Streaming TV services can be broadly split into two categories: free and paid. Everyone likes free stuff, but paid options obviously offer more (and newer) content. In this article, we list the best free streaming TV apps and the best paid streaming TV apps.
The Best Free Streaming TV Services
Let's begin with the best free streaming TV services.
Owned and operated by Sony, Crackle has been one of the best free tv apps for cord-cutters since its launch back in 2007. The company has content partnerships with several leading film and TV studios, including 20th Century Fox, Universal Studios, Disney, MGM, and Warner Bros.
And because it's owned by Sony, you'll get free access to a massive back catalog of the company's hit shows such as Seinfeld, The Shield, Damages, and Rescue Me. In more recent years, Crackle has also started to invest in original shows. Some of the most critically acclaimed are The Oath, Sports Jeopardy, and Start-Up.
Crackle is available in 21 countries, all of which are in the Americas except for Australia. It has not been available in the UK since 2014, though you can always use a VPN like ExpressVPN or CyberGhost to bypass the geo-blocking.
Tubi TV is a free alternative to Netflix. It has a library of more than 12,000 TV shows and movies for you to dig into. The company has partnerships in place with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate, Warner Bros., and NBCUniversal.
Despite the partnerships, we don't feel the quality of the content is as high as that found on Crackle. There are some gems, but there's a fair number of sub-par shows that you'd never realistically want to watch.
Sadly, the app also has an even smaller list of supported countries than Crackle; it is only available in the US, Canada, and Australia. Again, a good VPN will let you get around the geo-blocks.
The Tubi TV streaming service is ad-supported.
Rather than offering on-demand video, Pluto TV is a live TV streaming service. Again, it's free to use. Although the service has been around since 2013, it's currently receiving considerable investment thanks to a January 2019 buyout by Viacom for $380 million.
Some of the channels you can expect to find include NBC News, CNN, Bloomberg, FOX Sports, Eleven Sports, and an adapted version of MTV.
There are also 24/7 channels devoted to series such as Doctor Who, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, and many more. You'll even find content from Paramount, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon on Pluto's own in-house streaming TV channels. For sports fans, there's a dedicated MLS channel.
The Roku Channel is an on-demand TV streaming app. Since its launch in October 2017, it has rapidly risen to become one of the best free TV streaming services available.
It features TV series and movies from Lionsgate, MGM, Paramount, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Warner Bros. There is also content from streaming TV providers who already have apps in the Roku Channel Store (such as American Classics, FilmRise, OVGuide, and Popcornflix).
Sadly, The Roku Channel is only available to people in the United States. The service is ad-supported.
IMDb TV has been a growing service since its launch in January 2019. Originally called IMDb Freedive, the app rebranded in June of the same year.
Today, it has deals in place with Warner Bros., Sony Pictures Entertainment, and MGM Studios, meaning you can be sure there will always be something on the platform that's worth watching.
The downside of IMDb TV is availability. Because the IMDb site is owned by Amazon, the only streaming device with a native app for the service is a Fire Stick. You can use a browser on Android TV as a workaround, but it's a bit finicky.
Did you even know that Sling TV offered free movies and TV shows to anyone inside the US?
Of course, the app is most well-known for its live TV subscriptions; it is a rival for Fubo and Hulu + Live TV. But in 2019 a free version of the app was launched.
It only offers on-demand shows, you can't use it to watch live TV. But there's a surprisingly decent selection of content. At the time of writing, some of the free shows/movies on Sling include Hell's Kitchen, Shark Attack 3, Alaska: The Last Frontier, and Dexter.
The Best Paid Streaming TV Services
While those free options are good, there are also streaming TV services available to those willing to fork out for a subscription.
Here are the best TV streaming apps that you need to pay for.
Despite the increasing competition, Netflix remains the gold standard for paid streaming TV services. It invests billions of dollars in producing its own original content while also offering hundreds of your favorite TV shows and movies from other creators and studios.
Today, the company has expanded to be available in more than 190 different countries. The only major exception is China, though it's also unavailable in locales where US businesses are banned from operating (such as Syria and North Korea).
The available content differs between locations, but Netflix's original shows and movies are available everywhere.
In the US, a Basic plan (one screen and no HD) costs $8.99/month, a Standard plan (two screens) costs $13.99/month, and a Premium plan (four screens and 4K) costs $17.99/month.
Hulu offers two TV streaming packages: an on-demand video service for $5.99/month and a live TV service from $64.99/month.
Disney owns the company, so there are masses of Disney's shows and films available in the on-demand catalog. However, you will also discover numerous Hulu originals and plenty of non-Disney content too.
Hulu + Live TV comes with more than 65 channels as standard. You'll get access to major networks like NBC and CBS, sports content from ESPN and FOX, and other mainstream channels such as CNN, National Geographic, History Channel, and Cartoon Network. You can buy add-ons for more sports and foreign-language content.
Hulu is only available in the US.
Amazon Prime Video is Netflix's greatest rival. Like Netflix, Amazon invests heavily in its own original content while simultaneously providing a vast library of content from other networks and studios. Much of the streaming service's original content has been met with critical acclaim.
The app has a similarly large worldwide reach as Netflix; the only countries where it is unavailable are the usual suspects such as Cuba, China, and Iran.
In order to use Amazon Prime Video, you have to be an Amazon Prime member; there is no way to open a standalone account. The benefits and the cost of Amazon Prime vary from country-to-country. In the US, a Prime subscription costs $12.99/month.
HBO Now is a US-based streaming TV service that's only available within American borders. The service went live in 2015.
As the name suggests, the service is HBO-centric. Sure, you get access to much of the company's huge catalog of content, but you won't be able to watch any non-HBO TV shows or movies. There are also some notable shows missing from the library, even though HBO has the rights. These include Tenacious D, Da Ali G Show, and The Ricky Gervais Show.
Only one package is available. It costs $14.99/month. For that, up to three users can stream simultaneously.
Peacock is the name of NBCUniversal's streaming app. It launched to much fanfare in April 2020 and quickly became the second-fastest-growing brand in the US during the year.
Three subscription plans are available. The ad-supported free plan provides access to thousands of hours of content but does not give access to the most popular shows on the platform.
The two premium plans ($5/month and $10/month) will let you access the full library of content, but the cheaper of the two is ad-supported.
Peacock is only available in the US.
Learn More About Watching TV Online
The apps we've discussed above are the best TV streaming services available today.
If you're still not satisfied and would like to learn about even more options, check out niche services like MUBI and IndieFlix that cater to fans of independent cinema.
If you're looking for some indie movies to watch, these are the best free and paid streaming services.