*As an Amazon Associate we may earn from qualifying purchases when you buy through links on our site.
Cable TV as we know it today may be on its way out.
Ironically, as more customers drop their cable service, cable providers have been raising their average monthly bill by over 50 percent since 2010. It’s almost like they’re determined to squeeze every last dollar out of the market before it dries up entirely.
Tired of the squeeze, more Americans are cutting the cord and telling their pay TV providers to get lost. Instead of a high monthly cable bill for hundreds of channels they don’t watch, viewers are opting for an à la carte approach, subscribing to channels they do want.
While it’s a good start for cord cutting, it’s important to remember that most people are simply changing who they pay for entertainment: after all, most streaming channels still require monthly fees.
In fact many who are cutting the cable are just trimming some of the strings. Granted, you can still save money since you’re not paying for what you don’t use, but you’re still forking over cash each month after the free trial period.
If you have the budget for it, and your viewing interests can be satisfied with a small handful of subscriptions (as opposed to 500 “extra” channels you might get with cable), then it’s a viable way to reduce your entertainment expenses.
There are some outstanding solutions for those who cut the cord, including Crackle TV, a completely free streaming service owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment Company. It offers movies, channels and shows, and original programming that change on a monthly basis (so you need to be willing to watch content that’s chosen for you).
Then, of course, there’s also Netflix, Amazon Prime, AppleTV, Hulu, Sling, and a variety of other choices that do involve monthly payments, but at far lower rates than you were paying for cable or satellite TV.
The problem with services such as Crackle and some of its subscription-based cousins is that they offer little to nothing in the way of local programming, so if you’re hoping to cut the cable cord and have access to free local channels and entertainment, you may be out of luck.Local Broadcasts Aren’t Often Streamed
A drawback of many internet sites that stream local programming is they generally provide a narrow selection of channels. In fact, live, non-cable broadcasts by TV stations over the internet (i.e., via a website or app) are mostly confined to news, weather, and (some) sports.
Such content is generally streamed only at certain times, if at all. You’ll find most channels not to be a live stream but a series of clips of past broadcasts.
Streaming of prime time shows are mainly behind paywalls of the networks. So if you want to watch a show like The Good Wife, you’ll need to subscribe to the site or app of one of the big networks, like ABC, CBS All Access, Fox, and NBC.
Some streaming services, such as YouTube TV, Sling, and Hulu Live TV channels do offer local channels and allow you to watch local television shows like CBS news that you’d normally get with a TV antenna.
This would save you the cost and time of buying and setting up an antenna in your home. But remember that although most streaming services generally offer free trials, these eventually end, and you’ll soon be on the monthly plan.
The good news is that, for those who take the time to find them, there are some workarounds available. Just note that all the solutions I’m about to describe are legal options. While there are certainly illegal ways to watch local channels online and without cable at no cost, it’s probably not a chance you’ll wish to take.
Popcorn Time, a multi-platform, BitTorrent client that included an integrated media player, was sued several times by various parties, including foreign governments.
As well, the easily obtainable IP addresses of all subscribers were turned over to the plaintiffs, who could sue them directly for simply using the service.Can You Watch Local TV at No Cost Using a Website or App?
So can you get local channels without cable? The answer is complicated. Just note that you’re probably never going to be able to watch TV entirely at no cost.
Unless you have access to free internet (in which case, lucky you!) there are always going to be some costs involved.
(Spending hours each evening sitting in Starbucks taking advantage of free WiFi isn’t a sustainable model for personal entertainment. The staff will eventually frown on your mooching a table without buying a cup of overpriced coffee every few hours.)
But with a little research and some basic equipment, you can minimize your local television viewing costs using just your home internet connection. This may help you eliminate more than half of your current cable bill.
To begin, you’ll need both an internet connection and a display device such as a laptop or a smart TV with a remote. If you don’t have a smart TV, it’s possible to connect your laptop to your set using an easily available HDMI cable.
(Or, you can do it wirelessly with a service such as Google Chromecast.)
From here, there are a number of local programming options you can try to get the right combination of solutions that work for you and your viewing habits.5 Ways to Watch Live Local Broadcasts Without Paying
Below are some of the ways you can watch local channels online for free, without resorting to cable TV or an outdoor antenna.1. View Local Channels on TV Stations’ Websites and Apps
For starters, many TV stations offer streams of live local shows like CBS news on their websites, as well as video clips of selected past shows.
You’ll have to search for your favorite local stations, which you can do by going to RabbitEars and entering your zip code, or by searching on the internet.
With a quick Google search and a little time spent browsing your local station’s site, you can bookmark the best places for live local broadcasts.
