When you talk about the best streaming services, you typically talk about video-on-demand (VOD) services like Netflix. Or Disney+. Or Amazon Prime Video. Or Hulu. And for good reason — they have a ton of paying subscribers. Netflix alone is closing in on a quarter-billion. Disney+ is about halfway there.
And while the numbers drop off a good bit from there, another flavor of streaming should constitute a good bit of the discussion. FAST services — that’s the industry acronym for free advertising-based streaming television — continue to grow both in numbers and in popularity. Think of FAST like the streaming version of broadcast TV, or your cable box. Shows are on at the same time for everyone, and everyone is watching the same thing, with ads. Only unlike YouTube TV or Hulu With Live TV, you don’t have to pay anything upfront. It’s all supported by advertising — you just don’t get the “good” channels like you will on the paid services.
FAST services make sense for pretty much everyone involved. The viewer (that’s you) gets even more content, for free. And we’re not just talking B movies and imports, though there is plenty of that. They’re good for the content owners because it lets them double dip that much more. Make a movie once, stream it from even more places. It’s good for advertisers, too, because brands and products get out in front of more people. And it’s good for whoever owns the FAST service, assuming that they’re bringing in more ad revenue than it costs to license and stream the content in the first place.
How much money? A lot. How many eyeballs? A lot. Which is why there are so many options these days. That’s good for you, the viewer, even if it makes finding something particular a little tricky. Here, we detail the major FAST options available. Happy watching.
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Freevee was born from IMBD.tv. The latter — born from the Internet Movie Database also owned by Amazon — launched in January 2019 under the name Freedive. (You’re forgiven if you’ve forgotten that name.) That’s a lot of changes in a relatively short amount of time, but Freevee looks like it might stick around for a little while. And that’s good because there’s a lot new on Freevee every month.
While everything on Freeve is, as the name implies, free, you’ll still have to have an Amazon account to watch anything. The good news is that you’re able to watch on pretty much any modern device that’s connected to the internet, from a phone to a streaming stick, to gaming consoles, phones, and tablets.
And Freevee has found a place front and center on Amazon Fire TV devices. It was integrated directly into the live guide in May 2023, so even if you don’t subscribe to any other MPVDs (aka live streaming TV), it’ll look like something’s on.
Freevee is available in the U.S. and U.S. territories.
As dumb televisions gave way to smart TVs, some major manufacturers got smart themselves and have largely brought their operating system in-house. LG is one of those, with its webOS-based systems. And among all the apps available is LG Channels.
While webOS is all LG, LG Channels itself actually is a rebranded instance of Xumo (which you’ll find at the end of this list for alphabetical reasons).
LG Channels has more than 100 free channels available, and they’re presented right alongside anything else in the built-in channel guide. So if you’re piping broadcast or cable TV into your LG TV, everything will be found in one place.
To get LG Channels, you’ll need to be on an LG TV that’s running webOS 3.5 or newer.
Plex mostly has been known as a super-powerful-but-lightweight server that lets you stream movies stored on your local network (that you’ve legally obtained, of course) onto practically any device, whether you’re at home or on the road. But in recent years it quietly got into the FAST game with a couple hundred free streaming channels, presented in a linear guide.
The content runs the gamut, though you probably wouldn’t consider most of it to be first-tier. But you will find something to at least occupy your attention for a little while. And if you’re running a digital turner or antenna through Plex, you’ll get all your channels in one place, which is cool. Plus Plex has the ability to skip commercials.
The FAST channels are all available without the paid Plex Pass subscription, which is nice, and you’re able to watch on virtually any modern device.
Pluto TV is one of the OGs of the FAST industry after its founding in 2013. For a long time it mostly had the sort of obscure channels FAST services used to be known for — basically shows that might make up a random YouTube channel, or some long-forgotten broadcast series.
That all changed a couple of years later after Pluto TV signed deals with Hulu, making available shows from ABC, NBC, and Fox. Other licensing continued after that, and the service continued to grow, hitting more than 15 million users in late 2017. Pluto TV expanded into Europe a year later.
But things really got interesting in 2019 when Viacom purchased Pluto TV for $340 million. That brought the full might of the CBS universe into the conversation, and a wealth of new content came with it, including from such networks as Paramount Pictures, BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, and more. Since then, Viacom morphed into ViacomCBS, and now Paramount.
As of May 2023, PlutoTV was regarded as the largest FAST service globally with some 80 million monthly active users. It’s available on any modern device.
Samsung TV Plus
Like its South Korean brethren at LG, Samsung also has its own operating system for its televisions and Galaxy line of mobile devices. And like LG it also has its own FAST service, which provides a couple hundred channels to its customers, for free.
And, well, that’s it. You get thousands of movies and shows on demand in addition to the live channels.
