In this episode, we talked with Polygon’s Film and Streaming Editor, Tasha Robinson, about the variety of free options available for online entertainment. Check out Frugal Living on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon, Anchor.fm, iHeartRadio, or anywhere you go to find podcasts.
If you’re paying anything at all, you’re paying too much for cable. Streaming services offer on-demand entertainment for a fraction of the cost. That’s why, in anticipation of the new podcast season of Frugal Living, we brought back this classic episode.
The conversation begins with paid options (and how to minimize the risk of maintaining unwanted subscriptions to these services). Then, we discussed ad-supported streaming platforms. These don’t require a subscription fee.
Finally, we discuss library-supported streaming libraries. Here are a few of the best places to watch movies online for free:
Read a Transcript of This Episode
If you want a wide variety of choice and you want it entirely free, you’re probably watching ads with it. [music] This is Frugal Living.
This podcast is brought to you by Brad’s Deals, a team of real people dedicated to helping consumers. Today, we hear from my friend, Tasha Robinson. She knows more about movies than anyone I’ve ever met. So I figured she’d be the person to talk to about frugal options. In this episode, we talk about cheap streaming services, free streaming services, and ways to stay connected with our friends while some of our favorite movie theaters are shut down.
I’m Tasha Robinson, I’m the film and TV editor of polygon.com. And I’m the co-host of the Next Picture Show podcast, where we talk about current movies and how they relate to past movies.
Where do you go to find? I mean, all right. So maybe not you, you are a critic, you have access to probably a lot of media that the world doesn’t yet have access to.
Oh yeah. People would just pile up free free media at your door when you’re a critic. So yeah, I don’t have to worry about free media too much, but as part of the podcast, we do watch a lot of older movies and I do find myself just always looking for, okay. Do, do I have to plunk down the rental fee for something that I’m probably not going to watch again for another 20 years, if at all, or is there someplace that I can just find it online on, on one of the many, many free movie services? So I do think about this more than you might think.
So where do you go? Like, what’s the go-to. I mean, if we’re going to watch The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, what’s the process?
Well, that movie is surprisingly available. The first step in any search for a specific movie, because see, here’s the thing. You kind of have two branches with your online free movies. There’s I want something to watch, which is very easy. And I want to watch this one specific thing and I don’t want to pay for it. That’s a lot harder. If you want to watch a specific thing and you don’t want to pay for it, you go to justwatch.com. And that is a service that just tells you what streaming services things are on.
So, you can just look up that movie and you’ll get a list of like, is it on, is it on HBO, max? Is it on Netflix? Is it on Amazon prime? Like all of those pay services, but it’ll also tell you if it’s on things like Tubi TV or Crackle or any of the various free services.
So if you can’t find it on the list of free services on justwatch.com, there’s a really good chance that it’s not out there for you free. And that is going to be the case for an awful lot of specific movies, because these days, everybody and their brother has a streaming service. Like every studio wants to have its own streaming service.
Every network wants to have its own streaming service. And tons of companies are just like putting out little specialty-streaming services of various kinds. And every movie has to be licensed to play on one of those streaming services.
So if NBC produced a movie, they’re going to want to put it out on their streaming service and not give anybody else the rights to do that. So if your goal is to watch one specific thing, especially if it just came out, the likelihood of finding it free online is pretty low. If you want to watch something like the Terminator, which has been around a long time and is popular, you’re probably going to find it on a lot of those ad-supported free services.
You have a solution for, I know what I want to watch, where do I find it? What if you just want quality and quantity and you don’t care where you get it, what’s the thought process for: Entertain me? How can I do this for free? I have an internet connection. I don’t want to pay any cable fees.
Those two things, they’re just so different. Quantity and quality. If I want quality, I’m probably going to my friends. You know, people who know me pretty well and saying what’s good. There, there are a lot of ways to go from, I dunno to one specific thing, but it usually involves the opinion of somebody else that got there before you did.
I’m interested in your thought process around how do we watch the movies that we want to watch without subscribing to 17 different streaming services
It really depends a lot on what you’re looking to watch. I would not subscribe to 17 different streaming services simply because it ramps up that problem of too much stuff to watch means nothing stands out. And, and you have no choice.
If you’re only on Shutter, the horror movie streaming service, you know, that all you’ve got to choose from is horror movies. And that’s going to narrow it down for you. If you’re only on Amazon prime, they’re churning through things at a steady rate and you can find a million lists online. That’s here’s what’s leaving Amazon prime this month. Here’s what’s coming to Amazon prime that’s new.
