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The Roku Channel: Free movies and shows online

The Roku Channel logo
(Image credit: WhatToWatch.com)

Roku is the No. 1 streaming video platform in the United States, and No. 2 in the rest of the world. But it's no longer about being just a way for services like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube TV, Sling TV and the like to get their shows in front of your eyeballs — and to relieve your wallet of your money.

Roku is slowly toward becoming a more self-sufficient streaming platform with The Roku Channel, and it's taking it sweet time with it. Launched in October 2017, The Roku Channel is a free channel with movies and series that is supported by advertising. It licenses content from any number of sources, some you've heard of, and many you haven't. The studios and content owners don't really matter — it's the free movies and shows that do.

In January 2019, The Roku Channel grew even further by adding premium subscriptions with one-click signup from the likes of Showtime, Stars and EPIX. Roku handles the billing, and customers get easy access to content that otherwise would have taken a number of steps to get to.

And The Roku Channel accelerated into another gear in 2021 as it began to venture into original content. It did so first the acquisition of the short-form shows from the defunct Quibi service, a mobile-centric streaming platform that failed to get off the ground despite the high-powered executives and a ton of money behind it. And in March Roku debuted its first original (and mostly forgettable) series called CYPHER.

Which brings us to where we are today. The Roku Channel continues to be great — and 100 percent affordable — way to watch all sorts of shows and movies without spending a dime.

MORE: The best Roku you can buy

Here's everything else you need to know about The Roku Channel:

What can you watch on The Roku Channel?

That's a pretty open-ended question. The simple fact is you can watch all kinds of shows and movies on The Roku Channel, across just about every genre you can think of. In early 2021, it had more than 40,000 free movies and programs and more than 165 free live linear TV channels. 

Let's start with live TV. There are more than 150 channels that are live (as in right now) and linear (as in a channel that shows things and everyone sees them at the same time). Those include news and sports, like TYT Go, Newsy, Newsmax TV, Stadium, Fubo Sports Network, People TV, Cheddar News, and so on.

At the top you'll find a "featured" row, which gives Roku the opportunity to sell access, but also to organically present the best of the best. 

You've also got category rows, which are exactly what they sound like — comedy, horror, drama, thriller — you get the idea.

Roku has also developed its own original programming, dubbed Roku Originals. Part of the Roku Original lineup includes Roku Recommends, a new show helping users find what's available across Roku channels.

How much does The Roku Channel cost?

The Roku Channel is free to watch, thanks to all the advertising within shows and movies. You pay for your time watching advertising, of course.

But other than that, the shows and movies you see on the non-premium side of the shop are free.

The Roku Channel

(Image credit: WhatToWatch.com)

What can you watch The Roku Channel on?

When it comes to actually watching The Roku Channel, you've got a ton of options. Most obvious are Roku players themselves, as well as Roku TV. Just install The Roku Channel from the Roku Channel Store and you're good to go.

You're also able to get The Roku Channel on Amazon Fire TV, and on select Samsung Smart TVs. 

The Roku Channel also is available in a standard web browser at TheRokuChannel.com.

The Roku Channel also is available as a standalone app for iOS and for Android. That allows you to install it on an iPhone or iPad, and on pretty much any Android device. Note that if this is the route you take and you want to take advantage of the premium subscriptions via The Roku Channel (more on that below),k you'll need to sign up from an actual Roku device, or from TheRokuChannel.com.

What premium options does The Roku Channel have?

You've got a number of paid subscriptions available within The Roku Channel. You give Roku your payment information, then sign up, and it handles all the billing. 

Premium options on The Roku Channel include EPIX, AMC+ (which is itself an amalgamation AMC, Shudder, Sundance Now and IFC Films Unlimited), STARZ, BET+, Cinemax, Showtime, Noggin, The Great Sources Signature Collection, UP Faith & Family, Lifetime Movie Club, Fox Nation, Acorn TV, ALLBLK, Hallmark Movies Now, History Vault, A&E Crime Central, CuriosityStream, Pantaya, Sundance Now, True Royalty, IFC Films Unlimited, and more.

Premium subscriptions carry over from one method of watching The Roku Channel to another, so you don't have to pay multiple times. You just have to use Roku or The Roku Channel to watch. That's the extent of the portability, though. If you sign up through The Roku Channel you'll have to watch from within The Roku Channel. 

One more major caveat here — you can't do premium subscriptions via The Roku Channel on Samsung TVs, or on Amazon Fire TV.

Phil Nickinson

Phil spent his 20s in the newsroom of the Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal, his 30s on the road for AndroidCentral.com and Mobile Nations, is the Dad part of Modern Dad, and is editor of WhatToWatch.com.