Katherine Boehret

A Clicker To Watch TV Online

Finding TV shows online can be a major hassle. If you can remember which network hosts the show, you then must hunt through a maze of listings of several other television shows on that network’s Web site to find it. The show you want to watch might not even be available since many networks rotate only a handful of recent episodes online at a time. And if you do finally find the correct episode, you may be required to download a special media player to watch it.

Some services make this process a little easier. Hulu holds episodes from 1,200 television shows, but is still missing many. Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes Store offers over 50,000 episodes, but unlike network sites or Hulu, it requires viewers to pay to download and watch them (though they are commercial-free). Video search engines like Truveo browse the entire Web, returning an often-overwhelming number of results. And while YouTube is the king of Web video, it can too easily return a search result that isn’t a complete and genuine episode of the show you’re seeking.

This week, I’ve been testing Clicker, a free Web site that aims to be the TV Guide for all full episodes available to watch on the Web. It searches over 1,200 sources, so it can index some 400,000 episodes from 7,000 shows. Results include television programs as well as “Web originals,” or shows that are native to the Internet and are of broadcast quality. Clicker either plays the video on its site or links you to where this content is shown on another hosting site—like NBC or Hulu. If a show isn’t available online, Clicker tells you so you don’t have to keep hunting all over for it.

I like Clicker and found it to be a quick resource for finding all sorts of shows online. In many cases, it directed me to find the episodes I wanted to watch and saved me the hassle of less efficient searching. It also suggested shows I might like and offered a playlist where I could subscribe to receive episodes as they became available or save available videos to watch later.

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Clicker makes descriptive pages about each show

Though it has a search box, Clicker feels more like a directory than purely a robotic search engine that relies mainly on algorithms. In fact, Clicker created a descriptive page for almost every show, and these pages can be edited or created via user submissions, which Clicker will review before posting them to the site. And because it’s focused on TV shows or Web originals, it won’t clutter your results with kids’ birthday parties or cats on skateboards.

The site is still rather new, so it has some kinks to work out—like links to videos that didn’t actually play if, for example, they were pulled by the network. But these were rare, and for the most part, if a video wasn’t available, a clear, brief explanation was displayed at the top of the page. Also, if Clicker sends you back out to a network’s site and that network uses a special player for videos, you’ll still have to download that player.

Filtering Results

Clicker’s program pages contain a description of the show, and a way to filter results by season, airdate or popularity. And the site shows the actual airdate of each video—something that not many other sites do. A column on the right side of each page displays several related shows, like the suggestion of “Modern Family” for fans of “How I Met Your Mother”; and “Roswell” and “Dead Like Me” suggested for people who like “Heroes.” In December, these recommendations will become even more personalized.

Some of Clicker’s sources include NBC, Fox, ABC, PBS, the Food Network and Web original content (i.e. “The Onion”). It also can search movies and music videos; the movies can be watched free in some cases, or paid for via Amazon’s (AMZN) Video on Demand or Netflix (NFLX) Instant Streaming. In January, Clicker plans to incorporate shows and movies from iTunes, using Apple’s pay-and-download method.

Clicker is especially handy when you’re looking for a show that isn’t where you think it should be. “Seinfeld,” for example, is on TBS rather than NBC, where it originally aired, and only nine episodes are available at once before they rotate out and are replaced by nine more. “Friends” is found on theWB.com, rather than on NBC’s site. “Damages” isn’t available on its network site, FX; instead, it can be found at Crackle.com, another video-hosting site. It’s easy to understand why people settle for missing an episode rather than trying to find a show online.

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Clicker finds over 400,000 television and Web-original episodes so you can search less and watch more.

Clicker also comes in handy when you’re querying something or someone you need to learn about. By typing in a term like “Thanksgiving travel,” I get news results from NBC’s “Nightly News with Brian Williams,” the “CBS Evening News” and the Associated Press. I also get tips for traveling during this busy time of year from an AOL Travel online video, as well as a 1968 episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies” called “The Thanksgiving Spirit.”

Clicker isn’t the site to use if you want to find the hot video clip that everyone is watching. When I searched for “Whitney Houston” the morning after the American Music Awards, the most recent video I found was the singer performing on “Good Morning America” in September—not the one showing her singing during the awards show the night before.

But the fact that Clicker can find Whitney Houston on “Good Morning America” is useful in itself. A search for Warren Buffett’s most recent appearance on the “Charlie Rose” show can be conducted in a similar manner—either by typing his name into the box at the top of the page or by opening the show’s page and searching within that show for anyone who has appeared as a guest. Performing a search within a show like this anywhere else is nowhere near as easy as on Clicker.

Playlist of Your Shows

Clicker can be used as a TiVo (TIVO) of sorts if you create a username on the site or simply sign in using Facebook Connect, which I did.

Users can make playlists where they can add just one episode, all episodes, or new episodes to this list—subscribing to receive all new episodes in the playlist as they become available. I added episodes of “The Amazing Race” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” to my playlist. This list can be accessed anytime, and it’s helpful for people who don’t have enough time to watch a show that they found. In December, email and Facebook notifications will be added to tell users that new episodes are in their playlists.

If you spend a lot of time in front of your computer and find yourself searching all over the Web for the TV shows you’d like to watch, Clicker will be a huge help. And even if your show isn’t available, you might find something similar—or better—in Clicker’s recommendations.

Edited by Walter S. Mossberg. Email mossbergsolution@wsj.com


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