You’ve at least got a narrower window of things to choose from. One thing I might suggest like, streaming services aren’t like the gym. If you like leave a streaming service. And some of them Netflix in particular makes it very easy to leave the streaming service.
You can just not be on Netflix for three months while you just watch stuff on Hulu. And then you can come back when you’re ready, you know, shut off Hulu, turn on Netflix and get caught up on, on the new stuff. There’s no surcharge for rejoining. It’s not like they’re trying to keep you on. Well, they are trying to keep you on the hook to pay for streaming services you’re not using. That’s very helpful for them with, with the gym model. But part of the gym model is if you leave and come back, they want to charge you like a big upcharge, no streaming service that I’m aware of does that. So there’s no reason to not just opt out for a little while of streaming services that you’re not using.
One thing I do to help me opt out is I cancel auto renew on almost every service I’m part of. So if you sign up for a month of Netflix and then cancel auto renew, you can still watch it for the rest of the month. Many services operate that way. I never have, or very rarely have, Hulu and Netflix. I’ll have one or the other. I’ll choose. And I’m sure there’s other people the same way. And the way I justify even that expense is by not having cable, I cut my cable cord 10 years ago. I’ve never once regretted it.
Yeah. I honestly, to some degree, don’t understand why, why cable still exists? I guess there are older people out there. And I say this as a ridiculously old person myself. But I also, I got rid of cable again, back in college and I’ve never looked back. There were older people who still read newspaper comics and still subscribed to cable like background wallpaper. And I am not one of them. And if you want free movies, I recommend that you not be one of them either because it’s just, it’s a perpetual torrent of stuff that, you know, you’re not going to watch, but turning off auto renewal, that sounds like a really good idea.
You have to, you have to watch out for that, with the, get a week free kind of offers because yeah, you’re right. I was going to bring that up. Pretty much. Every streaming service has a try before you buy free trial kind of deal. But the entire point is to get you to sign up in the hopes that you’ll then forget to not renew and they can just keep charging you in the background. I’ve never seen an option for a free trial where you could auto turn off auto renew. I like, I’ve always had to like set little pop-ups in my calendar. Uh, be sure to turn this off at this time,
Obviously this episode’s coming out probably in mid November, but we’re recording it right after prime day. And I spent $5 on prime day and three of those dollars were on $1, one month subscriptions to premium video services on Amazon. I got Showtime, Starz, and PBS Masterpiece each for a dollar. And my instinct was, I’m going to put this in my calendar to remember to cancel in a month or two. And it’s actually really easy.
In Amazon, go to your, if you can find it, go to your video settings, to turn off auto renew and it doesn’t kick you out early. Like, you don’t lose out on the rest of your subscription. It just doesn’t automatically bill you for the next one. And it allowed me to turn off PBS and to leave Starz and Showtime live. But I also know in a month, in a day, I’m going to turn both of those to auto-cancel as well. So I won’t spend more than $5 total for two months of one service in one month of another service.
And I’m not going to find a better deal on Showtime, Starz, and PBS Masterpiece anywhere. But I say, this is a prime member. Those deals wouldn’t be possible if I wasn’t already paying the annual subscription to be part of Prime.
It’s gotten to the point where I don’t think of my Amazon Prime membership is in any way related to like the free book a month thing or the streaming TV stuff services that I use intermittently. But I, I mean, I think of it as, as being for free, fast shipping. And anything else you get is just a, you know, kind of bonus because it’s way too much to pay for a streaming service. Given Disney+ is like six bucks a month.
Netflix is about 10ish depending on what exactly your deal is, how many screens, how many streams. So yeah, it’s, it’s too much to pay for what you’re getting, if it was just a streaming service, but it’s kind of meant as a value added prospect to keep you in the, the shipping service.
I look at it more as a streaming service with the free shipping services as a bonus. (laughter) Prime video has so many things that I’m interested in most of the time. Where it doesn’t hurt to get rid of any of their services because I’ve got prime as a backup. And I found out today that you can actually get prime video as its own subscription, which is $8.99 a month.
That makes sense. It’s and that makes it competitive with Netflix, not competitive with Disney+, but, uh, I’ll tell you if you have any interest in Disney+ I would buy and I’d shut everything else off for a couple months and buy into Disney+ now and watch as much as you want now, because there’s no way they’re going to keep that price as low as it is.
