News channels, like sports, have been historically difficult to stream. If you wanted coverage from major news outlets you were either out of luck or still had to pay for a cable subscription to be able to log into the channel. While this is still true for some channels, like CNN, more and more free content is becoming available from reputable news sources on Roku and other devices.
Some of this content is truly bad. Fox News for instance has news clips and headlines from 2013 in certain sections. Others, such as the Blaze, only offer short clips in order to entice you to join pay services on their websites.
Despite some poor examples of Roku news channels, it’s still easy to find some stellar content. Here are the top 5 news channels now available for free on Roku.
Best Live Stream – CBS News
The only 24 hour live stream from any network available free on Roku without a cable subscription or add on services.
CBS first and foremost a live stream channel, so when you launch CBSN channel it takes you straight to their 24 hour coverage. Access to this stream is 100% free, and requires no cable login.
Hitting the back button takes you to a pretty straight forward but bland menu with a black background. From there you can choose to watch previously aired content or scroll down to watch news bites in different categories such as Latest, Shows or CBS Evening News. Clicking through icons will bring up content bubbles with the upload date, minutes and seconds of the clip and a description of the program.
Back in the 1960s CBS was a pioneer in over the air news. They created the entire concept of the television news magazine with the show 60 Minutes. Rather than having anchors sitting behind a news desk, 60 Minutes offers in depth, magazine style coverage. Short bursts of information gave way to longer interviews and analysis of specific issues, not just news of the day.
CBS now offers CBSN, or the CBS News channel, the first fully anchored, online news channel that streams content 24 hours a day. This is a game changer for cord cutters not willing or able to shell out for streaming services like PlayStation Vue or Sling TV just to live stream CNN, MSNBC or Fox News. CBSN gives you all the same great live coverage for free, no subscription required.
If you enjoy the feel of live TV or want to get up to date news, as it happens, you can’t go wrong with CBS News. Their award winning coverage is professional and top notch. While a lot of channels try to tell you how to feel about the news, CBS reports it in an engaging but in a more non-partisan way. No matter what your political ideology, you can almost always find more balanced reporting via CBS.
While other news networks tend to focus on politics or US news almost exclusively, CBS has a broad range of international correspondents. With network affiliates worldwide they can give you news from around the globe as it happens They have the budget and the manpower to give you detailed reporting from DC to Tokyo.
What to Watch
CBS News jumps straight to the CBSN live stream when you enter the channel. Rather than showing you clip after clip, that can be hours old, CBSN is always fresh with professionally anchored live news. For breaking news you can’t get better than this. While other channels only live stream during important events, like Congressional testimony, CBSN is always live, so whether there’s an election upset in London or an earthquake in Pakistan, you’re likely to see it here first. That’s the benefit to live stream versus news clips, and what makes CBSN great.
Back out of the live stream though and you get all the great shows you’ve come to love from CBS. As previously mentioned, 60 Minutes is a great news magazine show. Since 1968, it’s been winning awards for its reporter driven, investigative journalism. With long form interviews of politicians and other newsworthy personalities, 60 Minutes is able to get into incredible detail about people, politics and events that you just can’t get from traditional news coverage.
Broadcast Quality and Format
The picture quality on the CBS News live stream is outstanding. Detail is incredibly crisp and colors are rich without being over saturated. The sound quality is equally as good with bright highs and even levels, you won’t be stuck with your thumb on the volume control segment after segment.
As would be expected from a network TV news channel, the production value is outstanding. Everything about the broadcast screams professional. Their sets, transitions, onsite coverage rival that of nightly broadcast news and remember, these guys do this 24 hours a day.
Best Stand Alone Channel – NBC News
Best interface with the most content including analytical news shows like Meet the Press, the Rachel Maddow Show, and more
The NBC News channel really is the best Roku news channel available. Upon launch the channel immediately begins playing Top Stories in the form of short news clips. Hit the back button, and it will take you to a very well laid out menu system.
The top row is large and icons take up two-thirds of the screen. Here you can choose from NBC’s most watched content. Scroll down, and the channel breaks down into smaller rows of curated topics. There are no Roku style bubbles when you highlight a clip, but a short headline describing the content of the clip plus date and time.
