Are there any internet-based on-demand TV services?
January 4, 2005 1:53 PM   Subscribe

I want to watch a few tv shows - I have been downloading torrents up to now - but I don't own a tv and don't want to get cable. Is there a pay service to be able to watch select shows (E.R., maybe some HBO) over the internet legally?
posted by bikergirl to Computers & Internet (22 answers total)
You could NetFlix the DVDs and watch them on your computer. But that's probably not what you meant.
posted by matildaben at 2:09 PM on January 4, 2005

Why not just buy a TV? It's a fine appliance to use to watch television programs on.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:18 PM on January 4, 2005

To answer your question: No. There are no companies that do this legally. And there won't be for quite some time. Good luck trying to start this business either. No big-name (network) content owner would give you the rights, for any price.

To not answer your question: If you're watching broadcast television shows via bittorrent, then I don't see the ethical problem. They're shows that the networks gave away.

True, legally speaking, the nice (nice, pretty, wonderful, I love you) poeple who ripped them were probably misusing their rights under the copyright of the creator / network /affiliate. Not when they recorded it mind you, when they shared it. It's not within their rights to share. And they remove the commercials (bless them), which is is NOT illegal for them to do, but it probably hurts your ethical case above, since the networks / affiliates are giving away the shows in the hopes that you'll buy many honda cars and Wendy's Chicken sandwiches.

But I think it's pretty much ok. I don't feel bad about that. And I do feel bad about watching HBO or BBC shows, or movies. Those entertainment providers are not beaming out the shit free to my house (even, if I don't, like you, have a device in which to catch the darn things).
posted by zpousman at 2:37 PM on January 4, 2005

Sidhedevil, isn't that exactly the sort of response you're not supposed to give here? (Q: I have a PC question. A: Buy a Mac.)

My understanding is that the answer is currently no -- there aren't any services like this (or at least no major ones that let you get most network shows). We're in the same place we were with TV that we were with music, before services like iTunes. Load of people stealing music and everyone wondering why the music industry didn't just set up an online store and sell music for a low price. (I know many people have problems with iTune's pricing. I have some problems with their selection, but if I find what I want on it, I don't mind paying 99 cents for a song. It's easier than getting it other ways.)

I would LOVE to be able to download TV shows, and I would happily pay a couple bucks to do so. I own a TV, have cable, and even have a Tivo, but I still miss stuff sometimes (i.e. the power goes out).
posted by grumblebee at 2:37 PM on January 4, 2005

Ethics aside, I'm curious about legality. Is it legal to download torrents of TV-shows? I know movies and music are not legal, but TV-shows ARE sort of given away, as zpousman points out.

Except not really. In some places you need cable to see ER. In other places you don't (just a TV and an antenna). So is it legal is some places but not in others? Is it a gray area? Is it totally illegal?

We've seen media companies suing people for downloading music and movies. Is it likely -- even if it is technically against the law -- that NBC will ever sue someone for downloading an episode of ER that they could have seen for free on TV?
posted by grumblebee at 2:41 PM on January 4, 2005

IANAL, but doesn't the torrent count as a "re-broadcast"? As I understand it, you can make a recording for your own purposes under fair use, but sharing or re-broadcasting it runs into other problems.
posted by ..ooOOoo....ooOOoo.. at 2:53 PM on January 4, 2005

Yes, but I wasn't asking about sharing, I was asking about downloading.
posted by grumblebee at 2:58 PM on January 4, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses. It's too bad that this doesn't exist - yet.

I have no idea about the legality of tv shows via torrent, though I would assume it's not legal. I don't see this technology being very far away...we already have VoD for movies, radio stations broadcasting live, and even NPR offering free streaming of previously-broadcast shows.

In answer to the questions about why i don't have a tv, the answers are:
-small apartment
-hating 99.999% of what's on it
-having better things to do with my time (i.e. if E.R. comes on at 10PM Thursdays, why should I change my schedule or purchase an expensive device - tivo - and cable in order to watch it?)
-I subscribe to Greencine and can watch everything else I want to see except recent tv shows
posted by bikergirl at 3:45 PM on January 4, 2005

Dude, how small is your apartment that a TV won't fit in it?
posted by xmutex at 4:03 PM on January 4, 2005

grumblebee, if someone said "how can I make a frozen margarita using my computer, because I don't have a blender?", I would suggest that a blender is a better tool for making frozen margaritas than a computer. Similarly, a television is a better tool for watching television shows than a computer.

Also, bikergirl, one can buy a cheap device--a VCR--and tape television shows with it for an investment of $40 or so. If you really want to watch ER without getting something as big as a TV, why not buy a small VCR and rabbit ears, tape ER off the air, and then watch it on your computer? There are plenty of devices like this one that enable people to watch live TV or VCR inputs on their computers.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:08 PM on January 4, 2005

I do the same thing you do, bikergirl. Although I got rid of my TV so that I'd do something else, like reading ask metafilter.

C-SPAN occasionally streams it's programming. But I figure the next Ted Turner will be starting what you're looking for with something akin to Cable Access Channel programming quality.
posted by stevis at 4:13 PM on January 4, 2005

Response by poster: My apartment is a one-bedroom ~600sqft, but I had a tv for about a week and hated the feeling of it. It felt like the centerpiece to the entire place.

