Most cord cutters know that there are plenty of ways to watch popular movies and television shows without cable. Netflix and Hulu have made it easy to check out big-budget Hollywood films, and HBO’s streaming option has freed TV binge-watchers from the clutches of the cable companies. But what about local content? Many cord cutters don’t know how to watch local channels without cable, and may not even realize that they can.
The truth is that you have a bunch of ways to watch local channels online and over-the-air. Thanks to the rise in skinny bundles and the resurgence in popularity of over-the-air TV, cord cutters are once again enjoying local news and other local programming without having to go crawling back to traditional pay TV providers like cable and satellite companies. This is our complete guide to watching local channels without cable.
How to watch local channels without cable
There are three basic ways to get your local channels without signing up with a traditional pay TV provider like a cable or satellite company. We’ll cover each of them in the list below, starting with a group that may require a bit of explanation: skinny bundles.
Skinny bundles are over-the-top (streaming) solutions that resemble cable and satellite subscriptions almost everywhere except for on your monthly bill. Skinny bundles tend to be slimmer than cable packages (hence the name), ditching some of the less important channels and keeping a core group of popular networks available for far less than the cable giants charge. Among the key channels featured in these slimmed-down bundles are local major network (ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC) affiliates from the around the country. The bad news is that availability of live local major network feeds will vary by region, but the good news is that it’s easy to check out the selection in your region by taking advantage of the free trials available with each of the services we’ve listed below.
Once we’ve covered skinny bundles, we’ll move on to over-the-air TV and some key apps you ought to know about. Here are our picks for the best ways to watch local channels without cable.
DIRECTV NOW has deals with all four major networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC), and some customers will be able to access local feeds of these channels. There’s more to DIRECTV NOW than local channels, of course – it divides its service up into paid tiers with different numbers of channels available. You’re free to get whichever bundle calls to you, but you’ll only need the smallest one (“Live a Little,” which costs $35/month) to get all of the major networks that can be streamed in your area. You may also be able to snag regional sports networks if you move up to the “Just Right” package ($50/month) and beyond. Read our review of DIRECTV NOW here.
Once only concerned with soccer channels, fuboTV has expanded its focus to include a broad range of entertainment, albeit with a bit of a sports-centric focus. fuboTV now has deals in place with every major network except for ABC, so depending on your region this service may be able to net you live local feeds of CBS, FOX, and NBC. Regional sports networks, including college football conference networks and the New York-area MSG family of channels and YES, are also peppered throughout fuboTV base and add-on packages. For more on fuboTV, check out our complete review of the service here – or just try it for yourself by checking out fuboTV’s week-long free trial via the link below
Hulu got its start as an on-demand streaming service that competed with Netflix and the rest of the streaming video on demand (SVOD) crew. These days, Hulu is in the skinny bundle fray as well: its Hulu with Live TV service offers a single base package that costs $39.99/month and offers more than 55 channels, including live feeds of all four major networks in select regions. Hulu with Live TV also has regional sports networks in some markets. You can read our review of the service here.
PlayStation Vue got its name from Sony’s gaming console, the PlayStation. But don’t let that name fool you: while PlayStation Vue was originally only available on PlayStation consoles, the service now enjoys broad platform support and is an option for everyone, not just video gamers. PlayStation Vue offers multiple tiers of service at different price points. It offers the major networks in its cheapest package, and peppers local and regional sports stations in at various price points. Read our full review of PlayStation Vue here.
Sling TV organizes its content a little differently from most competitors: instead of a few different tiers, Sling TV starts you off with one of three base packages and then invites you to build a custom package through its “add-ons.” The Sling Blue base package ($25/month) will get eligible markets live streams from FOX and NBC. The Broadcast Extra add-on to Sling Blue will give subscribers in some markets access to ABC, Univision, and Unimas local broadcasts. Local and regional sports stations are available in various base and add-on packages, too – check out the link below to track down the ones you’re most interested in.
Free over-the-air TV
Local major network affiliates have their own transmitters, so it’s likely that your area gets channels like ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC free over the air – and that’s not to mention other common over-the-air channels like PBS and Univision. How many channels are available and how big of an antenna you’ll need to pick them up will vary by region, but getting the answers to these questions is pretty simple. Check out our free over-the-air TV explainer and our complete guide to choosing an antenna and getting free HDTV over the air for more important information. There’s a reason that this is the classic solution to the problem of how to watch local channels without cable or satellite.
Your options get a little thinner after the skinny bundles, but there are some other apps to consider. One of these is CBS All Access, which offers local feeds of CBS stations to certain customers. Once again, you’ll have to live in certain areas to get the live feeds – and, once again, you can find out how good the deal is for your region by checking out the service’s week-long free trial via the link below. CBS All Access costs $5.99/month (you can pay more to get rid of commercials, but that only affects the on-demand content, not the live TV). You can read our full review of CBS All Access here.
There are relatively few standalone apps that offer local content, but there is one that is worth noting here. NewsON is a platform for local news stations. If you’re lucky, you’ll find that your local station is available live on the platform. NewsON’s app is available on streaming devices like Roku and Amazon Fire TV. Read our complete review of NewsON here. It’s worth noting that the service has improved a bit since our review was written.
You may find that your favorite local channels have apps of their own! These days, it’s not uncommon for local news networks to offer clips or even live feeds on their websites and through apps for mobile devices and streaming boxes. Other local news channels use streaming platforms like Livestream or the aforementioned NewsON. It’s worth doing a quick Google search and reading your local station’s website to see where else you might find their content.
Can I watch local TV on Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, or Chromecast?
We don’t always think of the major streaming devices as tools for watching local TV, but we really should. Each of the skinny bundles and apps listed above have awesome platform support, meaning that you can grab virtually any service on this list and have it work with whatever streaming device you own – whether that means a Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS device, Android device, or Android TV box (like the Nvidia Shield).
On top of that, you can combine free over-the-air TV with man of these devices by using either an OTA DVR (once your antenna is connected to the DVR, devices like Tablo will let you stream the OTA feed on your streaming device via the relevant app – in this case, Tablo TV) or Plex (connect an antenna, via a PC TV tuner, to the computer hosting your Plex server and then use the Plex app on supported streaming devices and access the live TV feature). It’s simplest of all with a smart TV (such as the ones that Roku makes with its manufacturing partners): just plug your antenna into your TV, which is also your streaming device, and scan for channels!
Roku owners, you may also want to check out our tutorial on how to get local channels on Roku.
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