Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

How to Watch Free, Live Broadcast TV on Your iPad, Right Now

The broadcast networks only put their stuff on the Web under very specific conditions. So this is exactly what they don’t want: Free, live streams of their stuff delivered to your iPad, via the browser.

You can get it right now, by heading to FilmOn.com, where you can get streams of several local L.A. TV stations, which means you can get whatever NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox are broadcasting. You can also get a few cable channels, like Time Warner’s CNN International, as well as a couple of porn feeds.

It’s incredibly easy, and it’s a very high-quality feed, with very little lag. This screenshot of NBC’s “Today Show” isn’t very exciting, but it is current–I took it a few minutes ago.

You can also get FilmOn via a conventional PC, but that requires a download, so it’s not quite as convenient. But it’s still very easy, and while FilmOn has said it would charge for the service, it’s free for now.

How is this possible? It shouldn’t be, according to the networks, who are suing FilmOn and founder Alki David. They’re also suing ivi.TV, which is doing something similar with feeds from Seattle TV stations.

Both FilmOn and ivi are arguing that they’re within their rights based on an interpretation of FCC rules that allow “secondary transmissions” of broadcast signals.

The networks, of course, will work very, very hard to shoot down that argument, for obvious reasons. Ivi and FilmOn have been out for several weeks, but a note from industry analyst Rich Greenfield (registration required) this morning is going to increase the attention the two companies have been getting.

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how Apple plays this. Steve Jobs has big plans for the TV business, but they generally involve working with the networks and studios so that they can charge money for their shows on his devices.

On the other hand, since FilmOn is getting to the iPad over the free Web, instead of an Apple-approved app, I’m not sure how Jobs could stop the transmission. Even if he wants to.

UPDATE: Ivi’s Hal Bringman wants us to know that in addition to Seattle, his service also offers streams from New York broadcast stations, and will start offering from L.A. this weekend. Up next–Chicago and Philadelphia. Bringman says his company also has an iPad app in the works, but that one will require a $4.95 monthly fee.


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