured” section is your best bet for full episodes, though you can find a handful of other episodes that aren’t behind the cable paywall elsewhere in the app. The number of free episodes varies by series.
Lifetime subsists largely on reality shows such as Project Runway All Stars and True Tori, but a bunch of the network’s made-for-TV movies are included as well.
Keep in mind that this is only a list of networks with proper apps available on streaming TV devices. If you can access the desktop Web through a Chromebox, Chromecast, Apple AirPlay Mirroring or a Miracast dongle, your options for free streaming video expand dramatically. But that’s a topic for a future column.
Jared Newman has been helping folks make sense of technology for over a decade, writing for PCWorld, TechHive, and elsewhere. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for straightforward tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for saving money on TV service.