Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cut the Cord: a survival guide (episode 2)

Aloha fellow Islanders!

It is so nice to see so many eager faces here on "No-Pay-TV" Island!  Welcome back to Cut the Cord Survivor!  You can find the previous Episode 1 here.  Our challenge for today:

Episode 2:  Foraging for free Internet TV

For those of you who just joined us, we are on this Island to isolate us from the evil temptations of Pay TV. Over the past week we have learned to survive on a simple, yet nutritious diet of free broadcast TV.  It literally is in the air all around us.  Contrary to your fears, we have not starved!  We have discovered high quality television, news and sports (all for free).  Hopefully we now appreciate that we were paying for content that was simply repackaged by the Cable and Satellite Companies.  Getting mad yet?  Good!

But wait, I see some unhappy faces in the growing crowd.  I'll bet some of you are tired of the same meal every day.   Ready for a little more variety?  Great!, the challenge for today is to find free Internet TV.  Why free?  We'll get to pay Internet services soon enough.  You've paid for Cable bills for years; now it is time to see what is available for free (you've earned it).

A couple of announcements first.  First, our Island is in the US territories, so you'll find mostly US content reviewed below.   Hopefully our International visitors will hang in there until sharing content cross borders is no longer a problem (read more about that problem here).  Second, we are looking for free content, not illegal content.

We'll also be skipping Kids and Sports content for now.  Each of those easily deserves their own dedicated Episode.  All you need is broadband and a computer to start the hunt!

Now let's head off the beach and let's see what our Island offers!

Free Internet TV:  What we should expect?

Unlike broadcast TV, free online TV is a moving target.  New sources pop up all the time, old ones go away, content is constant shifting.  Some content is meant to lure us back to Cable or other Pay Services.  That is life.  Foraging for free TV won't be without it's challenges, but it is far from difficult and definitely rewarding!

Given the current state of free internet TV it should come as no surprise that things aren't nicely organized.  I'll show you a few places to start your searches and I'm sure you'll find more as you look around.
If I don't touch on your favorite source, leave a comment and share it with us.  Since we are a large group we should leave no stone unturned!

I'll start the tour with Windows Media Center, just because it is already built in to Windows 7 and my Media PC is my favorite way to view web content.

Let's get started:

Windows Media Center: Internet TV (Classic TV, Popular Series, etc).

When you bring up Windows Media Center you will find "Internet TV" under the TV menu.  This is "new" as it used to be under the TV guide area (thankfully they moved it as it didn't belong there).

As far as the content, you can find (not surprisingly) lots of CBS and MSN stuff.  There is a really good selection of News programs (Mad Money, etc.) and a mixture of other interesting content (The Guild, PBS Video, etc).  I also enjoyed a few gems like Star Trek Enterprise (the first four seasons) and the Original Star Trek (first 3 seasons).

One of the major problems with Internet TV via WMC is that it is often better to go directly to the source.  This is usually true of all of the Video portals and aggregation sites (even my favorite like Zinc.tv).  While it is nice to have content accessible from a single interface you are going to find that they aren't complete, links will be dead and many other issues.   Nevertheless, WMC's Internet TV is still useful (as are the others) for discovering what is out there.

Hulu and Hulu Desktop

If you don't know about Hulu you've probably been living under a rock.  Hulu has a lot of great content and has recently launched Hulu Plus in an effort to monetize more of it's content.  I'll skip Hulu Plus for now (covered in an upcoming episode), but I would like to mention Hulu Desktop as not everyone knows about it.

Hulu Desktop provides a couch friendly interface for browsing Hulu content and is well worth loading.  Of course there is no reason why (just like Netflix) you can't use either interface if you like (if you have a computer) - it is nice to have a choice.

Hulu is also one of the few places you will find (some) Hollywood feature length movies.  I've watched a couple of movies via Hulu, but I suspect that their content has been impacted by the launch of Hulu Plus (and I don't blame them) to compete with Netflix.  You might also find that some content is available in other locations (for example, there are more episodes of Family Guy available via adult swim video site - see below).

Mainly we use Hulu to watch TV shows that we've missed or forgot to record.

Zinc.tv, Boxee, Ovguide (other video aggregation / portals)

Since content is spread all over the Internet, it is not surprising that more than a few companies have tried to put everything in one place (good luck to them!).  Some are more successful than other, but there is no winner yet, so plan on using a few of these.  However my strategy is use them to browse and if I find something I like, try to get the content direct.  Another problem with these guides is that they can be out of date or incomplete (yet another reason to go direct).  However, let's go over them:

Definitately check out Zinc.tv, Boxee and OVGuide.  So, the lesson here is use these tools just like you would use a favorite's bookmark in your browser and/or search engine.  Then start bookmarking your favorite direct sites as you go.

