We’re big fans of Roku here at CordCutting.com. In fact, we think you’re making an excellent investment when you buy either a Roku TV or Roku streaming stick. But we also know that your streaming budget isn’t unlimited. Sometimes, you just want to watch decent content without paying for it.
That’s where Roku’s free channels come in. These are free to both download and use. (Some of the channels also have paid tiers that you need a credit card to unlock. For the purposes of this list, we’re only judging those “freemium” apps based on the parts of them that you don’t have to pay for.) Here are the best free Roku channels.
Tubi: Best Ad-Supported
Tubi is a free, ad-supported streaming service that is available on a wide range of platforms, including Roku. Like most free services, Tubi’s library can be a little hit-and-miss. That said, Tubi has some hidden gems in its unusually large free library. And you can’t beat the price! As of this writing, Tubi’s ever-changing library includes highlights like “Troy” (2004) and “Cast Away” (2000). Tubi also includes movies and TV shows in Spanish. For more, refer to our Tubi review.
Crackle got its start in 2004, when it went by the name Grouper. From the start, it has been a place to find free movies and TV shows, though you will have to watch ads.
Most of the channels on this list contain at least some ads, though. Without ads, the channels wouldn’t exist. If you don’t mind commercials, you can use Crackle to watch movies like “Django Unchained” and the 2014 version of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” If faith-based programming is more your thing, there’s good news: Crackle has a whole section devoted to that.
The Roku Channel: Best Roku Exclusive
At the risk of being obvious, here it is: The Roku Channel. If you always skip it on your home screen, it’s time to take a closer look. For one thing, it has Roku Originals (many of which were purchased from Quibi when that short-lived streaming platform went under). But if stuff like a “Punk’d” reboot with Chance the Rapper isn’t your thing, there’s plenty of more established programming on The Roku Channel too.
If you enjoy classic TV, you’ll want to check out titles like “I Dream of Jeannie” and “Starsky and Hutch,” plus more recent series like “Cold Case” and “White Collar.” There are live TV options as well, including channels that only show music videos from the ‘80s and ‘90s. And don’t forget movies like “The Hunger Games” and “Rudy.”
Peacock: Best for Sitcoms
Peacock is what’s known as a “freemium” channel: You can get some things without needing a credit card, but there are other shows and movies that you can’t watch unless you upgrade to a paid tier.
So how’s the free tier on Peacock? It has some solid programs. For instance, you can watch almost the entirety of Peacock original “AP Bio,” though you will have to pay to watch the most recent episodes. And plenty of fans of “The Office” were sad when it left Netflix for Peacock; those fans will be happy to know that they can watch the first five seasons of the show for free (completists will have to pay for the rest).
If you want to go beyond the free tier and take a deep dive into the world of Peacock, our Peacock review can help.
PBS: Best Educational
PBS is one of those channels that exists for the public good, so it makes sense that its Roku channel offers plenty of free shows. If you want to watch recent PBS shows, you can do that with the PBS app. And PBS really puts the “public” in “public broadcasting” by not requiring any kind of cable login.
That’s right; all you have to do is download the PBS channel on your Roku, and then you can start watching your favorite PBS shows. After I picked my local PBS station, the channel even let me watch a livestream of that very station. It also gave me a webpage where I could make a donation. And like NPR’s pledge drives, I know PBS asking for donations is part of the deal at this point.
PBS Kids: Best for Kids
This is PBS for the younger set. Adults have documentaries about Sandra Day O’Connor on the regular version of PBS, but this version has shows like “Clifford the Big Red Dog” and “Arthur.”
In other words, PBS Kids is the perfect way to keep the little ones entertained while you do what you need to do. There’s even a livestream of kids programming if you (or your child) can’t decide on a specific show.
WeatherNation: Best for Weather
WeatherNation bills itself as “the number one weather app on Roku.” A large part of that is because of its simplicity. When you add the WeatherNation app, you just need to enter your ZIP code to get a live look at local conditions.
That’s not all you get, either: You can also get a look at any weather advisories in your area. If you’re planning on exercising outside, WeatherNation’s app will tell you if it’s a good day to do things like golfing, swimming, or biking. And if you want a more national outlook, you can tune into WeatherNation’s livestream.
The CW: Best for OTA TV Fans
Do you know how to watch your favorite CW show? One option is to tune into shows like “Stargirl” and “Riverdale” when they air live, but what if you don’t have time for that? The CW app is a good answer, and you don’t even need a cable login.
That’s right; there’s no need to prove you’re paying for a cable or satellite subscription. Just download the CW app, accept the terms and conditions, and start searching for your favorite shows.
Hoopla: Best for Variety
You probably already know your local library has more than just books, but did you know your library card can also grant you access to streaming movies and TV shows? It’s true, thanks to an app called Hoopla.
Using your library card in conjunction with the app, you can borrow up to several titles per month, depending on your library. (Our library offered numerous titles in which to choose from, including “13 Going on 30” and “Ex Machina” in the movies section. The TV section offered options like “3rd Rock from the Sun,” and, of course, “The Librarians.”)
NewsON: Best for Local News
Do you want live local news? Well, one way you can get it is by hooking up an antenna; however, that’s not your only option. That’s where NewsOn enters the picture. It lets you watch local newscasts from the big broadcast networks like FOX, ABC, NBC, and CBS.
This doesn’t mean you can watch a livestream of those networks anytime you want, however. You can only watch local newscasts, either live or on repeat. In other words, you can watch the 11 o’clock news at 11 o’clock, or you can wait and watch it at midnight. Either way, NewsOn is still a useful tool for catching up on current events in your metro area.