Text by C. Scott Wyatt

Free streaming video services are finally worth watching.

Television and movie streaming services once offered content that nobody would pay to watch. Classic television series and films like the low-budget productions of Roger Corman were worth the price paid — nothing. Companies that had marketed low-cost DVDs sold streaming rights to the free services, filling the virtual channels with mediocrity.

Good and even great content now resides on free and freemium streaming services, thanks to increasing competition and increased viewership in the last year.

Free services charge no fees, ever. Freemium services offer a mix of free and paid content, and commercial-free streaming for a small fee. If you don’t mind watching a few commercials, the free and freemium services offer similar experiences.

Free services earn income through three or four commercial breaks inserted in an hour of viewing. Compared to watching broadcast television and many cable channels, four two-minute interruptions seem surprisingly brief.

My wife and I subscribe to Amazon Prime, Disney Plus and a cable bundle that includes HBO Max. With three streaming services, you’d imagine that there’s always something to watch. However, the free services offer movies and series not available on premium streaming platforms.

NBCUniversal brings its outstanding shows to Peacock, a freemium service. The free service offers excellent choices. With nearly 15,000 hours of programming, there’s something for everyone on Peacock. All of your NBC favorites are here, along with many Universal movies. If you want Downton Abbey, it’s on Peacock. The service includes news from CNBC and MSNBC, too.

I enjoy crime dramas, and NBC offers most of my favorites. Psych, Monk, Law & Order, Murder She Wrote, Columbo and even the Rockford Files are on Peacock.

No other free streaming service matches the quality or quantity of Peacock’s library. I hope that NBC continues to offer most of the content at the free tier for years to come.

Tubi (TubiTV.com) features 20,000 titles, including an outstanding selection of family-friendly movies and series under the TubiKids banner. A few years ago, Tubi was a wasteland of bad movies and low-budget indie films. Now, it features an outstanding library of foreign films, including a good anime collection. Tubi also has the Dove Channel, a network known for rating films based on language, substance abuse, violence and moral lessons.

Walmart’s Vudu service offers another freemium model and access to digital copies of some movies. Quite a few of my Blu-ray discs included Vudu digital copies. Vudu’s movie content is outstanding, with excellent navigation to find free content. The free movies have a red “Free with Ads” banner across their thumbnail images.

IMDbTV comes from Amazon, which owns the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com). This relatively new service operates separately from Amazon’s Prime Video service. IMDbTV and Prime competed against each other for the rights to Sony and MGM film libraries, emonstrating how independent the two divisions are. Only a year old, IMDbTV already boasts an extensive film library and several IMDb original series. The commercials are shorter than those on other free services, making IMDb an excellent choice for watching films. I enjoy exploring the “Hidden Gems” suggestions.

PlutoTV (pluto.tv), owned by ViacomCBS, is aimed at Generation X viewers seeking a nostalgia fix. If you’re looking for series from the 1970s and ’80s, then PlutoTV is a blast from the past. Sadly, Pluto remains a cluttered selection of mediocrity, with some gems hiding within the listings. Pluto features channels for cult classics, including Doctor Who and Mystery Science Theater 3000. Classic westerns and 1970s cartoons coexist with channels showing dog and cat videos.

Crackle (crackle.com) is a jointly owned service of Chicken Soup for the Soul and Sony Pictures. Crackle has struggled to build an audience. The 13-year-old service features an eclectic content library and some original series. Sadly, it is a reminder that free sometimes is still worth exactly that price.

If you own a newer television, it likely includes a free streaming service app. LG offers LG Channels, with nearly 200 channels, and Samsung includes Samsung TV Plus, with 120 channels.

If our cable service bundle didn’t include phone and internet, there’d be little reason to continue cable television. With improved content choices on free streaming services and improving digital broadcast television, traditional cable with a set-top box seems antiquated.

Streaming has already replaced discs. It’s now replacing movie theaters.

Before the novel coronavirus forced families to remain home, I had taken our oldest to see several Disney features in theaters. The price of tickets, one bucket of popcorn and two drinks came to $30. That’s six months of Disney Plus.

Subscribe to one or two services and add a few free streaming platforms. You’ll have plenty of video entertainment for the entire family.