The Internet used to be a place where users could find an infinite amount of entertainment and information for free, but that world is disappearing fast.
Many sites that once let users download and listen to music for free like Napster, Kazaa and Audiogalaxy are now defunct or pay-only. Similarly, several of the biggest newspapers including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Newsday have decided to charge users for access to much of their online content. Even YouTube, a site that mostly features videos created by users is gradually boosting the number of videos that users must pay to “rent.”
Yet, the definitive case may be that of Hulu, one of the most popular sites on the Web to watch TV shows and movies for free. Hulu has been both a dream and a curse for many users. The site was created by NBC and News Corp (Stock Quote: NWS) and had the blessing of the major networks to play shows for free, with a few ads stuck in for good measure. While other sites closed down or started charging for their content, Hulu appeared to be a brilliant safe haven for Internet users. But in recent months, there had been a lot of speculation about how long Hulu would continue to offer up the best of cable television for free before switching to a pay-only model.
Finally, the company recently announced that they would try to have it both ways. Users now have the option to pay $10 a month for a premium version of the site, which grant access to all of the episodes from past and current seasons of network shows from ABC, NBC, Fox and others. By comparison, the free site only allows users to watch the most recent few episodes from any given show (usually about five episodes). It may not be a pay-only site yet, but Hulu is definitely stretching its motto of “Watch your favorites. Anywhere. For Free.”
Now, at MainStreet, we write a lot about small businesses very often, so we obviously believe that companies have the right to set the price point for their content and, perhaps more importantly, the people who create that content should be compensated for it. But as consumers, it is still a bit unnerving to see the Internet move away from a free model. So we’ve collected a few of the sites out there where you can still get something for nothing.
Here are five of the best sites where you can enjoy many of your favorite TV shows, sporting events and movies for free.
Fancast has an excellent assortment of clips and full episodes from current TV shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live and Hell’s Kitchen, plus older shows like Friends and many popular movies. In fact, for many shows, there are 10 or more episodes available, which beats out the amount that Hulu has available for free.
If you’re looking for a place to watch sporting events, ATDHE.net is one of the better free options online. The site itself is very bare bones, but when there’s a big game on, this is the place to go. ATDHE has streamed all of the games from the World Cup, the NBA Finals and Wimbledon, which were nearly impossible to find anywhere else. The site also plays random episodes of popular shows like The Office and Family Guy.
Sidereel is a great place to find links to free TV shows and movies from a bunch of reputable sites all over the Internet. But more than that, it’s also a great community for the pop culture obsessed to come and rant/rave about the shows after they air, as the site features a great discussion board and a Facebook fan page with more than 14,000 members. Users can also create an account for free and be sent links to new episodes when they first come out.
Like Sidereel, this site aggregates videos from other sites and links back to them to create an extensive directory of free offerings on the Web. You’ll find links to old shows like Seinfeld and new shows like Fringe. And if you can’t find the show you’re looking for on Clicker, chances are it doesn’t exist online for free.
When all else fails, go straight to the official site of the show or network. NBC and TBS have particularly good sites that let you watch clips and full episodes from many of their most popular shows. Beyond these, certain shows like Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, South Park, The Daily Show and The Colbert Reporthave fantastic sites that let you watch entire episodes plus special online-only extras.
When It Makes Sense to Pay
Obviously, each of these sites has limits about what and how much you can watch. So if all of this fails to satisfy your insatiable urge for pop culture consumption, it may still make sense for you to sign up for a service. But which one is the best buy for the money?
On average, consumers spend $75 a month on their cable bills and that number is only going to increase in the near future. Sure, that may include many premium channels, but when you consider that Hulu’s premium option costs just $10 a month and Netflix starts at $9 a month, that price starts to seem a bit obscene, especially when you consider that you can connect your computer to your TV with a $10 DVI cable and get the full television experience.
Now, if you’re torn between Hulu and Netflix, the truth is these two services are a bit like apples and oranges. If you’re someone who likes to keep up to date with shows, then you should sign up with Hulu since the site posts episodes as they are released on air, whereas Netflix only releases TV shows once they are released on DVD. On the other hand, if you are mainly interested in catching up with TV shows and watching movies, then Netflix is your best bet. Of course, you could sign up for both and still spend just a fraction of what cable costs.
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