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[UPDATED] How to Stay Entertained in the Days of Plague

As the COVID-19 virus spreads and federal, state and local governments begin to restrict civilians to their homes, by recommendation or order, it's entirely natural to start developing some cabin fever. So here's some places to get some free entertainment while you practice your social distancing.

Updated April 10, 2020

As the COVID-19 virus spreads and federal, state and local governments begin to restrict civilians to their homes, by recommendation or order, it’s entirely natural to start developing some cabin fever. So here’s some places to get some free entertainment while you practice your social distancing.

FREE & AD-SUPPORTED VIDEO STREAMING

There’s a ton of free & ad-supported video streaming services featuring everything from classic films to underground & indy flicks and even new releases & blockbusters. Here’s some of our favorites:

TUBI – Tubi is the largest (formerly) independent streaming video service in the US, featuring over 15,000 movies and TV shows. Tubi features content from MGM, Lionsgate, Paramount, Warner Bros., NBC Universal, Shout Factory & Nelvana, and is currently in the process of being acquired by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox in a $440 million deal.

CRACKLE – Crackle is a joint venture between Sony and – believe it or not – Chicken Soup for the Soul. Yes, the company that released all those books full of corny, inspirational true stories that were all the rage back in the 90s. It mostly features Sony content, but has also branched out into original content as well.

POPCORNFLIX – Also owned by the fine folks at Chicken Soup for the Soul by way of their recently-acquired subsidiary Screen Media Films, PopcornFlix’ library consists mostly of independent films and syndicated & licensed TV shows, including some classic dramas & sitcoms like 21 Jump Street and 3rd Rock from the Sun.

NBC – The peacock network makes the most recent episodes of most of its shows available to stream for free through its website and apps.

ABC – Disney’s ABC Network takes the opposite tack from NBC, making older episodes available for free while keeping the newest episodes behind the TV Everywhere login wall. They also have seasons of classic shows available to stream for free, including popular shows like My So Called Life, Felicity, and Ugly Betty.

CW SEED – This strangely-named service from Warner Media features both original content and free seasons of syndicated and CW-produced shows from the WB Television & CBS archives, including hits like Schitts Creek and Whose Line Is It Anyway, as well as cult favorites like Constantine and Pushing Daisies. Earlier this year it also got the US streaming rights to 14 BBC Studios series.

VUDU – Walmart’s Vudu service offers streaming rentals and purchased movies & TV shows, but also features a large library of ad-supported content as well.

YOUTUBE – While best known for its massive trove of user-generated content ranging from the magnificent to the mortifying, YouTube also offers a large library of free movies.

SHOUT FACTORY – Shout Factory is known for its high-quality home video releases of classic schlock, B-movies, cult classics and horror. But, it also maintains a curated site where you can stream many of its licensed films for free. They also maintain a live streaming feed that they distribute to many live video services.

PLEX – This app, which evolved from the XBMC open-source project, offers thousands of free movies and TV episodes but also adds the ability to stream live & DVRed TV using your home PC in tandem with a USB coaxial tuner.

HBO NOW – HBO’s a la carte streaming service is making a ton of its catalog available for free during the month of April including full runs of hit shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, True Blood and Silicon Valley, its recent acclaimed 6-part documentary McMillions, and movies like Detective Pikachu, The Lego Movie 2 and The Bridges of Madison County. Just visit HBONow.com or download the app on your smart device to check out the selection.

SPORTS

B/R LIVE – WarnerMedia’s Bleacher Report sports news site is making some of its B/R Live premium content live while the major sports leagues are on hold.

WWE NETWORK – If you’re a fan of pro rasslin’, WWE has made a ton of content available to watch for free for a limited time, including major pay-per-view events, documentary series and recent episodes of their weekly shows.

CABLE ALTERNATIVES

SLING TELEVISION – Dish Network’s OTT streaming service is providing a new free tier that includes 24-hour news from ABC, Fox & Cheddar as well as a large library of on-demand family-friendly movies & TV shows. Sling is also offering a free 14-day trial of its full service.

PLUTO TV – Purchased in 2019 by CBS/Viacom, Pluto TV offers over 250 live video and music channels ranging from news & current events to classic kids’ shows to sports. It also features so-called “pop-up channels,” temporary and event-driven channels with specialty programming.

STIRR – Sinclair Broadcasting’s Pluto competitor, Stirr features similar curated and licensed channels, along with live streams of its Comet and Charge micro-networks.

XUMO – This joint venture from Panasonic and Meredith (parent company of MySpace) features many of the same streaming internet channels as Pluto and Stirr, but has the added benefit of being available in many smart TVs as well as Roku, Android & iOS. Comcast recently agreed to acquire the service and is expected to use it to promote the Peacock streaming service coming soon from NBC-Universal.

STAGE PERFORMANCE

If you’re looking for something a bit more highbrow, many international symphonies & opera companies are offering free streamed replays of their performances:

The Metropolitan Opera Berlin PhilharmonicLondon Symphony Orchestra Royal Opera House Bavarian State Opera • Seattle SymphonyVienna State OperaDetroit Symphony OrchestraGothenberg Symphony OrchestraBudapest Festival Orchestra • Bergen Philharmonic • Pianist Boris Giltburg • Wigmore Hall • London Mozart Players • Opera North • Paris Opera • Royal Conservatoire of Scotland • Lincoln Center Gstaad Menuhin Festival • International Georges Enescu Festival

LIVE ENTERTAINMENT

LEVAR BURTON READS – “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Roots” star LeVar Burton served as the host of PBS’ Reading Rainbow for 23 years, and has long been a staunch literacy & education advocate. To help combat the boredom of quarantine, he’ll be doing live, streaming storytime sessions three times a week featuring works by major authors like Neil Gaiman. He’ll read stories for kids on Mondays at 12PM Eastern/9AM Pacific, stories for young adults on Wednesdays at 6PM Eastern/3PM Pacific, and stories for adults on Fridays at 9PM Eastern/6PM Pacific.

