Apple TV offers a variety of tvOS apps providing free TV shows and movies. This article examines the most popular apps offering free content.
At first glance, Apple TV may seem like a vending machine in your living room. The most popular video apps often require a subscription fee. Renting a movie on iTunes usually costs $5.99. For those who go for the most obvious options, cable may actually be the cheaper alternative. Fortunately, you can watch free TV shows and movies on Apple TV from a variety of sources.
This isn’t too good to be true. After all, if you have a TV and an antenna, you can watch free TV shows. As with broadcast TV, these free Apple TV content apps use advertising to make a profit. The difference is that, with Apple TV, many of these programs are available on-demand. You don’t have to plan your life around the TV schedule.
There are myriad apps offering free TV shows and movies, but it’s not possible to cover them all. Virtually every TV network offers a tvOS app. While most of them require a TV provider (cable, satellite) subscription for full activation, they usually offer a few shows for free. There’s also a lot of news apps that offer free, 24/7 news coverage. This article doesn’t cover these apps, as they do have limitations. We’ll be looking at apps that offer free TV shows and movies, instead of just free samples or news.
Sony Pictures Entertainment purchased Grouper in 2006 and later rebranded the platform as Crackle. The free service has been streaming video for about a decade, and is available on virtually every platform, including Apple TV.
The service features popular TV shows such as Seinfeld, Who’s the Boss and Firefly. Crackle offers original programming, including Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Joe Dirt 2, Sports Jeopardy! and SuperMansion. Overall, the service offers about 70 different shows, however, the selection changes often. Viewers don’t have access to every episode of a TV show. For example, there are only 9 episodes of Seinfeld available, from different seasons. It’s similar to syndicated shows on broadcast TV. The episodes are random, with a sparse selection. If you’re not picky, you’ll probably find something entertaining to watch.
Crackle also features a decent selection of over 200 movies, including new releases and classics. Movies include Animal House, Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle and Apollo 13. Titles are rotated often. Make sure to watch your favorite movies before they expire. These movies are presented in their original, unedited form, with the addition of advertising breaks.
The Crackle tvOS app for Apple TV is simple and easy-to-use. The top menu makes it easy to access the Home, Shows, Movies and My Crackle screens. Users can quickly browse TV shows and Movies by category. Although there is no search feature, given the limited options, it’s unnecessary. Users can also activate Crackle, for free, to enable additional features. Activation is required to add videos to the queue.
Science fiction fans will find a lot to like about Comet TV. The new tvOS app streams science fiction programming to your Apple TV. Owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group and operated by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Comet TV delivers science fiction, fantasy, supernatural and horror programming to a variety of TV devices. Comet TV is also available on select digital broadcast TV stations.
Comet TV programming will probably appeal to some fans of science fiction, fantasy, adventure and horror programming. Don’t expect to watch Star Wars movies on Comet TV. That said, they offer some popular programs and movies, such as Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Terminator and Stargate SG-1. Programming is punctuated with advertising breaks, which keeps Comet TV free for all viewers.
Overall, the Comet TV app is simple, elegant and virtually flawless. Although programming isn’t offered in widescreen format, the tvOS app offers excellent picture quality, with stable, consistent streaming performance. The lack of on-demand content, however, is a throw-back to broadcast and cable television.
Founded in early 2006, The CW is a partnership between CBS, Warner Bros. Entertainment and other entities. The “CW” abbreviation represents the first letters of CBS and Warner Bros. Entertainment. Programming is geared toward 18 to 35-year-old women. The network is available in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
The CW tvOS app differs from most network apps in that it is absolutely free. There is no need to activate the app with a cable or satellite subscription. Viewers can enjoy shows such as Riverdale, Supergirl and The Flash for free. Just like with cable, satellite or an antenna, content is monetized with commercial breaks. The CW tvOS app only offers content on demand. There is no live TV stream. Viewers don’t need to tune in at a certain time or remember to set their DVR. The CW has embraced the future of television and we can only hope other networks follow suit.
The app itself is similar to most network tvOS apps. The Home screen displays popular shows in a scrolling marquee. Viewers can also access new episodes and programs that are about to expire from the Home screen. (Like many digital TV apps, The CW doesn’t offer every program indefinitely.) Users can browse shows by name and also search for a specific program. The Recents screen keeps track of what you’re watching, making it easy to get back to your favorite show. Best of all, The CW integrates with Apple’s TV app, making it easy to access shows directly from tvOS Home screen.
