Ryan Downey, executive director of The Streaming Advisor, a website that provides news, reviews and guidance related to online video content. TheStreamingAdvisor.com
Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are the best-known services for streaming great programs and movies to your computer, and often to your TV,* tablet and smartphone. But there are other attractive video-streaming services that are free, and in some cases, they offer programming that you will not find on the big three streaming services.
But which ones are worth your time? Here’s a guide to the best free video-streaming services, all of which are available on computers as well as several other platforms…
America Online offers about 20 free movies from Miramax at any given time. The movie selection changes each month. These movies generally are not huge hits or new releases, but most feature well-known actors and are from the past few decades. Recent examples included Doubt with Meryl Streep…Robinson Crusoe with Pierce Brosnan…and Serendipity with John Cusak.
The website also offers episodes of original shows made exclusively for AOL On. There are commercial breaks. (Available on many platforms and devices, including Android, iOS and Roku.) On.AOL.com
Crackle provides free access to certain movies and TV shows made or owned by Sony. The selection changes frequently, but recently the site offered 10 episodes of Seinfeld…12 episodes of NewsRadio…and 23 episodes of The Shield. Among the movies recently offered were Step Brothers with Will Ferrell…Bad Boys with Will Smith…Stand By Me with Wil Wheaton…and Air Force One with Harrison Ford.
Crackle offers original shows, such as Sports Jeopardy!, a sports-focused version of the Jeopardy! game show. There are commercial breaks. (Available through most major platforms and devices, including Android, iOS, most smart TVs, Roku and Apple TV.) Crackle.com
Sports-programming giant ESPN offers sporting events and other programming for free through its ESPN3 online channel. You’ll find lots of college football and basketball, plus tennis, golf, soccer, cricket, auto racing, Canadian football, curling and more. Watch live or replay programs later.
Access to ESPN3 is available to consumers who obtain their Internet service through participating Internet service providers, which include most major ones and many smaller ones. (Available on most major platforms and devices, including Android, iOS, Roku, Apple TV, Xbox and more.) For a list of ESPN3 providers, go to ESPN.Go.com/espn3/affList. To access ESPN3 programming, go to ESPN3.com.
You can stream recent episodes of many PBS shows through its website. Of course, other broadcast-TV networks allow free online viewing of programming, too, but generally only on a computer—PBS lets you stream its programming to a mobile device or TV for free as well.
Shows available for streaming include Antiques Roadshow, Frontline, Masterpiece, Nature and NOVA, among others. There are commercials. (Many platforms and devices are supported, including Android, iOS, Roku, Apple TV and Xbox.) Video.PBS.org
This innovative site creates 30- or 60-minute “TV shows” from video clips found on YouTube and elsewhere online. These shows appear on Pluto TV’s themed “channels”—there are more than 100 channels in all. Examples: The Late Night TV channel has shows built from clips of recent episodes of popular late-night talk shows…the Dogs 24/7 and Cats 24/7 channels turn online pet videos into shows…the Classic Toons channel streams old cartoons…and the Food channel features cooking shows and videos. You could track down such videos yourself on the Internet, but Pluto TV transforms watching Internet video clips into a just-sit-and-relax experience that’s much more like conventional TV. Advertising is included only if ads were included in the original video clips used to make Pluto’s shows. (Platforms include Android and iOS.) Pluto.TV
This site offers free access to hundreds of movies controlled by the film-distribution company Screen Media Ventures. Most of these are marginal-quality films of the sort that probably went straight to video—titles like Birdemic 2: The Resurrection and Psycho Shark abound—but there are some notable films as well. Options recently included Monster with Charlize Theron and Sherrybaby with Maggie Gyllenhaal. There are a few TV series available, too, including the National Geographic Channel show Life Below Zero. There are commercial breaks. (Supported platforms and devices include Android, iOS, Roku, Samsung Smart TV and Xbox.) Popcornflix.com
This YouTube service offers access to dozens of movies that have fallen into the public domain. (When a film is in the public domain, no one owns the intellectual property rights anymore, which means anyone is free to sell it, broadcast it or put it on a website.) Most public domain movies are fairly obscure—this site is a great place to find old, campy black-and-white monster movies, for example. But some notable films are in the public domain and available here, including Beat the Devil with Humphrey Bogart…Meet John Doe with Gary Cooper…and quite a few Charlie Chaplin silent films. (You can watch on any platform/device that provides access to YouTube, including Android, iOS, Roku and Apple TV.) YouTube.com/user/BestPDMovies
This site offers thousands of free art-house movies including documentaries and independent films. Recent examples include the award-winning documentary Capturing the Friedmans and the Zach Galifianakis comedy Visioneers. There are ads—the site splits the ad revenue it generates with the filmmakers. (Available on most major platforms and devices, including Android, iOS, Roku and Xbox.) SnagFilms.com
*To stream Internet programming to a TV, you will need either a “streaming box,” such as Roku, Chromecast or Apple TV…a “smart TV” that has streaming capabilities built in…or a Blu-ray or video game player that includes streaming capabilities, such as a recent Sony PlayStation or Microsoft Xbox. Programming and platform availability were accurate as of early December but can change. Visit sites for details.