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How to Legally Watch Your Favorite TV Shows Online

From New Releases to Old Favorites

Traditional television viewership is dying. It seems like just yesterday that baby boomers were marveling at how you could change the channel with a remote while on the couch, instead of getting up and turning a dial on the TV. But times have changed.

The Digital Era is here, and so is cord cutting. Cable television has become archaic and outclassed in the face of streaming services. There aren’t many reasons to keep your cable service around, but there are a lot of reasons to cut your cord, which we’ll outline here.

But once you’ve canceled your cable subscription, what are your options for watching your favorite TV shows? We’ll also go over how to watch TV shows online legally. There are tons of legal content providers offering users quality online shows, documentaries, sports and movies.

Let’s get started.

Why You Should Cut Your Cord In 2019

You’re Probably Paying for Way More Channels than You Actually Need

Be honest with yourself: do you really need a couple hundred channels to choose from? Probably not. How many adults even need more than one hand to count the number of TV shows that they consistently watch? I can’t.

If you go down the cord cutting route, you will still have more TV shows and movies at your fingertips than you will have time to watch. However, there’s a key difference between the two, which is that…

Cable Service Is No Longer Worth It

Cable and alternative viewing options such as streaming services both offer up more content than you’d ever be able to watch in a lifetime, but the difference is cable service is far more expensive than the competition.

In 2018, the average cable bill ranged from $85 to $107 a month depending on your service provider. A monthly Netflix Premium subscription plan costs $15.99. That’s a lot of money saved that could then be used on something else. Like pizza. Lots and lots of pizza. Just a suggestion.

It’s One Less Screen You Need to Buy

Most cord cutters can completely skip out buying a traditional television set. This is obviously not very practical for families, or anyone who likes to host parties at their place, but for younger people, such as college students, looking to save some money, cord cutting is ideal.

Streaming services can be used on almost everything save for a toaster. You can watch your streaming service of choice on your desktop/laptop, smartphone, or other smart devices such as a tablet.

What’s that you say? You’re a console gamer? How can I play on my console without having a TV?

Well, most games nowadays have full controller support, so you can use both Xbox and PlayStation controllers on your gaming rig. Converting to console gaming via PC also gives you access to mods, which extend the playability of your video games, gives you access to the many sales that PC gamers enjoy that console gamers do not get to benefit from (and free games from time to time), and easy-peasy backward compatibility for older games.

You’ll Have Access to Region-Locked Content You Wouldn’t be Able to View Otherwise

Do you have a mate in the land down under who raves on and on about this show he’s been watching? Do you want to watch and see what the rage is about, but can’t because you live in Chicago where the show isn’t available?

Say hello to VPNs.

There are a lot of geo-restrictions out there, and not all content is available in every country. VPNs circumvent this problem. Using a VPN (virtual private network), you can switch your IP address to a country where the content you are trying to view is available.

Streaming Services Come with a Lot of Original Content Not Available on Cable

One of your main options for watching TV free online, which we’ll go into detail on later, is using a streaming service. The benefits of streaming services alone are reason enough to cancel your cable TV subscription.

Along with having generous libraries of licensed TV shows and movies, streaming services also come with their own original TV shows and movies. You won’t be able to find these on your cable TV channels and trust me, there’s a lot of stellar original content that traditional TV viewers are missing out on. Don’t count yourself among them.

Have I convinced you to cut your cord yet? I hope so! Now let’s get down to business and let you know what your best options are for watching your favorite TV shows legally online.

Different Options Available

So you’ve cut the cord. Now what are your options? There are two major categories of legal online TV: pay TV and free TV. Pay TV means you actually pay to watch a show or movie like on Amazon or iTunes. Free TV means you don’t have to pay to watch your favorite show or movie.

Pay TV

The main ways you can access Pay TV online are through streaming services, TV rental services and purchasing TV services.

Streaming Services

This is one of the most popular ways to watch TV online. Customers pay a subscription fee to access a huge array of movies and shows over a specified period of time, usually a month. Subscribers have access to the latest premium content. Subscribers can choose to binge-watch entire seasons of hundreds of shows available.

