A Cord-Cutter’s Guide to Free Live Television

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Cord-cutter’s free live TV guide

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National networks

The following listing is a collection of networks (be they cable/satellite or over-the-air) that, legally, provide live feeds of their programming for free over the Internet. I have excluded televangelism networks with no secular programs, home shopping, foreign propaganda and Internet-only channels.

NASA TV U.S. space program and educational science programming
wvir-dt2 Charlottesville, VA (WeatherNation TV: 24/7 national weather)
First Warning
kitv-dt3 Honolulu, HI
Erie, PA
weny-li Ithaca/Elmira, NY
Local Weather
Parkersburg, WV
wbay-dt2 Green Bay, WI
kwch-dt2 Wichita, KS
Des Moines, IA
wfaa-dt2 Dallas, TX
ktbs-dt2 Shreveport, LA
wbrz-dt3 Baton Rouge, LA
wfmz-dt2 Allentown, PA
Channels with a video link that is either non-functioning or using an out-of-date loop:
wsvi-dt4 Christiansted, VI - wjrt-dt6 Flint, MI

Congressional sessions:
All channels are on the C-SPAN mobile app, audio only
News, conservative talk, documentaries
Newsy Rolling news coverage
Rolling news coverage
Bloomberg Business news
CBN News Ch.
Christian Broadcasting Network - Christian news and talk
💻 CBS News Select news programs from CBS
💻 NBC News
Select news programs from NBC (Today Show has its own channel)
💻🔊 Fox News
Select prime-time news programs (8 p.m. onward, audio only)
Business/pop culture news: ⏱️Cheddar Business is metered
Legal/courtroom news
One America News Network - Conservative news/talk
NewsChannel Nebraska (regional news and some syndicated programming)

NFL Sunday
Live video of local games (mobile only, IP geolocated)
NFL Thursday
Live Thursday Night Football on Fox Sports
Professional golf
⏱️ NBC Sports NFL football, Notre Dame football, NHL hockey
Stadium Sports talk, live alternative and mid-level college sports
beIN Xtra
beIN Sports Xtra
For the Fans (formerly Eleven Sports Network) - College, semi-pro and international sports
Maverick Television - Motorsports

California Music Channel - top 40 / oldies Sunday night
Country music and classic country-themed reruns
Grand Ole Opry live telecast
Country music, Celtic folk, oldies/classic hits (from UK)
Blues TV
Blues Television Network
Smooth jazz, adult contemporary
Classic Arts Showcase

Men's interest
📵 kpbn-dt2
Outdoors programming
Automotive programming
Right Now TV
Men's interest programming

Classic TV
CHCH Canadian news and classic reruns, 1960s and 1970s
Folk TV
Classic reruns and televangelism
Z Living
Mostly action dramas
Buzzr Classic game shows

General Entertainment
Charge! Action films and shows
Comet Science fiction films and shows
Gaming and millennial-oriented programming
Fun Roads
kjeo-dt3 General entertainment
YTA wvvh
Formerly Youtoo America
📵 kctu-lp
wivm This TV - movies
Syndicated programming
Syndicated programming
Syndicated programming

Kids, Family+Faith
Jewish Life Television - Variety/comedy, Jewish-themed programming
Classic family sitcoms/dramas
World Harvest Television - Westerns
CTN Lifestyle
Christian/family entertainment
Total Living
TLN Chicago
Total Living Network
Televangelism/general interest lifestyle programming
TLN West
BYUTV Family entertainment, LDS-themed programming, college sports
Light TV Family entertainment
PBS Kids Educational children's programs

Canadian networks
IP restricted to viewers in Canada
TVO Kids
Educational children's programs
CBC Canadian programming, NHL hockey
Radio-Canada (French-language Canadian programming)
French-language programming
French-language dubbing of American programming

Bar channels
Chive TV
Viral videos
Red Bull TV
Extreme sports
Highlights from America's Funniest Home Videos

Free versions of cable channels
does not match over-the-air/cable/satellite feed
Children's programming (NickRewind archival shows)
Nick Jr.
Preschool programming
Reality television
Southern culture programming
Comedy Central
Comedy programming
TV Land Sitcoms
🔞[adult swim]
Totally bizarre (ADULTS ONLY)
Blaze TV
Select content from TheBlaze, conservative talk
Selections from the History channel
Game Show Network
Select reruns of AMC original programming
Select reruns of IFC original programming
Retro Television Network - classic reruns (1950s to 1970s) - 6-hour sampler daily

August 2020 update:
Added a couple more channels: WATC-DT2, Z Living and Fun Roads. WATC is a mix of televangelism and westerns. Z Living has mostly action and drama reruns; I think it has a few affiliates and might be on one of the satellite providers? Fun Roads is mostly syndicated travel and lifestyle programming.

July 2020 update:
Unfortunately, iGoCast has finally figured out their IP geography restrictions and has made most of their channels unavailable outside Kansas. That means Antenna TV, Untamed Sports TV and The Action Channel have had to be removed. In addition, that also means I must rely upon the “official” Retro TV online feed, which only carries six hours of the over-the-air network’s programming, mostly public domain stuff, and excludes much of the programming on the over-the-air feed (though some of the missing programming is on other channels; Soupy Sales, for instance, is on JLTV and Doctor Who has its own channel on Pluto TV below.

