By Megan Larson
We’ve all heard that the future of television watching is online, but where do you start? Is there really an online alternative to your cable box? Are paid services like Hulu Plus or Netflix worth your dime? What about devices like GoogleTV or AppleTV or Boxee — how do they fit into the picture? Or maybe you’re just looking for an alternative for when the TV in your living room is being monopolized by yourgame-playing kids. In this series of articles, SideReel will provide answers to these questions and more.
Part One: Watching TV on your computer
First, let’s take the simplest case: watching your favorite shows on your computer. Generally speaking, all that is required is your Internet connection and a decent computer. You find the video you want to watch, press play, and that’s all there is to it. Seems pretty doable, right? It is, as long as you can find what you’re looking for. Let’s break down what’s out there now.
Current shows: keeping up with the Nielsens.
The networks are still trying to figure out the best way to take advantage of the Internet. When it comes to current shows, many are made available online soon after broadcast but are only kept up for a short period of time. Often these free videos have ads, although usually not as many commercials as a regular television broadcast. Some networks are taking a more conservative approach, offering only some or no episodes. In addition to full-length shows, many networks post clips of the latest watercooler (or watercooler-hopeful) moments.
If you can watch new episodes within the window that networks provide them, like the five most recent episodes, network sites and Hulu provide many options for viewing current shows.
Old favorites: from another season or another decade.
As the popularity of videos has grown, the networks realized that they have lots of older shows in their vaults that people would still like to see. Internet television has given them a new space to share these shows, whether previous seasons of current hits like Mad Men or shows that signed off long ago like The Dick Van Dyke Show. You no longer have to be a slave to syndication or buy a wall of DVDs to see your old favorites today.
Network sites may provide video of their older shows, although they provide only few recent episodes of shows that are currently airing. Hulu is another source for older content. They have many free episodes (and lots of clips), although selection can vary.
Paid content: how it works and what you’re getting.
We’ll cover paid content in greater deal in a later article, but at a high level, there are two ways of paying for content: subscription-based and per-episode (or -season).
In the first scenario, you pay a subscription fee to a site and during that window you can watch as much of their content as you want; it’s more or less analogous to paying your cable bill. Subscription services include Hulu Plus and Netflix.
In the second scenario, you purchase a particular episode or season of a show, similar to how you’d buy a DVD. The difference is that instead of a owning a physical disc, you’ve bought a right to watch a particular file that may be subject to certain limitations. Limitations could include an expiration date (in the case of an episode rental), or the file could be streaming-only, which requires an Internet connection to view it. Popular sites that offer per episode/season purchases are iTunes and Amazon.
Where to find them.
Given all of the options above, you can see how the biggest challenge can be finding what’s available and where to find it. And that’s where SideReel comes in. We know you don’t want to have to hunt down your five favorite shows on five different sites or figure out whether a new episode has aired this week. And with so many options out there, it can be hard to know which episodes you’ve watched already. Luckily, SideReel provides one easy place to find free and for-pay links to shows from every network, view a schedule personalized with all of your favorites, and track what you’ve seen.
Visit SideReel at www.sidereel.com now to cut the cable today!
Megan Larson has always had a complicated relationship with her TV.
She lives in Oakland, CA and blogs at littlesweetsandme.com.