Today, streaming platforms seem to multiply faster than Moore’s law. The bad news for pop culture junkies is that subscribing to all of the streaming platforms will easily cost over $1,000 per year. With the cost of virtually everything rising for the foreseeable future, it’s understandable that some folks will be looking to cut back.
Luckily, there are a bunch of streaming video platforms that offer quality content for free. All of the services listed below are 100% legal and free of charge.
Tubi (Web | Android | iOS) is one of the the most well-known free streaming services on this list. In addition to being available in the United States, Tubi has branched out into other regions around the world, including Mexico and Australia. It is 100% free, relying on ads sprinkled throughout the titles to generate revenue. No registration is required, but if you want Tubi to remember where you left off, you’ll need to make an account.
Tubi’s strength lies in its variety. With partnerships in excess of 250 content producers in the US and abroad, Tubi has over 35,000 movie and TV titles to choose from. Users will find everything from Hollywood blockbusters to indie darlings to B-movie cult classics. In addition, Tubi is also branching out with originally-produced films and TV series.
The user interface is reminiscent of Netflix, with content organized by genre and the titles seemingly arranged at random. This is most likely to encourage users to explore the library, though it can be frustrating.
For example, if Tubi has multiple movies from the same series available to stream, the individual titles in that series may not be grouped together. Let’s say you spot “Alien” (1979) in Tubi’s Sci-Fi section. You would think that if Tubi also had that film’s sequels (“Aliens,” “Alien 3,” etc.) available to stream that they would be found in the same spot. Alas, you would be wrong. Be prepared to scroll to find them. The good news is, however, that Tubi does have a search feature, so you can mitigate this annoyance if you’re looking for a specific title.
Previously known as IMDbTV, Freevee (Web | Android | iOS) is an ad-supported video-on-demand service owned by Amazon. Freevee boasts hundreds of titles, including Hollywood movies and entire runs of various classic TV shows, like “The West Wing” and “Mad Men.” Furthermore, Freevee also commissions original content, like the Australian-produced “Troppo” and the “Bosch” spin-off, “Bosch: Legacy.”
In addition, Amazon has gone on record to increase Freevee’s original content as much as 70 percent by the end of 2022. Furthermore, Freevee also features over 60 “live” channels that are dedicated to streaming popular shows 24/7. If you like to spend hours watching the original run of “Supermarket Sweep,” Freevee is where it’s at.
With the push to invest in more original content, Freevee could be positioning itself to become the dominant force in free streaming video platforms. Currently, Freevee is available on Amazon Fire TV devices (naturally), devices with Android TV or Google TV, Apple TV and your Internet browser via the channels section of Amazon Prime. There is an Android app in the works, and we can assume that Amazon is planning on rolling the service out to more devices in the future.
If you’re a fan of “The Office,” then you’re probably already aware of Peacock (Web | Android | iOS). This streaming service from NBCUniversal made waves when it launched due to the fact that it poached some of NBC’s most beloved comedies, including “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation” and “30 Rock” from Netflix. If you must absolutely re-watch “The Office” for the umpteenth time, Peacock is your only option.
Peacock draws primarily from NBCUniversal’s library of content, which includes Universal Pictures, the reality-centric Bravo TV, and NBC Sports. In addition, Peacock also has licensing deals with a number of third-parties, including ViacomCBS, A&E and History.
Furthermore, Peacock is also invested in developing original content, with shows like “Girls5eva” and “We Are Lady Parts” earning rave reviews. Overall, Peacock boasts a large library or classic TV shows and strong original content. If you want everything Peacock has to offer, you’re going to need to open your wallet. At the time of this writing, the Peacock streaming platform operates on three separate tiers: Free, Premium and Premium Plus.
Do you miss the good old days of channel surfing? Fortunately, Pluto TV (Web | Android | iOS) can help you relive the thrill of stumbling upon something unexpected with over 250 live channels. Pluto TV boasts partnerships with over 170 content providers, so the channels offer a wide variety of entertainment.
