How to Watch TV Online

Broadcast and cable are no longer the only way to watch TV. These days, with the speed and convenience that the internet offers, more and more people are cutting their cords, having figured out how to watch TV online. Read on to discover the best streaming sites and how a good VPN can help you access your favorite TV shows on the internet.

Written by Daniel Rosenbaum
Published on June 16, 2022

Online streaming is rapidly replacing live cable TV as the preferred way to watch your favorite shows. Every year, there are more ways to watch TV online. And as the streaming library of sites like Netflix and Amazon Prime grows, more households are cutting their TV cords and streaming online instead of paying for cable.

If you already know what you want to watch and how much you want to pay, keep reading to learn about the best sites to watch TV online.

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    The 12 best sites to watch TV online

    1. Netflix

    Netflix is now practically synonymous with watching TV online. Series and movies are constantly added, and the service is streamable worldwide — though the content differs slightly depending on which country you’re in. And lots of Netflix original content is high quality — several original films and series like Stranger Things and Ozark are now award-winning programs.


    • High-quality, original content for all ages

    • Available to stream worldwide

    • Offline downloads available on the app

    • Huge streaming library of shows and movies


    • Rumors of cracking down on password sharing

    • Investments in more Netflix originals, rather than well-known popular content

    • Popular content library may be outdated

    • Some content isn’t available in certain countries


    • No standard free trial

    • $10/month for a basic plan, up to $20/month for a premium plan

    2. Disney Plus

    Since its inception in 2019, Disney Plus has been one of the most popular ways to watch TV online. The service includes all the classic Disney favorites from your childhood — even the Disney Channel original movies and series from the late ‘90s and early 2000s. The newer streaming service also includes tons of new and original content, plus award-winning series from the producers behind Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic.


    • Streaming available on up to four devices at once

    • Includes exclusive Disney content not available on other online streaming sites

    • Free parental controls


    • Limited regional availability

    • With a focus on content for family and kids, other types of content is lacking


    • No standard free trial

    • $8/month or $80/year, not including other bundled services, such as Hulu and ESPN Plus

    3. HBO Max

    HBO Max (formerly HBO Go) is the Warner Bros. version of a high-quality streaming site. Boasting multiple award-winning series and documentaries, a subscription to this service offers access to great TV online. If your favorite show or movie franchise was recently pulled from Netflix, it may have jumped to HBO Max due to new licensing agreements.


    • App available for all devices, plus streaming available online

    • Supports 4K streaming

    • Offline downloads available on the app


    • Doesn’t include content libraries from partner networks

    • App can be unstable — a flaw HBO has vowed to revamp.


    • No standard free trial

    • $10/month including advertisements, $14/month for ad-free streaming

    4. YouTube TV

    A YouTubeTV subscription includes 85+ channels, and is best for cable-cutting folks who still want to keep up with network series, news, and sports. The biggest downside is the advertisements and commercials, but if you use it for cable networks anyway, what’s the difference?


    • Live streams from dozens of networks, like ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and The CW

    • Unlimited, cloud-stored DVR (digital video recording)


    • Expensive with all the add-ons

    • You still see advertisements, unless you also have a YouTube Premium subscription


    • 7-day free trial

    • $54/month for 3 months, then $65/month after that

    5. Hulu

    Hulu is one of the best options if you’re looking to bundle your online TV watching experience with other premium streaming services and cable TV. You can pay for bundles with Disney Plus, ESPN Plus, and include live TV easily — without having to subscribe to them all separately. Hulu even has a deal for students.


    • Varied bundling options

    • Online TV content is kept current


    • Not yet available outside the US

    • Simultaneous streaming is available for only two screens, unless you purchase a $10/month add-on


    • Free trial for most tiers — the length depends on your subscription tier

    • $7/month with ads, $13/month for ad-free streaming

    6. Prime Video

    Shoppers with an existing Amazon Prime membership have free access to Prime Video streaming content. The on-demand streaming site has a mixture of Amazon originals and popular TV series and films. But a majority of their library consists of newly-released films for rent and optional premium channels to add on — for a price.


    • Watch parties with other Amazon Prime members

    • Free access with an existing Amazon Prime membership ($119/year)


    • Some content isn’t free, even with an Amazon Prime membership

    • The content library isn’t as big as some other online streaming services

    • Extra subscriptions to premium channels can drive up the price


    • 30-day free trial without an Amazon Prime membership

    • $9/month including advertisements, $15/month for ad-free streaming

    7. Apple TV Plus

    You don’t need an Apple device to watch TV over the internet via Apple TV Plus — but it certainly helps. The service includes original series and several free news and sports channels. It’s a good streaming service, but best for Apple users.


