Beyond NUTV: Getting around your dorm's limited programming

    The countdown to the October 15thProject Runway finale is ticking. Fresh Battlestar Galactica episodes are slated for early 2009. Four of the best NFL games of each week get the 90-minute treatment on NFL Replay. The fall TV line-up includes new vampire series True Blood, the return of the lethal Dexter and British-imported sitcom The IT Crowd.

    Any of the above sound good? Unfortunately, if you’re in a dorm and rely on the computer-based expanded NUTV service for programming, you’re going to need to find alternatives.

    Though NUTV includes 37 channels, including Spike, FX and Nickelodeon, several student favorites are left out. Missing are some fairly basic cable networks— Bravo (Runway), Sci-Fi (Galactica), NFL Network (Replay) and Independent Film (IT Crowd)— as well as premium channels like HBO (True Blood) and Showtime (Dexter).

    Junior Allie Kerr spent her first two years at Northwestern in Shepard, without access to Bravo, a favorite network. Her solution: day-after Project Runway parties with friends, watching the show as YouTube clips. “It was kind of pathetic, but we were addicted, so we did what we could,” she says. “It was rough because you’d have to avoid spoilers for that 24-hour span.”

    Most networks, though, protect their financial interests and copyrights by pulling any full episodes from sites like YouTube— making it not just a matter of seeing a show immediately, but seeing it any time in the near future.

    Freshman Jordan Blumenthal, who says he misses programming on Showtime and HBO, calls the lack of certain channels “an inconvenience.” For dorm residents to watch shows like Showtime’s Californication, “you have to resort to either waiting for it to come on DVD [or] illegal means of downloading it.”

    Director of technology support services Wendy King cautions against the latter choice. “The university has policies in place against any infringement of copyright law,” King says. “I would caution that if someone wants to watch a show, they get it from a legal source.” That’s a warning to take seriously— last summer, over a dozen Northwestern students faced litigation from the RIAA for illegal downloading.

    But dorm students need not despair. For the dedicated, Northwestern resourcefulness can carry the day. For instance, Kerr caught her hometown Washington Redskins games (rarely broadcast in Chicago) with Sirius online radio alongside online play-by-play charts. Other options for catching some of those more elusive shows:

    • Channel websites: Some networks host a few episodes of their shows online. The Sci-Fi channel website has a bunch. In the case of missed hometown NFL games, offers fairly detailed highlight reels.
      • Pros: You’re getting it from the official sites, so it’s legal. You’ve got it right at home on your computer. And there are little to no commercials. (For instance—although NUTV does get Comedy Central—The Daily Show’s website features about two commercials per complete episode.)
      • Cons: Unfortunately, very few networks do this, and the ones that do are liable to show you just enough to get you hooked. Others might feature only minute-long clips.
    • Other websites: and are two of the most popular sites for streaming entire episodes of TV shows, and are certified legitimate. (Other streaming sites are either illegal or, in the case of well-known database, stream from other sites that are frequently illegal.)
      • Pros: Videos on-demand straight from the internet onto your computer, frequently just after they air. Many older shows and lesser-known channels. In the case of Hulu and Veoh, currently no legal issues.
      • Cons: A lot of clips, but rarely full episodes. Neither has anything from HBO, and Hulu only has complete episodes of a few Bravo shows. Currently, Veoh does have a video of the Dexter Season 3 pilot, as well as a few other Showtime shows (Weeds is one) but the site’s player has a bad reputation and the video collection is far from complete.
    • Slingbox: A invention of a California company called Sling Media, the Slingbox is a nifty gadget that transfers your home video signal over the Internet straight to your computer. Known as “place-shifting” (in comparison to TiVo’s “time-shifting”), Slingbox and comparative products are thought by many to be the next development in television convenience.
      • Pros: Any show you get at home, you geton your computer. Change channels from the comfort of your dorm room with an infrared signaler that latches onto your home cable box.
      • Cons: It’s not exactly easy to set up. You’d need to do part at home, part at your dorm, and the process might look tricky (or impossible) to a non-technophile. If you do get it working, the feed can occasionally look choppy.
    • Non-dorm friends: Expanded NUTV only reaches Northwestern’s dorms— fraternities, sororities and off-campus residents all have independent service packages. If you can find a fellow fan with a TV and a subscription, why not suggest throwing a weekly party?
      • Pros: The best option: no questionable legality, no fancy technology, just TV on TV. Better yet, you’ll be sure to have someone to watch with who enjoys the show as much as you do.
      • Cons: You’ll need to find that friend, and they’ll have to pay for the service—which, of course, is the reason it’s hard to find for free in the first place. And a quick caveat for freshmen: You’re not allowed in a fraternity house until October 12th.


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