8 Best Free Streaming Services (2021): Peacock, Roku Channel, Pluto TV and More

The main casualty of the streaming wars so far has been your wallet. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, Hulu, Apple TV+, Disney+, Discovery+: They all demand a monthly tithe. Toss in a live service like YouTube TV, the music app of your choice, and whatever gaming concoction suits your needs, and you’re suddenly ringing up a pretty grim bill. But wait! Recent years have seen a bumper crop of free streaming services as well. They’re the perfect cure for subscription fatigue.

The old adage that you get what you pay for does apply here to some extent. Free streaming services typically don’t have as many viewing options as their paid counterparts, and most make you watch a few ads along the way. But they’re also better than you might expect, and they continue to improve. Some even include original programming, or something close to it; the Roku Channel acquired the rights to dozens of shows that originally appeared on the ill-fated Quibi streaming service, and it began showing them on Thursday.

While you shouldn’t expect any of the following free streaming services to replace Netflix in your streaming regimen, you shouldn’t count them out either. Each almost certainly offers at least something you want to watch, and they won’t cost you an arm and a leg—or anything at all—to take advantage.

OK, this could potentially be confusing, since Roku is made up of thousands of “channels,” including the majors like Hulu and HBO Now. But it also operates the Roku Channel, which offers an eclectic mix of movies and TV shows. Typically it doesn’t have much that’s new new, although you can find plenty of older hits like Troy and The Queen, along with slightly musty television classics like Alias and 3rd Rock From the Sun. (Most notably: It has the full run of The Prisoner, the original 1967 version, which you should watch right now if you haven’t already.)

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However! In January, Roku acquired exclusive global distribution rights to the shows Quibi produced before it flamed out. On May 20, it launched the first 30 of those, including fare starring bona fide celebrities like Kevin Hart, Anna Kendrick, and Chrissy Teigan. For all the fun everyone had at Quibi’s expense, some of those shows actually seem pretty promising. And either way, at least now you don’t have to pay money to find out.

The Roku Channel’s other neat trick is that it offers free linear programming—which is to say, it acts like a traditional television channel rather than on-demand viewing—including news reports from ABC and indie movies and classic TV from Filmrise. On Thursday, it also added the LOL! Network to that list, which, as you might have guessed, features comedy programming. You can also subscribe to other streaming services—HBO, Showtime, Acorn TV, and so on—through the Roku Channel, which should save you some navigational clicks.

If you already have the Roku app on your smartphone, the Roku Channel is right there waiting for you. Or you can get it—and everything else on this list—through your Roku device.

In terms of movies and TV shows you might actually be excited to watch, no other free streaming service comes close to Peacock. It has a paid tier, too, which unlocks even more goodies. But even without paying a dime, you can view the first two seasons of The Office, the first three Harry Potter movies, some classic WWE pay-per-views, a bunch of Bourne flicks, the Eurovision singing competition, and Mystery Men. (That last one is admittedly a personal favorite.) The point is that the selection is very, very good. There’s even a buzzy original, the Tina Fey-produced Girls5eva.

Peacock also throws in a few “channels,” in case you’ve got decision fatigue, with dedicated streams of The Tonight Show, Today, and yes, a 24/7 Real Housewives fix for those who need it.

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