For those who prefer Christian content, Godvo offers free live TV broadcasts on Apple TV. Founded in 2016, the California-based company is already the fastest growing religious TV network. Their mission is to “bring all churches to all people through free Christian TV”. The service isn’t supported by one specific church. Instead it provides access to numerous Christian TV channels, all in one app.
The Godvo tvOS app works just like the channel guide on a digital cable box. Users scroll through the channels and click the Touch surface to start a channel. Pressing the menu button displays the channel guide again. The channel guide features a small video window with a preview of each selected channel. That’s all there is. There’s no settings or on demand selections. It’s one of the simplest tvOS video apps in the App Store.
Live TV streams are easily accessible using the Livestream app. The New York City based company was founded originally as Mogulus in 2007, as a free streaming service with additional professional services. The company rebranded as Livestream in 2009. Beyond the app, the company develops hardware, software and offers professional services to facilitate live video streaming.
The Livestream app offers a universe of free content in one app. Unfortunately, if you’re looking for the latest episode of The Walking Dead, you probably won’t find it. Instead, Livestream offers a collection of TV stations from around the world. If you want to watch local news from around the world or around the block, you’ll probably find it on Livestream. The app offers live streaming coverage of a variety of topics, including music, sports, science, technology, lifestyle and other subjects. Think of it like YouTube, except everything is live.
The app offers a simple user interface. Users can either browse live videos on the main screen, or search for streams. If you’re looking for news from your local affiliate, type in the call letters (ex: KRON) or city. There’s no guarantee that your preferred local affiliate streams via Livestream. With so many options, however, you’re bound to find something of interest.
For those interested in broadening their horizons, Mejdoo TV provides live streaming television from around the world. Founded in Tunisia in 2014, Mejdoo TV offers access to live international TV and radio stations.
Mejdoo TV differs from other live streaming apps, in that the content comes from professional international TV stations. If you’re looking for the kitty cam, you won’t find it here. Instead, viewers can enjoy live streaming television from Armenia, France, Germany, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Syria and Tunisia.
The Mejdoo TV app offers a simple user interface. The app defaults to the Recommended screen, which presents featured TV stations. Simply click on a TV station to begin viewing. Users can also view TV stations by country.
The National Broadcasting Company was founded by RCA in 1926, before television even existed. In 1939, the company entered the broadcast TV industry. NBC has a long history filled with ups and downs. Over the years, the network has been acquired by larger parent corporations. NBC is currently owned by Comcast.
Although the NBC tvOS app can be activated with a cable or satellite subscription, this isn’t necessary. With activation, content doesn’t expire and viewers have access to more programming. Unlike most network apps, NBC offers all of their current content for free, without activation. Viewers without a participating cable or satellite provider have 8 days to watch a show before it expires. Everyone can enjoy shows such as SNL, Will & Grace and The Voice for free.
The NBC tvOS app features an innovative user interface, differentiating it from most other network apps. The iconic menu bar is located on the left side of the screen. This offers better usability, as new tvOS users often don’t know how to display the ubiquitous top menu. The Home screen displays a refreshing array of content presented in vertically oriented rectangles. This is a significant change from the tired old grid of video thumbnails. Users can easily browse shows by name, add them to favorites and search for programs. The NBC tvOS app is easy to use. It’s also easy on the eyes, with its aesthetically pleasing look. Unfortunately, the app doesn’t integrate with Apple’s TV app. This means you’ll need to launch the NBC app instead of playing shows directly from the Apple TV Home screen.
Beverly Hills based OVGuide started primarily as a website aggregator. Founded in 2006, the company has grown to offer free movies and TV shows on a variety of platforms, including Apple TV. The name OVGuide is short for “online video guide”.
Don’t expect the best movies and TV shows on OVGuide. The advertising-subsidized service tends to go for low-end content, however, some of the titles are appealing. After all, there are some innovative indie movies that don’t cost a fortune to license. Movie titles include Hunting Season, The Lifeguard and Arcadia. OVGuide features TV shows such as Forensic Files, World of Discovery and America’s Dumbest Criminals. Movies and TV shows are rotated often, so make sure to watch anything that interests you as soon as possible. It’s important to note that programs are not edited or censored.
