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Looking for TV Shows Online

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In preparing for a recent trip, I checked my TiVos very carefully, wanting to make sure that they both setup to tag team record shows.  There was a complicated algorithm involved to guarantee that I maximized the number of shows recorded on the HD TiVo while never over-filling it which would lead to it deleting things before I was back and ready to watch them.  Choices had to be made — did I need Heroes in HD, could Sarah Connor be recorded in SD, what about The Office and Pushing Daisies?  The dance was an intricate one, but it all worked out in the end, nothing was lost and now, two weeks later, everything has been watched, I am once again up to date with my viewing.

Of course, as I am regularly informed by e-mails, I had another choice than TiVoing — the vast majority of shows I watch are available for viewing legally from at least one website.  Much of what is available for legal viewing online (and, as someone who used to work in production, legal viewing is the only type I condone) now looks great, is available with a minimal number of commercials, and is just plain convenient when one isn't at home. 

There is, I've noted, one main drawback of online viewing however – figuring out exactly where (and if) the show I want to watch is available online.  Sure, iTunes has a bunch of shows that are watchable, but not for free, and for me, I'd just as soon wait and watch something later than pay to watch a free show.

So, here's what I've learned, ABC and CBS each offer some of their shows for free directly from their own websites.  NBC and FOX do similar things, but they also have teamed up on the utterly fantastic Hulu, which has a ton of shows and movies from both networks available.  And then, there's Fancast (while a publicist sent me the link to them, I've since noticed an incredible number of banner ads all over the net promoting the site).

Fancast I like, but I don't quite understand.  Fancast offers a ton of the same shows that Hulu does (I'm told that they're "friendly competitors").  In fact, a quick, unscientific check of shows that I was interested in on Hulu indicated that they were all available at Fancast.  And, conversely, there was little, if anything, available at Fancast that I was interested in that wasn't also available at Hulu (Fancast does seem to have more full episodes of shows, but none that intrigued me).  Then, very interestingly, all of the Hulu available shows I tried to watch on Fancast came up with a cute little Hulu logo.

To me, and maybe it's just me, but that's odd.  That's kind of similar to CBS saying "and here's what's on NBC tonight" and then airing NBC programming rather than their own.  But, the digital world is a different one, and if I had to guess I'd say that money was somehow changing hands (at least via ads or another mechanism if not straight dollars). 

Even so, watching Hulu logo on Fancast would be enough to make me just go directly to Hulu, if not for one little thing — the pages for specific shows on Fancast are far better organized than on Hulu.  On Fancast it's easier to tell which full episode is the most recent, and what new episodes of the series are going to air when. 

Looking at all the different options and trying to decipher which show is available where, for how long, and for how much is enough to make one's head spin.  In my utopian vision of the future, all episodes are available for free from one convenient site.

I'm not holding my breath.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
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