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Watch shows online – legally

- May 4th, 2012
Woman with a laptop

(File Photo)

I imagine, many of you, like me, don’t have the time to watch all the TV shows that you want when they’re on the air (assuming you get those channels in the first place).  Nor do you necessarily remember to set your PVR (if you have one) to record everything you’re going to miss.

I mean, not everyone, stays at home alone in front of the idiot box every night waiting for someone (anyone) to call them up to do something exciting.

You might be  going out to bars and coffee shops and sitting alone while you wait for that call on your smartphone. You may have even brought a laptop with you to surf the Internet on the establishment’s Wi-Fi. So what better way to waste your waiting time by catching up on the TV you missed by not being at home…

As anyone who has tried to watch shows legally online in Canada knows, you can’t watch American shows on their originating networks, because the shows are geoblocked. Of course, you could use a proxy server, go the route of illegal streaming sites or download the episodes through a BitTorrent client. But then you’d be a sinner and get sent to Hell where your eye sockets would burn for all eternity… Unless you’re an Atheist like me. Then, you’d likely be sent to some kind of limbo where the only television repeatedly screens nightmarish shows from Canada’s past, such as Check It Out and Dear Aunt Agnes.

So you’re forced to watch the shows on the sites of the Canadian networks who have the broadcast rights here. And, at times, it’s hard to remember what’s on where.

But a new site hopes to simplify things. Vubalu.com is an online catalogue of television shows available for viewing in Canada – whether they’re from here, the U.S. or even Europe. (That being said, the site seems to focus exclusively on English-language content so there much, if not all, of Quebec programming is left out. Vubalu also states on its FAQ page that it currently does not have access to live NBA and NFL streaming.)

Essentially, it works like many TV listings sites,  such as Watch Series or TVDuck. It presents a list of shows, which are organized both alphabetically and by category, but instead of  linking to sites, such as NovaMov or Filebox.com that illegally host the content, it links you to the show on the Canadian network site.

A rather simple idea, really. But a useful one. Now you don’t need to remember that Fringe, Community and Revenge are available on Citytv’s site, while Awake, House and NCIS are on Global’s.

Vubalu isn’t perfect.  The site doesn’t break down a series episode by episode, it just links to the episode search page on the network site. And Vubalu is also limited to whatever episodes the Canadian network still has the rights to. Even some of their homegrown shows aren’t accessible anymore. (For example, you can no longer watch Corner Gas on CTV.ca.)

And, of course, since the videos are on legal sites, you’re subjected to ads between the act breaks, sometimes the same one multiple times in a stream, depending on how good the online sales team is at a given network.

But the image quality on Canadian network sites are better than most of the illegal options, and the videos tend to buffer much faster.

And you won’t have to worry about the Internet cops busting down your door and dragging you away in your underwear when the latest copyright bill (C-11) finally becomes a law.

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29 comments

  1. Mr. Bawkbagawk | May 5, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    right about now weird al is being forced to sue over royalties not coughed up from itunes sales. so why is it that the entertainment industry thinks its ok for them to actually steal but its illegal for me to make a copy?

  2. Adam Swimmer | May 5, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    Well, that comment’s a little off topic. But if you’re making a copy of something you don’t own, you are technically stealing it as well.

    When it comes to streaming television, for the time being, you are not breaking the law even if the stream you’re watching is hosted by someone who doesn’t have the rights to it. As under current Canadian law, you are allowed to download “illegal” content, just not upload it.

    BitTorrent clients muddy the situation as you are downloading and uploading at the same time.

    Bill C-11, like all the previous amendments to the copyright act that died on the order paper due to elections and prorogation, would make downloading content you don’t have the rights to illegal as well. Theoretically, this would mean any illegal stream could get you into trouble as your browser has to download all the content you view in it, even if it only does it temporarily.

    That being said, cracking down on the individual watching “illegal TV” would be far more difficult than going after the sites that host the content, either by trying to shut them down or simply blocking its citizens access to it as the UK did with Pirate Bay.

  3. Nate | May 5, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    Vubalu.com sounds good but how much content do they really offer and how much of it is U.S. programs. I enjoy watch TV shows on Dish online, because I get all the same channels as I do at home and if I miss episodes of Nurse Jackie or any other TV show; I can go back and watch it. I work for Dish and I can tell you that they have the only online video portal that gives customers access over 150,000 TV shows, movies, clips and trailers put into one easy interface.

  4. Seppo | May 5, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    This kind of service is nothing new. Check out e.g. Streaming Guide, with over 1500 free and legal online TV shows for Canada, they have been around for quite a while already They also have a rating system so people can rate and choose the best shows.