Pluto TV has everything from 24/7 news channels, to game shows, to music videos, to children’s programming, to classic TV shows, to Spanish language shows, to reality TV and much, much more. In addition to Pluto TV’s live channels, the platform also has an extensive “On Demand” library that contains full-length feature films as well as episodes of a variety of TV shows.
Pluto TV is available on virtually every device imaginable, including mobile devices, game consoles, smart TVs and more. Furthermore, Pluto TV features a relatively intuitive interface reminiscent of the TV Guide Channel from the 90s. This adds to the nostalgia while still being user friendly.
Xumo (Web | Android | iOS) is another streaming platform that focuses on live channels. In addition, there is a small amount of on-demand titles available. In our opinion, Xumo is really a second fiddle to Pluto TV, primarily due to the fact that Pluto TV has significantly more channels on offer. Furthermore, many of the channels that Xumo hosts overlap with the ones available on Pluto TV. Finally, the Xumo app also suffers from a somewhat confusing user interface, making it difficult to navigate.
Despite these criticisms, Xumo is one to keep your eye on. This is due to Comcast recently purchasing the platform and making moves to position it as a major competitor to Pluto TV.
One of the oldest streaming platforms on this list, Crackle (Web | Android | iOS) was originally bankrolled by Sony Pictures until it was purchased by Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment. Regardless of who owns and operates Crackle, one thing has remained constant. Crackle has been consistently offering full-length, uncut Hollywood movies and TV shows for the better part of 15 years.
These days, Crackle’s library primarily pulls its content from Sony Pictures and its subsidiaries; however, it does have license agreements with other production companies. In addition, Crackle has also rolled out original movies and TV shows. Crackle doesn’t have the largest library; however, there is always something fresh, as titles are taken down and added every month.
Vudu (Web | Android | iOS) is a video-on-demand service that requires customers to pay to stream various titles. However, it also offers a library with a mix of recent and classic titles to stream for free. Of course, these titles are ad-supported, but you probably knew that already given the trend thus far.
Vudu does boast a fairly large library of titles, with over 25,000 films and 8,000 TV series. This is due to Vudu establishing licensing contracts with every major movie studio as well as over 50 independent studios. Not all of these will be available to stream for free, but it shouldn’t be difficult finding something for everyone. The only major complaints that we have with Vudu is that the interface is a bit cluttered, and the platform tends to push their rental titles before their free ones.
Chances are if you live in the US, then you’re already familiar with Redbox (Android | iOS). The company’s bright red automated DVD/Blu-ray rental kiosks could be found in over 34,000 separate locations by the end of 2012, cornering the lion’s share of the physical rental market in the United States. Of course, physical rentals are quickly going the way of the dodo, so Redbox has pivoted to streaming to remain competitive.
Much like Vudu, the Redbox app is home to a large library of films that can be rented on demand. However in addition to this, Redbox is also offering free content in two forms: a variety of live streaming channels, similar to Pluto TV or Xumo and select titles to stream on demand free of charge.
The free movies on offer range in quality, and the library is fairly small. Furthermore, there is a lot of overlap with Redbox’s live channels and the live channels featured on Pluto TV. This all makes Redbox somewhat redundant. However, in 2022, Chicken Soup for the Soul (the folks who own Crackle) announced its intention to acquire Redbox. Could this mean a revamp of content? It’s something to keep an eye on.
If you’re a fan of anime, manga or dorama (Japanese dramas), then Crunchyroll (Web | Android | iOS) is for you. Long known as the platform to access East Asian media in the West, Crunchyroll has enjoyed significant growth since its inception in 2006. Currently, Crunchyroll boasts over 1,000 anime shows, 200 East Asian dramas and 80 manga titles through it’s digital reader, Crunchyroll Manga.
