Mickey Mouse's dog gets his own streaming TV channel
By Jim Bray
Cord cutters interested in expanding their viewing choices for free have a wide variety of potential outlets from which to choose, a dizzying array in fact.
I'm a big fan of the Roku streaming devices, which are an affordable way to up your content ante substantially – including premium services such as Netflix, Amazon and the rest of the usual suspects. But if you don't want to pay for those services, a quick surf through the menus of available apps will bring you face to face with an amazing number of apps/channels that stream stuff for free. And you may be amazed at what you find.
And though none that I've seen so far are a real alternative to traditional cable or satellite's offerings of live content, there's still an amazing amount of stuff available to keep you happily pointing and clicking for a long, long time.
This column is a quick look at one such "channel/app" I first heard about via a radio commercial. It's Pluto TV, which is available not only for the Roku, but also for such platforms as Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Android, iPhone, Android TV, Samsung, Vizio TV, Sony, Mac and Windows.
So, chances are if you have a device to which you want to stream, Pluto TV can be there for you.
I've only been using Pluto TV for a week or so but it reminds me in many ways of Roku's own Roku channel, which offers a huge swath of "live" (24/7 streaming) shows such as Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, Carol Burnett, Doctor Who, and many, many, many more.
Even their interfaces are reasonably familiar in design, though I'm still figuring out Pluto's and find it a tad weird in that I can access "all episodes" of some shows (Top Gear, for example, though it's also missing a couple of seasons for some reason) but not others. This could be a case of operator error, since I'm still new to the platform; I'd prefer to think it's fuzzy design on the part of the Pluto perps – because that way I don't feel so stupid. But I guess time will tell.
There isn't a lot that's really "live" on Pluto, though they do inflict a bunch of local purported news shows on you, a bunch from Global as well as CBS headlines and other so-called news sources from which you can undoubtedly pick up the Daily Narrative.
I've managed to avoid these by scrolling past them, other than just seeing that they do, in fact work, thereby doing my bit to help bring along the demise of the mainstream corporate and corrupt "news" media.
The offerings are categorized so you can find content more easily, from "New on Pluto TV" to such pigeon holes as Crime, Classic TV, Comedy, Drama, Movies, Reality TV, News and Opinion, DIY, Food, Kids, and much more.
You do get commercials, and depending on the channel they may be a huge pain in the buttock, but so far I've seen them inflicted sparingly; sometimes you only get one short commercial before you're back in the program. And, unlike Roku TV, you don't – again, as far as I've seen so far – get long stretches of commercial break time where there are no commercials, just annoying music looped ad nauseam.
I can't believe I just wrote that I'd rather sit through a commercial than a placeholder, but it's true! And, of course, because there are commercials you don't have to pay for the content, which makes me quite content.
I'm currently binging Top Gear, which starts back at season two when James May first joined the cast, and really enjoying revisiting my favourite car show – and in some cases visiting episodes I'd never seen before. There's also an Ed Sullivan show channel, Doctor Who, and the first 10 seasons of South Park (pre-Markle mocking, I presume).
And of course, that only scratches the surface.
While writing this, I've been accessing the service via my web browser, though I think that, so far, I like the Roku version's interface better (they're very similar, but just different enough to require a bit of a poke around to get comfortable).
The interface is also set up quite similarly to what you'd get from your cable or satellite operator. It's pretty straightforward when it comes to navigating around the system, though as mentioned above it isn't without its wrinkles.
For example, in order to find the "all episodes" choice for their Top Gear channel, I had to click on the episode after the one that was streaming "live" and then press the "back" button on the Roku remote to bring up that choice. From there it was perfectly straightforward.
Yet when I tried that on the Doctor Who channel, it didn't work. Nor with the Ed Sullivan channel. And of course, I haven't had an opportunity to check out the other googolplex of channels and on demand choices. And probably never will, since I'm a senior citizen already and only have so many years left!
If there's a downside to Pluto TV – and its competitors – it's that I'm finding myself wasting a lot of otherwise productive time sitting on my bum laughing at the antics of Clarkson, Hammond and May when I could be doing something else.
On the other hand, that's not Pluto TV – and its competitors' – fault. And it is nice having the innumerable extra viewing choices and, with every new programming offering I discover and like, it's one less "mainstream" show I'm not watching. Which means that, now that I'm officially weaned from Jeopardy! and a couple of other shows I used to watch before they went woke, I have other, more interesting and entertaining – and less insulting to my intelligence – choices.
Wiener-ing yourself off cable…
And to help you do get off the satellite/cable merry-go-round as well, a website called Hotdog.com is there for just such a purpose. In fact, it was once called KillTheCableBill.com, according to an email I got from their representative.
Hotdog also (alas, but fortunately) points out which services are not available in Canada (yet, hopefully). For example, I'm a big fan of IndyCar racing and while I know that TSN now runs these races, including the classic Indy 500, that still requires cable/satellite. Sure, TSN has an app, but if you don't already have a "cabled" subscription they want $20 a month – to watch their commercials. Kind of defeats the purpose – though to be fair there's a lot of other content on the TSN app; I just don't care about it.
That said, Hotdog does point you toward VPN's you can use to make a particular service think you're actually living in their area of coverage. And they list these streaming services that should carry the NBC broadcast that is the origin of the Indy 500 race on TV. Here's what they list for this particular event (I assume this is in US$, and the info undoubtedly applies to a lot of other channels/events):
They also note that many such services offer a free streaming trial, so you can test drive it before being committed fully. And their website's menu also includes a section outlining various deals you can get from various providers or services.
It isn't an all-encompassing site, but it may be a good jumping off point for you if you're determined not to give the lazy and greedy and uncompetitive (thanks to the CRTC) "mainstream providers" (who also own most of the mainstream Canadian content) any more of your hard-earned after-tax money.
Copyright 2023 Jim Bray