As for apps, some local TV stations offer smartphone apps (both iOS and Android), that can stream local channels. It’s a way for broadcasters to target their programming a little more directly to digital consumers outside of cable or antenna, which is something they’ve had to play catch-up on.The Downside of Using Stations’ Websites and Apps
You’ll have to watch Fox, NBC, CBS, ABC, etc., on internet-connected devices such as a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, which isn’t most peoples’ idea of comfortable television viewing on a nice evening.
And live local shows you watch will only be limited versions of what you’d see using an HD antenna or cable. You also won’t have flexibility in what you watch. Watching local channels online means you’ll have to watch commercials.
If you’re using a mobile app, you’ll be getting mostly local news, weather, and sports, and probably only select clips of what the station has to offer.
You’ll also watch local channels online with an uncomfortably small screen and be at the mercy of editor whose job it is to curate your choice of app-based content.2. Go to the STIRR Website or Download Their App
STIRR, which launched a year ago by Sinclair Broadcasting, has bought a number of local TV stations throughout the U.S.
It offers free streaming channels for cities in which it owns stations. In addition to TV shows, it has free movies, culture programs, and sports events.
It has a feature called STIRR City that allows you to watch a local program lineup based on where you live, which might include news, regional sports, entertainment events, and local lifestyle programming.
The content is curated by the local Sinclair TV station in your city.The Downside of STIRR
While the channels are free, they’re advertising based, so you’ll have to watch some commercials.
Also, you can access it in only select markets, so before trying to use it to stream local channels, be sure it covers your area.
Streaming content is also rather limited, so STIRR may not be broadcasting channels you want to watch.
Other reviewers have reported slow connections, error messages with the application programming interface (API), and screen freezes using the STIRR service on various devices.3. Sign Up with LocastIMPORTANT: After a court battle Locast has announced it is shutting down.
Locast is a non-profit organization that provides local programming by leasing outdoor antennas in select cities, meaning you’ll no longer need to own your own HD antenna to watch live channels.
It’s only available in select markets however, so go on the Locast website to see if you can access its streaming services in your area.
This live service allows you to watch CBS, Fox, NBC, and other channels on devices capable of internet streaming. It’s free to use and supported by voluntary donations to keep it running.
It’s also easy to use: you sign up online, provide your name and email address, and certify where you live to access the service in one of the handful of U.S. cities covered by Locast.The Downside of Locast
For starters, the service is generally available only in the country’s largest metropolitan regions such as New York, Chicago, Dallas, Washington DC, and Los Angeles.
So if you’re in a rural part of the country, it probably won’t be an option for you. Then there are legal drawbacks: the organization is in a legally precarious position. ?
Broadcasters were successful in shutting down a similar service a few years ago – New York-based Aereo – so even if you decide to watch its streaming service, it may not be available in the future.
In fact, the parent companies of ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox have already filed suit against Locast for alleged copyright infringement.
While Locast is suing back, accusing the networks of using their legal heft to “protect a pay-TV model that forces consumers to forgo over-the-air programming or to pay cable, satellite, and online providers for access to programming that was intended to be free,” the outcome of the counter-suit is uncertain.
How the legal tangle will turn out is anybody’s guess, but it’s important to recognize that it’s hard for non cable sources of local TV broadcasting such as Locast to survive – unless they run ads.
The reason is they must pay a fee to networks like CBS for the shows, even if they’re simply rebroadcasting programs.
Locast was founded by an attorney who maintains the clever premise that since Locast is a nonprofit service, its channels and services aren’t subject to broadcast fees.
If Locast works for you – or if you’re simply a nice person who wants to level the playing field – you can support the organization through its GoFundMe campaign set up to fight legal attacks by the big networks.4. Watch Local TV Shows on Regular YouTube
Live streaming channels for ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC (and others) are available on YouTube TV, without you having to resort to cable or satellite.
You can watch these live channels on any streaming device for a subscription rate of $54.99 per month – a $20 increase since its launch just two years ago.
But the free version of YouTube still offers some local channels that you can access if you’re looking for the highlights of the day in your area.
If you want to watch local updates rather than complete live coverage of local events, it might be a good option for you.The Downside of YouTube
The television content available on the free version of YouTube isn’t generally streamed live, but are rather clips posted by the station on their YouTube channel.
You’re then at the mercy of a station editor who decides what to make available. Video quality can sometimes be uneven on YouTube, with little content available in HD.
Additionally, you’re stuck on that platform, which continually appears to be designed to please the undiscerning entertainment tastes of middle schoolers.5. Buy a Streaming Device
Devices that connect to your television to bring Over The Top (OTT) media services into your living room (such as Hulu Live TV channels, CBS All Access, Netflix, YouTube TV, etc.) offer apps that promise free content from local TV stations, without the need for cable or satellite, or an outdoor antenna.
Examples of such devices are Roku, Apple TV 4K, and Amazon Fire TV Cube. These affordable devices (look for “flash sales” online) have come a long way in recent years and are likely to offer the live streaming service you want.
