Yes, You CAN Watch TV Online Legally & For Free
by Chris Hoffman
Whether you're thinking of cutting the cord or just want to watch TV on your own schedule instead of the television network's, there are more legal ways to watch TV online than ever. Even better, many of these legal options are free. Most of these websites will expose you to commercials - someone has to pay for the free TV - but you'll end up watching commercials if you pay to watch TV the traditional way, anyway.
Many of these services are only available in specific countries, such as the USA. Some services are only available in the UK, so even Americans can't watch everything. If you're one of the majority of human beings living outside these two countries, never fear - we've covered easy ways you can get access to region-blocked media services, wherever you live.
HitBliss is a new service. It's a sort of store you can purchase TV shows and movies from, just like Apple's iTunes. However, you can also watch targeted ads and receive credit you can put towards watching streaming TV shows and movies. Watching two minutes of ads gives you roughly enough credit to pay for a TV show episodes, so HitBliss appears to have fewer advertisements than traditional television.
Hulu is well-known in the USA as a popular way to watch recent TV shows. Unlike services like Netflix, Hulu offers recent TV episodes from currently airing seasons. You'll have to pay for a Hulu Plus subscription to watch some shows - and older seasons of shows - but Hulu Plus also offers a week-long free trial where you can watch TV online - everything for free.
Television Network & Show Websites
Every television network has its own website, and many networks offer recent episodes for free streaming. For example, you can find recent episodes of The Office on NBC's website for The Office. The Daily Show and Colbert Report offer full shows on their own websites, too. These only work on the USA - in other countries, you'll need to use the appropriate television network's website.
For example, The Office airs on Global TV instead of NBC in Canada, so you'd need to use Global TV's website for The Office in Canada, not NBC's website for The Office.
This can be a bit complicated, and individual episodes can be hard to find as shows are scattered across websites and networks, but you'll often find recent episodes for many shows on their official website for your country.
Netflix/Lovefilm/Amazon Free Trials
Netflix, Lovefilm (in the UK), and Amazon Prime Instant Video are all popular ways of watching TV shows online, but they're not free. However, it's easy to forget that Netflix, Lovefilm, and Amazon all offer free trials you can enjoy for 30 days. On Amazon, you'll need to opt into the free trial of Amazon Prime to get access to the free-with-Prime Amazon Instant Video catalog.
At the end of the 30 day period, you can cancel your subscription if you don't want to pay for the service.
Sony's Crackle offers a limited catalog of TV shows (and movies) for completely free streaming. To get all of its content, you'll have to be in the USA, although some of its catalog is also available in the UK, Canada, and Australia. Like many services, Crackle offers a mobile app.
In the US, Crackle offers Seinfeld, Dilbert, and a variety of other shows and movies. Only 9 episodes of Seinfeld are available at the moment, so that should give you some idea of Crackle's limitations.
YouTube is a common destination for people looking for free TV shows online. You can find lots of free TV shows on YouTube. But let's be honest - most free TV shows on YouTube are put up by users and not officially sanctioned. However, sometimes television networks put up free TV show episodes on YouTube.
YouTube offers a YouTube TV Shows page where you can watch TV online - watching shows that have been put up on YouTube legitimately. Sometimes TV networks may put up episodes of their own TV shows on their own YouTube channels, as HBO did for a limited time with the first episodes of some of its new series. Selection will vary by country, as with the other services here.
Livestation offers video streams of live TV news networks. They're completely legitimate and approved video streams, too. You'll find a lot of big news networks here, including BBC World News, CNN International, Bloomberg, Sky News, and Al Jazeera English. Some of the networks, like BBC World News, require a subscription, but many are free. Unlike many other services, Livestation appears to work in all countries without any region-blocking.
We've previously taken a look at other websites where you can watch news at online, including Livestation.
BBC iPlayer offers a variety of BBC television shows for free in the UK, including the popular Doctor Who series. As with other services on this list, international users can get in on the action, too.
We've covered how you can access BBC iPlayer and stream TV shows outside of the UK.
TVCatchup is a free service for people living in the UK. It allows you to watch over 50 channels of live television from your computer, phone, or tablet. It doesn't offer individual episodes on-demand, but live streams of the networks.
If you're willing to consider a paid service, check out our comparison of the best streaming media services to figure out which one is worth your hard-earned money.
Where else do you get your free television show fix and watch TV online? Share any other free (and legitimate) services in the comments!
Image Credit: TV remote control via Shutterstock