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The Most Popular Live Streaming Channels and Programs in the USA

The countless advancements in media technology, as well as the many innovations in TV programming, have made it possible for any American to not only watch live TV programs in the comfort of their homes, but also from wherever, as long as they have a reliable Internet connection and a capable device. Americans would no longer have to rush home from anywhere if they do not want to miss the much-awaited halftime show of Sunday’s Super Bowl.  Knowing and getting the latest information on an important news event, while it is happening, has never been easier for a lot of Americans as well. The live streaming of nationally relevant events has become extremely important.

The biggest question is where would you watch these events, either for free or for a minimal subscription charge? And how do you watch live TV in general without being an accessory to breaking the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) enacted by Congress? At least once, you’ve come across a message discussing the DMCA when you’re trying to search for free video streaming websites, and you certainly would not want to mess with the federal government.

To guide you with your search and allow you to enjoy live streaming TV channels on the Internet legally, here is a rundown of the different local and cable channels in the US that offer such service.


nbc tv channel

NBC is considered one of the largest TV networks in the country today based on both market reach and overall viewership. Some of the most popular live TV shows NBC produced are Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and Late Night with David Letterman.

The network also has live TV programming available online. These programs include the following:

  • NBC Nightly News

Said to be the most-watched news program in the US, NBC Nightly News has been in the broadcast industry for more than 60 years. The show features headlines of the day and provides in-depth analyses of these stories. It is also considered to be the US’ first regular evening newscast.

  • The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

The show premiered in 1954 with host Steve Allen. Since then, the US has seen frequent changes in the programming, particularly with its hosts. Some of its popular hosts are Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, and the current host, Jimmy Fallon.
Today, The Tonight Show has become more popular to millennials as it somehow departed from its usual talk show format. The show currently features games and segments such as the Lip Sync Battle and Catchphrase.

How to Watch

In order for you to watch NBC live TV programs online, your TV service provider, or even your telecommunications provider, must offer the network’s live TV service. As part of your TV service subscription, you would be given a username and password to access some of the live TV programming via your desktop computer or your mobile device.


There is no doubt that ESPN is the channel of choice for sports fans and enthusiasts. From amateur to professional sports, the channel remains the most competitive in delivering live action in both wired and wireless television.

The most popular live sports programs offered by ESPN are:

  • National Football League (NFL)

The most historic of all major sports leagues in the US, the NFL enjoyed an average viewership of more than 25 million in its most recent season. Apart from the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers fighting it out in the championships, the country has seen probably one of the most extravagant halftime shows the NFL has delivered, with Coldplay, Bruno Mars, and Beyonce performing.  

  • National Basketball Association (NBA)


Now on its 70th season, the NBA is no doubt the most popular basketball league not only in the US but also the whole world. It has produced the best basketball players in the world, including Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Kobe Bryant among many others. The current season began in October 2015 and it will end in June 2016.

How to Watch

WatchESPN is the online and mobile channel of ESPN. Subscribers of an ESPN-affiliated video service provider would have access to live sports events and programs from ESPN and its partner channels like ESPNU (ESPN University), ESPN News, and ESPN Buzzer Beater.  However, subscribers are advised that programming blackouts for live sports events apply.  Blackouts are applied to sports events whose telecasts have been sold locally or regionally. For example, if your local sports team has a scheduled game in your area today, you can expect that this may not be available for live streaming online. This is to encourage you to watch the event live at the stadium where the game is to be held.
HBO Go and HBO Now

hbo go

HBO has been in the cable TV industry for more than 50 years and the country has witnessed it grow from delivering only quality movies to its subscribers in the past to now featuring a variety of programs: originally-produced series, musical concerts, stand-up comedy performances, and sports events, particularly boxing. A division of Time Warner, the premium cable channel has branded channels catering to different markets as well. Some of these branded channels are HBO Family, HBO Comedy, and HBO Signature.

Some of the live programs and events to watch out for this year on HBO are:

  • HBO World Championship Boxing

One of the most exciting and memorable boxing events in history has been brought to the world by HBO, and this is the last encounter between boxing legends Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, dubbed the Thrilla in Manila. After more than 40 years, HBO is set to bring another thrilling match to boxing fans. This is the match between Timothy Bradley and Manny Pacquiao happening on April 9, 2016.

  • HBO Comedy

    hbo comedy

HBO is also known to bring some of the funniest TV programs in the US today. What makes these shows more incredible is they are fed live to your TV or online video provider. All the sketches, whether scripted or impromptu, are delivered real-time, thus making you feel as if you are watching it live at the venue. Something to watch out for this year is the highly-anticipated follow-up live HBO-produced comedy show of comedian-host Billy Crystal.