The NBC News channel really gives you two stations in one. At first glance it seems to only give you the same coverage as channels like its counterparts ABC and CBS. It goes much deeper though, thanks to its cable network cousin MSNBC. Most cable news outlets offer only limited coverage or require a cable login. NBC News not only offers content from their over the air station, but they also give you most of the content from their cable news shows. The trouble with this app is not finding something to watch, but choosing from a gigantic choice of options.
When you fire up the NBC News it immediately starts playing the latest clip from their Top News section. These are 1 to 3 minute segments largely derived from NBC Nightly News. They give you a brief overview of the day’s top news. Hitting the back button will bring up a scrolling menu of news options. Scroll down and you’ll see a few categories giving you more in depth coverage of major stories. You also get other categories like U.S. News or trending stories.
From NBC you can watch the Today Show for some lighthearted morning entertainment or catch the Nightly News with Lester Holt. Their news coverage, however, really rises above the competition with the additional coverage of MSNBC. MSNBC is a 24 hour cable news network like CNN but, unlike CNN, they let you watch for free.
What to Watch
MSNBC used an incredibly left-wing, liberal news channel. With bombastic news anchors like Keith Olbermann shouting and throwing stacks of paper at the camera. The station has been inching towards the center for years now. While still left leaning, the addition of Greta Van Susteren and Megyn Kelly adds some much needed conservative credentials to their roster. That role, until now, was shouldered almost exclusively by Joe Scarborough.
Morning Joe is the best, opinionated but level headed, morning news show on the air today. Airing at 6AM to 9AM ET, you need to get up early but it’s worth it. Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski work well together, hosting the three hour show, where they talk candidly about news and current events. It being a morning show they seem to both take themselves seriously and enjoy laughing at the same time.
The Rachel Maddow Show has almost single-handedly lead MSNBC to double its viewership in recent years. Her friendly, affable style is as apparent as her very liberal bend. This is an opinion show to be sure but Maddow is also a hard hitting journalist that loves the process of governing as much as the news of government. Her attitude is infectious and she seems to be appreciated by pundits on both sides of the aisle. Other shows worth checking out are Meet the Press with Chris Matthews, All In with Chris Hayes and the Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.
Broadcast Quality and Format
The NBC News layout has a familiar and pleasant layout. As mentioned it will immediately start playing news segments on startup. One small thing that sets it apart from the other network channels is that it will continue to play the segment you’re currently watching in the background. When you back into the menu system to choose another show you’ll still be listening to the current segment. This is a great feature that gives you continuous content while looking for something else to watch. This seems almost necessary since there are so many options from which to choose. The picture and sound quality are just as good as CBS News. The picture is bright and clear, and the sound too is crisp.
Best News Synopsis – Reuters
Best news overview with 10, 15, and 30 minute options for the news junkie of the go.
The Reuters news channel is truly unique. When you launch, it shows you an untitled photo and states that it “Gathering News.” Once you’re in the menu system, the background acts as a screen saver and shows vivid photos from around the world. Soothing music plays in the background while Reuters waits for you to answer the question, “How much time do you have?”
Your options are 10, 15 or 30 minutes and choosing one will launch a series of headline news segments of current events. Along the top is another set of menu options for Featured news, Live news and settings.
The Featured menu brings up a large single news story at the top and allows you to scroll down for more content including Business, Politics and others. The icons are large in comparison to other news channels, with only four fitting on the screen at one time. The icons themselves are photos of current events instead of screen grabs and are rich and colorful.
Reuters is an international news agency based in London. It’s been in existence since 1851 and was the first news agency to report the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in Europe. Now, it transmits news in nearly a dozen languages and provides content to many broadcasters and publishers.
Reuters prides itself on being neutral. They report the facts as they happen without bias or slant. While this can be seen as boring it’s refreshing to have the facts and just the facts in a world where everyone has an opinion.
What to Watch
As mentioned, the Reuters channel is incredibly unique, looking more like dynamic web content than a Roku channel. When it loads you Reuters ask how much time you have and gives you a choice of 10, 15 or 30 minute shows. Reuters will then aggregate all the top news stories in the time frame you’ve chosen. This is a terrific option for those on the go. Only have 15 minutes before you leave for work? Is dinner going to be ready in half an hour? No problem. Where NBC gives you in-depth, round the clock coverage, Reuters gives you all the news you need to know, in the time frame you chose, without slant or media bias.