Network portals

Each of the major US TV networks (and lots of the minor networks) have their own websites where you can watch their shows.  These include TNT, CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX, etc:


This brings up two more common problems with Internet TV.  The first is all of those annoying teaser clips.  At first glance it looks like there are a lot of shows, but many are just 2 or 3 minute clips.  Most of the sites allow you to filter for full episodes, but they obviously don't make it easy.  The second is that they don't often have a complete archive of past shows.  Nevertheless you can still often catch the latest show if you forgot to record it (or don't get broadcast TV at all).

So, are you a fan of "The Closer", "Rizzoli and Isles", "CSI: NY", "Bones", "Cold Case" check out TNT.tv and start browsing around.  This was one of our favorite sites when we did our "trial" cord cutting and it really helped convince us that we could easily live without cable.

CBS has some full episodes including great news content (like 60 minutes) or the Late Show with David Letterman.

On ABC you can find "LOST", several soap operas, and Classic shows (like Magnum PI, A-Team, etc).

Fox TV has "House" and "Glee".

Finally, don't ignore the lesser know TV networks such as CW TV, Bravo TV, DIY Network, etc.  This list really goes on and one...

So, while these sites aren't perfect, the price is right!  Browse around, you mind just find more than enough to keep you entertained!

Public Broadcasting

PBS Video:  If there is an OMG moment when browsing for content, this is it.  Check out this list of shows:  Austin City Limits (Live Music), Front Line (investigative reporting), Nightly Business Report (Financial News), The American Experience, etc.  There is too much to list.  This site is awesome, go there now.

I imagine that viewers in the UK feel the same way about their BBC programming as well.  Public broadcasting is a treasure and we should fight to keep it!  If you are feeling generous, please donate to them!

Internet Archives

Here is an another awesome resource that many people don't know about, The Internet Archives.  This is a massive collection of freely downloadable music (lots of live recordings), movies and more.  If you are a fan the early color TV program "Bonanza", you can download 53 episodes there along with other shows like the "Beverly Hillbillies".  Well worth checking out what is here, if only for the music.  The Classic TV shows can be found here.

Comedy and Soaps

Life on "No-Pay-TV" Island got you down?  How about a quick laugh?  No shortage of comedy and/or daily shows to get your mind off your troubles:

Of course we can't forget such favorites like South Park, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (both at Comedy Central), and The Late Show with David Letterman (at CBS), and All My Children (Soap opera) at ABC.


Oh, so you like South Park, how about some more animated fun?

AdultSwim video has Family Guy (250 episodes!), you can also find "King of the Hill", "Robot Chicken", and tons more off-color humor and action shows.  You can also check out Crunchy Roll a great source for anime.

Direct to Internet Shows

One of the things that I discovered at one of my last startups (plug for Euclid Media), is the weath of videos that people are producing directly on the Internet.  Sure, some of the content is ... well ... spotty at best, that doesn't mean you should ignore it altogether.  Billions of views can't be wrong, can they?

You can find a lot of the content on YouTube (of course), but there are other sources like Crackle, Vimeo, etc. Tube Mogul publishes an Internet Top 40 so you can see who is hot (literally).  Most of the content can be crude or worse, but it has it's place (and fans) too.  Explore at your own risk.

Feed your mind

Okay, after diving down into the depths of user generated content it is time to feed our brains a bit.  Besides, we are on a Island right?  We might need to learn how to build a raft or particle accelerator some day!  If it is mental stimulation you are after, the is no shortage here either.

Just stop and have a gander at the videos available at TED, or Stanford University via iTunes.  If you can't learn something from watching these videos then you aren't paying attention.


Internet TV is far from the simple packaged world of digital broadcast TV.  Nevertheless because it is streaming we can watch what we want, when we want.  Not a bad trade off if you are willing to look around a bit for things that interest you.  I hope you'll now appreciate the variety of sources that we have available to us for free.

Video quality of all of the sources varies.  There is some HD, but most is probably closer to standard definition.  The good news is that all you need is a modern computer, broadband and Adobe's Flash plugin and you are good to go.  Even better, the content is available to you where ever you have a fast internet connection (at least in the US).

Combining broadcast TV and Internet TV should start to look like a compelling alternative to Pay TV.  For some, it is probably more than enough.

However, if you are still craving more we will look into some of the pay services next.  The good news is that they are cheaper than Cable and might offer that perfect "Desert" that finishes off our meal!

Please leave a comment and share what you have found too!.  Till next episode, Aloha!

1 comment:

  1. Another video aggregator I use is clicker.
    You can choose to search free sites (CBS, PBS, etc)or pay sites (apple, netflix,amazon) .
    Similar to Ovguide but "legal" sources only.


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