If you’ve got a relatively modern Samsung TV, you should be good to go. Same, too, for Galaxy phones and tablets. (If you have something a little older you may need to download the app first.)
Note that you don’t have to have a Samsung account to start watching. (Though if you’re on a Samsung phone or tablet, you likely already do.) But you will get some extra features, including the ability to continue watching something where you left off, favorite channels, the ability to edit channels, set watch reminders, and create watchlists.
Sling is the third-largest live streaming TV service in the U.S., with a little more than 2 million subscribers. So it makes sense that it’s augmenting that placement with its own FAST service.
Sling Freestream gets you more than 335 channels with more than 40,000 shows and movies available on demand, from all the usual suspects. Freestream is completely separate from the traditional Sling TV experience. It’s not a free trial, and you’re not signing up for Sling TV if you watch Freestream. But you will be watching via the Sling TV app.
You don’t have to even have a Sling TV login to watch. But if you do you’ll get more personalized results, user profiles, and the ability to have favorite channels.
Sling Freestream is available on most modern streaming devices, as well as smart TVs, and in a web browser.
The Roku Channel
Roku is the biggest streaming platform in the U.S. and No. 2 in the rest of the world. And for most of its life, it has been platform agnostic. It was born as an easier way to watch Netflix on any dumb TV, and the app platform grew from there. But in recent years Roku — which always has had display advertising to offset the cost of its inexpensive hardware — has become far more profitable as an advertising service.
So it made perfect sense that Roku started its own FAST service with The Roku Channel, in addition to offering movies and shows for rent and purchase.
The Roku Channel should be considered in the same tier as Pluto TV, thanks to the sheer breadth of channels available (more than 350 of the linear variety), as well as the quality of content licensed. And on top of that is all of the Roku Originals that Roku has gotten itself into, either with its acquit ion of content from the now-defunct Quibi service, or shows and movies it’s done on its own.
The Roku Channel is found on Roku devices, of course, from the low-cost streaming sticks to the hugely popular Roku TV lineups. The Roku Channel also is available on Samsung TVs, on Amazon Fire TV devices, and at TheRokuChannel.com.
Paramount has Pluto TV, and Fox has Tubi, which in addition to being a major FAST option also is a member of the AVOD community. (That’s advertising-based video on demand.) There’s a good chance that if there’s some old or obscure movie or series you want to watch, you can find it on Tubi. The same goes, though, for any relatively recent content from the broader Fox networks. Tubi also licenses content from competing networks such as Paramount, MGM, and Lionsgate.
And Tubi got into the game during the Super Bowl festivities, too, with ancillary content that ultimately took a back seat to a brilliant in-game commercial that had everyone wondering what had just happened to their TV.
Tubi is estimated to be a little smaller than Pluto TV, but not by a whole lot. (It hasn’t given any official numbers in some time.) In April 2023 the company underwent a fairly major internal reorganization and formed the Tubi Media Group, bringing together the content side with advertising and digital expertise. (In other words, Fox is serious about FAST.)
Tubi is available on any modern device, from mobile devices to smart displays, smart TV, and online at tubi.tv.
Like LG and Samsung, Vizio also has its own operating system on its televisions. And that OS — called SmartCast — has its own FAST service called WatchFree+.
You know the story by now — a few hundred channels sourced from all sorts of places. (Though a quick look at the channel guide and you’ll quickly notice that Pluto TV is featured prominently, so suffice it to say you’ll find all sorts of Pluto/Paramount content on board.)
WatchFree+ boasts more than 260 free channels, with more than 5,000 movies and shows available on demand. It’s currently only available in the U.S., and only on Vizio televisions.
Vudu is another one of those longtime services that have been eclipsed by the likes of Tubi and Pluto TV. It mostly has been known as a place other than Apple or Google to rent or purchase movies. But it’s also part of the FAST universe.
Walmart purchased Vudu back in 2010, and in doing so killed off a relatively quiet partnership Vudu had with AVN, known as the After Dark section. A decade later Vudu was unloaded to NBCUniversal’s Fandango Media, which is where things stand today, with the service living on under the Vudu name.
Vudu still will take your money, but the extensive FAST section is full of old-school shows and movies, which makes it a fun option for anyone looking to go back in time a few decades.
And then there’s Xumo. Or, rather, Xumo Play. Now owned by Comcast and Charter, Xumo is a name that’s been around for years, but it’s always been in the sort of breath that includes “Oh, right. That’s a thing.” It’s included with Comcast’s X1 platform, and you’ll recall that LG is using it with its LG Channels service.
The Xumo Play name is reserved for the FAST version of Xumo. There’s also the Xumo Stream Box, which is coming to Comcast’s broadband customers, and Class TV, which is a low-cost line of televisions from Hisense, available at Walmart.
In any event, we’re talking a couple of hundred free linear channels with the traditional Xumo FAST service.