    I wonder how Vubalu makes money? Streaming Guide and other similar sites simply run ads, but Vubalu does not seem to have any ads. I mean, keeping hundreds of shows up to date takes some time and resources and someones gotta foot the bill…

    As a side note, for US audience, Clicker is an excellent resource for legal online TV.

  5. Travis | May 5, 2012 at 10:54 pm

    Bill C-11 is unnecessary. The problem isn’t a “legal” problem, and no legal means is going to change anything. The issue is a service issue, and until that is resolved – people are going to pirate.

    Let me be clear, there are serious issues with how television is being provided in an age when the internet is everywhere, from our phones, to our computers and god knows where else. By the end of this decade there will very likely be no corner of our lives that does not have the internet.

    As an example of poor service. A majority of video streaming has no form of subtitling or captions. Even television offers piss poor closed captioning support. As a result, “pirating” video is of far higher quality, not only video wise, but subtitling as well. Do you expect the deaf to sit on their hands and just kindly hope the studios and other services will one day get around to meeting their needs?

    Sorry folks, if you want to stop piracy, then you need to consider the REAL question: What service are people looking for, and how can I meet their needs?

  6. Ron Jeffries | May 7, 2012 at 10:09 am

    vubalu.com is great! Thanks! All the other ones I’ve tried have way too many pop ups and they always want me to download something. I am cancelling my cabel soon!

  7. Adam Swimmer | May 7, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Nate, Is Dish Network even available in Canada without faking a U.S. address? Rogers on Demand online offers a similar service to Dish. Though, admittedly, you can’t watch live TV. But the point is you need to be a cable subscriber to take advantage of them. Vubalu is free. As for the content it offers, it’s limited to what the respective network sites. Most U.S. shows available on cable are available, but the number of episodes available is usually limited to the most recent three or four.

    Seppo, as your username links back to it, I assume Streaming Guide is actually your site. (Or perhaps that was just your way of getting the link in your content) It looks pretty good. And I like the rating option. As for how Vubalu makes money, I don’t know. It’s rather new. I assume as time goes if it becomes popular, it will add ads.

    Travis, I agree that access is an issue. It generally comes down to licensing rights. A Canadian broadcaster buys the rights to air a U.S. show on its channel and online – which means as a user, you can’t watch a Fox show on Fox’s site because they have given up the online rights for Canada. Which is unfortunate as Fox’s site may have more episodes available or have better extra content.

    The subtitling point you brought up is an interesting one. Even though I’ve only had to deal with closed captioning when I’ve turned it on by accident, I agree it can be sometimes choppy. And I can easily see that fans who do for it online could conceivably take more care. And, of course, they often subtitle it in other languages too. The number of North American network shows I see on BitTorrent subtitled in Spanish is astounding.

    I’ve always wondered, living in a bilingual country, I don’t see this kind of thing happen here on TV. I always hear about how French Canadian television is great, but since my French is deplorable, I never even try to seek it out. If English Canadian networks even just bought more content from Quebec, subtitled in English, they could fulfill much of their CanCon requirements for less money and maybe get people in the rest of the country to watch some of these supposedly great shows. Then again, maybe not, as many people still hate reading subtitles if they can avoid it.

  8. Mr. Bawkbagawk | May 7, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    with your logic Adam, if i take a picture of the mona lisa i am stealing it.

  9. Adam Swimmer | May 8, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Well, the Louvre would likely consider it so, which is why most galleries don’t let you shoot photos of their art. They want you to buy their licensed reproductions in the gift shop. But if you found an image of it online, you might be able to make the argument that image was in the public domain.

    I’m not familiar with France law, but arguably if you were using that photo for a critique of the work, that would fall under fair dealing.

    Or if the painting was tossed out into the street and you took a picture of it lying in the road then you’d be protected because you’re allowed to photograph anything if you’re standing in a public place – In Canada at least.

    I’m not necessarily saying you’d get into any major trouble for it, nor am I defending current laws. But from a legal standpoint photographing art is no more legal than photocopying an article from a magazine or downloading an album or show from the Internet.

    To quote Weird Al: “Even Lars Ulrich knows it wrong.”

  10. Jay Stevens | May 9, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Most sites out there are for Americans, minus this site listed here, http://www.vubalu.com, which looks like absolute crap.

    This is the only site that Canadians can actually find what they are looking for, if its not on http://www.freeinternettvcanada.ca , then it probable isn’t available in Canada legally or for free.

    http://www.freeinternettvcanada.ca

  11. Adam Swimmer | May 9, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    Jay, nice to see there’s yet another site for this, but I have to say the red background of your site, kind of makes my eyes hurt.

