Stream On: Almost free (ad-supported) TV options

By on September 20, 2019

The PlutoTV grid replicates the feel and functionality of cable/satellite TV systems.

My columns so far have featured lesser-known streaming gems, which have appeared on the major subscription services: Amazon Prime, Hulu and Netflix. While these three services together cost, combined, around $30+ a month, which is far less than any cable or satellite TV options, the free services that I’ll survey will exceed those from the heyday of free over-the-air (OTA) “rabbit-ears” TV.

The first entry, though, will be about my platform of choice for watching the following services on TV. (Most if not all can also be seen on the internet or with Android and Apple apps on your tablet computer, or even phone, if your vision’s up to it.)

Roku

The Roku Streaming Player, or simply Roku, is a series of streaming players manufactured by Roku, Inc. Roku partners provide streaming, also known as over-the-top, or OTT content, in the form of “channels,” which are essentially apps for the Roku platform. These apps are available from all the big players, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix, etc., and hundreds of smaller players, including channels for local news stations, sports, music and weather apps. The Roku channel itself is full of changing lineups of ad-supported recent and older movies and TV shows and a sampling of live TV shows, like CBSN, which is an ad-supported 24-hour CBS News channel. I’m currently watching the Naked City series (1958-1963) on the Roku channel.

You will need a high-speed internet connection; nowadays that’s pretty much anything beyond dial-up, which, I believe, is currently obsolescent if not obsolete.

 

Pluto TV

The Mac Daddy of free OTT TV is currently Pluto TV. It runs as an app on 14 platforms, including Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Roku, and PlayStation consoles. Live and on-demand Pluto TV content is also available via their website.

It closely replicates the channel lineup screens of most cable and TV stations, showing (currently) over 100 “channels” of content licensed from providers, including news channels from Bloomberg, CBS, CNN, NBC, WeatherNation and more, Comedy Central, c|net, Stadium, NASA TV, music channels including “Live Music Replay” showing recorded concerts, movie channels, and oddities such as a 24-hour James Bond movies channel, and channels dedicated to Mystery Science Theatre 3000, Doctor Who, Midsomer Murders, The Prisoner etc. etc. Pluto’s recent acquisition by Viacom exploded their channel selections and one could use PlutoTV for more programming than we had with OTA rabbit-ear antennas back in the day.

For those who went the streaming route in order to watch TV on their own time, Pluto offers a huge library of on-demand shows and movies.

 

NewsOn

The NewsOn channel (app) for Roku will bring you nationwide local news. When you open it, the channel will show you a screen with options for nearby and farther news broadcasts based on your internet provider’s location. In Nags Head the closest broadcasts are WITN in Greenvile and WVEC in Hampton Roads. If you log on while these stations are broadcasting, you will see it live; at other times you will see the most recent news broadcasts. You can also search for news from anywhere in the country, if you’re traveling or curious.

 

WeatherNation

There are many weather channels on Roku; my favorite is WeatherNation (also available on the World-Wide Web). When opened the first time, you fill in your  zip code and it will show, on the left, a pane with a summary of today’s weather for your area; if you click on that it will break it down with detailed information by the hour. Back on the home stream are icons for 36-hour forecasts, extended forecasts, and advisories; next is a window showing the live broadcast (which is replicated as a channel on Pluto TV) and your local radar. Again, it’s supported by the ads shown on the live broadcast, which you can see full-screen by clicking on it on the home page.

 

Roku’s search

Finally on the Roku home screen is a search function that will query every channel, whether installed or not. You can search for TV shows, movies and actors. The result will list the channels your search object is found on, whether you have the channel installed, and the ways it is available: Included with subscription, Buy (with the price), Rent (with the price), and Free. If it’s on a channel you haven’t installed, Roku will install it and go to the show in question. There are thousands of ad-supported TV shows and movies on hundreds of channels.

The Roku TV device is a one-time cost, currently from $30 to $100. When you install Roku in the beginning, it will ask for a credit-card number or PayPal account for ease of billing for paid content, but it can be installed without one. If you subsequently seek to rent a movie or TV show, or install a premium channel like Netflix, you can supply your credit-card number then. I did that with a cheap Roku on an old TV in my shared office, and I was frankly amazed at the free (ad-supported, remember) programming available. Multiple Rokus on the same wi-fi connection will mirror each other’s setup unless one is activated with a different account.

Next time I’ll return to my survey of lesser-known streaming TV shows. Email me here and follow Stream On OBX on Twitter.


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See what people are saying:

  • Kincadium

    There are also plenty of other great options like Tubi TV and Crackle. Really anymore there is just TONS of great content available for free and even more for a minor amount.

    Sunday, Sep 22 @ 10:30 am