The following listing is a collection of networks (be they
cable/satellite or over-the-air) that provide live feeds of their
programming for free over the Internet. (Note that CBS operates on
a somewhat strange model: all their feeds are separate, their
sportscasts each have their own feed for each sport, their live
news feed operates on a delay from live TV, and their other
programs are not streamed live, instead offered on demand between
1 and 7 days after airing for free before the network begins
charging for "All Access" subscriptions.)
I have excluded televangelism networks, home shopping, foreign
propaganda, and Internet-only services that do not match the
schedule of a traditionally distributed network.
New channel added June 26: Buzzr, a channel devoted to classic
game shows. They have recently begun streaming their over-the-air
channel online. The alternate feed is a separate channel.
STATUS: For once, all the channels on this list appear to be
operating properly. With much regret, I have had to remove
Heartland, as it appears that they do not have any visible
intention to stream any substantial part of their programming on a
Items with a crossed-out mobile phone icon (📵) only work on
desktop computers. Others have been tested on an Android phone and
appear to work properly.
Items with a maple leaf icon (🍁) are only accessible in Canada. (In theory, one could use a proxy server to access them, but because this stretches the limits of what constitutes “legal” and those feeds are likely restricted to Canadians for a reason, I won't list the instructions on how to do that here.
NOTE ON AMGTV: AMGTV's streaming service
requires Adobe Flash (hence the 📵 icon). As most browsers now
disable Flash by default, you will have to manually enable it to
watch that stream. In Google Chrome and Opera, this can be done by
going to the menu, selecting “Settings,” then “Websites,”
scrolling down to “Flash”and clicking “Manage exceptions...” Enter
(or copy and paste) vp.telvue.com into the text box, make
sure the dropdown menu says “Allow,” and select “Done.” (This TV,
when it works, and WHVL both also use Flash, but the mechanisms
allow Flash to be enabled within the browser window without the
complicated manual settings changes.
An antenna will be your best source of free television
programming. The major broadcast networks still broadcast with an
antenna, and you'll get programming live that isn't available on
the Internet. Note that if you are in a hilly area, television
reception is going to be difficult, regardless of what kind of
antenna you use. The higher you can get your antenna, the more
likely it is to work properly. Point your antenna in the
direction of the broadcast stations you want to receive (consult
digital TV signal reception maps to figure out which
direction to point your antenna), and make sure that there are as
few obstructions in that direction as possible. If you live in a
rural or hilly area any substantial distance away from a broadcast
signal, an amplifier will likely be necessary.
If you want to watch programs on demand, invest in a DVR.
This may seem a bit counterintuitive considering the need for a
good antenna, but especially if you have difficulties in picking
up signals because you live in a valley, a portable,
battery-powered TV will give you the best chance at actually
finding them. The trick is to head to the highest publicly
accessible hill in your area, then run your channel scan. Hilltops
offer MUCH more favorable signal reception conditions, and a
smaller antenna (usually included with the portable) will usually
Then, when you come down off the hill, if you have your bigger
home-based antenna, you can hook it up. One of the biggest
differences between analog and digital TV is how it handles weak
signals: an analog TV can display whatever shows up on that
channel, no matter how weak or distorted it may be. For digital,
you have to scan first, and if that channel's signal is weak or
distorted, it'll be skipped over and not added to the channel
lineup—meaning there will be no way to actually get that channel
on your TV. By scanning on a hilltop, when you come down, all
those channels are already in your lineup, and you can then
manually adjust your antenna to lock in a usable signal, just like
you used to be able to do with analog. (Otherwise, you're
basically aiming blind and hoping for the best.)
The one drawback to this method is that portable TVs usually
don't carry HD displays and, naturally, are very small.
There are a few free over-the-top content providers. Most of them don't provide cable-quality programming, but a few of them have some notable shows. Pluto TV, for example, includes the program library from the late Anthony Bourdain, the talk shows of MSNBC and Fox Sports 1, some of the channels listed on this page, and a surprisingly wide array of reruns, including the Nosey channel, which carries daytime talk shows. Xumo TV has a somewhat more limited selection, including some of the same channels Pluto carries, and is only available in the United States. Both services have a large number of “web-exclusive” services that collect short-form video content and airs it on a linear channel.
Cable networks will never offer their most popular programs for
free. It's not part of their business model. There are a large
number of subscription "over-the-top" services out there, some run
by the individual channels and others run by middleman companies
bundling channels together. We're in the late 2010s now, so some
over-the-top services are producing their own original programs
that aren't available anywhere else. Keep all this in mind when
assessing which services you want to buy, and note that if you buy
all the channels available on a cable or satellite provider, it
will likely cost more than a subscription, so if you want a huge
selection, paying for cable or satellite may still be your best
Local sports, in particular, will likely pose your biggest
obstacle. National sports networks can be found on most
over-the-top providers, but the local ones that carry a majority
of your local major league teams' games are difficult to find, and
what ones that are carrying them tend to be very expensive. If
you're thinking of buying an out-of-market package and hoping to
get your local teams, think again—your local teams will almost
certainly be blacked out. So, with that in mind...
If keeping up with live sporting events without paying for an
expensive channel is what you seek, tune in a radio. At night, a
large number of clear-channel stations audible over diameters of
over a thousand miles still carry a number of different sporting
events, depending on the station and market. Your local teams will
almost certainly be within range. For certain sports, the games
are also streamed on the Internet (although with the major
leagues, many of the same issues that make it difficult to find TV
broadcasts also restrict online radio broadcast availability—you
might find it, but expect to pay).
If you're cutting the cord, you're trying to avoid the cable
company that has a vested interest in you not cutting the cord.
Research what your local phone company offiers, see if there is
WiMax or other similar service available in your area, and if all
else fails, satellite Internet is available nationwide from
HughesNet or Viasat (although HughesNet has common ownership with
a satellite TV provider, the companies and accounts are separate).
Try to avoid metered connections if you can.
All video streams are freely provided by the actual channels. No
Fullervision Enterprises, Unltd. 2018