How to Watch

HBO has two online TV streaming platforms: HBO Go and HBO Now. HBO GO, similar to that of NBC and ESPN, allows subscribers of a partner cable TV service provider to access programs online via its website or mobile app. HBO Now, on the other hand, is a stand-alone subscription that enables subscribers to watch live TV using their mobile device via a high-speed Internet connection. An HBO Now subscription costs $14.99 a month.


cnn tv channel

Also a division of Time Warner, CNN is known internationally as one of the top news agencies delivering stories not only happening in the US but also from the rest of the world. Since its foundation in 1980, CNN broadcasts news 24 hours a day in formats that provide in-depth analyses, highly-regarded opinions, and public interaction. Some of the most respected news anchors and hosts that the US has known are from CNN.

A lot of them are still actively anchoring and hosting their own programs like the ones below:

  • Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Currently one of the most controversial programs of the news channel, this weeknight show allows newscaster and host Anderson Cooper to go beyond the headlines and tell the stories from different points of view.  As mentioned earlier, this is one current events program that you certainly want to keep your eyes on, especially that US politics has never gotten this tricky. You definitely would like to make up your mind before the elections come.

  • Early Start

Hosted by John Berman and Christine Romans, the program tackles news and other issues for two hours daily. It promises to jumpstart your day with the information you need, from the current headlines and business news to arts and entertainment.

How to Watch

CNN Go is the online streaming platform of CNN that was launched in September 2014.  As is the case with most TV networks in the country, you need to have an active subscription of the channel via your cable TV service provider to access programs live.

Live and On-Demand Streaming Compared

It is easy to distinguish live TV online streaming from on-demand TV online streaming. As the name suggests, the former streams a show real-time or as it happens. On the other hand, the latter is simply streaming a show that has been pre-recorded or taped. Therefore, a TV program that is streamed online while it is being broadcast can be an on-demand TV program available for streaming after a day or two, but not vice-versa.

Just think of yourself video chatting with a loved one via Skype—that is similar to live TV online streaming. If you missed a video call from someone and they leave you a video message and watch it as soon as you are online, then that is similar to on-demand TV online streaming.

Why It Isn’t Free

Online streaming of programs as they happen can be very expensive. It requires TV studios to use technology that would ensure no-frills broadcasting. Otherwise, it would defeat the purpose of streaming live. This is the reason why channels rarely offer free live TV streaming, unless you are subscribed to an affiliated cable or satellite TV service provider, which you are paying for monthly anyway.

In addition, live TV online streaming is expensive because of the hard work that people behind the TV program are placing on it.  Just like in a musical play, there is no room for mistakes in a live TV program. So, even before the broadcast, expect that both frontliners and behind-the-scenes workers have practiced every single aspect that would make the show a success.  The practice includes scenarios that may unexpectedly occur while broadcasting.

Of course, the scenario in sports and news programs is quite different. You cannot practice who is going to win a boxing match, nor be prepared for what an interviewee would say.

Are There No Ads?

Live TV online streaming is usually free from advertisements or commercial breaks, just like in cable TV. However, be prepared for an occasional ad pop up from either your cable TV service provider or the channel itself.  At the very least, the excitement of watching something as it happens is something you can still brag about.

Is There an Internet Speed Requirement?

Also, keep in mind that your data service provider plays a big role in ensuring that you are making the most out of your live TV online streaming subscription. All, if not most of these channels, highly recommend using a reliable high-speed data connection. What good would it be anyway to watch live TV on your mobile phone if it is streaming very slow, and if it cannot handle uploading high-definition data?

Are There Any More Options?

What if you do not have a cable TV service provider? Can you still stream live TV online? The answer is still yes! You would just need to subscribe to a reliable online TV streaming service. Just be careful because there had been an influx of so-called online providers that are just out to get your money. Here are two of the most trusted online TV streaming service providers available in the US:

  • YouTube

It is understandable why this may come as a surprise to you, but YouTube has become more than a video-blogging website. Although the selection from YouTube is rather limited, it offers live streaming of popular shows and programs on a pay-as-you-go basis. This means that you only pay for what you want to watch and not be tied to a subscription for a certain period of time.

  • Netflix

Although well-known for streaming on-demand movies, Netflix is slowly gaining a niche in live TV streaming. Compatible to a lot of mobile devices, Netflix offers unlimited streaming for a pricey monthly subscription. If you wish to just wait and see if the service would work for you, they offer a 30-day free trial. For more information on Netflix, please click here.

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