The OVGuide app features an uncomplicated user interface. After agreeing to activate location services, the app offers one screen with every available movie and TV show. Clicking on a video displays details, including a summary, cast list and related videos. The app is so bare bones, users can’t even play videos directly by pressing the play button, which is almost standard functionality across Apple TV video apps. There is absolutely no learning curve to use this app, which is a benefit of its simplicity.
Fans of independent film and documentaries will love SnagFilms. Founded in 2008 by Ted Leonsis, former president of AOL, the multi-platform service offers ad subsidized movies and TV shows. SnagFilms is the fastest growing tech company in the Washington DC area.
Unlike some free services, SnagFilms offers high quality content. Given that they specialize in independent movies and documentaries, it’s completely possible to acquire this content at a reasonable price. Popular movies include Brooklyn Rules, Under African Skies and The Good Son. If you’re a fan of National Geographic TV shows, SnagFilms offers shows such as Hard Time, Animal Superpowers, Drugs Inc. and many more. Their collection of free movies and TV shows is impressive. If you’re tired of the mainstream, SnagFilms is a refreshing alternative.
SnagFilms offers an impressive tvOS app for Apple TV. They actually invested in quality software development and created a feature-rich app. On the initial launch, users are asked if they wish to sign up or log in, however this can be skipped. It’s impressive that one can sign up directly on the tvOS app, as most apps force users to create accounts on a website. The main screen displays featured movies and TV shows. Clicking on a video displays the detail page with a summary, related videos, trailer and rating. Users can also add videos to their queue. Rating and adding videos to the queue requires a free account. Movies, TV shows and settings can also be accessed from the menu.
If you’ve ever surfed through channels on cable, you’re probably aware of the abundance of food and travel shows. Unfortunately, many of the free services available on Apple TV don’t offer food or travel programming. Tastemade offers free programming centered around travel and food. Founded in 2012, the Santa Monica based company was an early adopter of Apple TV.
Unlike other free video apps, Tastemade produces their own content. If you’re looking for Parts Unknown or Bizarre Foods, you won’t find it here. You will, however, find some of the most innovative food and travel programming available today. Shows like 8Bit Cooking School, Food Court and Tiny Kitchen are unique and offbeat. In addition to shows, Tastemade offers a library of video recipes and collections of videos from “Tastemakers” — culinary experts affiliated with Tastemade. Although not every video is free, there’s an abundance of free content, not just a few samples.
Tastemade’s Apple TV app takes advantage of some of the new features of tvOS. The main “Today” screen offers featured videos. Simply selecting the video starts playback within an embedded player on the screen. Clicking on the video displays it in full-screen mode. The top menu offers easy access to the Recipes, Shows, Tastemakers, Plus and Settings screens. Overall, the app exhibits high quality development, which complements Tastemade’s choice content.
Advertising can often finance great content, which is the case with TubiTV. It’s the best of the free content services available on Apple TV. Founded in 2014 by Adrise, the service offers the largest selection of free movies and TV shows. Partnerships with Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate, in addition to expertise with advertising, seem to be the recipe for TubiTV’s success.
TubiTV’s selection of movies and TV shows is impressive. It’s almost hard to believe this is a free service. Movies such as The Usual Suspects, The Blair Witch Project and Lars and the Real Girl are just a few of the quality movies available on TubiTV. They also offer some of my favorite British TV shows, such as Peep Show, The Inbetweeners and Shameless, in addition to popular American shows. Unfortunately, they only offer a few seasons of each show, but rotate selections frequently. Being a free service, you can’t expect to watch the entire series of Breaking Bad. But TubiTV breaks the bad reputation of some free Apple TV content apps.
The TubiTV tvOS app transcends the traditional Apple TV user interface. Instead of having a top menu, the menu is on the side. This offers greater usability, as novice Apple TV users can view the menu without swiping up on the Touch surface. Apart from the top menu option, Search & Sign In, the rest of the menu items are movie and TV show categories. Some of my favorite categories are Not on Netflix, Highly Rated on Rotten Tomatoes and Staff Picks. Selecting a category on the left displays video options on the right. There’s no learning curve. Users need to create and sign in with a free account in order to add videos to their queue, view history and track TV episodes in a series.
Founded in 2007, Zürich based Viewster offers a respectable collection of free movies and TV shows. Ever-expanding, Viewster is currently available in 120 nations and caters to 39 million unique visitors every month.
