Ditching cable for streaming is easier than ever, even if you’re a sports fan or a sucker for live broadcasts. But as streaming prices rise to cable-like levels, the question is no longer “can you replace cable with streaming,” it’s “how can you ditch cable on a budget”? Here are the free services, streaming bundles, and OTA equipment you need to cut the cord without breaking the bank.
Streaming sticks give you immediate access to all of your favorite services in a speedy, intuitive interface. They also come with exclusive perks and cool features, like free on-demand video and voice controls. And unlike your smart TV, which will quickly grow slow and unreliable, an affordable streaming stick will work at full speed for years and cost very little to replace.
Roku Express and Amazon’s Fire TV Stick Lite are two of the best budget streaming sticks, clocking in at just $30 each. Both streaming sticks come with tons of free on-demand content and hundreds of free live TV channels through The Roku Channel and the Fire TV app. And of course, they support all of your favorite streaming services.
If you own a 4K TV, consider buying the Chromecast with Google TV, Fire TV Stick 4K, or Roku Premiere. They cost a bit more than the Roku Express and Fire TV Stick Lite, but that’s the price of 4K HDR streaming! The Chromecast with Google TV is a particularly strong option here, with a personalized interface, Google Assistant support, and an all-in-one “watch list” that compiles shows and movies from all of your streaming services.
Why pay full price for streaming? There are dozens of free streaming apps with on-demand content and live TV channels to satiate your thirst for new content. And when you need a premium service like Disney+, there’s usually a bundle, extended trial, or discount to help you subscribe without emptying your wallet.
Why pay for streaming when you can get everything for free? Here are some of the best free on-demand and live TV streaming services. Some of these services work without an account, so you can try them out without jumping through any hoops:
- Crackle: Crackle was one of the first streaming services to offer free, ad-supported content, and its rotating selection of hit shows and blockbuster movies is almost always worth your time.
- Pluto TV: Pluto TV is the sleeper streaming service of your dreams. It offers a cable-like live TV experience with contributions from AMC, MTV, and dozens of other networks. Plus, Pluto TV contains a couple thousand on-demand shows and movies, including Star Trek, The Nanny, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, and other titles that you rarely find outside of Netflix and Hulu.
- Peacock: NBCUniversal’s Peacock is a tiered streaming service with free and paid content. You have to sign up for an account, but you won’t mind once you start watching Battlestar Galactica, 30 Rock, and Parks and Rec without paying a dime.
- Tubi: Like Crackle, Tubi offers a rotating selection of shows and movies and always has one or two blockbusters.
- IMDb TV: Amazon’s IMDb TV has a killer selection of shows and movies, including Malcolm in the Middle, Mad Men, and Degrassi. Prime TV content will sometimes find its way to IMDb TV, so keep your eyes peeled!
- Xumo: Like Pluto TV, the Xumo streaming service packs dozens of free channels into a cable-like experience. It’s great for news, sports, and documentaries.
- Plex: Plex now features nearly 150 free TV channels, including some killer options for anime fans, music nerds, and kids.
- Prime Channels: Not many people know about this, but Amazon has tons of free live TV channels for Prime members. A Prime membership isn’t free, of course, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re already a Prime subscriber.
While these free services offer an impressive amount of premium content, they lack some new shows and movies, and of course, they’re all ad-supported.
If you want to watch cutting-edge shows and live sports without any ads, you have to pay for a premium streaming service. Thankfully, you don’t have to pay full price. Here are some ways to save money on all the big boy streaming platforms:
- Bundle It: You can save a ton of money signing up for streaming bundles instead of individual services. “The Disney Bundle” includes Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+ for $14 a month (or $19 if you want Hulu with no ads). With it, you save $5 a month or $60 a year.
- Annual Plans: Nearly every streaming service offers a 10%-20% discount when you pay for a full year up front. Of course, you only want to do this with services that you use all the time. Canceling other services when you aren’t using them could save you a lot more than 10% or 20%.
- Student Discounts: Some streaming services, like YouTube Premium, offer massive discounts for students. There’s also the “Spotify Premium with Hulu” bundle for students, which packs together Spotify, Hulu, and SHOWTIME for just $10 a month (that’s $16 a month in savings).
- Partnered Deals: Some phone carriers and credit card companies offer free streaming subscriptions for their customers. Verizon customers can get Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ for free, and some AT&T customers get HBO Max for free.
- Limited Time Discounts: Most streaming services go on sale at least once a year, especially around the holidays. If you don’t want to wait for a discount, you could try hunting down some discounted gift cards for streaming services.
None of these savings options are as cheap as, you know, not subscribing in the first place. But they’re still better than paying full price. If you want to save even more money on your premium streaming services, try “rotating” your subscriptions—canceling the ones you don’t want so you pay for as few services a month as possible.
Sometimes, it’s better to be old fashioned. Free over-the-air TV provides a cable-like live TV experience, with local channels, news, sports, and even some heavy-hitters like ABC and CBS. And funny enough, free antenna TV has better picture quality than cable!
Setting up OTA TV is incredibly easy. Just buy a digital antenna, screw it into your TV’s coaxial jack, slap it on a window, and hit the ground running. You can even watch OTA TV through your Xbox or PlayStation with the help of an external tuner. (TVs have built-in digital tuners, but game consoles, projectors, and old tube TVs do not.)
Of course, you might want to check which channels are available in your area before committing to OTA TV. If you live in a remote area, you should also consider using an outdoor antenna, as an indoor antenna may not pick up a wide selection of channels. If you want to add DVR and a channel guide to your OTA TV experience, grab an OTA box like the TiVo Bolt.
What if you could make your own streaming service from video files, DVDs, and Blu-Rays? That’s the idea behind Plex, a service that you host on a computer in your home. Setting up a Plex server takes a bit of time and effort, but once it’s done, you can stream your shows, movies, and music on any device—even devices outside your home!
To set up a Plex server, you first need an always-on device that can run the Plex Media Server software and hold all of your files. An NVIDIA Shield TV Pro is the easiest and most popular choice, though you can use cheaper devices like the Raspberry Pi 4 or an old laptop.
You also need a large storage device, like an external hard drive, and of course, a collection of digital movies and shows. If you have a large DVD or Blu-Ray collection, you can use a DVD or Blu-Ray drive to rip the files from your discs.
Those who plan to stream to multiple devices at a time should also consider signing up for Plex Pass, a $5 per month that waives the Plex app’s download fee and grants access to exclusive features, live TV, and DVR functionality.