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YouTube Just Added 4,000 Episodes of TV Shows and Movies to Stream for Free. Should You? 

It’s easier than you might think

spinner image A general view of the YouTube logo displayed on a television screen
James Warwick/Alamy Stock Photo

YouTube just dropped 4,000 episodes of some of your favorite TV shows, and ... drumroll please ... they’re FREE (as long as you’re cool with sitting through some ads). Why are they doing this? Well, it’s the platform’s way of competing with networks like Paramount’s Pluto TV, Fox’s Tubi and Amazon’s IMDbTV. Users will have access to small-screen staples such as Scream Queens, Iron Chef and Heartland. But the lineup doesn’t stop there. Thousands of movies are available, too, like 10 Things I Hate About You, kicking off a future binge-watch marathon that we don’t hate, not even a little bit. And with 100 new titles being added each week, our streaming budget might just get small enough for us to justify our daily oatmilk shaken espresso from Starbucks. ​

Does this mean you should jump over to YouTube and start streaming? Here’s what you need to know. 

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What did YouTube do, exactly?

​Last month, YouTube announced that it was joining the streaming wars and taking on the deluge of other platforms with free ad tiers such as Peacock, Roku, Tubi, Xumo, Plex ... the list goes on. This new offering is only for folks in the U.S. The Google-owned video behemoth may be late to the party, but with its massive existing audience it is starting off in an enviable position. According to Nielsen, YouTube currently reaches more than 135 million people on TVs with the YouTube app in the U.S. alone. And that’s not even taking into account everybody with a desktop, laptop or mobile device. Right off the bat, YouTube is uploading 4,000 episodes of classic sitcoms, dramas and reality series to join its collection of 1,500 movies currently on there. More movie titles are coming, too. 

Why is YouTube doing this?

​It’s all about the R-word: retention. While Netflix, Hulu and HBO Max slug it out for paid subscribers, the secondary streaming category of ad-supported content is beginning to look like the Wild West. Especially since just about everyone we know seems to be cutting the cord looking to save on their exorbitant monthly cable bills — or is at least thinking about it. YouTube wants to keep its users’ eyeballs glued right where they are instead of clicking over to those services and channel surfing elsewhere. Plus, it’s a lot cheaper for the company than financing and creating its own shows like it did until recently with YouTube Originals such as Cobra Kai. Finally, since you have to sit through ads while streaming shows and movies on YouTube, take a wild guess who gets the lion’s share of that ad revenue.

When does it start?

​It already has. And the good news is YouTube will be adding up to 100 new titles each week. Let the binging begin!

How do I get in on the action?

​You can click on YouTube the old-fashioned way on your desktop or laptop, or via your mobile device. But for the best experience, try TVs with the YouTube app. You might be surprised to find that your TV already has it on there. The free goodies can be found by clicking on the “Explore” tab on the YouTube homepage and then under the “Movies & Shows” tab.

How good is the video quality? 

​Actually, it’s pretty good. Many of the shows and movies are available in 1080p and 5.1 surround sound audio.

Is there a limit to how much free stuff I can watch?

​Nope! This buffet is all you can eat. But do remember to take a break once in a while to take the dog for a walk, feed the cat or ask your significant other how their day was.

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What TV shows are available right now?

​While some of the free TV shows on YouTube may not be the hippest, hottest and must-see fare, there’s so much on there that you have only yourself to blame if you can’t find something to binge. Here’s a sampling:

  • Hell’s Kitchen
  • Scream Queens
  • Heartland
  • Unsolved Mysteries
  • Iron Chef
  • Andromeda
  • Midsomer Murders
  • The Greatest American Hero
  • Thunderbirds

I’m a movie lover, so what about me? What can I watch?

​The movie titles on YouTube are drawn from the libraries of studios like Disney, Warner Bros., Paramount, and Lionsgate. So these are real, legit films. And if you’re not blown away, check back the following week. Some on the current slate: 

  • Legally Blonde
  • Runaway Bride
  • Gone in Sixty Seconds
  • The Terminator
  • Tommy Boy
  • Silver Streak
  • Stargate

Chris Nashawaty, former film critic for Entertainment Weekly, is the author of Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story and a contributor to Esquire, Vanity Fair, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

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