Stay at home! This free TV list will make your quarantine cozy

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Apple TV remote news
Binging on TV is now a healthy choice.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

If staying at home saves lives during the coronavirus pandemic, then binging on TV is your civic duty.

Networks and streaming services are stepping up to help us sacrifice, offering loads of free programming for any device while we wait out stay-at-home orders. Much of what we’re about to tell you in this guide to free streaming is available on a variety of platforms, from Apple TV to the iPhone, iPad, Macs and smart TVs. Chances are good you’ve already got everything you need to take advantage of these freebies.

Many platforms are adding free news broadcasts for the latest reports on the plague of our time. But there’s also plenty of programming to take your mind off the coronavirus.

Networks are extending free trial periods or providing subscribers access to free on-demand shows or premium channels, like Showtime. Even DogTV — available on the App Store — is offering up “pooch porn” with 30 days of free video-on-demand content.

Below is a list of free streaming options you can access on some or all of your Apple devices. It is by no means complete, but if you can’t find something to watch from the offerings below, it’s going to be a rough few weeks.

Free streaming video

Streaming news you can use

  • SlingTV, a streaming service available on all Apple devices, is offering 14 days of free access with an initiative called Stay in & Sling. New users can check out Sling Blue, which serves up 45 channels, a free cloud DVR feature and more than 50,000 on-demand titles. Sling is steering viewers to the many news channels it carries — now an incredible 19 — including CNN, Bloomberg TV, Cheddar News, MSNBC and Fox News. According to Sling, news consumption through the service has increased 121% since Feb. 24. This offer runs through April 5.
  • Plex is offering three free months of live TV programming in response to subscribers’ hunger for expanded news as the coronavirus spreads. A Plex subscription normally starts at $4.99 a month. You can access the three-month deal on any Apple device using the free Plex app. Head to the settings and click on Live TV. For more info, visit the Plex website.
  • This one is only free to Hulu Picks collection subscribers. The streaming service is adding ABC News Live so they can get 24/7 news on their TVs or mobile devices through the Hulu app.
  • This one is also only for current subscribers — this time, it’s for DirecTV and U-verse customers. AT&T expanded its list of free channels for subscribers, adding news stations BBC World News, CNBC, CNN, CNN International, Fox Business Network, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, One America News Network. Go to AT&T’s COVID-19 help page for the list of new entertainment and kids programs.

Free streaming TV and movies

An iPad is a fine way to watch your favorite shows.
An iPad is a fine way to watch your favorite shows.
Photo: Apple
  • Comcast subscribers with X1 or Flex set-top boxes can get free video-on-demand programming from several networks and streaming services. If you have an Xfinity Voice remote, tell it “Free,” and a list will appear. Free channels include Showtime, Epix, The Reading Corner for kids and Grokker Yoga Fitness & Wellbeing. Check out The TV Answer Man website for a complete list.
  • CBS All Access is offering free access through April 23. The streaming service normally costs $5.99 per month, and CBS is probably thinking Star Trek will be enough to keep you. To get CBS All Access on Apple TV, open the CBS.com page and click “Login with Apple TV.” CBS All Access will unlock as long as you stay subscribed through Apple TV Channels.
  • Acorn TV is giving new members a free 30-day trial. Just use the FREE30 promo code when you sign up here. Acorn is available on Apple TV, iPhone and iPad, as well as the web, Android and Roku.
  • People who subscribe to Showtime before May 3 can get a free 30-day trial. You can sign up for the free trial here.
  • Sundance Now is free for 30 days for anyone signing in with the promo code SUNDANCENOW30. The homepage only reflects a seven-day trial. Just follow the steps and type in your code.
  • Another freebie, but only for current DirecTV and U-verse customers: AT&T added a lot of general entertainment and kids channels to all subscriber packages: American Heroes, Aspire, AWE, AXS TV, Comedy.TV, Cooking Channel, Crime & Investigation, Destination America, Discovery Life, DIY Network, Eleven Sports, FM, Fuse, FX Movie Channel, fyi, Great American Country, GSN, Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, HDNET MOVIES, IFC, Justice Central, LMN, MGM HD, MTV Live, Nat Geo WILD, OWN, Oxygen, Science Channel, ShortsTV, Smithsonian Channel, Sony Movie Channel, SundanceTV, The Weather Channel, Travel Channel, TV One, UPtv, WGN America, Discovery Family, Disney Jr., Disney XD, Nick Jr. and Universal Kids.

Already free, but good

There are lots of free streaming services already out there. Typically supported by advertising, some of them are better than anything available on cable or satellite. Here’s a rundown, with all of them (except for IMDb) available as apps on Apple devices.

  • Pluto is an ad-supported platform offering more than 250 channels of movies and TV shows. Some examples … a channel dedicated to James Bond movies, Hell’s Kitchen, BET, Nickelodeon and Mystery Science Theater 3000. Pluto serves up thousands of on-demand movies and TV show.
  • Continuing in the line of ad-supported, on-demand viewing, Tubi offers more than 15,000 movies and TV shows from more than 200 partners including Lionsgate, MGM and Paramount.
  • Ad-supported on-demand platform Vudu streams free content, with thousands of movies and TV shows that can be viewed in up to 1080p. The service adds new options weekly. More than 100,000 movies and TV shows are also available for rent or to own in standard format, HD or 4K and HDR.
  • Crackle is an ad-supported service featuring on-demand full-length movies, TV shows and original programming. Watch classic TV shows like What’s Happening!! and Fantasy Island or more current options like Dr. Ken and Kitchen Nightmares. Its wide array of movie genres include action, anime, comedy, drama, thrillers and more.
  • Redbox Free Live TV is a redesigned service with both free and rental content. It’s trying to be a Pluto-alternative and in many ways it’s succeeding. It’s surprising just how many free TV shows and movies are available. You’ll find news, web culture content, comedy shows, and even a bunch of popular TV series like America’s Funniest Home VideosForensic FilesFamily Feud and Unsolved Mysteries.
  • Everyone knows IMDb, but few know it now offers free streaming content (as well as rentals). This on-demand, ad-supported platform offers hit Hollywood movies and popular TV shows with a constantly changing lineup. The platform offers multiple genres including hidden gems and IMBb originals. Recently added movies include Salt (starring Angelina Jolie) and Blade Runner 2049 (with Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford).

Go to the library – virtually

Maybe you know what you want to watch. Kanopy is a service that lets you stream thousands of films through some public libraries and universities. You need a library card or to be a registered student or faculty member at a participating university. Once signed up, you can access Kanopy on any Apple device or smart TV.