The best free streaming services, ranked: Freevee, Roku, Tubi and more
Ever feel like your streaming TV bill is way too high?
As wonderful as the wares are from Netflix, HBO Max, Disney+ and the rest, if you subscribe to all the major paid services, you might wind up paying more than cable. But don’t worry, there are plenty of options to stream for free, especially if you’re willing to sit through ads. But by crossing the commercials Rubicon you open up a wealth of content to watch from streamers such as Pluto TV, Tubi, Crackle, Roku, Freevee and Peacock. We break down each free service. Try any or all of them – it’s a risk-free gamble.
Why try free streamers?: Life is too expensive, go for ad-supported TV
6. Peacock (free tier)
- Notable originals: “We Are Lady Parts,” “Dr. Death,” “A Friend of the Family”
- Notable library content: “The Office,” “30 Rock,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Bridesmaids,” “Jurassic World”
- Good for: Fans of NBC shows like “Saturday Night Live,” sports, people who just want a taste of Peacock before buying a paid subscription.
The big knock against free Peacock is how much it’s designed to get you to pay for the premium tier. Many of the NBCUniversal streamer’s library titles like “The Office” and “The Voice,” or originals like “Vampire Academy” are limited to a few episodes or seasons, a tease that encourages you to pay. One thing that could make free Peacock better would be a dedicated hub for shows, films and sports that don’t require a premium-tier subscription. Sorting through (and looking for) titles without the little feather that indicates it’s only available for premium is annoying when you’re in the mood to watch something good. The ad experience is fine and has a countdown clock. Notably, in films, Peacock’s ads are not placed randomly but at smart pauses in the narrative.
- Notable originals: “Pet Caves,” “The Wedding Arrangement”
- Notable library content: “Just Shoot Me,” “Unsolved Mysteries,” “Sherlock,” “Alf,” “Real Husbands of Hollywood,” “The Deep End of the Ocean”
- Good for: Fans of classic TV, British television, geezer teaser action movies
Crackle is a collection of on-demand TV and films, with a few originals included in a library that leans heavily on BBC content such as “Midsomer Murders” and classic shows like “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “What’s Happening,” “The Little Rascals” and “Barney Miller.” It’s not as expansive as many of its competitors and it has long ads both before and during its programming (it does tell you how many you have to sit through, which is always helpful).
4. Pluto TV
- Notable library content: “Jeopardy!,” “Gunsmoke, “Matlock,” “Farscape,” “Mission Impossible” films, “Transformers” movies, “Saving Private Ryan,”
- Good for: Fans of CBS cop shows like “FBI” and “NCIS,” Showtime fans, movie fans, browsers
Almost every conglomerate has its own free streamer these days, and this one is owned by Paramount Global, the parent company of paid streamer Paramount+ and broadcast network CBS. Pluto is one of the free streamers that also serves as a cable stand-in, with niche live TV channels such as “NBC News Now,” “TV Land Drama” or channels curated by Pluto like “PlutoTV Christmas” available along with on-demand shows and films. Those shows and films lean heavily on shows on CBS’s broadcast lineup like the “FBI” franchise and the films in Paramount library. But it doesn’t have original programming, and its ad experience is not the best: They’re long, sometimes thrown in odd places in movies and the service doesn’t tell you how many ads there are, and how long they will last.
3. Tubi TV
- Notable originals: Horror movies like “Requiem for a Scream”
- Notable library content: “Maude,” “The Flintstones,” “The Bernie Mac Show,” “The Waterboy,” “The Notebook,” “Matrix” films
- Good for: Fans of current Fox reality TV such as “LEGO Masters,” B-movie horror
Owned by Fox, Tubi has live channels like Pluto, as well as on-demand programming. Its originals are limited mostly to trashy horror flicks, but it has a wealth of library content, unsurprisingly including a lot of Fox TV series such as “Masterchef,” “The Masked Singer” and “Cosmos.” Tubi has one of the better set-ups, with much longer stretches between ad breaks, and there are none at the start of each episode or movie. But it doesn’t tell you how long the ads are, so you’ll have to guess if have time to run to the bathroom.
- Notable originals: “High School,” “Bosch: Legacy,” “Judy Justice,” “Leverage: Redemption”
- Notable library content: “Bones,” “Leverage,” “Mad Men,” “Project Runway,” “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” “Now You See Me,” “Fight Club”
- Good for: Fans of Judge Judy, Existing Amazon Prime subscribers, viewers who want originals without paying
Formerly known as “IMDb TV,” Amazon’s free service has invested heavily in original programming, including luring the one and only Judge Judy Sheindlin away from syndicated TV for a new show, “Judy Justice.” It also has spinoffs like “Bosch: Legacy” and “Leverage: Redemption” and some exclusive legacy titles like the “Now You See Me” films. The ads appear before and during programming, but include a countdown clock during each break. The only knock against Freevee (which is also a problem for Prime Video) is that its interface is hard to navigate, especially on a computer.
1. The Roku Channel
- Notable originals: “Weird,” “Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas,” “The Great American Baking Show,” “Heathers the Musical”
- Notable library content: “The Great British Baking Show,” “2 Broke Girls,” “The Fosters,” “Arrested Development,” “Heathers,” “Paranorman”
- Good for: People with Roku, fans of musicals and baking, anyone who used to have Quibi
More than just a purple device that allows you to stream other services, Roku has its own free “channel” with a solid library of TV shows and films ranging from classics (“Columbo,” original “Superman” films) to more modern hits (“Bones,” “Transformers.”) Like Freevee, Roku has been aggressively pursuing original content, including series like “The Great American Baking Show” (formerly on ABC), filmed stage shows like “Heathers the Musical” and even one of the buzziest new movies of the year (“Weird,” the Al Yankovic biopic). Its selection is wide and sometimes hard to find elsewhere (it recently acquired seasons of “The Great British Baking Show” that are no longer on Netflix) and its ads are short and non-intrusive (it tells you how many you have to sit through, always a bonus), and it’s easy to navigate and find something to watch. Roku even has a “not on Netflix” category, just to pull you away from the dominant streamer.