We put our DirecTV subscription on hiatus for a few months(1) with the move to Iowa and as a result I've been watching most of my TV online this fall. I hooked up an old laptop to the VGA input on the TV, bought a remote keyboard/mouse and now stream, rather than TiVo, from my couch.
Most networks not named or affiliated with CBS participate in Hulu.com, a joint venture to bring programming produced for air to the web. It's a great service, owned jointly by ABC, NBC & FOX (or their parent companies), which has both a wealth of classic programming as well as recent episodes of current shows. Typically, if a showed aired last night, they have it available today. Access to the site is free. The shows have ads integrated in the stream and by co-locating top content all in one place they've made a move to set the market for online broadcast.
However, the streaming can get pretty choppy during peak hours and it doesn't seem like they have the bandwidth to make this a viable alternative to broadcast/cable/satellite - maybe that's their plan.
One of the tech podcasts that I often listen to is "This Week in Tech" and this week they mentioned that Netflix CEO Reed Hastings had recently predicted that in two years, only 50% of their distribution would be by DVD media. Apparently he didn't say how it would be delivered, since they have they now offer some movies and TV shows on BluRay disc as well as through streaming (either through a web browser, through a Netflix set-top box, or through an Xbox).
This caused me to take a closer look at Netflix streaming, which I had really only had occasion to use when I wanted to watch something and had access to a laptop but no DVD player in whatever room I'm in.
The good news is that the streaming quality is great (far superior to Hulu) but part of that may be due to less demand on their bandwidth. The bad news is that finding streamable titles is pretty hit and miss. I have a ton of TV shows loaded into my queue and very few are available to stream. The BBC's "MI-5" and Showtime's "Brotherhood" are both shows that I was interested in and I've had the chance to watch. There are no ads, but I pay for my Netflix subscription. Most shows are not current, or at least not the current season of the show, which makes sense since most shows are probably digitized after they go to DVD (months after the season airs). I did notice that "Heroes", a show currently airing on NBC, is showing episodes from the current season, which is interesting since NBC is own of the co-owners of Hulu.
The afore-linked article by Christopher Null states that he's personally seen the number of online titles in his queue grow from 8% to 20% in the last year and hopefully that means that more are on the way.
(1)Great idea during football season, I assure you.
Flickr image courtesy of autowitch