If you’re willing to pay a little more, many streaming services such as Hulu Live TV channels provide so-called “skinny bundles” that allow you to watch just local channels.
Don’t forget there’s IPTV as an option as well, which requires a set-top box.The Downside of Streaming Devices
The local channels available through free apps on streaming devices aren’t broadcasting live (you’d need cable for that), but rather are select bits of news, weather, and sports.
So if you’re looking for all non cable live channels, you’ll need to install paid apps, which can cost between a few bucks a month each, or as much as $400 per season for some professional sports broadcasting apps.
In addition, this solution doesn’t really qualify as non paying, since viewers will need to buy the streaming devices to access the apps and local channels.Look for Other Free Local Broadcasting in Your Area
Services that allow viewers to watch local television online free tend to be highly local, so what works for one region won’t work for another. You’ll need to check what’s available in your area. Some of these non cable alternatives tend to be fleeting and transitory, so they may come and go.
If you’re a newshound, you may wish to check out NewsOn, a service that launched a year ago. The company says it provides a free streaming service that offers live and on-demand channels from local news stations like CBS all over the country.
It doesn’t offer around-the-clock live feeds of single local stations, but aggregated newscasts from local stations. So if you’re addicted to local news and don’t particularly care whether it’s about your own locality, it might be a viable option.
For instance, if you’re from Rhode Island and not particularly keen on the antics of some mischievous squirrels on the power lines in Dubuque, or what kind of a season the minor league baseball team Albuquerque Isotopes have had, give it a miss.
So the answer to, “Can I stream local TV channels for free?” is yes, as long as you’re willing to make some effort and give up some convenience.
If you’re looking to get access to all the local, non cable content you want when you want it, and in full program schedules, it’s worthwhile to choose a subscription-based streaming service that will allow you to choose what you watch the most.How to Watch Prime Time Shows and Movies for Free
Since we’re on the topic of how to watch your local channels without an antenna or cable, it’s also worth discussing ways of getting movies and shows online at no cost.
Above I had mentioned an OTT media service called Crackle, which gives you ad-supported streaming. But did you know there are other services with some of the offerings of Hulu Live TV but for which there’s no paid subscription?
Here are a few other options that stream channels of prime time TV and films:
Cheddar: dubbed “CNBC for millennials,” this service offers both unpaid and paid live streams. Cheddar offers unpaid streams only on Facebook and (over the air) for antenna users however, and for a few hours a day. The paid version streams on a variety of devices and services, like Roku, Hulu Live TV, Sling TV, Playstation Vue, Philo, and more.
Tubi: another non-cable alternative offering an ad-supported stream of movies and TV series. A competitor of Crackle, the service has unskippable ads but offers some surprisingly good content and classics of the genre. To get these, you’ll have to put up with some ads but I’ve heard these are rather innocuous and not too distracting.
Pluto TV: this on-demand video stream will wean cord cutters off of cable. Pluto TV offers over 100 channels of news, shows, movies, and network programming like CBS that you won’t pay for. Like the other services mentioned here, the breadth and depth of their list of channels is impressive. It’s also available on many streaming devices like Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire Stick, etc.
The Roku Channel: you can also watch unpaid channels on a Roku device. The Roku Channel will stream a variety of shows like CBS news, movies, TV shows, etc. It’s ad supported and though it doesn’t offer original content, you’ll be able to watch classics without paying a hefty price.
IMDb TV: another way to stream movies and shows without cable is by signing up for IMDb TV. In case you’re wondering, yes it’s that Internet Movie Database, the website that offers reviews and information on nearly every movie or show ever made. You can watch streaming content using your existing IMDb, or sign up with your Amazon account (IMDb TV channels are included with Amazon Fire devices).
Kanopy: if there’s a legal way to stream ad-free content you won’t pay for, it’s definitely this service. To sign on however, you’ll need to be a member of a public library or academic institution. You can choose from among thousands of educational titles, or you can watch films that were showcased at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Xumo: another on-demand video platform that you won’t pay for is Xumo. Offering over 100 channels of classic and premium content, this ad-supported service will help you more easily cut the cord with your cable company. It has one of the richest lineups of programming of the services described here, including sports, the History Channel, etc. It’s also available on different streaming devices like Apple TV, Amazon Fire devices, and Roku.
In response to steady price increases by the cable companies, as well as a growing awareness of the possibilities of delivering streaming content over the regular internet, there’s been an explosion of ad-powered entertainment channels for movies and shows in recent years.
Will the day ever come when you won’t pay for streaming again? This is a possibility, as content creators and broadcasters discover better ways of both “niching down” to deliver programming specially tailored for various audience segments, and delivering ads in more targeted and less obtrusive ways.
Currently however, possibilities for viewing your locals without an HD antenna are still limited to off-and-on live streams and curated libraries of clips and highlights of shows.