October 17, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Watching TV on the laptop--and on the cheap

Watching TV on the laptop--and on the cheap
Related Stories

IPTV chugs along

June 18, 2007

AOL to bring movies, TV downloads to Viiv PCs

September 17, 2006
Related Blogs

All-in-one 'I-TV' from Italy

December 19, 2006

Uncut TV may be headed for your handheld

March 30, 2006
A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.

reporter's notebook I know this may sound crazy, but I don't have a television.

This isn't a problem, except when I get glimpses of what I might be missing, like when the New York Mets choked and it was all anybody could talk about in the office that day.

I also happened to catch some episodes of Animal Planet's Meerkat Manor on a public hospital TV recently. I was captivated by the story of matriarch meerkat "Flower" and her tragic death from a cobra bite while saving her pups in the Kalahari desert. I just had to watch the next episode to see which of her daughters would win the power struggle to succeed her. But how could I do that without cable or even a TV?

I went on a search for some of my old--and new--favorite TV shows on the Internet. The one caveat: it had to be free, because this TV dilettante wasn't paying for anything other than my phone and DSL broadband service.

While I pay about $30 a month for phone and DSL, my neighbors spend anywhere from $70 to $140 for cable and Internet access, depending on the number of channels and level of service. That cost difference, plus the desire to avoid having a boob tube around, means the laptop is the only screen in my home.

I may be odd, but I'm not alone. A whole 2 percent of U.S. households are TV-less, according to Nielsen. (OK, so I'm almost alone). And nearly 16 percent of American households with Internet access watch television broadcasts online, a report released this week by The Conference Board and TNS Media Intelligence found.

Networks and studios are recognizing this trend. While paid downloads make more money for content producers, ad-supported video streaming is growing--it's expected to bring in $117 million in revenues this year for producers of prime time and daytime TV programming alone, up from $43 million last year, according to Adams Media Research.

My first step to becoming an Internet couch potato was to search for Meerkat Manor online. I found a link at the top of the search engine's sponsored results section that led to the Discovery Channel site, where I could watch the last four episodes after installing a video player.

The video quality was poor and the transmission was glitchy. It really ruins the timing of jokes when (Jon) Stewart's mouth is saying one thing and you are hearing something else.

There was a 10-second ad for Oust air freshener that ran before the show started, and then the Meerkats were on, in all their anthropomorphic glory. I could watch them for hours, but unfortunately, a commercial break came. I was subjected to a 30-second ad this time, from the same air freshener company. Time to check e-mail.

As soon as I heard the commercial end I was back to the screen for more Meerkat adventures. The video quality, while it didn't seem quite as clear as on a TV, was beautiful. And then, before you knew it, the exact same commercial as before came up. This same ad was shown three times during the show. I somehow thought I would be spared the commercials by watching TV on the Internet. I was wrong.

One of the great laments I've had about not having a TV the past few years is that I miss my daily dose of humor--The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. So, I quickly found myself on the Comedy Central site, where Stewart's monologue from the day before started right up in a very small window. There are also sections called "Most Recent Videos" and "Last Week's Highlights." I watched Stewart poking fun at the Republican presidential debate and then conducting an awkward interview with Vice President Cheney's wife, Lynne.

But what if I don't just want highlights? What if I want to watch the entire show? While watching a show in segments like this might make for more efficient TV viewing, I missed watching the flow of an entire show, where Stewart and his cohorts often make references to things that happened before the commercial break.

In addition to the fact that the site seemed to be showing the same ad for each of the highlights I viewed, I was squinting to see the screen because the video window was so small. The video quality was poor and the transmission was glitchy. It really ruins the timing of jokes when Stewart's mouth is saying one thing and you're hearing something else.

Next, I went straight to TV network Web sites. On ABC, I launched the full episode player, which offered a full screen and mini mode. I had heard that tech entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was on Dancing with the Stars, so I thought I'd check that show out.