There have been some changes to Crunchyroll’s business model in recent years. Prior to 2022, Crunchyroll would delay the release of new episodes for free, ad-supported accounts by one week. Paying subscribers would be able to watch the episode at the time of release.
Now, however, Crunchyroll is barring non-subscribers from watching new episodes altogether, effectively forcing them to pony up the cash for a subscription. This is a major bummer, but at least Crunchyroll is still allowing all users to watch episodes previously added to the platform for free.
10. YouTube Movies
We all know that YouTube is home to a wide variety of video content. Whether you want to learn how to stain your deck, catch up on the latest video game news or watch small children review toys, there is literally something for everyone. What you may not realize is that you can also stream full length movies on YouTube.
The majority of the films are available to buy or rent and largely feature the latest blockbuster releases. YouTube Movies also features an ad-supported free-to-watch selection of films.
Granted, the selection here is pretty thin compared to some of the other entries on this list. Furthermore, the quality of the films is hit or miss. There will be titles that you recognize and titles that you’ve never heard of. The good thing is, it does cover a wide variety of genres, from action to animation to documentaries.
If you have a library card, then you can take advantage of one of the lesser-known free streaming services, Kanopy (Web | Android | iOS). Home to documentaries, art house films, independent productions and more, Kanopy specializes in the kind of content that is hard to find elsewhere. Kanopy is 100 percent free for users provided they have a library card from a participating library. Kanopy makes money by charging the library, not the individual, for access to their material.
Kanopy’s biggest selling point is the uniqueness of their content. Many streaming platforms shy away from titles that are not firmly in the mainstream. This makes many films that don’t fit a particular mold difficult to find. Kanopy, on the other hand, recognizes the value of these titles and gives them a home where people can easily access them.
12. The Roku Channel
You don’t need to buy a Roku device to enjoy what’s on offer over at the Roku Channel. Simply point your browser to The Roku Channel and start streaming. Granted, most of what you’ll find here are older titles, but what’s great about the Roku Channel is that it has a wide variety of content. Furthermore, the television shows on offer almost always include the entire run. If you never got around to watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” when the show originally aired, you can binge all seven seasons for free.
The only downside to the Roku Channel is its limited availability on devices outside the Roku family of streaming hardware.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it legal to access sites that allow me to watch stuff everyone else has to pay for?
If you stumble across a website that is offering you the latest cinematic blockbusters or TV shows that would otherwise require a subscription, then you can assume that website isn’t 100 percent legal. There are also other inherent risks. Illegal streaming sites can try to infect your PC with malware, steal sensitive personal information or bog you down with intrusive ads.
How can I tell if a streaming video site is legal and safe?
If you want to make sure you’re not using a dodgy, potentially illegal streaming video site, there are a few indicators to look out for.
- There is an “About Us” or “Contact Us” section. Legit streaming sites are run by people who are transparent about who they are and want user feedback. Lacking these sections could indicate that the owners of the site are trying to remain anonymous.
- They tell you where the movies are coming from. Legal streaming sites will disclose how they obtain the rights to host the content they offer. Generally this is done via partnerships with movie studios.
- They make money through advertisements. Free sites need cash to keep the lights on. Ads that interrupt viewing (similar to when you’re watching a longer YouTube video) are common.
- There’s an app. Android and iOS apps go through a review process before hitting the market to make sure they don’t violate any policies. Simply put, an illegal streaming app would never make it to the public.
- There are newer films available. If a streaming site is offering a film that is still in theaters or hasn’t hit home video yet, there’s a good chance it’s illegal. That being said, some newer films are being released to streaming soon after a theatrical release. In some cases they even start streaming on the same day. Our advice is to trust your gut. If something doesn’t seem right, Google the film to see the official release dates for the both the cinema and home video.
Should I use a VPN when accessing streaming sites?
If you need to access content that is not available in your country, you can connect through VPN to the required country. Similarly, if you don’t want your data to be collected, you can also make use of a VPN.
Image credit: Unsplash All screenshots by Ryan Lynch
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