Viewster doesn’t offer a huge collection of movies and TV shows, but the selection is unusual. Although there are some of the same low-end movies and TV shows available on most free services, there’s also some unique selections. I’ve never heard of Space Janitors. It’s actually very funny and something I started watching. Viewster seems to be oriented toward the science fiction and comic book crowd. While there are other titles, they are definitely suited for the geek on a budget. Overall, Viewster is a perfect complement to the other free services available on Apple TV.
The Viewster app is the epitome of Apple’s basic tvOS app. It resembles the iTunes Movies and iTunes TV Shows apps. It’s adorned with the standard multi-colored-yet-gray background and menu bar. Although they didn’t put much effort into this app, it is adequate and easy to use. Categories are displayed on the top menu bar. Each screen offers a grid of video options. Clicking on a video displays the detail page with a summary and list of episodes (if it’s a TV show).
As an American, I don’t watch Asian programming, mainly because I don’t speak Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean or other Asiatic languages. Viki offers a wealth of Asian programs with subtitles in English and many other languages. Founded in San Francisco in 2007, the company allows community volunteers to submit subtitles for programming. This allows virtually anyone in the world to enjoy Asian movies and TV shows, without having to learn a new language. Viki also offers some content from Australia, Bangladesh, Germany, Spain, France, the U.S. and other nations.
Most of the shows on Viki are probably unknown to most Westerners, but are popular throughout the world. Some of these shows include The Legend of the Blue Sea, Hwarang and Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo. Viki also has an enormous selection of movies. If you’re willing to broaden your horizons, Viki offers content you probably haven’t seen before, that you can finally understand. Prior to Viki, only the most popular and marketable International films and TV shows offered English subtitles. Viki also offers subtitles in a variety of languages. Crowdsourcing the subtitle work made all of this possible. Viki’s selection of movies and TV shows is enormous, and it’s all free! They even have a vast collection of (mostly classic) American movies and TV shows, for those who don’t want to read subtitles.
The Viki Apple TV app looks a lot like a standard tvOS app. It has the familiar top menu and grayish background color. They implement an innovative filter feature which I haven’t seen on any other Apple TV app. While on a category screen, such as Movies, users can filter selections based on genres, countries and status (popular, highest rated and recently added). This makes it much easier to find exactly what you’re looking for. People new to foreign programming may just want to stick with the default Featured screen. Although the app looks a bit drab, the filters are impressive and useful.
Last, but certainly not least, YouTube is the free content powerhouse of the Internet. The video service, created by three PayPal employees in 2005, was eventually acquired by Google in 2006. Today, YouTube is the second highest ranked website on the planet, accounting for almost 20% of Internet traffic.
There’s a misconception that YouTube only streams amateur video. We’ve probably all watched cute pet videos on YouTube, but the platform offers much more. The other night, I really wanted to watch The Kids in the Hall. Netflix doesn’t offer it anymore. I searched YouTube and hit the jackpot. Not only did they have every episode on The Nerdist channel, but the playlists featured interviews with the cast. I enjoyed the sketches and also gained insight into this show that I have enjoyed for almost 30 years. I watch the PBS NewsHour on YouTube every day. Networks like HBO offer free episodes on YouTube. There’s also great shows and movies uploaded by YouTube users, some of which have been picked up by major networks, receiving rave reviews.
The YouTube app for Apple TV only offers a subset of functionality. Users can search for and play videos, subscribe to channels and alter settings. Unfortunately, commenting and rating videos is not possible at this time. I find searching for videos to be a bit difficult using the Siri Remote or Siri dictation. This is mainly because YouTube just has so much content. The Home screen is intelligent and figures out what you probably want to watch. The Subscriptions screen provides quick access to subscribed channels. Users can look at their history and even access Google Play purchases from the My YouTube screen. If you need to access YouTube’s full functionality, you can use your iPhone or iPad and beam video to your Apple TV using AirPlay.
Much More Free Content on Apple TV
This article is, by no means, an exhaustive exposé on free Apple TV content. The apps profiled here are the most popular free tvOS content apps available in the App Store. The Apple TV App Store is still relatively new. New apps are added every day. Without a doubt, there will be more apps providing free movies and TV shows to Apple TV users.
Apple TV owners aren’t limited to the App Store. Using AirPlay technology, it’s possible to beam just about anything to Apple TV. If you can see it on your screen, you can beam it to Apple TV. Major networks tend to be more generous with free content on their websites and iOS apps. While they may require a TV provider to activate their tvOS app, they sometimes provide free content over the web. If you look beyond the App Store, there’s a wealth of free content available for Apple TV.