I was very pleased to see that I could click a button to skip the ad that kept repeating (in this case for Garnier Nutritioniste) shortly after it began. I was disappointed when I thought I could only watch a condensed version of the program for the Web audience, but later learned that you can get to full episodes via a button on the home page of ABC.

CONTINUED: Where's the continuity?…
Page 1 | 2

See more CNET content tagged:
Jon Stewart, episode, TV, Internet access, DSL


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Get a Slingbox
Get a Slingbox and a friend willing to let you park it on top of their cable box and you've got TV anywhere on the planet with an internet connection.
Posted by arobb24143 (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
really not the point.
This article wasn't about how to steal content, but what was available for free via legitimate channels.
You solution sounds like you just want to mooch off your friends ... or share the cost of their cable, which takes you out of the free content realm.
Posted by skeptik (590 comments )
Link Flag
good idea...
but it's already out there without the hassle of having to buy a

bittorrent... much better quality and most shows even in HD
1280x720 quality!

eztvefnet.org for tracker

then you only need a bittorrent client that you will find @

that simple... there's even software that automatically downloads
your favorite shows from BT trackers like "tv shows" for mac osX!
Posted by smokeonit (109 comments )
Link Flag
TV Online
I am a TV Producer and out of frugality or inability to live by the Cableman's repair schedule have also lived tv free for long stretches
And now I live cable free in Italy, where most of the sites you mentioned are blocked. Apparently a "Medium" episode viewed in the EU would disrupt the time/space continuum of revenue. However, FRONTLINE has no such boundary. You should by all means go to <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/view/" target="_newWindow">http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/view/</a> and find a treasure trove of programming.

I could go on about how commercials actually serve a purpose you can only appreciate when they disappear (and I don't mean funding) but the Simpsons are on (in Italian) and I gotta go.

Posted by Alessandra713 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
a TV producer who does not watch TV. No wonder there is so much cr*p on the air.
Posted by gggg sssss (2285 comments )
Link Flag
BBC World is online...
...at least in Europe as a REAL (yuk) stream

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.bbcworld.com/Pages/default.aspx" target="_newWindow">http://www.bbcworld.com/Pages/default.aspx</a>

The BBC like many other broadcasters has restrictions due to existing contracts for its own content and bought-in content from external suppliers as to what it can stream. Perhaps the deal with the cable/sat companies in US means they don't offer a free web stream.

Within the UK where the BBC comes from :-) &#38; I mostly reside the 4 "networks" (ie BBC, ITV, CH4, five) do provide some kind of online service. The ITV channels (four of them) are all available as live streaming feeds (from www.itv.com). Both the BBC and CH4 also offer free (with time-limited DRM) P2P catch-up applications for most of their shows. Subscribers to the main Satellite provider also have access to similarly time-limted DRMed shows and movies from the past few weeks from channels they have subscriptions for including I guess the above networks (but as I have their PVR I can set the set-top box to record shows I want from the EPG on the web or on my cell which works better for me :-)
Posted by rafe01 (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Paradigm shift
I dropped my dish subscription a year ago and bought a 22" widescreen monitor, with the goal of replacing all of my TV viewing with online viewing and lowering the total bill.

The difference between cable and satellite subscrptions and watching over the internet is that with the internet you have more a la carte options. I subscribe to two soccer packages online for about $100 per year total, and I get to see all the same matches I could with a $70/month Dish subscription. Add Amazon Unbox or Netflix and you can watch movies too. The quality is not as good as TV yet, but it will get better. And I spend less on TV now.

For those sporting events you can't find online, my solution is to head over to the pub and have a beer and watch on their big screen.

There are free services such as Miro (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.getmiro.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.getmiro.com/</a>) that show things like Onion TV. The offerings there should increase over time.
Posted by ajwatt12 (133 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Here's how you watch cable for free or half price
Most likely you have friends with cable. Most likely they have a computer. If they have Vista, they already have Media Center, if they have XP, hopefully they have the MC version.

What I do for my friends is record shows that they want to watch. They can choose what to record on MSN and MC will record it. Have MC record it on a external hard drive. When you go over there, you simply copy the shows onto their computer.

