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12 Free YouTube Channels to Binge
Last week, I wrote about our experiences over the last year after canceling our cable service. We’ve essentially moved on to a small rotating selection of streaming video services which, along with our antenna, meets our video needs.
One element of that article that seemed to intrigue a few readers is our family’s use of YouTube. I mentioned that there are several YouTube channels that we watch and sometimes even binge-watch. A few of them are probably familiar to longtime Simple Dollar readers, in fact.
Here’s the issue: YouTube can sometimes be a “needle in a haystack” challenge when it comes to discovering quality content. There are a lot of mediocre videos on YouTube, along with some downright bad ones. The trick with YouTube is to discover a few channels producing videos regularly that you really enjoy and get value out of and subscribe to them.
Here are 12 channels we subscribe to in our house. We use the YouTube app on our Roku device and, every once in awhile, tune in to one of these channels and watch several videos in a row. Some of these channels are ones I watch solo, occasionally while eating lunch. Other ones get watched as a family.
All of these channels are completely free. I find each one of them enjoyable and sometimes binge-worthy, and the value I get from them is actually higher than the value I got from our cable package over the last few years.
CGP Grey focuses on short explanatory videos on a wide variety of subjects.
CGP Grey’s channel centers around short explanatory videos, usually animated but often mixed with graphs and other supporting information, on a wide variety of topics. The videos are sometimes interconnected, usually in collections of two or three videos, and sometimes completely standalone.
For me, enjoyment of this channel comes from the variety of topics and the consistently solid job that Grey does in explaining them, with just enough humor, self-deprecation and tongue-in-cheek perspective to keep things light even when the subject being tackled is difficult.
Binging with Babish centers on fairly complex home cooking with a wonderful dose of humor.
I’ll be honest: I haven’t actually made a whole lot of the dishes presented on this channel because, although they look amazingly delicious, many of them are very time-consuming. I have made a few, but what I really pull out of “Binging with Babish” are specific ideas to improve things I already make.
However, what really makes the channel work is the host’s sense of humor and the pacing of the videos. The videos are paced so that you’re not stuck on a particular technique for longer than the time needed to explain it well (or get in a quick joke). Rather, they move right along to the next step at a nice pace. The humor is present throughout, but it never gets in the way of presenting the techniques or dishes. It’s just well-executed.
Kurzgesagt features beautifully animated videos on science, technology, politics, philosophy and psychology.
“Kurzgesagt” is a series of very well-animated videos that provide wonderful simple explanations of topics that might otherwise be very complex. The topics tend to hew close to science, technology and philosophical material, but it does such a great job of taking something that seems really complex and making it approachable. This is aided by the absolutely wonderful high-quality animation style of the videos.
Something I really appreciate about Kurzgesagt videos is that they’re very well-sourced with additional information if I want to know more about anything in the video. More than once, I’ve gone down a rather deep rabbit hole of ideas as a result of something described in one of their videos.
Bon Appétit includes several different series on various food and home cooking topics, often with a wonderful tongue-in-cheek attitude.
The Bon Appétit YouTube channel is actually a mix of several different ongoing programs on various food topics, each with a distinctive set of hosts and with a different angle. Somehow, almost all of those shows work individually, yet they complement each other well. It’s aided by a great sense of humor and a consistent goal — at least from my perspective — of trying to deconstruct foods down to basic elements and techniques that you can pull out of the videos.
I actually like almost all of the individual “shows” on this channel, but if I had to pick one standout, it would be Claire Saffitz’s ongoing series in which she attempts to make gourmet versions of junk food, like pizza rolls. She picks apart what’s good and what’s bad about particular junk food items, then figures out how to make versions that accentuate the good and minimize the bad, explaining everything clearly, all with a great sense of humor.
Marques Brownlee presents wonderfully insightful reviews of technology products, often with a very critical eye on small details.
Marques Brownlee is hands down the best reviewer of tech products I’ve ever seen. His channel is filled with beautifully-filmed videos examining technology products in detail along with other related tech topics. I’ll be honest — most of the stuff he looks at are items that I would honestly never buy. It’s his approach to reviewing that pulls me in.