FREE BOOKS

PROJECT GUTENBERG – The granddaddy of ePub libraries contains over 60,000 free ebooks, mostly books that have entered the public domain.

OPEN LIBRARY – Powered by the Internet Archive, Open Library contains thousands of new and classic books to check out for free. You can “borrow” up to 10 books or audiobooks at a time for 14 days each.

WATTPAD – This “social storytelling platform” gives users the ability to publish everything from short stories and novels to educational and nonfiction books.

BARNES & NOBLE – Barnes & Noble offer a curated selection of free books, comics & magazines through their Nook store…all you need is the Nook reader app on your smart device.

MARVEL UNLIMITED – Marvel Unlimited features thousands of back issues of the company’s most popular comics, and during the month of April they’re making a large selection of their books available to read for free. Just download the app for iOS or Android and navigate to the “Free Comics” section…no signup or trial required.

GAMES & ACTIVITIES

CARDS AGAINST HUMANITY – The designers of this infamous adults-only variation on “Apples to Apples” makes their base game available for free under the Creative Commons license. All you need is a printer, paper and scissors and you’re off to the races.

CARDS AGAINST HUMANITY: FAMILY EDITION – This ages-8-and-up variant of the above party game was slated for a release much later down the road, but the designers decided to release a free, downloadable public beta to give families something to do while the coronavirus pandemic rages. As above, you’ll need a printer, paper, and scissors to get the game playable.

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS – Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro have released free, starter versions of their rulebooks on their web site, and during the COVID-19 pandemic will be offering free adventures and supplements for players, as well as downloadable activity sheets for the younger set. The content will be released Monday through Friday afternoons. Hurry though, because some of these items will only be offered free for a limited time.

AMAZON

Yes, the massive leviathan of Amazon will most assuredly swallow all of reality at some point, with its warehouses constructed as Dyson spheres and innumerable clones and androids being bred as a servant class to send us the toilet paper we so desperately need. But for now, several of their services are providing free resources to keep us sane during this crisis.

IMDb TV – IMDb started as an easy way to track down all the works by your favorite actors an directors and quickly became an indispensable resource for film buffs and bar gamblers, not to mention adjudication of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” It was purchased by Amazon in 1998 and in 2019 it launched “Freedive,” a video platform featuring mostly films and TV shows licensed from Sony Pictures. That summer it rebranded as IMDb TV and now has content from Sony, MGM, Warner Brothers and Disney, and serves as the free content channel for Amazon Prime Video.

TWITCH – Amazon’s Twitch service was originally created for live video game streaming, but it’s evolved beyond that with content creators like Rifftrax, Shout Factory and Impact Wrestling providing always-on streams of their archive content, along with live shows featuring everything from relationship advice to craft brewing. Even celebrities like Deadmau5, Terry Crews, Snoop Dogg, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson & Sasha Grey have streaming channels.

AUDIBLE STORIES – Amazon’s Audible audiobook library is offering free children’s books and classic novels to stream while schools nationwide are closed for in-the-classroom learning.

COMIXOLOGY UNLIMITED – Comixology Unlimited has a library of over 25,000 comics and graphic novels. As part of the coronavirus crisis, they’ve extended their normal 30-day free trial to 60 days, after which it’s $5.99 per month if you choose not to cancel.

EXTENDED TRIALS

Many premium content providers are extending free trials to 30 days or even longer in response to the pandemic:

CBS ALL ACCESS – 30 Day Trial • Use Promo Code GIFT

ACORN TV – 30 Day Trial • Use Promo Code FREE30

SUNDANCE NOW – 30 Day Trial • Use Promo Code SUNDANCENOW30

URBAN MOVIE CHANNEL – 30 Day Trial • Use Promo Code UMCFREE30

SHUDDER – 30 Day Trial • Use Promo Code SHUTIN

SHOWTIME – 30 Day Trial

AMAZON PRIME VIDEO – 30 Day Trial

HULU – 30 Day Trial

NETFLIX – 30 Day Trial

BUNDLES

AT&T WATCHTV – This nerfed version of the company’s AT&T Now OTT service (formerly DirecTV Now) is available for free to users of AT&T’s unlimited mobile plans.

APPLE TV+ – This new original content service from Apple is free for a year if you’ve recently purchased a qualified Apple device.

DISNEY+ – Disney’s massively successful streaming service features films from the Disney, Touchstone and 20th Century Fox vaults, plus all new content from Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar and National Geographic. If you have a Verizon unlimited data plan, it’s free for a year.

YOUR LOCAL LIBRARY

You might be thinking to yourself, “But self, the library is closed!” Probably, yes. But there’s several online services that partner with your local library to offer free streaming movies, tv shows, audiobooks, ebooks and even magazines, and all you need to access is your library card.

HOOPLAKANOPYOVERDRIVE

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Kenny Hitt

Kenny Hitt

Kenny Hitt (@kennyofthegulch) is an Associated Press Award-Winning videographer, photographer and graphic designer, with his work having been featured by NBC, Image Comics and Scholastic Publishing. He has had a lifelong fascination with science & technology, especially in the entertainment & communications arena.
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