How to Get Free Cable TV: Best Alternatives to Paying for Cable
Our readers always come first
The content on DollarSprout includes links to our advertising partners. When you read our content and click on one of our partners’ links, and then decide to complete an offer — whether it’s downloading an app, opening an account, or some other action — we may earn a commission from that advertiser, at no extra cost to you.
Our ultimate goal is to educate and inform, not lure you into signing up for certain offers. Compensation from our partners may impact what products we cover and where they appear on the site, but does not have any impact on the objectivity of our reviews or advice.
If you want to cut the cable and watch TV for free, you’re not alone. In fact, the U.S. cable industry lost 410,000 subscribers during the first quarter of 2017 alone.
People clearly want to save money on cable, including me.
After paying $144 a month for cable and internet for the past two years, I decided to start researching how to get free cable TV if at all possible. Even though I wanted to save money on my bill, I was not ready to entirely give up TV. What I discovered is that there are a number of online streaming options that allow me to watch my favorite shows and keep cash in my wallet at the same time.
How to Watch Cable TV for Free
Although cable companies try to convince you that their expensive pricing is the best deal, there are plenty of legit options to watch live cable TV online for free or a significantly reduced cost.
1. Get an HDTV antenna
TV Antennas are making a comeback in a big way. In fact, new research from Parks Associates reports that the percentage of U.S. broadband users who have taken to using digital antennas in their home has increased to 20 percent since the end of 2017 (up from 16% in early 2015).
These aren’t the TV antennas we used to install near a window to get decent reception, either. These are HDTV antennas, meaning superior broadcast signals and a ton of new local channels. And if you live near a city, an HDTV antenna can receive signals from up to 109 channels. You can visit Antenna Web to check how many channels you can access from your location and which type of antenna will give you optimal reception.
Directional and omni-directional (types of antennas)
There are two types of antennas: Directional and Omni-directional. The best option depends on your location and other factors related to your home setup.
As the term implies, directional antennas are designed to be pointed in one direction. Using a directional antenna is best when:
- There’s a clear line of sight between the antenna and the cell tower.
- When the cell tower is too far for a multi-directional antenna to handle.
- When all accessible cell towers are located in a specific direction.
You can usually find a decent HD directional antenna on Amazon for fewer than $50.
Omni-directional antennas, on the other hand, are designed to intercept signals equally well in all horizontal directions. These multi-directional antennas are your best bet when you can’t tell for sure where the TV signal is coming from.
Since these antennas intercept signals in a two-dimensional geometric plane, they are capable of maintaining satellite connectivity even when signals are bouncing off buildings and other objects. They are slightly more expensive than directional antennas, but still a great value compared to paying for cable.
Indoor vs. outdoor antennas (where to put your antenna)
To ensure that reception conditions are always excellent, you have to take into account the location of your antenna as well. As such, you have to decide whether you’ll be using an outdoor or indoor antenna.
Indoor TV antennas
An indoor TV antenna is small and can be placed in any room, and may be the best option for you if you live near TV broadcast towers, preferably within 10 miles. They’re also ideal if you live in a location where mounting an outdoor antenna is not an option.
High-quality indoor TV antennas are very affordable. The AmazonBasics Ultra-Thin Antenna, for instance, has a decent 50-mile range at is super affordable. You can set up an indoor TV antenna with little to no hassle. Simply plug the antenna into the “Ant In” receiver on your TV and mount the receiver in a nearby window.
Outdoor TV antennas
An outdoor TV antenna might be ideal if you live in wooded or rural areas. Since outdoor antennas are typically mounted on rooftops, they are less likely to experience signal obstructions caused by roofing materials, buildings, and walls.
Most people think outdoor TV antennas are expensive. On the contrary, most can be purchased at affordable prices. You can get one with an 80-mile range for under $40.
2. Sign up for a free video streaming service
If you’re looking for free cable TV, the internet offers a wealth of video streaming services. They’re also DMCA compliant so you can rest assured that they are completely legal. While some are completely free, and some of them won’t even require you to sign up for an account, a few to require a login, charge a small fee, or sometimes both.
If you love to binge-watch movies and TV shows for free, give Crackle TV a try. Originally called “Grouper,” the network rebranded as Crackle TV after Sony Entertainment purchased the company in 2006.
A word of warning: the streaming service runs ads within the content at set intervals. Although it can be a little annoying, it’s also what helps keep the service free. Not only is it a way to get free television, but Crackle also offers a lot of quality programming. While the content on Crackle TV rotates monthly, there’s no shortage of TV shows and movies to choose from.
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Prime Video is a video streaming service available for Amazon Prime members. If you’re not an Amazon Prime member, you can still get Prime Videofor fewer than $10 a month.
Prime Video offers access to thousands of movies and TV shows for free or for a small fee. You can also add cable channels like Showtime for less than you pay your cable provider.
