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Cooped up, bored and on a budget? Here’s how to stream TV without paying a dime

Patrick Stewart in “Star Trek: Picard,” now available to stream for free on CBS All Access.
(CBS All Access)
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The reality is starting to set in: Coronavirus has a lot of people stuck at home. Sports are shut down. Some people are temporarily out of work or might be soon. Budgets for luxuries — like premium TV — are tightening.

So how do we stay entertained without breaking the bank with $20-a-pop movies on demand? Streaming services, of course.

It turns out that if you string together various streamers’ current free-trial offers just right, you can have a pandemic’s worth of entertainment without paying a dime.

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Some smaller streaming services are offering extended free-trial periods during the coronavirus crisis:

Acorn TV has extended its usual seven-day free trial to 30 days for new subscribers with the promo code FREE30. The streamer features British, Australian and Canadian television shows, foreign-language thrillers and more. After the trial it’s $5.99 a month or $59.99 for the year.

Sundance Now is extending its seven-day free trial to 30 days for new customers with the promo code SUNDANCENOW30. The streamer features true-crime series, original dramas and exclusive thrillers. After the trial it’s $6.99 monthly or $4.99 a month with an annual membership.

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Shudder is extending its normal seven-day free trial to 30 days with the promo code SHUTIN. The streamer features horror movies and shows, plus thrillers and suspense. After the trial it’s $4.99 a month or $47.88 a year.

UMC, which focuses on black TV and movies with shows like “Black Love” and “All of Us,” films like “Harlem Nights” and original series and docuseries, is offering an extended 30-day free trial with the promo code UMCFREE30. After that, it’s $4.99 per month or $49.99 for the year.

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Tubi is a free streamer that gets content from more than 200 partners, including Paramount, Lionsgate and MGM. The catch: It’s ad-supported. But — it’s free.

Crunchyroll offers a 14-day free trial of its premium, ad-free, HD incarnation. The streamer features anime and Japanese programming. After the trial it’s $7.99 a month, $22.99 for three months or $79.99 for a year.

Pluto TV is another free streamer that’s supported by ads. It offers live TV and movies and TV series on demand. Check out the half-dozen James Bond features.

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Plex has a free component that’s always available, with ad-supported streaming of TV and movies. For those who want more, the premium Plex Pass is $4.99 a month, $39.99 a year or $149.99 for a lifetime subscription. Users can view programs that have aired in the past three days and record shows to watch within 30 days.

Philo offers a seven-day free trial of channels from A&E Networks, AMC Networks, Discovery, Scripps Networks, Viacom and more. The first two days can be accessed with only a mobile number, then you have to submit a credit card to get the next five days without charge. After that, it’s $20 a month for all 59+ channels.

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CW Seed, a partnership between CBS and Warner Bros., offers free, ad-supported access to shows that often aren’t available elsewhere. It has original content too, such as the animated series “Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons,” and shows that originally aired elsewhere, such as James Corden’s sitcom “Gavin & Stacey.”

MotorTrend On Demand offers the first month of ad-free, family-friendly automotive content for only 99 cents. After that it goes to $4.99 a month or $1.99 a month with a one-year commitment. Think “Top Gear,” behind the scenes of NASCAR racing, barn finds, road trips and rebuilds.

UP Faith & Family is a family- and faith-friendly streamer that offers a 14-day free trial. After that it’s $5.99 a month or $53.99 a year. “Heartland,” Christian movies and wedding shows are among its ad-free offerings.

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XUMO is a free, ad-supported streaming service featuring nearly 200 channels of movies and TV shows, live news, kids’ entertainment, sports, documentaries, music videos and more, including Spanish-language TV. No sign-up, registration or subscription is required.

IMDb TV is Amazon’s free, ad-supported streaming service that offers thousands of movies and TV shows including “Legally Blonde,” “Shrek Forever After,” “The Social Network,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Friday Night Lights.” No subscription required.

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PBS is streaming Ken Burns’ four-part film “Baseball” for free on pbs.org and all PBS streaming services. It’s more than 18 hours of sports-related content, folks.

The Los Angeles County Library is another option for movie and TV entertainment, and for the next 90 days the library is offering a temporary digital library card for county residents who didn’t have one before the libraries shut down. Visit LACountyLibrary.org/library-cards to sign up for 90-day access. Among the offerings: 10 play credits per month on streaming service Kanopy, with temporary unlimited access through mid-April to Kanopy for Kids, which has educational programs including “Sesame Street” and “Arthur.”

The Los Angeles Public Library also offers free streaming content, including documentary films and movies. Those without a city library card can get an e-card via the LAPL website.

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For those who haven’t been streaming yet and think now might be the time to try it out, here are the free deals on the larger services. All require that you sign up with a valid credit card. Remembering to cancel on time? That’s on you.

Amazon Prime Video offers a free 30-day trial, then charges $13 a month or $119 per year once the trial is over. Amazon has also made a number of kids and family titles available for free to all.

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Hulu offers a 30-day free trial, then charges anywhere from $5.99 a month for Hulu with ads to $60.99 a month for ad-free Hulu + Live TV.

CBS All Access, which usually has a seven-day free trial, is offering one month free until April 23 with the promo code GIFT. After that the price is either $5.99 or $9.99 monthly, depending on whether there are commercials. Take about 15% off the price with an annual plan.

STARZ has a deal for new customers: $4.99 a month for the first three months. After that the cost increases to $8.99 a month.

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HBO, which had offered a limited number of free pilots and series on its website, made many of its most popular shows available for free during the coronavirus pandemic starting April 3. The HBO Now streaming service offers a seven-day free trial, then it’s $14.99 a month.

Showtime is offering a 30-day free trial to new subscribers who sign up before May 3. After the trial it’s $10.99 a month or $109.90 per year.

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Disney+ offers a seven-day free trial, which should allow plenty of time to watch “Frozen 2.” If you stick around for the rest of the Disney, Pixar, Marvel, “Star Wars,” National Geographic and 20th Century Fox content, it is $6.99 a month or $69.99 for a year.

Apple TV+ offers a free one-year subscription with purchase of an Apple product or a seven-day free trial without purchase. After that it’s $4.99 a month.

Sling TV is offering 14 days of free service, “no strings attached,” with many news channels and titles including “Black Sails,” “Grace Under Fire” and “21 Jump Street.” After that, memberships start at $30 a month.

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Cinemax’s Max Go is not offering a free trial.

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