Also, I live next door to a hospital which blocks all signals from antennae. I can't even get local radio stations.

how can I make a frozen margarita using my computer, because I don't have a blender?

Mmmm, bit blender...

Seriously, though, I don't think it's too big of a jump to watch tv on the computer, I already watch dvds on it and VoD movies. Why not?
posted by bikergirl at 4:17 PM on January 4, 2005

I don't know why nobody broadcasts US commercial television legally over the internets, actually. It's an interesting question. I suppose one reason is that if they did so, they couldn't then sell, say, syndicated ER in the UK for big cash.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:27 PM on January 4, 2005

I don't know why nobody broadcasts US commercial television legally over the internets, actually.

Having previously worked with "rights holders" I can attest that there are a bunch of reasons some obvious, some not. Some of it is economics (unlike broadcasting over the air, streaming has marginal distribution cost for each viewer) and fear of canibalizing the broadcast franchise (you may have noticed that things like TiVo make broadcasters twitchy).

But it's also the case that rights have seldom been cleared for IP broadcasting and for a given work there are typically multiple rights that would have to be cleared. For example, TV talent will want residuals on all Internet broadcasts and so this has to be negotiated, measured, and paid out. I always thought that it was stupid that you couldn't, for example, watch old TV shows online legally. It was explained to me by someone who owned a bunch of old TV shows that among the barriers was the fact that there was no IP distribution rights for the incidental music in the shows (since it hadn't been contemplated at the time).

Bottom line is that up to this point rightsholders have not seen an economic opportunity big enough that justifies the work and mitigates their fears. Sound like, uh, the music industry.
posted by donovan at 5:08 PM on January 4, 2005

Actually commercial television has been broadcast over the internet.

About 5 or 6 years ago a web site called did this. Basically the law at the time (and maybe still) said you could relay a broadcast on public airwaves if you a) relayed it simultaneously and b) didn't modify the signal. I assume this was so you could set up an antenna to pick up signals and send out a stronger signal so it could reach farther.

But icravetv rebroadcast over the internet. Basically they put up an antenna in Toronto and anything you could get broadcast in Toronto you could watch on the internet. This was wonderful for me because I had just moved from Toronto to Boston... Being able to continue watching Toronto channels (this hour has 22 minutes!) was great.

They were sued by Fox and by the NFL, even though what they were doing was technically legal. They didn't have the money to fight it and they shut down.

These were also the days of ... Ahh, those were the days.

As for your problem...I'm dying to get rid of my tv, but I don't want to give up law and order. Where do I find these tv bit torrents?
posted by duck at 6:50 PM on January 4, 2005

So, you were using Bittorrent, but now you're not? Is this because you were relying solely on SuprNova? If that's the case, I recommend:

TV Torrents
...available on IRC: at EFNET #tvtorrents

You can also try The Pirate Bay's TV downloads

And if those don't work, try Loki Torrents TV section.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:23 PM on January 4, 2005

Oh, and duck, they have Law and Order episodes, but they don't go back very far -- that is, you'll only be able to get the past couple of week's worth. So if you've got an old episode that you were dying to see... well, tough luck.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:25 PM on January 4, 2005

You could get a tv card for your computer. You can watch and even record tv programs on your computer. You would still need cable though.
posted by TheIrreverend at 9:24 PM on January 4, 2005

This looks like it might work for you. "TEAC TV Tuner is a powerful device enabling video and regular Television viewing from a notebook or desktop PC. It simply turns a notebook into a portable TV."

Kudos for going out of your way to be legal.
posted by zanni at 3:25 AM on January 5, 2005

Maybe the computer is not the device to place your bets on,
I've been seeing a few articles on new companies that send TV programs to cellphones
(Any apartment would have room for a cell phone, right?)
posted by milovoo at 8:03 AM on January 5, 2005

Residuals and rebroadcasting fees are your main barriers to getting streaming television (and feature film) content online.

Television programs are more-or-less financed on a deficit. Studios generally loose money on shows when they are first produced and make their initial network broadcast. Studios typically make money on their scripted programs by: selling the reruns to the networks, the syndication rights to local and cable channels, the international broadcast rights to foreign networks, and ultimately the selling of DVD or video collections.

All of these revenue sources would be greatly diminished if there was some sort of high-quality, free exchange of of their content.

The business model will eventually change -- and in some respects it already is -- but I wouldn't hold my breath for major change to happen quickly. That AOLTW couldn't figure out a way to leverage proven, commercially successful content with an Internet provider can't be getting the other studios very excited about the propsects of turning a profit on the net. But eventually it will change.

(also, I'm not sure if iTunes is an apt paradigm w/r/t streaming television content. I could be wrong, but it's my understanding that Apple loses money on their iTunes service, but they make up for it with the iPod sales that iTunes has generated).
posted by herc at 8:19 AM on January 5, 2005

Starz! makes movies on their network available for downloading (and limited-time viewing: about a month).

It would be awesome if HBO did something similar.
posted by xiojason at 8:52 AM on January 5, 2005

« Older What is walking on someone's back called?   |   Door Shaving Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.