There are a lot of streaming services to choose from, and several serious competitors are on the way later this year, but we’ve narrowed down the field to three top picks: Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime.

  1. Hulu
    Hulu isn’t the best overall streaming service, but when it comes to watching your favorite cable TV shows online, it’s definitely the best option. Hulu’s Streaming Library gives users access to the networks CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox and The CW. TV shows from these networks appear on Hulu the day after they air. In addition, users can opt to subscribe to Hulu + Live TV, which will give them access to over 70 channels including ESPN, FX and The Discovery Channel. At $44.99 per month with ads or $50.99 per month without them, Hulu’s Live TV service is a lot more expensive than a standard streaming service subscription, but still significantly cheaper than cable. If you want to cut your cord but still be able to watch most of the best channels on TV, Hulu is for you.
  2. Amazon Prime
    Amazon Prime isn’t as good as Hulu when it comes to network TV, but it gets the job done. Amazon Prime has a healthy number of classic shows available, such as “Parks and Recreations” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” They also give the option of purchasing episodes or entire seasons of TV shows. This can get a bit expensive, but we reckon most people aren’t going to be watching a ton of TV shows anyway, so it’s not too bad. Amazon Prime is the best option for college students because they can get six months of Amazon Prime for free, and then pay half-price for an Amazon Prime subscription after that.
  3. Netflix
    Netflix is our third streaming service suggestion and the weakest when it comes to licensed content. This is entirely intentional by Netflix, as they have been focusing on original content over the last couple of years. As a result, they’ve been purging their licensed content library. Netflix is notorious for taking a very long time to acquire new seasons of TV shows, both recent and (sometimes) old. If you want to watch currently running TV shows while they are still fresh, then Netflix is not for you.

There are a couple new streaming services on the horizon that are worth mentioning:

  1. WarnerMedia
    WarnerMedia will be releasing its own streaming service later this year. WarnerMedia has a lot of noteworthy licensed content under its umbrella, with three standouts being DC, HBO and TBS. If you’re into DC Comics, then this streaming service is one you will want to look out for. We may very well get a streaming platform with all of DC’s glorious animated television shows of years past from “Batman: The Animated Series” to “Static Shock” all in one place. Having ownership of HBO means WarnerMedia also has a wealth of classic HBO shows that it can put on their streaming platform like “The Wire,” “The Sopranos” and “Entourage.” Oh, and this little show called “Game of Thrones.” Despite its wet-firecracker Season 8, it is still a show well-worth watching.
  2. Disney+
    We reckon Disney doesn’t need much of an explanation so here’s a brief spiel: Disney+ has Disney movies and TV shows, Pixar movies, Star Wars, Marvel and Fox. That’s a lot of great content all in one place. Disney has plans for a number of new Marvel and Star Wars TV shows, such as “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier,” a Hawkeye series that includes Kate Bishop, and “The Mandalorian.” With their recent acquisition of 21st Century Fox, this also gives them options from Fox’s catalog, such as the iconic thriller show “24.” We won’t be able to tell for sure until it is released, but Disney+ is likely going to be the best option for family-friendly cord cutters.
TV Rental Services

Gone are the days when consumers were forced to go to the video store and rent a DVD or VHS tape. Online TV rental services work in the same way as renting DVDs: they allow you to watch a movie once for a specified time at a fee. Depending on the content provider setup, content is mostly in HD or SD.

The most popular rental content providers are iTunes Store, Vudu and Amazon instant videos. iTunes usually charges $1.99 USD per show or $30 USD per season.

Buying TV Services

This is the online version of one-time purchases of DVDs at the store. Due to copyright laws and infringements, not all digitally bought copies can be made into hard copies.

Free Online TV

Finding genuine free legal online TV content can be tricky, especially with an influx of illegal streaming sites that have copyrighted content. The two main ways you can legally watch TV for free online are: free streaming sites and watching shows from the respective network.