  12. Jay Stevens | May 9, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Haha!! Something you wish you didn’t do at the beginning of creating a site, but as you go you learn more and more. I didn’t know much about the industry of online TV or common look and feel obviously. Even without nice graphics and a red background its the best site for legal online TV in Canada, hands down!!!

    http://www.freeinternettvcanada.ca

  13. Jeff | May 9, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    Vubalu doesn’t even have any advertising on their site. They are legal forsure. They link straight to networks.

  14. Dave Watters | May 9, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    I would have to agree with Adam. freeinternettvcanada makes my eyes hurt, and there are way too many advertisements. I use to use that site before I found http://www.Vubalu.com.

    -Dave

  15. Jay Stevens | May 9, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Well, since this article is written by Adam, my only guess is that he is involved in some way with Vubalu, why else would you do a write up on a unknown site that doesn’t even search, makes no sense. I would be writting up article after article to get the word out if i had access to do articles on a major network’s website.

    Lets not forget the only reason we are able to build a site like this is because major networks have all this content and they decided not to post any of it. This makes it easy for illegal streaming sites and torrent sites to attrack users. If more cable networks gave more online content they would reduce the need for illegal sites. But the balance for them is keeping people using their cable boxes for now, but this will change soon.

    All I can say is i hope that the site does well, good luck!

  16. Adam Swimmer | May 9, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    I have no connection with Vubalu. It was just a site I became aware of.

    As for it not having search, I’m not sure what you mean as there is a search bar at the top of the screen.

  17. Jay Stevens | May 9, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    meaning this site will rely on 100 percent on referred traffic, it will not search in google, bing, yahoo the way it is setup now

  18. Adam Swimmer | May 9, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Yes, I agree. Its SEO isn’t the greatest. It could benefit from more text on the site – perhaps show description and whatnot.

  19. Jeff | May 9, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    A lot of the video is still in Flash no good for my iPad so back to the network Apps for me.

  20. Albert Oostrom | May 9, 2012 at 11:46 pm

    As far as I’m concerned when the TV service providers make quality video resolution available at a resonable price I will subscribe. Now that Rogers have closed their rental stores, where am I going to get BlueRay quality movies? Certainly not from Netflix, ExpressVu satellite or Rogers cable. They limit the audio selection and compress the video content so much that it isn’t even DVD quality. The best solution for consumers right now is the “gray area” of torrent downloads. Even for regular TV content the HD resolution recordings are superior. Also, I am able to watch TV content from all over the world which in some cases is actually better quality content than the American programming. Maybe some day our Canadian broadcasters will figure it out.

  21. Jeff D | May 11, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Adam, do you think this is the best site in Canada for online TV if I want to make sure I dont get any viruses? How long has this site been around for and how do they make any money with no advertising? I’ve never heard of it before but it is certainly easy to use.

  22. Jeff D | May 11, 2012 at 9:18 am

    sorry….. talking about vubalu.

  23. Adam Swimmer | May 11, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    Jeff D, whether it’s the best site for TV in Canada, that’s debatable. The other sites mentioned in the comment thread, Streaming Guide and Free Internet TV Canada (which I notice now has switched to a white background which makes my earlier complaint about it moot), have more information about the shows and Streaming Guide has a ratings system for the content much like Netflix.

    But since most people already know what show they’re looking for when they go onto to one of these sites, I’m not sure that matters too much.

    Ultimately, Vubalu may add show descriptions and whatnot as time goes on. It only launched a few weeks ago. As for how they make money without ads, I don’t know. They probably aren’t at the moment and will likely add some eventually.

    But I wouldn’t worry about viruses with any of the sites listed here as they all do is link back to the Canadian networks and CTV.ca and GlobalTV.com would get a lot flack if users started getting viruses from their sites. Obviously, if while you’re on one of the sites and you’re all of a sudden asked to download a player or codec, don’t do it. But otherwise, you should be good.

  24. Jeff D | May 11, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    Thanks Adam. Tried those other sites. The rating system looks useless and vubalu.com is just way easier to use than the other two. Im no computer guru though. Freetvcanadas links dont work a lot of the time either…… thanks for the article!

  25. Pam G | July 2, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    Webtvguide.ca has ads but also is searchable and covers free movies available too.

  26. Don | December 29, 2012 at 4:36 am

    Having Been to The Louvre, One is allowed to take photos of any of the works…just no flash allowed.

  27. Atticus | December 29, 2012 at 9:25 am

    Tried 2 links. Niether worked here in Canada. What a great service.

  28. Rotoro | December 29, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    I love my ATSC HD antenna. It’s free and legal.

  29. cam | January 14, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    Adam, can you update and clarify the rules in streaming content from such sites as TVPortal?

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