It’s not even just Disney+. They have that bundle where it’s Disney, ESPN, and Hulu. You won’t find a better deal for any of those three streaming services anywhere. What about the tougher question? We know where we can go to find deals on streaming services like Disney plus Hulu, Netflix, but what about free options? What if you don’t want to pay a monthly subscription fee? Maybe the harder question. What if you don’t have Netflix, you know, the person who did invest in their roof and not in Netflix,
(laughter) Would he recommend? You know, free, there’s a free service out there. Undoubtedly, you don’t need to pay for a streaming service to get literally some of the best entertainment in history stream to your computer. Peacock has a free service. Uh, man,
See, you’re straining to come up with them, but there are, there are an awful lot of them and they kind of (Jim: Crackle) Crackle is one of them. Tubi.tv is another one. Popcorn Flicks is another one. Um, so here’s what all of these services have in common. Those movies are ad supported, which is a polite way of saying your viewing experience is going to be interrupted nonstop by ads because, you know, as they say in any transaction, if you can’t see what the product is, you’re the product.
So yeah, you can go watch Terminator on any of a variety of free services, as long as you don’t mind it being kind of sloppily interrupted by ads. You know, because these movies were meant for the theater. They don’t have the kind of natural ad breaks that for instance, the office has when you watch it on a streaming service.
So it’s just going to be like a sloppily in the middle of something happening. Suddenly you’re going to be watching an SUV drive around. Well, some actor with a mellifluous voice tells you why it’s the smoothest experience or you’re going to be watching some bears wiping their butts with toilet paper while telling you why it’s the smoothest experience (laughter) when one way or the other it’s going to be about smoothness. So if you, if you want a wide variety of choice and you want it entirely free, you’re probably watching ads with it. IMDB has a huge number of free films that you can watch.
I watched Colombo because of IMDB. Like I just, I didn’t have to pay to watch this famous old show that I’ve never seen before
So it’s, it’s built around the ad breaks and it’s not nearly as jarring. I personally hate it with films. It’s, it’s a such a different experience with TV where the arcs are plotted out in bite size between ads kind of arcs. And you, you didn’t, you’re not going to get interrupted in the center of an action scene because somebody was like, well, if we put the ad there, we know they’re watching there with you.
What’s the solution for movies then? Project Gutenberg is where I’d go to read books for free online.
There’s an answer to that. It’s funny that you should say that because Project Gutenberg is basically an online library constructed by people who care a lot about curation and about carrying the past onto the future about making sure that people have access to all of these things that are important and educational.
The two big, completely free streaming services where you’re not going to have to worry about ads are both library associated Kanopy spelled with a K and Hoopla spelled like the word are both services that if your local library system subscribes to them, you can get online streaming movies for them entirely free.
Without ads, kanopy is more documentary and like educational content. They do have a lot of independent movies. There’s just a pretty wide variety of sort of cultural vegetable, uh, kind of stuff on there. Like things that are meant to be like more insightful about the human condition.
You’re probably not going to find a Terminator there, but you might find just some like some really interesting stories about like life in the south. For instance, hoopla is run by the same service that brings DVDs and CDs to local libraries. That’s much more of the popular movie kind of place. Like if you’re looking for Terminator without ads, you’re much more likely to find it there in both cases, if you’re depending on what you’re watching on.
Like if you’re watching on your tablet, they both have apps and they’re both really good, easy to operate, very smooth apps. If you’re watching on your laptop, you can just go there on your local browser. If you’re watching through something like a Roku or an Amazon fire stick, I’m not sure whether they, they have those kinds of access, uh, things on there yet. So one of the big problems with your, where to get free movies question is knowing where to go online doesn’t necessarily mean your particular home video setup is going to work with these.
Yeah. I mean, but people are good at getting creative. You know, if you on your tablet, you can probably figure out a way to get it to display on your TV. If you need to, you know, if you’re, if you’re all about saving money and that’s kind of what we are, you know, you’ll, you’ll figure out the workaround. If you can figure out where to stream it legally for free. I’ve used hoopla. I didn’t realize they did movies. I’ve used different audio books.
Oh yeah. Hoopla has movies and TV. You and I have spent a lot of time talking about Susanna Clark’s book, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. They are one of the only outlets that have the TV version, the BBC TV version, and it’s streaming free. The “catch” with kanopy and hoopla is they operate in a credits system.