    • Online Apple TV streaming is possible without an Apple device

    • Offline downloads available — just remember to clear your iPhone regularly, as these files can take up tons of space

    • High-quality production of Apple original content


    • Short free trial — 7 days

    • The Apple TV Plus app is only available for smart TVs and Apple devices

    • Small content library compared to other services


    • With an Apple device, you get 3 months free

    • 7-day free trial

    • $4.99/month

    8. Crunchyroll

    Crunchyroll — which has now merged with Funimation, another popular anime streaming site — is the go-to place to watch anime series online. Crunchyroll’s content library is 100% anime, with options to watch content within an hour of its release in Japan. It’s the perfect way to watch TV over the internet for serious anime fans worldwide.


    • Extensive anime content library

    • Updated content within an hour of its original release

    • Mature content filter


    • Most content includes subtitles (English dubbing is rare)

    • Clunky interface


    • Free basic plan — with advertisements

    • $10/month for ad-free streaming

    9. Sling TV

    If you’re looking for live TV streaming and you don’t mind few movie options, Sling TV might be the streaming service for you. It’s a subsidiary of Dish Network, designed to be a streaming alternative to cable TV. It works on almost every device and browser, is cheaper than cable, and includes tons of live TV channels, like ESPN, NBC, BBC America, CNN, and the Food Network.


    • Tons of ESPN channels for sports fans

    • Includes the most popular cable channels at a lower cost

    • 1-4 streams at a time, depending on the plan


    • The streaming quality can sometimes dip, but it fixes itself quickly

    • Available only in the US

    • Only 50 hours of DVR storage, compared to other services’ unlimited capacity


    • 3-day free trial

    • $35/month for one set of channels, add-ons starting at $6/month

    10. FuboTV

    FuboTV is the sports fan’s best bet for watching TV online, with a heavy focus on streaming various niche sports channels. It also includes some popular shows, films, and news outlets too, but the service is not as well-rounded as some other streaming sites on this list.


    • Tons of sports channels to choose from, even international channels

    • Supports 4K streaming

    • Multi-screen viewing so you can watch multiple matches at once


    • Limited DVR storage

    • Expensive


    • 7-day free trial

    • $70/month for 120 channels, $80/month for just under 180 channels

    11. Peacock

    One of the newest ways to watch TV online for free — with ads of course — is with Peacock. Released in 2020, and aptly named for NBC’s well-known peacock logo, Peacock’s popularity has risen quickly. It hosts Peacock originals, popular television shows and films, and even had exclusive rights to stream the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022 — making it desirable for sports streamers as well.


    • You don’t need to enter credit card information for the free tier

    • Streaming available for 3 screens at once

    • Lots of live sports channels


    • Free tier includes ads

    • Content updates are slow


    • Free, with ads

    • $5/month to unlock premium content and get ad-free streaming

    • Free access to premium content if you already subscribe to cable or internet via Xfinity

    12. Vudu

    Vudu is another free streaming service for watching TV and movies online. The service lets you rent or purchase premium content, while offering some free content too — mostly of older and unknown titles. The content library is large for a free platform, with thousands of free movies and TV episodes. The main downside of Vudu is the advertisements, sometimes up to 4 commercial breaks per 20-minute episode.


    • Lots of free content.

    • Free parental controls


    • More ads than other free services

    • Content library is outdated

    • No Vudu originals


    • Free basic package

    • Rental costs between $1-$6 per movie, $1-$3 per episode

    • Purchase costs between $5-$25 per movie

    • Higher rental and purchase costs for higher picture quality (SD, HDX, 4K)

    Ways to watch TV online

    If you need to find free online TV, and you’re overwhelmed by hidden costs and short free-trial periods for streaming services, don’t fret. Here are the best ways to watch TV online completely free.

    Use free online streaming services

    It costs money to create good television, and networks have gotten pretty good at finding ways to get people to pay for their product. But, if you can handle some advertisements, here’s how to watch free TV online:

    • Crackle

      Sony’s Crackle has a good selection of new and classic movies and TV series. If you sign up for a free account, there are fewer ads and you can sync your watching progress across multiple devices.

    • Tubi

      Tubi is an ad-supported streaming source of over 4,000 movies and TV series from several studios. There are built-in ads in 12-15 minute intervals, so it’s just like watching cable, but you have greater control over what’s on.

    • Link TV

      LinkTV is a non-profit source of free streaming TV and a sibling of the KCET PBS station in Southern California. Its free TV content is a mixture of news, international music, documentaries, and programs promoting civic engagement.

