Finding your TV shows on the Internet

Getting TV shows off the Internet is easy, finding the ones you want, that's hard.

It seems to me some days like the media companies want their own Internet TV subsidiaries to fail. Take, for example, the simple task of finding the show you want. DVRs manage it, TV Guide managed it when the only way we got to watch TV was by using rabbit ears. But finding the shows you want from Hulu Plus, iTunes, or Netflix can be a major pain in the rump. Oh sure, each of them makes it easy on the Web to see what they offer, but let's say you want to find a TV show and you don't know which service offers your favorite show? Then what do you do? Then, my friend, you turn to an Internet TV's watchers best friend: Clicker.

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Clicker, which advertises itself as the Internet Television Guide, is invaluable for anyone who wants to watch streaming network television. Say I want to watch The Colbert Report, which I often do. All I have to do is search the site and it gives me all the online distribution networks where it's currently showing.

What's far more important is that it gives me the details of where it's showing. For example, if I want to watch the most current episode, my only choice is to watch it at the Comedy Central Web site. If I can stand to wait a little longer for the latest and greatest, I can watch older episodes off Hulu, Amazon, or iTunes. Since Hulu will let me watch it for free, something else Clicker tells me, I know which service I'll be watching it on.

Clicker also makes it easy for me to find out that some of my old science-fiction favorites, like Stargate SG-1, Farscape, and Star Trek: The Animated Series are all available on various Internet streaming services.

Beside search, you can also look for shows by categories. So, you can search for dramas, comedies, action/adventure and so on. This is especially handy for those times when you want to watch something but you've already watched every episode of your favorite show but you want something in the game genre.

So, is Clicker perfect? I wish! Say though you want to watch 30 Rock, which as it happens, I do. I know I can find on the NBC Web site, but that doesn't help me much if I just want to stream it to my TV using my Apple TV, Roku, or Sony BDP-S580 Blu-Ray Internet enabled DVD player. The first two can't stream videos from Web sites, and the BDP-S580 is fine at watching its supported service, but it's built-in Web browser is mediocre.

Clicker, however, tells me with a quick search that 30 Rock is available on Hulu, so I'm good to go right? Right!? Wrong. Hulu shares a name with Hulu Plus, but they're not the same services. The free Hulu.com service is licensed to stream content directly to the PC--and only to the PC. The subscription-based Hulu Plus service doesn't have the same licenses. So, for example, while you can watch the current season of 30 Rock and the Simpsons on Hulu, you can't watch on Hulu Plus. If that strikes you as confusing and annoying, well yes, yes, it is.

What makes it even more annoying is that 30 Rock is an NBC show. One of Hulu/Hulu Plus' main owners is NBC. So, why in the world can't NBC license its own content to its own affiliate? Because NBC, even though they help run one of the major Internet streaming sites, still can't make up their mind what they're doing on the Internet. I wish they'd figure it out.

This also leads to another Clicker problem. The media companies are always pulling shows off the streaming services or putting them on. Clicker usually does a great job of tracking what's really on when and on what service, but sometimes they get it wrong. Flaws and all, Clicker is still an essential service for anyone trying to watch TV over the Internet. Now, if only the media companies would make it easier for Clicker and the rest of us to know what was showing when life would be grand.

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