With rapidly rising costs of subscription services across the board, it is becoming increasingly difficult for some of us to rationalize the monthly expense of our cable TV subscription, especially since there are now so many affordable alternatives to cable.
Nervous about “cutting the cord” and getting rid of cable TV? Fear not! You can watch many of your favorite shows and movies (legally) without paying for them. Here are some of my favorite free alternatives to cable:
Hulu (not to be confused with the Hulu Plus service) offers free streaming of some of network television’s most popular shows. Created as a joint venture between NBC, ABC and Fox, this service provides users with recently released content from these providers, as well as multiple cable partners such as A&E, Bravo, E!, Fox Sports 1, FX, Esquire Network, Syfy, USA Network and more. You can take advantage numerous free videos through your computer on hulu.com, but the free version of the streaming service is limited on smartphones and tablets; you need a Hulu Plus subscription to watch full episodes.
Hulu typically makes certain episodes available for free viewing the day after they air on cable; however, for certain shows, free access to these episodes expires after a few days or weeks. To get the most out of the free streaming, be aware of the “window” for the shows you want to watch (it’s still easier than scheduling your social life around broadcast times!)
As with most of these free services, there are ads in the videos (which is also the case in Hulu Plus), but for the breadth of free content Hulu offers, that’s not a bad deal at all.
For comedy fans, the Comedy Central website offers select full episodes of their most popular shows (such South Park, Workaholics, The Daily Show and more) for free, as well as many hours of stand-up comedy specials. Episodes are usually made available online the day after they air on TV.
As is the case with most network websites, these episodes do expire due to rights, syndication deals, contracts and so forth. This means older episodes are cycled and will appear and disappear at different times, so again you have to make sure you watch episodes before they are locked.
Again, you don’t have access to full episodes on your phone or tablet, only smaller clips and other content. Additionally, given the partnership between Hulu and Comedy Central, you can also watch most of these on hulu.com as well.
NBC, ABC and FOX allow also you to watch full episodes of each networks’ most popular shows online for free on their own websites. So you can watch the latest episodes of Law & Order: SVU, The Voice, Saturday Night Live, Modern Family, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Scandal and others.
In addition to keeping up with the latest episodes of the shows currently on air, you are able to enjoy classic TV shows the networks’ archives, like “The A-Team” and “Battlestar Galactica.” This is a great feature that cable rarely offers, especially in a view-at-will way.
While you can watch a lot of these programs on Hulu, some people prefer to have an easier way to filter shows to just their favorite network. Visiting the network site directly is the easiest way to do that.
As with most of these free offerings, each network restricts the number of episodes it offers at any given time. They tend to allow you to watch more recent episodes for free, but they are eventually locked and only accessible with a cable subscription. However, sometimes episodes that just aired are locked for a week before they are made available for free again. Once you find a show you love, just check to see what its release schedule is.
PBS.org, in keeping with its public service mission, makes almost all of its full-length content available online for free the day after it airs on television.
You can access thousands of hours of award-winning episodes and documentary films from Frontline, NewsHour, American Experience, NOVA, American Masters and Masterpiece Theater (yes, that means Downton Abbey!), as well as local shows from the public broadcasting system’s local affiliates. All the content is available on the fully responsive PBS video portal, as well as through PBS apps on iOS, Roku and Apple TV.
For those of us who want the opportunity to choose how, or through which device, we view our content, this is a significant feature that not many other free services offer.
If you’re still looking for more television content, it’s still very cost-effective to supplement these sources with less expensive paid services like Netflix or Amazon Prime Instant Video.
The money you save cutting the cord and watching these cable-alternatives instead can be budgeted towards other entertainment expenses, like a large screen TV … or more beer to drink while enjoying your large screen TV with friends.
As you can see, there are plenty of free alternatives to cable. Whether you’re watching this content piped to your TV via a streaming device (like Roku, Apple TV or Chromecast) or directly on your computer, you don’t have to give up any of what you love most about cable: the content.