    • Pluto TV

      The programming giant Paramount owns PlutoTV, with more than 250 live and original channels, thousands of on-demand movies, and several live TV news sites. Their content is available on their website and on their apps for iOS and Android.

    • The Roku Channel

      Although you need to create an account and give them a credit card in case you want to order premium content, The Roku Channel has a significant library of movies and full episodes for free — you don’t even need one of their devices.

    • YouTube

      A good place to start looking for TV shows to watch online is by searching YouTube, especially if you’re looking for older network shows that you can’t find elsewhere. Plus, musicians, professors, and other content creators across multiple industries post their videos on YouTube for free, which can be a great alternative to premium educational cable channels.

    Visit dedicated network sites

    In the US, ABC, NBC, and CBS all have some free TV archives, although most episodes are locked without a subscription to a cable provider. PBS is another great option for streaming TV shows and documentaries. For UK viewers, the BBC has a large catalog of episodes available for on-demand internet viewing, while Channel 4 and ITV both require a free registration.

    Unfortunately, much of the network programming available in the US and UK is tied to location. So, a source of free online TV in one country may not work if you’re in another. To get around this, you can set up a VPN and connect to a US VPN server or a VPN server in the UK to access the content, but it won’t save you from advertisements.

    Subscribe to paid streaming services

    If you’re willing to spend some money to watch TV online, there are plenty of streaming services, such as the streaming services listed above. These sites tend to be secure, reliable, and packed with good content. The downside — aside from cost — is that paid streaming services can be inaccessible if you travel or live in countries outside the service’s home area.

    Make the most of free trials

    Many paid services have a free-trial period, but you usually need to sign up for an account and register a credit card for when the trial runs out. If there’s something specific you want to see right away — or you’re ready to binge-watch an entire TV series — using free trials is a good option. Just remember to cancel before your card is charged.

    Find live TV streams

    A few channels let you watch free live TV streams. These are usually news channels, such as CNN or CBS News. Streema also carries streaming channels from around the world, and FreeInterTV carries live programming from Russia, India, Ukraine, Turkey, Poland, the US, and the UK.

    Watch TV with a VPN

    A VPN is a tool that creates an encrypted connection between your device and the internet. Use a VPN optimized for streaming — such as Avast SecureLine VPN — to help access your favorite content online from many different countries around the world.

    Is it legal to watch TV online?

    Yes, it’s legal to watch TV online. License-holders may restrict distribution of programming on a country-by-country basis, but viewing content is legal as long as you’re watching it through a reputable service and not torrenting it or downloading it illegally. But there are some countries that regulate or ban VPNs and proxy servers, which are tools that journalists and others use to help access blocked content. You should research the law in your country.

    Watching foreign TV is possible with a VPN designed for streaming.A VPN lets you bypass geo-restrictions and watch TV online when you’re traveling.

    Why is it so difficult to watch TV online?

    Besides price, the main reason it’s hard to watch TV online is geoblocking, which TV studios use to restrict watching TV over the internet in certain areas. Many US TV shows aren’t available overseas for a long time — or sometimes never — because of geo-based licensing restrictions.

    Advertising rates are set by monitoring the number of viewers per TV episode, and the economic value of streaming is still being debated within the industry. For example, is a viewer who streams a show three weeks after it was originally released as valuable as a viewer who saw it when it first came out? The TV industry hasn’t quite decided yet.

    Technical issues are another reason watching TV online can be difficult. Engineers have long been able to send video signals over the air, by satellite, or by cable/fiber optics. Streaming infrastructure is different — and relatively new. The internet bandwidth available to many homes — especially via wireless connections — is also much more restricted than other types of data transmission.

    My stream keeps buffering — what can I do?

    To stop video buffering, close unnecessary windows and applications and restart your device. If you’re using a VPN, turn it off and connect to a different server. A faster VPN connection and good internet connection are also key for a good stream.

    Buffering happens when the bandwidth, or data capacity, or your internet connection can’t serve you the stream as fast as you need to watch the content cleanly. And buffering can become worse if you’re using a VPN that wasn’t engineered well. In that case, you should switch to a VPN designed for streaming speed.

    Buffering may also be caused by a problem at the stream’s source. Then, you’ll just need to wait until the problem resolves itself — and pick up a book in the meantime.

    Stream your favorite shows, wherever you are

    With dedicated servers optimized for streaming quality on nearly every continent, Avast SecureLine VPN is designed to help you access the content you love and stream TV online at lightning-fast speeds. There are enough barriers standing between you and your online shows. Don’t let a slow VPN connection be one of them. Try Avast SecureLine VPN for free today.

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    Daniel Rosenbaum