Related: How to Get Amazon Prime for Free
Netflix is one of the most popular streaming services available. To date, the billion-dollar service has over 75 million subscribers. And while Netflix isn’t free, the high-quality and volume of programming options make the cost worth it.
Netflix offers a free 30-day trial, so you have more than enough time to sample the streaming service. Like all free trial offers, you can cancel anytime before the trial ends if you’re not happy with the service.
If you decide to subscribe to Netflix at the end of your free trial, you can choose from three different plans:
- Basic: For $8.99 a month, you can stream unlimited movies and TV shows in standard definition.
- Standard: For $12.99 a month, the Standard plan allows you to stream unlimited content. The plan also offers HD video quality and the option to watch on two screens at a time.
- Premium: For $15.99 per month, you get unlimited content and the option to watch in HD and Ultra HD. You’ll also have the capability to watch content on four screens simultaneously. It works well if you want a plan for your entire family.
Even with the most expensive plan, you pay only a fraction of what you’d pay for a regular cable package. If you figure out a way to make a few bucks from home, you can pay for your Netflix without dipping into your regular monthly budget.
Related: How to Get Netflix for Free
3. Stream cable TV online yourself for free
If you’re already paying monthly for high-speed internet service, you can maximize your subscription by streaming cable TV on the internet for free.
As the website name itself suggests, TV.com is a website that focuses on television programming. It’s a good place to keep up with your favorite TV shows and the latest news.
Another good reason to stick around is the website’s robust community of television fans. Not only does it provide a comprehensive list of TV shows to enjoy, but you can also talk about your favorite shows with other members.
Visit the network websites
Network websites such as FOX.com, ABC.com, and NBC.com allow you to watch their programs on the same day they air. While you won’t get to see their content live, it’s still a great deal considering it’s free of charge. You can also watch episodes from previous seasons while waiting for the current episode.
Use Classic Television Online
If you want to watch television classics without paying for a monthly subscription, there’s an option for that. Visit the Classic Television Online website and you can have access to a comprehensive list of vintage television shows. From daytime shows, to prime-time specials, to memorable late-night interviews, there’s a lot in this collection to indulge your nostalgia.
Purchase a Roku device
Roku has been the streaming device of choice by many for years, and for many good reasons. With its smart capabilities, excellent interface, and a slew of awesome features, Roku has revolutionized the way we enjoy movies and TV shows from the comfort of our own homes.
By connecting your Roku device to your TV, you can enjoy past and current episodes from different networks and cable channels for free. With the advent of 4K and HDR technology, Roku continues to lead the streaming device market, edging out competitors like Apple TV, Amazon’s Fire TV, and Chromecast.
Watch YouTube videos
YouTube has evolved to become the largest online video platform in the world. In 2017, the video hosting service ventured into internet TV by launching YouTube TV. The service may be new, but it’s already made a big impact on account of its impressive package of networks. With over 60 networks already under its belt, YouTube TV is staking its claim as one of the best cable TV alternatives.
Alternative Methods to Receiving Free Cable
4. Share a video streaming service account
Sharing streaming passwords with friends and family happens all the time. In fact, a Reuters poll conducted last year reported that a full one-fifthof young adults shared their streaming logins. So, is sharing passwords considered “piracy”? Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer. Even streaming companies have differing stances on the practice.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said in 2016 that sharing streaming account logins is “par for the course” for its streaming service.
Amazon Prime, meanwhile, says on its website that “Amazon Household allows you to share Amazon benefits with another adult, teens, and children in your household.” “In your household” is the operative phrase there as it leaves room for interpretation.
If you’re unsure what you want to do, rely on your judgment. But if you have decided to share your password with a friend and you’refeeling guilty about it, don’t.
5. Buy Tivo Roamio’s DVR Recording Device
If you want a device that seamlessly integrates OTA (on-the-air) viewing, recording, and streaming in one neat package, consider the Tivo Roamio DVR Recording Device. It’s a steep one-time cost, but eventually pays for itself if you are able to ditch your cable subscription.
You can enjoy your favorite streaming apps including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and more, without swapping inputs all the time.
6. Negotiate your cable bill
Negotiating your cable bill won’t result in getting free television but it’s still worth a shot, especially if you use a service like Trim.
Trimis a free app that can sift through your spending habits, find subscriptions you should probably cancel, and can even negotiate your cable bill. If you hate making that annual phone call to your cable company to negotiate your bill, definitely give Trim a shot.
Determine Which Free Cable TV Method is Best for Your Household
If eliminating or reducing your cable bill is a priority, but you don’t want to give up TV completely, there are alternatives for watching your favorite shows and movies. Which one (or ones) you choose depends on factors including your location, budget, and personal preferences.
TV is something that should provide entertainment and relaxation, not monthly stress over an expensive bill.