You don’t need a cable subscription—or any subscription, for that matter—to watch the latest episodes of shows like “Modern Family,” “The Vampire Diaries,” “Hoarders,” “Parks and Recreation,” “The Big Bang Theory,” and even “Top Gear” on your iPhone or iPad.
A growing number of broadcast and cable TV networks offer iOS apps that let you stream full episodes of their most recent shows, no strings attached.
Of course, the selection of shows you can watch is limited; for example, don’t expect a vast archive of old “Fantasy Island” or “Lost” episodes on ABC’s free iOS app. Instead, you’ll usually find only the most recent episodes of shows that are currently on the air.
Also, keep in mind that most of the apps listed below include non-skippable commercials with their full TV episodes: no fast-forwarding through the commercial breaks, which (at least) are typically no longer than 60 seconds or so.
The good news, though, is that these 10 TV apps for the iPad require nothing more than an Internet connection to work—in other words, no subscription fees (as with the Hulu and Netflix iPad apps, which cost $8 a month to use) and no need to “verify” that you’re a paying cable customer (as with the streaming TV apps for ESPN, Fox, and TNT).
So, ready to tune in? Here we go…
1. ABC Player (Download)
ABC offers a generous selections of free streaming TV shows on its iPad app, including primetime shows like “Scandal,” “Castle,” “Nashville,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Modern Family,” and “Revenge,” as well as daytime shows (“The View,” “General Hospital”) and news programming (“20/20,” “Good Morning America,” “Nightline,” and “This Week”).
You can also check out your viewing history and a weekly broadcast schedule, as well as pick up streaming TV shows from where you left off.
Get ready for commercials, though—lots of them, and no, you can’t skip ‘em.
2. A&E (Download)
Stream full episodes of such guilty reality pleasures as “Duck Dynasty,” “Hoarders,” “Storage Wars,” “Cold Case Files,” “Flip this House,” “Bad Ink,” and the sobering (depending on the episode, of course) “Intervention,” along with a couple dozen other shows.
Also included: A full A&E programming schedule, plus a queue for the episodes you want to watch next.
3. CBS (Download)
One of the last streaming-TV holdouts has finally come out with an iOS app, and it’s a nice one, complete with full episodes of shows like “The Big Bang Theory,” “Blue Bloods,” “Big Brother,” “CSI,” “Unforgettable,” “The Amazing Race,” “The Good Wife,”
Also on tap: full episodes of “The Late Show with David Letterman” and “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” plus daytime shows like “The Price is Right” and “The Young and the Restless.”
4. Crackle (Download)
Get ready for an odd assortment of shows, ranging from such modern classics as “The Shield,” “Damages,” and “Rescue Me” to vintage shows like “All in the Family” and “The Three Stooges.”
You’ll also find dozens of anime shows, plus some interesting free movies, including “Drugstore Cowboy,” “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,” “A Few Good Men,” and “Five Easy Pieces”—although you’ll also have to sift through plenty of grade-Z thrillers starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.
5. The CW Network (Download)
Among the shows available on The CW’s iPad app: “90210,” “America’s Next Top Model,” “The Carrie Diaries,” “Gossip Girl,” “Nikita,” “Arrow,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “The Vampire Diaries.”
The app also offers photo galleries for its top shows and access to its various Twitter and Facebook feeds, plus a weekly programming guide.
Missing in action: a history of the shows you’ve streamed, although the app will let you resume a show right where you left off.
6. HGTV (Download)
Unfortunately, HGTV’s streaming TV app has clamped down on some of its most popular shows (such as “House Hunters,” “Selling New York,” and “Property Brothers”) unless you verify your cable subscription.
Luckily, there are still a few HGTV shows that you can stream without logging in, including “Brother vs. Brother,” “Color Splash,” “HGTV Star,” “My First Place,” “Selling L.A.,” “The High & Low,” and “Shop this Room.”
7. History (Download)
Full episodes of “Top Gear,” “Swamp People,” “Mountain Men,” “Ice Road Truckers,” “American Pickers,” and several other popular History Channels shows are present and accounted for.
As with the (very similar) A&E iPad app, you can save favorite episodes in a DVR-like queue, as well as peruse History’s upcoming broadcast schedule.
8. Lifetime (Download)
The pickings are a bit slim when it comes to full episodes on Lifetime’s TV app, but there are a few choice shows, including “Project Runway,” “Devious Maids,” “I Killed My BFF,” “Killer Kids,”
Also, break out the hankies—we’ve got dozens of Lifetime movies on tap, ranging from “My Best Friend the Serial Killer” to “Sex & the Single Mom.”
9. NBC (Download)
The sleek NBC app boasts full episodes of prime-time shows like “The Voice,” “Community,” “Revolution,” “30 Rock,” “Parenthood,” “Parks and Recreation,” among others. Also on the list: full episodes of Leno and Jimmy Fallon, along with the daytime soap “Days of Our Lives.”
Yes, photo galleries are included, plus a series of trivia quizzes and the ability to create a favorites list if you sign in with your Facebook account.
10. PBS (Download for iPhone | Download for iPad)
Dozens of popular and lesser-known shows are available on the PBS app for the iPad, including “American Masters,” “Antiques Roadshow,” “Frontline,” “Masterpiece Theatre” (or “Masterpiece,” as they’re now calling it), “Nature,” “Nova,” “PBS Newshour,” and “Washington Week.”
Sorry, no quizzes or photo galleries here, but there is a weekly programming guide, or you can sign in to create a list of your favorite shows or check your viewing history.
Best of all? No commercial breaks, although you’ll have to sit through a brief clip from a sponsor at the beginning of most episodes.
Have any other good streaming TV apps for the iPad to share? Post ‘em below!
Note: This post (which was last updated back in January) now includes apps from CBS and Crackle.