Free Streaming Sites

These sites provide great service and enable users to watch their favorite shows legally. Sometimes the content may be limited, so you won’t be able to watch current shows. In order to support their content, some sites may have ads for viewers. Here is a list of popular legal free streaming sites, in no particular order:

  1. Crackle
    Sony-owned Crackle is free and lets users watch dozens of TV shows, both relatively recent and old. This includes the one and only “Seinfeld.” And anything that lets you watch “Seinfeld” for free is a very good thing indeed.You have to sign up for an account and sit through ads, but it’s more than a fair price to pay. Keep in mind, though, that Crackle’s library isn’t the biggest, so if you’re a binge-watcher, you might run out of shows to watch pretty fast.
  2. Yahoo View
    Previously, people could enjoy a limited amount of Hulu content for free. This came to an end several years ago, but lives on in the form of Yahoo View, where Hulu’s free content library was moved.Fast forward to 2019, and Yahoo View has a pretty huge collection of old and modern TV shows and anime that you can watch. From “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Gotham” to “Cowboy Bebop” and “One -Punch Man,” there is bound to be something here for you.
  3. YouTube
    Believe it or not, YouTube isn’t just filled with vlogs and slime tutorials — there are actually a lot of TV shows and movies that you can watch for free. Want to take a trip down memory lane and get your game on? You can watch many seasons of the classic anime “Yu-Gi-Oh” for free on YouTube.
    Networks like Nickelodeon and the Discovery Channel post a good amount of free content to enjoy as well.
Watching Shows from the Respective Network Provider

Most giant TV networks like AMC make their top-rated shows available on their websites for free. The only drawback is that the shows are only available for a limited period of time and you have to watch a couple of ads before you actually get to watch the show.

For example, The CW’s online platform lets you watch episodes of their TV shows the day after they air. They typically keep the five most recent episodes of any given TV show in the rotation.

Keep in mind that these episodes don’t stick around forever, so don’t take too long to catch up on a series. Also, speaking from personal experience, their video player tends to suffer from buffering and freezing issues more often than I would like.

Other Ways to Legally Watch TV Online

Streaming sticks come fully loaded with free and premium apps like Pandora, YouTube, ESPN, Crackle, Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO GO, Google Play, Showtime and thousands more. Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku and Amazon Fire are also options.

If You Have a VPN, the World Is Your TV Screen

Looking to watch some BBC documentaries? Trying to watch seasons of “MI-5” (“Spooks”) again or catch up on episodes of “Luther”? Well if you live in a place that’s not the United Kingdom, that might be a problem. Or at least it is so long as you don’t have a VPN. But if you do, then it’s a non-issue.

There is a lot of geo-restricted content out there, but VPNs provide users with a workaround. With a VPN, you can hop on to a server located in nearly any country in the world, which will then give you access to content exclusive to that country.

Looking to get your Bollywood fix? Get a VPN, hop on to a server located in India, and check out the Indian streaming service Hotstar!

With VPNs, international content is right at your fingertips! To save you some time, here are our recommended VPNs:

  • ExpressVPN
  • NordVPN
  • PrivateVPN
  • CyberGhost
  • IPVanish

Perks of Watching TV Online

Convenience

Online TV gives viewers flexibility, allowing them to watch what they want, where they want, on a multiplicity of devices. In addition, you get to watch TV in the best and latest formats available — convenient, right?

Cost Effective

Compared to cable TV, streaming and online TV rentals are way more cost-effective. Plus you get to pay for only the shows you want. Cable costs up to $700 USD a year, while streaming sites like Netflix are less than $200 USD.

Variety

Online TV provides users with a wide range of content to choose from. Watch all your sports, drama, horror and blockbuster movies all in one place.

Disadvantages of Watching TV Online

Internet Is a Must

If you have slow or unreliable internet, you will not get much out of online TV.

Additional Upgrades

Other upgrades like streaming sticks are needed if you want to enjoy some features like 4K.

Conclusion

The Digital Era is here, and it’s made the viewing experience better than ever. Granted, you might find yourself with several online service subscriptions that you’ll need to keep track of, but it’ll be worth it. At the end of the day, you’ll have a better selection to choose from at a lower cost to you. What do you have to lose?