If they have Xbox, you don't have to watch it on the computer. You can watch it in your living room. Better then Tivo, you have 30 second skip, not just FF for ads.

You have them pay you for a percentage of the cable bills to. Get enough friends and you can make money, eh?

Works like a charm and it's one way to stick it to the man.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree
I agree, Jayne Seymour really does dance well for a dead mother dancer.

What the&#38;#&#38;???

Anyway... this story was more about your tastes, and they seemed a bit oddball, but then again, you didn't dive into the world of porn, so for that we are grateful.

The best the internet has to offer, though, for us 98% who still have TV's...is what is not shown on TV. For some, that is porn...but for me its foreign language programming...it really allows for access to things that were once too distant to get at.
Posted by rdupuy11 (908 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Watching shows
I found a website that collects links for Christmas-related shows.

At least these are free to watch
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://XmasDVD.com" target="_newWindow">http://XmasDVD.com</a>
Posted by Mike_in_Florida (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Problem
Problem with this method is that your laptop soon has a proprietary video player from every "TV station" you want to watch. Try watching NBC content on an ABC-downloaded player. Yeah, right. With 100+ channels now, your laptop could become a de facto tv; instead of changing channels, you change media players. I've been to law school - I understand the contractual obligations to protect the content and the advertisers but wake up to the reality - it's all out there on torrents anyway. Stopping the torrents is rather like plugging a fire hydrant with your finger - won't happen. RIAA is still trying to figure this out, but that's another story. The only one who really can't see tv programs online is people like me who don't use torrents and who refuse to have a half dozen different media players filling up their hard drive. Just like DRM with the music, the legit user gets hosed every time. I'm not advocating stopping torrents but let's make it easier for the rest of us.
Posted by 247mark (51 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Finally, sort of TV on the net
I remember reading on Cnet or perhaps ZDnet in the late nineties how TV was coming to the web and we could all watch it for free. As a person who has not owned a TV in years I was less than excited.
I have used Movie link, Cinema Now, Vongo, Itunes , Unbox, Netflicks to rent content. I have used Joost, and other free online content providers as well.
Since the current fall season has started I have cut my online rentals way-way down as I now watch one or two shows from each network-CBS, ABC, Fox, CW, PBS. In fact, as a grad? student with limited resources I am canceling my Net Flicks account as I can spend my limited down time watching for free.
Of course, there is no comparison between a good ?art house flick? and Tv. Who knows, in 3 months I maybe so bored with the TV content that I go back to renting content online.
Posted by keystonepa (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
bittorrent has it all!
via bittorrent trackers like eztvefnet.org you get all the US/UK TV
shows there are! in SDTV or HDTV quality!!! and it's free, you have
them on your harddrive and can burn them to DVD or whatever
format you need them, iphone or ipod for example with software
that is readily available....
Posted by smokeonit (109 comments )
Reply Link Flag
if the industry be smart...
they'd do they BT thing with commericals in SDTV and HDTV and
thus getting more exposure for their commercials and having
better control how many times their show gets watched, eeeerrrrg,
donwloaded, LOL..
Posted by smokeonit (109 comments )
Link Flag
Try Joost.com for TV
Joost.com offers a software program ( for Mac or PC) to access over
250 channels. 15,000 programs. It is TV quality streaming and
free. This could be the future as more people will create content
specific to their interests and all web broadcast. Quality is pretty
Posted by Jackie Quan (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Updated to include Joost, Miro
Thanks for all the reader feedback. I have updated the story to include Joost and Miro, services that allow you to watch Internet TV for free.
Posted by elinormills (181 comments )
Link Flag
Boob tube
Just wanted to say that my household and my best friend's
household do not, and will not, purchase cable.

I am on a Mac platform and really appreciate iTunes. It's legal,
free, inexpensive, full-length, on-demand, great quality (though
HD would be nice), and has no commercials for $2 a show.

