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How To Watch PBS: All Your Essential Public Broadcasting Programming Without Cable

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PBS is a great source for prestige drama, highbrow comedy, and documentaries. And you can get it totally free! Even if you want PBS with other channels, you still don’t need to resort to cable. Read on for all the info on all the different ways you can watch PBS.

In a hurry? These services will get you your PBS fix:

  • DIRECTV STREAM: Makes it easy to switch from cable to streaming with their 75+ channel Entertainment plan and options for much more. A 5-day free trial is now available for DIRECTV STREAM.
  • Hulu + Live TV: This total entertainment streaming service provides a great on-demand selection and all the essential live TV channels. Try the Hulu Live free 3-day trial.

If you can’t watch your favorite movies and shows because of your location, try ExpressVPN to get access to the content you deserve.

In a hurry? Unfortunately, we don’t know a streaming service in that offers this TV channel/sport. But if you’ve already paid for the right service, and just can’t watch because of your location, there is an easy way to get the sports, movies, and TV you deserve. You need a VPN, like one of the following.


1. ExpressVPN: Established VPN provider in 105 countries. Smart DNS, a built-in ad-blocker, and unlimited bandwidth. Try it with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Private Internet Access

3. Private Internet Access: The only no-logs VPN with a location for every US state. Get 82% off + 2 months free.

If you’re overwhelmed and not sure where to begin, you’ll find all the answers in our full VPN guide.

How to Watch PBS

As a public service channel, PBS goes out of its way to make itself accessible, especially in the Internet Age. From back-episodes of Reading Rainbow to the latest edition of Antiques Roadshow, chances are you’ll be able to stream it on your device of choice.

Live Streaming Services

Despite the wide variety of programming, most people prefer more channels than just public television. If you want a complete TV package that includes PBS, look no further than these top streaming services:

Other Ways to Stream PBS

If you’re all set for other channels and just need PBS, we still got you covered.

  • Amazon Prime Video: Some on-demand content is available there, and PBS Kids and Masterpiece are both available as add-ons through Prime Video Channels. (Amazon Prime review)
  • Website/App: You can visit pbs.org or the PBS app to watch some content on demand. The app requires you to sign in with a PBS account or through Google, Facebook, or Apple, but the website does not.
  • PBS Passport: If you’re willing to donate a minimum of $5/mo or $60/year to a PBS member station (this amount can differ by station), you can get expanded access to specials and series online, plus other benefits. More info below.
WBGH Boston PBS home page
Member station WGBH Boston, the biggest contributor of content to PBS.

Watching PBS With an Antenna

PBS, like commercial over-the-air networks, is broadcast over public airwaves – this means anyone with an antenna within range can pick it up for free. You can get an antenna for under $50 these days, and they’re easy to set up.

Also, Sling TV, another streaming live TV provider, will give you a free antenna if you prepay for the first two months of service. See our guide to local channels on Sling TV for more details.

Check out our guide to getting HD TV with an antenna.

What Is PBS?

PBS stands for Public Broadcasting Service. It’s made up of around 350 member stations around the country. Commercial-free, PBS’s funding comes from dues paid by member stations, pledge drives (that’s the “members like you”), the federal government (via the Corporation for Public Broadcasting), and private donations (that’s the list of companies you get before and after each show).

Because each PBS station is locally operated and has more freedom in its programming than the average commercial channel, there can be a lot of variation in PBS channel schedules – even the programming itself.

PBS typically airs programming related to the fine arts, public affairs, home improvement, and imported British fare. It also features several high-profile interview shows, as well as many science and history documentaries. It distributes a huge number of high-quality children’s programming via PBS Kids and on the main channel in the mornings and afternoons.

Get DIRECTV STREAM Free for 5 Days

WETA PBS Washington DC
Member station WETA in Washington, DC

PBS Programming

PBS does not produce any content itself. Instead, it distributes shows produced by member stations, such as WGBH Boston (Nova, Masterpiece Theatre, Frontline, American Experience), WETA Washington, DC (PBS Newshour, This Old House, Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr, Washington Week), WNET Newark/NYC (Nature, Cyberchase), or others.

WGBH Masterpiece - Grantchester Season 9 coming in June to PBS
WBGH-produced Masterpiece, which presents high-quality miniseries.

Independent organizations produce some programs for PBS, such as ITVS (Independent Lens) or American Documentary, Inc. (POV).

PBS is also known for re-airing British series (Downton Abbey, All Creatures Great and Small, Fawlty Towers, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Doctor Who, Mr Bean, Benny Hill, and many more) for decades before BBC America. So if you hear wacky saxophone music playing in your head when you watch people rush around chaotically, you can probably blame PBS.

PBS Kids

PBS Kids is the name for the daytime block of kid-centered shows. Many PBS stations broadcast a multiplex PBS Kids that runs 24 hours per day. PBS Kids features some of the most iconic, award-winning, and beloved children’s programming available. A new series, Lyla in the Loop, just premiered this year.

PBS Kids website

Wrapping Up

PBS has something for everyone and has been one of America’s most trusted media institutions for decades. Check out one of the many cable-free streaming methods above to start watching your favorite PBS shows today.

We recommend DIRECTV STREAM for its overall pure entertainment value. New customers get a 5-day free trial with DIRECTV STREAM.

See Also

If you’re still looking for more information, take a look at our FAQs below or check out some of our other guides:

You can also find our guides for other entertainment and family channels here:


What is PBS Passport?

PBS Passport is PBS’s own channel-specific, on-demand streaming service. It’s run on a station-by-station basis, but the majority of member stations offer Passport to eligible donors and supporters, with most requiring either a $5/mo repeating donation or at least $60/year. Your station’s Passport will provide different content to other stations, but will include a mix of nationally distributed shows with a selection of locally produced content.

Is THIRTEEN PBS your local station?

Unless you live in the New York City tri-state area, Thirteen is not your local station. Thirteen, or WNET-13, is the flagship PBS station of New York City, and the most-watched PBS channel in the country. It produces several nationally watched series: Nature, American Masters, Great Performances, Cyberchase, and PBS NewsHour Weekend, plus a lot of local New York content. It has its own app, Thirteen Explore.

Member station THIRTEEN PBS, WNET-13 in New York City, the most-watched public broadcasting channel in the US.

Can I still become a member of Thirteen (or another member station) that’s not my local station?

Not really. You can donate to them, but there are licensing restrictions on where PBS stations can broadcast, so you won’t be able to access the channel livestream from outside that station’s region. The best way to access and support PBS is through your local PBS channel.

What do you get with the PBS app?

The PBS app allows you to stream full episodes of over 4,000 select on-demand and local live shows using a variety of popular streaming devices. Devices that support the PBS app are:

  • Amazon Fire Tablet
  • Amazon Fire TV
  • Android Mobile
  • Android TV
  • Apple TV
  • Chromecast
  • Google TV
  • iOS
  • Roku
  • Samsung TV
  • Vizio

Popular shows available include Masterpiece, Nova, Nature, PBS NewsHour, and Frontline, as well as productions from Ken Burns and Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

The app is available for free, and you can access much of the content on it for free as well, though you do need to create an account and identify your local station. You can get additional content and benefits (which vary by station) with PBS Passport (which requires a donation).

How can I donate to PBS?

You can donate to PBS in several ways: online, via phone or email, with a mailed-in check, or in person. To donate to your local PBS station online, visit PBS.org and click “donate” in the top-right corner of the site which will then take you to your member station’s donation form. Visit your local station’s website for the specific contact information to donate all other ways.

Alanna Baker
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