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SideReel's Guide to Cord-Cutting

Free Apps & Websites

What do you want to watch? We take a look at the full array of free streaming services to help you figure out what you need in order to get your favorite programming — and if you can't find it here, try looking at our paid services list.

Service Provider Website App Fewer Ads Full Episodes Episodes Day After
Adult Swim  
CBS app      
CBS.com    
CNN      
Comedy Central    
Crackle      
Fox Now        
Fox.com      
Hulu    
MTV  
NBC  
PBS  
The CW  
Vimeo    
YouTube      

Adult Swim Website & App

If you're disappointed that Adult Swim is only on the air for 9 hours a day, GOOD NEWS! You can watch their weird and wonderful content online and/or on the go. For even more AS content, check out Adult Swim Gold.

Pros

  • Free streaming of full episodes of ABC primetime and daytime shows
  • Episodes are available the day after they air
  • Video clips of other episodes
  • Original games

Cons

  • Ad-supported
  • Episodes expire
  • Doesn't offer as many episodes as Adult Swim Gold

CBS App

It's America's Most Watched Network, but it's got fairly limited offerings on its app. Full episodes take over a week after their initial airings to become available, but it's not like you need to find out which Two and a Half Men jokes people will be making at the watercooler tomorrow anyway.

Pros

  • Second screen features for high-profile primetime shows
  • Free streaming of full episodes for some shows

Cons

  • Full episodes become available 8 days after they air
  • Episodes expire
  • Ad-supported
  • Not all shows have full episodes (including Big Bang Theory, wtf?)

CBS.com

CBS's website, comparatively, offers a much richer experience than its app. With offerings from a back catalog that stretches back decades in addition to full episodes of shows like The Good Wife, CBS has made the PC the place to be.

Pros

  • Free streaming of full episodes of CBS primetime and daytime shows
  • Episodes are available the day after they air
  • Offers classic and web-only shows in addition to current primetime/daytime/late night content

Cons

  • Episodes expire
  • Ad-supported
  • Site automatically plays an ad when you pause playback

CNN Website & App

The only difference between the content on CNN's site and its app are that you can listen to the sonorous voice of James Earl Jones intoning "This is CNN" on the app if you so choose (and why wouldn't you?!).

Pros

  • Video clips and live coverage of major events and press conferences
  • Text stories also available
  • Can send images/stories/videos directly to CNN's iReport coverage

Cons

  • Livestreaming of the channel is limited to subscribers of selected cable/satellite providers

ComedyCentral.com

You need your Jon Stewart and your Stephen Colbert. Well, Comedy Central's site has hundreds of hours of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report freely available for your perusal. Remember to take frequent breaks for South Park.

Pros

Cons

  • Ad-supported
  • No full-featured app

Crackle

Sony launched this site to promote content from their back catalog. It's got rotating offerings and a simple, minimally ad-supported interface. If you want to mainline 10 episodes in a row of Seinfeld, this is your destination.

Pros

  • Free streaming of hundreds of movies and selected television episodes from Sony's catalog
  • Free full access to Crackle's web-original content

Cons

  • Ad-supported
  • Selection of quality films can be limited
  • Episodes and films expire out of availability on a monthly basis

Fox Now

Fox has always been forward-thinking, and their app is the best immersive experience out there. Vote, tweet, and get bonus offerings at your leisure or during live broadcasts.

Pros

  • Robust second-screen experience (called SYNC) for bonus content on live television
  • Making-of featurettes and interviews available on demand

Cons

  • Full episodes only available to selected cable/satellite providers

Fox.com

Not as impressive as their app, Fox.com has the standard network broadcast web offerings, but with next-day availability for cable and satellite subscribers and an 8-day delay for everyone else, they've come down squarely against cutting the cord.

Pros

  • Free streaming of Fox's primetime series
  • Full episodes available day after broadcast for selected cable/satellite providers

Cons

  • Episodes expire
  • Without a cable subscription, episodes are not available until 8 days after they air
  • Ad-supported

Hulu

Take Fox, NBC, and ABC's sites and roll them into a ball with a sprinkling of movies and you get Hulu: the most comprehensive, ad-supported clearinghouse for must-see content.
See more of what Hulu has to offer »

Pros

  • Free streaming of full episodes of current and former major broadcast and cable series, movies, international, and web-original content
  • Huge selection (which expands with purchase of Hulu+ subscription)
  • Thousands of show clips and movie trailers
  • Lets you build a queue of shows you want to watch

Cons

  • Free content only available on a computer (mobile or console-based viewing is only available with a Hulu+ subscription)
  • Episodes expire
  • Ad-supported
  • No CBS shows

MTV.com

True Life: I Use MTV.com to Catch Up On True Life.

Pros

  • Free streaming of selected current and former MTV series
  • Show clips, interviews, and MTV News shorts also available on demand

Cons

  • Limited selection of episodes available to stream in full
  • Ad-supported

NBC Website & App

Everyone's got something they watch on NBC, right? The good news is that if you miss it when it airs, you can watch it on their site. The bad news is that that online watching won't lift their Nielsen ratings.

Pros

  • Free streaming of full episodes of NBC primetime and daytime shows
  • Episodes are available the day after they air

Cons

  • Episodes expire
  • Ad-supported

PBS Website & App

It's supported by viewers like you, so why not take advantage of all you've made possible? PBS has one of the broadest online content offerings of any of the traditional networks with a truly vast catalog of programs that will help you impress your friends.

Pros

  • Free streaming of full episodes of selected current and former PBS series
  • Thousands of show clips and movie trailers

Cons

  • Free content only available on a computer (mobile or console-based viewing is only available with a Hulu+ subscription)
  • Ad-supported

The CW Website & App

We know that you need your Vampire Diaries fix. The good news is that the CW has been made aware and offers video clips and full episodes of all of their primetime series on their website and their mobile app.

Pros

  • Free streaming of the most recent 5 episodes of all primetime CW Network series
  • Episodes are available the day after they air

Cons

  • Episodes expire
  • Ad-supported (and there are a lot of ads — really repetitive ads)

Vimeo

Notable for its uncluttered interface and its extremely high quality (both in technological and artistic terms) content, Vimeo has emerged from the pack of YouTube also-rans as an impressive platform for established and emerging filmmakers and musicians.

Pros

  • Advanced search capabilities
  • Ad-free, uncluttered interface
  • Impressive web-based editing tools for uploaders
  • HD quality is impressive

Cons

  • Not as much mainstream content as is available on YouTube

YouTube

What can we say that you don't already know? The OG web video service has grown over the years, and though it's still a (vast) repository of angsty teen vloggers, it's the best place on the web to find music videos, ingenious supercuts, video clips, and official streaming of major live events like Wimbledon, the State of the Union address, and Coachella.

Pros

  • The biggest repository of streaming video in the world
  • Automatically optimized streaming quality
  • Channel subscriptions
  • Seamless embedding across most web platforms
  • Built-in social networking features

Cons

  • Poor video quality on many pieces of content
  • Huge number of ads
  • Overly broad searches
  • Too many cat videos, not enough dog videos (according to Leah, not Zaz or Rachel)

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