So they give you so many credits a month. So you can’t do unlimited streaming. And if you’re watching something like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel, each episode costs a credit. Now it’s free. The credits don’t cost money. It’s this is not one of those like free to play games where it’s like, the game is totally free and it playing it is totally free. Can you give us money in exchange for doing better? Right? So you might have to balance your viewing of a mini series towards the end of the month.
So you can watch like half on one month credits and half on the next month credit. The other catches. You need a library card in both cases, and you need to be living in a place where your local library system works with canopy or hoopla and some library systems don’t. And there’s not much of a work around there.
As far as I know, YouTube actually has a really surprising collection of out of copyright classic films that you can watch for free. A lot of people upload these things just to keep them preserved because older films have a way of going out of print and then just getting lost and to anybody who curates film, who cares about film, getting these things back out into the public is important. And of course they can, you know, put it on YouTube and monetize if enough people watch it.
But YouTube has its own collection of free films. And then just like people uploading silent films, but also just really, really good black and white films from the forties and fifties. Uh, there’s, there’s a lot of them out there. Um, again, if you just Google like best free films on YouTube, uh, that’ll get you a lot of interesting stuff. But as with so many other things on YouTube, if you find one that you really like and watch it, there’s a really high chance that either it’s in a playlist of like 50 other really good films or that YouTube will just say, oh, you liked that. Did you? Here’s 50 other films. So once you get started on something like that, you’re just, you’re, you’re rolling smoothly down the hill into entertainment town.
I asked Tasha how we can stay connected with our friends to that movie going experience while going to the movies might not be the safest thing,
Watching movies together with your friends. There are so many services that make that possible right now. A Netflix watch party is kind of where, where a lot of people started, the kind of the one that that people know about. But at this point, I think there are at least six or seven different services that offer the same kind of thing. A lot of the premium, the super premium rental movies that are coming out right now, like Disney+ did this thing where Mulan was coming out the live action version, and they wanted you to pay 30 bucks for it as a rental fee on top of the fee that you were already paying.
That is way too much. If you’re sitting there watching the film once alone in your home, if you’re watching it with your whole family at Thanksgiving, uh, suddenly it becomes, you’re paying a dollar 50 ahead head for, uh, you know, everybody to watch it. If you’re watching it a bunch of times over the course of a weekend, if you’re watching it with a whole bunch of friends that brings the cost down, think about that in terms of like what you’re getting for your 10 bucks a month on Netflix. You know, if you’re, if you’re watching a bunch of these things with friends, that really makes it a lot more cost-effective if you want to think about it that way.
Yeah. That’s a really good point. I hadn’t really thought about that. I think there’s a lot of people who are already doing this.
Yeah. And those services it’s worth kind of, I’m going to use the word shopping around, even though they’re pretty much, uh, I think all of them free because they offer like very different models in terms of like, how much do you want to be interacting with your friends? Like, do you want the experience of five of you sitting in a room, like laughing at this film and making fun of it? Or do you want the experience of your quietly watching this film alone, but you’ve got like a chat window in case anybody wants to respond. Like what level of vocal interaction or a video interaction do you want with your friends? Versus just kind of the sensation of like watching the film together at the same time and maybe sending each other texts depending on exactly what you’re looking for. There, there are different services that handle that in different ways.
So what’s the best way to find frugal entertainment? If you have a library card, there are several ways to find free entertainment online that we didn’t have a decade ago.
Special thanks to my friend, Tasha Robinson. Our story editor is H. Borkowski. And I’m Jim Markus. Frugal Living is brought to you by Brad’s Deals, a team of proud consumer advocates who scour the internet every day for the best prices on well, everything that’s BradsDeals.com. Thanks for joining us for season one of Frugal Living. If you liked what you heard, please leave us a review on iTunes, follow and subscribe. We’re also on Anchor FM and Spotify. We’d love to hear from you. We have an audio recording service. If you want to leave us a message, that’s Anchor FM, just look for Frugal Living. And, you can leave us a voicemail there and we’ll do our best to respond in future episodes. It was a joy to create this with you and with all the guests this season, we’d love to find out what else you’d like to talk about. What else you’d like to hear about.
More About Frugal Living with Jim Markus
To hear more episodes about tips for living a frugal lifestyle, check out all four seasons of Frugal Living. Frugal Living is a podcast for smart consumers. How do you spend less and get more? The show, sponsored by Brad’s Deals, features interviews, stories, tips, and tricks. Jim Markus hosts season four, out now. Set your calendars for season 5, which hits podcast platforms on May 18, 2022.