Want to watch live TV broadcasts on your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad without installing a Slingbox or similar hardware in your home? You can… for now. A company called FilmOn is streaming broadcast TV stations over the internet for free. All you need to do to watch is point your iOS web browser to FilmOn.com.
Here’s how FilmOn does it. The company is rebroadcasting local TV channels from Los Angeles. That includes the local affiliate stations for ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC. In other words… watch it while you can, because FilmOn will likely be sued into oblivion soon.
That’s a shame, because the service works very, very well. Once the web site loads you’ll see a list of available stations. Click on one and video starts playing almost immediately.
You might wonder why TV networks would have a problem with this. After all, FilmOn is streaming the entire broadcast, advertisements and all, so you’d think that the networks are still making money.
Unfortunately, that’s not really how things work. First, advertisers currently aren’t going to pay for unauthorized internet views. Second, what you’re watching is the LA affiliate station… so if you’re located in Cleveland, the local NBC station in Cleveland can’t charge advertisers for your eyeballs on the screen.
While it’s not impossible to envision a world where broadcast networks would be cool with streaming TV shows live over the internet to mobile devices, (assuming they can convince advertisers to pay the same rates for internet viewers as they do for broadcast television), it’s hard to imagine local affiliates ever going along with it.
Over the last decade or two I’ve seen a number of other companies attempt to do what FilmOn is doing, by re-broadcasting local TV over the internet. Most of those companies didn’t last very long.
While it lasts, FilmOn also offers a desktop PC app for viewing TV streams. When I visited the site on an Android device, I got a different list of stations including several British channels, the Los Angeles Fox affiliate, and a few others… but I couldn’t get any of the videos to play.
You can check out a few more screenshots after the break. The iPad version of the site appears to offer a bit more functionality, buy letting you view a channel list on the side while watching a video stream.