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If you have cut the cord and bought a Roku device, you can still access your local TV networks. Here’s how to watch local channels on Roku for free!
The Drawbacks of Using Roku to Watch Local TV
Most importantly, due to various licensing and distribution deals, the local TV channels you access through your Roku are not necessarily going to be identical to that which you’d receive through cable TV or an OTA antenna.
The issue is especially prevalent when it comes to news and movies. Luckily, there are lots of other ways for cord cutters to watch news broadcasts, while a Netflix subscription will offer all the movies you could possibly want.
1. Official Local TV Roku Channels
If you want to watch local channels on Roku, your first port of call should be the official Roku Channel Store. Here, you will be able to find both network-affiliated and third-party options.
Today, there are more than 100 free local news channels in the store, including WSB-TV Channel 2, News 12, WBRC FOX 6 News, WTVF News Channel 5, Boston 25, FOX13 Memphis News, WPXI Channel 11 News, and KGTV 10 News San Diego.
The best way to browse the free local channels is to head to the News and Weather section of the Channel Store, either on the web or through your Roku device.
2. Third-Party Local Channels on Roku
If your local TV stations don’t have their own Roku app, you still have a few different avenues available to you.
The first is to check out third-party apps. There are two worth serious consideration.
We’ve discussed NewsON many times here at MakeUseOf. It’s a joint project between five of the largest TV station groups in the United States: ABC, Cox Media Group, Hearst Television, Media General, and Raycom Media. Since launch, several more stations groups have also come on board.
The result is that NewsON now offers 170 TV stations from 108 American towns and cities for free. According to its own literature, almost 85 percent of the US population now has access to at least one local channel.
Another one of our favorites is Haystack TV. It’s arguably the best option for cord-cutters who want to watch national and local news.
From a local TV standpoint, Haystack TV has partnerships with more than 150 local news stations. They include CBS Los Angeles KCAL, CBS Pittsburgh KDKA, CBS Chicago WBBM, CBS New York WCBS, CBS Boston WBZ, CBS San Francisco KPIX, NBC Nebraska, and many more.
Haystack is customizable. The more you watch it, the more it learns about your interests and preferences so it can show you the content you care about.
3. Private Local Channels on Roku
One of Roku’s best features is its ability to add private channels. They are apps created by hobbyists and independent developers which have not been published in the official store.
If you do a bit of digging, you might be able to find a private channel for your area. Just make sure you’re legally allowed to watch the content before hitting the install button.
Read our article to learn how to add private channels to your Roku device. We’ve also written about some of the best private channels for Roku that you should install right now. (There are also many free public Roku channels you shouldn’t miss!)
4. Major Network Apps on Roku
If you still have a cable TV subscription, you will be able to download the official apps from all the main networks, including ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, and PBS.
Some local affiliates of the big networks stream their content via the parent network’s app. Check directly with the TV provider to find out whether your local channels are supported.
5. Use an OTA Antenna With Roku
If you have a Roku TV (a television with the Roku operating system built in), you can hook an HDTV antenna up to it and watch OTA TV through the Roku interface. Just follow the on-screen instructions to begin.
You’d be surprised about the amount of content that’s available with an antenna—you’ll get everything from the NFL to popular TV series.
Modern antennas are neither expensive nor visual eyesores. With a mid-range model, you should be able to pick up channels from more than 100 miles away (depending on your local terrain).
6. Local Channels on Roku Using YouTube
Another way of watching local channels is to check out YouTube.
An ever-increasing number of local networks stream 24/7 broadcasts of their feeds. At the very least, you should be able to find standalone clips, segments, and episodes so that you can always stay abreast of the local goings-on.
To use YouTube, you will need to download the official YouTube app for your Roku device and sign in with your Google account. (The presence of an official YouTube app is one of Roku’s advantages over the Amazon Fire TV, plus you can get Google on your Roku.)
7. Screen Mirroring to Roku
Unfortunately, Roku devices do not provide a native way to browse the internet, and the Roku browser market is limited. That’s problematic if your local TV channels only stream content on their website and do not have any third-party apps showing the footage.
But don’t despair, as there is a workaround—if you’re an Android or Windows user. It’s called Miracast.
Miracast is like a wireless HDMI cable. It lets you mirror your screen on supported devices, a bit like a Chromecast. All new Android phones and Windows computers have Miracast included.
To get started on Windows, open the Action Center and click on Connect. On Android, go to Settings > Connected Devices > Cast.
Watching Local Channels on Roku: Paid Options
Finally, remember there are some paid apps available to you as well. The most popular are DirecTV, Hulu, PlayStation Vue, Sling, and YouTube TV. Each of them has some form of local programming for you to watch. Make use of the free trials to see if they are right for you.
Indeed, it’s easy to argue that YouTube TV is the best cable replacement for cord-cutters. Check out our article to learn why that is the case.