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How to Watch Your Favorite TV Shows Online

Updated on July 15, 2013

From the early days of black and white programming, to more recent HD and 3D supported formats, television has been a long running staple of family entertainment in American society. No longer confined to a giant wooden box and round glass screen, modern television is now supported on a variety of devices, including computers, smartphones, tablets, and portable gaming devices. With such devices, television can be streamed or downloaded online, whether you're at home or on the go. While some forms of online streaming/downloading can be illegal and/or dangerous to your internet compatible device, the following is a list of safe and legal ways to watch your favorite shows online. While some require payment or subscription fees, there are others still that will often let you watch for free.

1. Cable/Satellite Provider and Network Stations- Major Cable and satellite providers, such as Comcast or Dish Network, usually offer packages that allow you to stream your favorite channels and shows on your computer or mobile device. This is perhaps the most expensive option for watching TV online, but it is also perhaps the most expansive, as it allows you complete mobile access to all of your currently subscribed channels. If you already own a cable package, upgrading for a little extra a month may make this a likelier option. Additionally, several network stations such as NBC and CW offer several full episodes from currently trending shows for free (with ads) though their websites and mobile apps.

2. iTunes- This is my preferred choice for watching shows, as I like to watch episodes of my favorite shows more than once, and not necessarily have to be hooked up to the internet to do so. iTunes offers a wide selection of popular and obscure shows for purchase or rental, and in both standard and high definition formats. The rentals are usually only a dollar to watch once, or you can purchase the episode for a dollar more (2 dollars more for HD). While the iTunes model allows you to purchase or watch select episodes, and also retails them at a significantly lower cost than DVD boxed sets, it can get expensive in the long run. Furthermore, the episodes can only be watched on an iTunes enabled computer or Apple product, making cross compatibility an issue with your non Apple devices. Depending on your device's processing speed and the length of the desired episode, the wait time for downloading may take awhile.

3. Hulu- Perhaps the most legal form of free streaming on the internet, Hulu is a free, ad-supported model funded by several major television networks. Hulu offers instant streaming for multiple episodes of many popular network shows. While the stream quality can vary, this is perhaps the most cost effective model for watching full episodes of your favorite shows online. The only major drawback to Hulu is the fact that it is only available for use in the United States. For those that would rather watch uninterrupted episodes, a paid, ad-free option called Hulu Plus is also offered.

4. Netflix- Having succeeded in dominating the DVD rental market, Netflix has long since expanded its services to include in home streaming on a wide array of devices. The company also offers a low cost, streaming-only option, allowing subscribers unlimited monthly access to Netflix's extensive streaming library (which includes a wide selection of popular TV shows). In addition to network and cable shows, Netflix has also acquired several exclusive licenses, including the highly successful House of Cards and a new season of the recently revived Arrested Development. Although not every title in the Netflix library is available for streaming, this is still a low cost option for watching television online.

5. YouTube- While the legal status of many TV episodes currently uploaded to YouTube is still questionable, some networks have allowed edited versions of their TV shows to be broadcasted on the site. Like everything else on YouTube, the content is free to watch and ad-supported. Additionally, many web produced television shows can be streamed from YouTube or on their respective websites.

With so many options to choose from, watching television online can be an enjoyable alternative to the traditional method. While watching, always remember to respect any anti-piracy laws and be wary of streaming sites with malicious or untrustworthy content. Happy show searching!


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    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 3 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Good information here.

      Every month when I review our cable bill I ask myself whether the service is worth the cost. It is not that the bill is that large but rather that the number of stations that we like and regularly watch are so few.

      We have one of the mid-range packages that includes the channels we regularly watch. We would like more variety but the bulk of the other channels in our package seem to be mostly infomercial channels or other things of no interest.

      So I keep thinking about subscribing to Netflix or Netflix and the premium Hulu like our daughter and son-in-law have. They are much less expensive and seem to offer more of what we like to watch. The only problem would be having to give up Fox News which I enjoy watching and rely on for news.