Our favorite show right now is Heroes. We were purchasing that
show last year on iTunes and were looking forward to doing the
same this year. NBC, however, pulled the plug on iTunes for now
- STUPID (it's just starting to gain traction in the video arena).

I can't stand cable or network programing for a number of
reasons... It's not on demand, there are too many worthless
channels you pay for, and a good majority of shows and even
commercials are either anti-Christian or lack moral decency.
There are also so many other productive, positive, things I
would like to do with my life than watch a boob tube. I don't
need the temptation to be a couch potato. ;-)

Thanks for the great article!
Posted by ssmiroldo (53 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Another choice.
Posted by ordaj (338 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You should had went to espn360.com to watch sports but from what I can tell its exclusive to verizon networks.
Posted by Datcyde (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Try An application called "TVshows"...
(open source)...searches bittorrent sites for hundreds of TV serials/channels...the idea being to catch shows/episodes that you've missed...get a complete series instead if you want...after getting all the links, load into a torrent client and stuff your drive silly...get it here..."tvshows.sourceforge.net"...
Posted by T25 (24 comments )
Reply Link Flag
good that you posted it again! ;-)
good that you posted it again! ;-)
Posted by smokeonit (109 comments )
Link Flag
Just get yourself an antenna and a Media Center PC
I get more content than I can view for free by recording it in HD off-air onto my media center PC. I can either watch it on my monitor, or send it to the TV via the extender in my Xbox. With webguide (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.asciiexpress.com/webguide/" target="_newWindow">http://www.asciiexpress.com/webguide/</a>) I can schedule recordings and watch them remotely on either on any device running a browser (no matter the OS). No reason to pay anything for shows broadcast over the air (and you can skip commercials ).
Posted by Hyloka (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
or a mac and elgato eyeTV HDTV tuner (free over the air)
since the networks and PBS broadcast in HDTV for free over the air
(antenna) it's an awesome deal... no monthly cost, HDTV picture
quality on the mac (or PC)...

Posted by smokeonit (109 comments )
Link Flag
Try Windows Media Center...
A lot of the content you mentioned can be found within Windows Media Center (available in Vista Home Premium and Vista Ultimate). BBC, Comedy Central, Fox Sports, and Discovery all have "channels" where they provide this same content to you - to view on your PC, or even better (via an Extender and your home network) on your TV. Check out www.windowsvista.com/extender for more info...
Posted by j_northcutt (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
or a mac and elgato eyeTV HDTV tuner (free over the air)
or a mac and elgato eyeTV HDTV tuner (free over the air)
Posted by smokeonit (109 comments )
Link Flag
forgot one...
how about tvuplayer . <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.tvunetworks.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.tvunetworks.com/</a> works for me.
Posted by rester (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Adult Swim
Cartoon Network has put their shows online, adultswim.com

Great site for those who love the shows.
Posted by Malenx (23 comments )
Reply Link Flag
free tv is the solution
but when I tried to visit these free sights, its only for the US
market... so why canĀ“t us americans use this in europe. Unfair.
Posted by carmen sancarlos (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Daily Show clips online do maintain continuity, full show
I've been watching the Daily Show online for months, as I refuse to pay for cable. As long as you wait until later in the day, the clips from the previous night are played in order and leave out nothing. You may have a brief lag as your browser buffers the next clip, or a quick 30-second commercial interrupting your continuity, but that's better than a string of ads.
Posted by jledv (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Use a program called TED
There is a program called TED or Torrent Episode downloader that will automatically load your favorite shows to your bit torrent client.
&lt;a href="http://www.data-drop.com/?p=9&gt; TED Review and download links</a>
Posted by meyer0409 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
TVU network
You might also try the TVU network. Some US channels usually from San Francisco along with a variety of Chinese and other countries. They change the assortment from time to time.
Posted by ggood21 (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I don't own a TV, either....
This is a great article. I haven't owned a TV in 2 1/2 years. Plus, I WORK in television! Go figure.
Posted by toosday (343 comments )
Reply Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.