Why watch if I’m not interested in buying the items? For me, it’s the eye for detail and the willingness to criticize and identify problems and tradeoffs. Brownlee simply sees things that I don’t and then manages to make those things very clear through words and video. I walk away from his videos with a better way of evaluating tech products, which will help me in making my own decisions later on if I do decide to buy something. That, to me, is what a truly great review and critic does. I genuinely feel like Marques Brownlee would be an incredible person to have in a product design lab — you know, if he wasn’t making a boatload of money off of his excellent YouTube videos.
Shut Up and Sit Down presents insightful tabletop game reviews, often intermeshed with well-executed skits.
“Shut Up and Sit Down” is a channel focused on board game reviews, using humor, simple skits, and very good analogies and explanations to not only explain what’s good and bad about a particular board game, but also delves into why those elements are good and bad.
I tend to see the channel as more of a celebration of what’s actually good about tabletop games in general: the social aspects, decision-making involved, the pieces themselves and the pure fun of a shared experience. I’ve been in the hobby long enough that I sometimes don’t agree with “Shut Up and Sit Down’s” takes, but I do appreciate the passion of it, not just for the individual games reviewed but for the experience of playing analog games as a whole.
TED offers short presentations by speakers on an enormous variety of subjects.
Most of us are familiar with TEDTalks at this point. An expert in some particular area gives a short talk — 10 minutes or so — on some interesting or relevant aspect of that area of expertise to a live audience.
The TED Talks Youtube channel is simply a collection of these talks, with new ones added roughly five times a week. I tune in solely for the variety; some of them won’t click, but sometimes they’ll shake my thinking and get me to dig into a new topic in depth.
Talks @ Google also offers spoken presentations on a wide variety of subjects, often a bit longer and more in depth.
Talks @ Google is essentially the same as the TED Talks channel, listed above, except that the talks are closer to an hour rather than ten minutes. These also cover cover a very wide array of topics, just with more depth in each topic.
I’ll admit that because of the sheer volume of videos on this channel, I do tend to be more selective about the ones I watch, skipping a fair percentage of them. They’re all good, don’t get me wrong, but the amount of content is simply beyond what I have time for. It’s a wonderful channel to browse, pick, and choose from.
Pro Home Cooks offers wonderful videos on specific food topics, particularly fermented foods, sandwiches, and many other dishes.
This channel, formerly known as Brothers Green, did more than perhaps anything else to inspire my love of making fermented foods at home, something that has developed into a real hobby of mine. I love making homemade sourdough bread, fermented pickles, sauerkraut, and all kinds of things along those lines.
It was the calm and clear yet joyous and fun approach of these videos that really drew me in and made me want to try making these things. For me, this channel has almost definitely resulted in more at-home projects and activity than any other.
Coach Daniel offers incredibly well-done commentary on basketball, making in-depth basketball strategy approachable.
I’m not the biggest televised sports fan. I enjoy going to live baseball games and I sometimes listen to them via streaming audio when I’m doing something else. I enjoy watching live soccer, too, and I’ll watch some World Cup games. The one sport I follow closely at all these days is basketball, and I’ll be honest: Coach Daniel is a big part of why.
The videos on this channel just click with me, dissecting what’s going on in a basketball game in an understandable and approachable way. He manages to bring a lot of depth to a casual fan watching basketball, vastly increasing my appreciation for what players are doing on defense and what they’re doing away from the ball. Sometimes, things get even more fascinating the more you look at them. Coach Daniel does that for me for basketball.
NPR Music offers a series of short concerts from an enormous variety of musicians.
I often turn on the NPR Music channel when I’m doing something on the main floor and simply want to explore a variety of music. The channel is almost entirely an endless series of short concerts filmed in the NPR offices, where the musicians play just three or four songs each, with some explanation between songs as to what they’re about.
This channel has introduced me to more new music that I’ve loved over the last several years than, well, everything else I can think of combined. Yeah, I often hear stuff on there that I appreciate but doesn’t click with me, but the sheer variety of performances exposes me to all kinds of genres and all kinds of artists, leading me to appreciate music I would have never heard before.
I love discovering new channels, but I keep coming back to these.
I definitely check out different channels, and my family members have different tastes and watch a lot of different channels that don’t click with me at all, but these twelve consistently draw me back in, time after time.
It’s likely that many — or even most — of these won’t click with you, but I’m almost positive that one or two will, and if you’re considering cutting cable, those channels are free resources that will nudge you even more towards canceling that service.