Broadcast Quality and Format
While Reuters has a fresh, new approach to a traditional news channel their production value is somewhat lacking. The video quality is good, not great, and the sound quality and volume will vary from segment to segment. The reporting is dry and informative but the newscasters can be less than engaging at times. The channel itself is top notch. Though Reuters will need to invest some time and money if they want to truly compete.
Best Financial News – Bloomberg TV
Excellent financial news channel with an antiquated but usable graphic user interface.
It’s ironic that a financial news channel owned by one of the richest men in the United States seems to put little to no money or effort into their Roku channel. Content aside, the menu is bland, boring and inefficient. From the static gray background to the standard layout and bubble descriptions, Bloomberg TV for Roku seems to be an afterthought. It takes multiple clicks of the remote just to watch a single news segment. And since there is no continuous streaming you’re going to be clicking a lot. Luckily, the content is excellent so if financial news is your thing the clicks are definitely worth it.
Michael Bloomberg served as mayor of New York City for 11 years. He is also the 8th richest person in the United States. CEO of the media empire Bloomberg L.P., Bloomberg operates the best financial and business news network in the country. It may not as entertaining as shows like CNBC’s Mad Money with Jim Cramer but Bloomberg’s sober analytics propel it to the top.
While Fox Business News tends to focus on small business, Bloomberg focuses on finance and investing. They don’t primarily focus on politics or world news but they do view current events through the lens of investing.
What to Watch
Charlie Rose is an Emmy award winning journalist that conducts one on one interviews as well as round table discussions on his show, aptly named Charlie Rose. If you’re a fan of PBS style journalism, where content trumps flash, you’ll enjoy the intelligent and in depth interviewing and reporting style.
Broadcast Style and Format
The Bloomberg channel, in Roku, is pretty lackluster. In order to watch a segment you have to select a picture of it. This will take you to another menu page where your only option is to press play. There is no continuous play and you have to back out of every segment to enter a new menu system to watch another.
The picture quality is above average but not great. It’s not as sharp or bright as network stations. The sound quality is clear, if just a tad bit muffled.
Best News for Millennials – TYT Network
Most cutting edge coverage for younger generations with intelligent, left wing, analysis from shows like the Young Turks.
The Young Turks may have won plenty of awards for their progressive news coverage but they aren’t winning any awards for their Roku channel. When you fire up the channel it will play one news clip automatically but then takes you to a very standard looking menu.
Like Bloomberg it’s a pretty cookie cutter channel with it’s gray background and grid menu. Unlike Bloomberg, when you select a clip it actually plays instead of taking you to a sub-menu where your only option is to press Play. The lack of this redundancy means you can move more quickly through the menu though and the channel wouldn’t be on this list if the content wasn’t terrific
Let’s face it, news can be pretty boring sometimes. As a young adult, I recall groaning when my parents would put on the nightly news. It can be dry, it can be boring and it’s target demographic definitely skews towards the gray or balding.
TYT Network is definitely designed for millennials but that’s not to say that it’s a news station that speaks down to it’s audience. Where stations like Newsy sound like they’re spoon feeding a child, TYT is smart, edgy and also incredibly liberal.
What to Watch
The crown jewel of TYT Network is The Young Turks. Starting as a YouTube channel and website in 2002 it came into it’s own for it’s coverage of the 2016 Democratic Primaries. Host and political activist Cenk Uygur gave voice to the under-served demographic of younger, progressive minded men and women who’ve largely been ignored by the mainstream media.
The Young Turks is a partisan show to be sure but equally engages with Republicans and Democrats. It is critical of both the left and the right. It’s a show that’s managed to connect with a young audience and not only feed them information but propels them to action.
Broadcast Style and Format
TYT Network does not have the budget to compete with networks like CNN or the networks. While it doesn’t seem like it’s coming out of some college kids dorm room it definitely could use some sprucing up.
The picture quality is slightly above average though the sound quality is stable and clear. The app does not run segments continuously though. You do not have to go through multiple menu pages to play them.