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The cord-cutter's guide to free (and legal!) TV streaming

Jared Newman | Dec. 19, 2014
You don't need to pay to watch great TV. The networks are offering more and more of their top shows online, where you can watch them for free on set-top boxes, game consoles, and other devices. We'll show you how.

Cord cutting: legal TV streaming

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

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.

Platforms: Chromecast (iOS and Android); Xbox One

Restrictions:The Daily Show and The Colbert Report let you watch the last four episodes, but some shows are limited to the latest episode.

Nick

Got kids? You're in luck with Nick's app, which has dozens of full episodes from shows like Spongebob Squarepants, iCarly and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (albeit the inferior remake).

Platforms: Chromecast (iOS and Android)

Restrictions: Some older episodes have clearly marked expiration dates, but there's a lot of free stuff here.

PBS

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.

Platforms: Apple TV, Fire TV, Roku

Restrictions: None, but there's a donate button in the app if you're feeling generous.

PBS Kids

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.

Platforms: Chromecast (iOS and Android), Fire TV, Roku

Restrictions: None

A&E

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.

Platforms: Apple TV, Fire TV, Roku

Restrictions: Check the "featured" section first for full episodes, but you may find the occasional freebie elsewhere in the app.

 

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