Traditionally, one of the biggest drawbacks of canceling cable TV has been the availability of news. Or lack thereof. Sure, if you pay for a subscription to Sling TV, DirecTV Now, or PlayStation Vue you’ll get some 24-hour news channels included in your package. However, if you’re a current affairs junkie, it’s not always easy to get a free fix of news once you have ditched cable.
Thankfully, that situation is starting to change. There are now plenty of free news channels with apps available across all the leading media streaming devices. Some are global news conglomerate apps, while others are niche indie apps.
In this article, we specifically discuss the apps that let you customize your news-watching experience. After all, customization is one of the most significant benefits of cutting the cord.
Available on: Roku, Amazon Fire, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast.
NewsON is a news service based in the United States, and the app is only available within America’s borders. Its primary focus is on local news from around the country.
It currently offers more than 170 local stations from 113 American cities and towns, thus reaching 84 percent of the population. Seven of the largest American TV station owners back the app (ABC Owned Television Stations, Cox Media Group, Hearst Television, Media General, and Raycom Media, Hubbard Broadcasting, and Sinclair Broadcasting).
You can choose the news categories that interest you, then enjoy a continuous feed of newscasts and clips that match your preferences. Available categories include Weather, Uplifting, Healthy Living, and Politics. You can also watch live feeds of the 170 channels if you want a more traditional news experience.
Available on: Roku, Amazon Fire, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast.
Rather than acting as a middleman for existing network news channels, Newsy creates its own content. Its main topics of focus are world news, politics, science and health, entertainment, technology, business, and sports.
The company takes a short-form approach to news — you won’t find any long investigative pieces or in-depth analysis. It simply takes the biggest headlines for each day and breaks them down into digestible chunks of two or three minutes.
Once you’ve selected your favorite categories and locales, Newsy will keep lining up the short videos for you to watch. It gives you a “lean-back” TV watching experience that’s often sorely lacking in the world of cord-cutting.
Newsy also prides itself on a lack of bias that’s so rare in the mainstream media. It aims to cover multiple sides of every story, thus giving you balanced and fair coverage. Only you can be the judge of whether the claims of impartiality are accurate, so try it out and see what you think.
Available on: Amazon Fire, Android TV, Apple TV, Plex, Nintendo Wii U.
WatchUp brands itself as a daily newscast, but it’s so much more than that. The service launched back in 2012 and quickly shot to fame. Google named it as one of the “Best Apps of 2014” and it won a Webby in 2016.
The app offers more than 200 local, national, and international channels, all of which are tailored to suit your preferences. You’ll find videos from CNN, Bloomberg, CBS, PBS, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, Sky News, the Washington Post, and the Financial Times, as well as content from countless regional broadcasters.
The content isn’t live, but the app queues videos for you so it feels like you’re enjoying a live TV experience. As videos play, you can give them a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”. The more ratings you hand out, the better the app gets to know you and, as a consequence, the more refined the videos become.
At the start of 2017, Plex bought the company and took it in-house. At some point, we might see a rebranding exercise, but for now, the app is better than ever.
4. Haystack TV
Available on: Amazon Fire, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast.
Haystack uses big data to provide a personalized headline news channel. Yes, you can add your own preferences within the app, but the company has a more expansive algorithm that determines which videos it should show you.
The algorithm grabs thousands of user-generated data points every day and uses them to create real-time interest graphs. It breaks the graphs down by world, local, and interest-based content. The graphs are then correlated against your profile and the app will suggest breaking stories and topics it thinks you’ll be interested in. If you’re willing to give the company access to your Facebook or Google account when you sign in, the recommendations become even better.
The topics and headlines can vary from the mainstream to the extremely niche, depending on how quirky your interests are. But ultimately, the result is a never-ending feed of news you’ll love. Most videos are between three and five minutes long.
Available on: Roku, Amazon Fire, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Plex, most gaming consoles.
You might be surprised to see YouTube on this list, but it more than deserves its place.
Every serious news network now has a channel on YouTube. Some of them — such as Sky News, Al Jazeera, Bloomberg, and France 24 — even offer live 24/7 feeds of their stations.
But where YouTube is at its best is in the auto-generated news channels. If you head to the main News channel, you’ll find seven further subcategories. They are Sports News, Entertainment News, Business News, Science and Technology News, World News, National News, and Health News.
Click on any of the topics that interest, hover you mouse over the Top Stories icon, and click Play All.
You’ll now be able to sit back and enjoy several hours’ worth of continuous content from the biggest providers in your country. Best of all, there’s so much stuff on YouTube, you’ll never have to watch the same report twice. If you come back tomorrow, you’ll have an entirely updated set of videos to enjoy.
Is Customizable News a Good Thing?
If you consider yourself to be a global citizen, you’ve got to be careful not to create your own echo chamber in which you only ever hear opinions you agree with.
Customizable news apps can either improve or exacerbate the problem, depending on how you use them.
If you exclusively use the apps to subscribe news from publications with a particular political persuasion, you may as well watch a 24-hour stream of biased network news channels. However, if you’re prepared to venture out of your comfort zone and subscribe to a range of interests and publications, you can broaden your horizons and become more informed.
Which Customizable News Channels Do You Watch?
In this article we’ve recommended five apps that let you get your daily fix of customized free news. All of the apps have pros and cons. The best one for you depends on the platform you’re using and whether you prefer watching content from global news conglomerates or indie producers.
Remember that you can get free news from sources other than TV, too. Check out the best news apps available at no cost.