I do have a new channel: Folk TV, which is a classic television network that has some satellite and cable carriage.

NOTE ON YOUTOO: WVVH, the Youtoo affiliate streaming the network's programming, relies on an outdated Silverlight plug-in that I think only works with Internet Explorer (blech) or SeaMonkey (formerly known as Netscape Navigator—I recommend SeaMonkey since it’s also the editor I use). The iPhone/iPad link seems to only work on mobile devices; I’ve come across a similar issue with WHVL, which uses Flash.

TV Listings for the above channels

Additional tips

Get an outdoor antenna

An antenna will be your best source of free television programming. The major broadcast networks still broadcast with an antenna, and you'll get programming live that isn't available on the Internet. Note that if you are in a hilly area, television reception is going to be difficult, regardless of what kind of antenna you use. The higher you can get your antenna, the more likely it is to work properly.  Point your antenna in the direction of the broadcast stations you want to receive (consult the FCC digital TV signal reception maps to figure out which direction to point your antenna), and make sure that there are as few obstructions in that direction as possible. If you live in a rural or hilly area any substantial distance away from a broadcast signal, an amplifier will likely be necessary.

If you want to watch programs on demand, invest in a DVR.

If size doesn't matter—and getting the most free TV is your primary goal—buy a portable TV and head for the hills

This may seem a bit counterintuitive considering the need for a good antenna, but especially if you have difficulties in picking up signals because you live in a valley, a portable, battery-powered TV will give you the best chance at actually finding them. The trick is to head to the highest publicly accessible hill in your area, then run your channel scan. Hilltops offer MUCH more favorable signal reception conditions, and a smaller antenna (usually included with the portable) will usually suffice.

Then, when you come down off the hill, if you have your bigger home-based antenna, you can hook it up. One of the biggest differences between analog and digital TV is how it handles weak signals: an analog TV can display whatever shows up on that channel, no matter how weak or distorted it may be. For digital, you have to scan first, and if that channel's signal is weak or distorted, it'll be skipped over and not added to the channel lineup—meaning there will be no way to actually get that channel on your TV. By scanning on a hilltop, when you come down, all those channels are already in your lineup, and you can then manually adjust your antenna to lock in a usable signal, just like you used to be able to do with analog. (Otherwise, you're basically aiming blind and hoping for the best.)

The one drawback to this method is that portable TVs usually don't carry HD displays and, naturally, are very small.

Check out a free over-the-top service

There are a few free over-the-top content providers. Most of them don't provide cable-quality programming, but a few of them have some notable shows.
Pluto TV, for example, includes the program library from the late Anthony Bourdain, the talk shows of MSNBC and Fox Sports 1, some of the channels listed on this page, and a surprisingly wide array of reruns, including the Nosey channel, which carries daytime talk shows.
Xumo TV has a somewhat more limited selection, including some of the same channels Pluto carries, and is only available in the United States. Both services have a large number of “web-exclusive” services that collect short-form video content and airs it on a linear channel.
MyTVtoGo has a collection of largely lower-end channels (many of which originate from this service and have the name “4U” in them), which I've found a few TV stations carry over-the-air.
Stirr is a new one from Sinclair Broadcast Group; it has its own channels and substantial amounts of local news.

With some programs, you're just going to have to pay for them, so decide what ones you want

Cable networks will never offer their most popular programs for free. It's not part of their business model. There are a large number of subscription “over-the-top” services out there, some run by the individual channels and others run by middleman companies bundling channels together. We're in the late 2010s now, so some over-the-top services are producing their own original programs that aren't available anywhere else. Keep all this in mind when assessing which services you want to buy, and note that if you buy all the channels available on a cable or satellite provider, it will likely cost more than a subscription, so if you want a huge selection, paying for cable or satellite may still be your best bargain.

Local sports, in particular, will likely pose your biggest obstacle. National sports networks can be found on most over-the-top providers, but the local ones that carry a majority of your local major league teams' games are difficult to find, and what ones that are carrying them tend to be very expensive. If you're thinking of buying an out-of-market package and hoping to get your local teams, think again—your local teams will almost certainly be blacked out. So, with that in mind...

Use a radio

If keeping up with live sporting events without paying for an expensive channel is what you seek, tune in a radio. At night, a large number of clear-channel stations audible over diameters of over a thousand miles still carry a number of different sporting events, depending on the station and market. Your local teams will almost certainly be within range. For certain sports, the games are also streamed on the Internet (although with the major leagues, many of the same issues that make it difficult to find TV broadcasts also restrict online radio broadcast availability—you might find it, but expect to pay). Don’t ask me why they’ll make a radio broadcast available for a 750-mile radius and beyond on clear channel AM radio but will make people pay money if they want to hear it on the Internet.

If at all possible, get an ISP not tied to your local cable company

If you're cutting the cord, you're trying to avoid the cable company that has a vested interest in you not cutting the cord. Research what your local phone company offiers, see if there is WiMax or other similar service available in your area, and if all else fails, satellite Internet is available nationwide from HughesNet or Viasat (although HughesNet has common ownership with a satellite TV provider, the companies and accounts are separate). Try to avoid metered connections if you can.

All video streams are freely provided by the actual channels. No ownership implied.

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