Hollywood Classics 100 Movie Pack

Hollywood Classics 100 Movie Pack

The most common topic in the FTAList inbox for the past three months has been White Springs TV. Where did it go? When will it come back? As was written here, this fine 24-hour movie service says it suffered some sort of catastrophic failure on October 1, and we haven’t seen it on any satellite since then.

About a month ago, I sent them an email to say that I wouldn’t be adding any new programming grids for White Springs after the first of this year until WSTV became a FTA channel again. At that time, they said that they were hopeful of arranging financing to return to a different satellite. And that’s the last I’ve heard from them.

I would really love to see White Springs return to satellite, but we should face the reality that it’s gone and may never return. So here are some alternative ways for you to satisfy your public-domain movie cravings.

  • Public-domain movie box sets. The DVD set pictured here, Hollywood Classics 100 Movie Pack, is just one example of the many sets that Mill Creek Entertainment has produced. If you search Amazon for 50, 100, or 250 movie packs, you’ll find plenty more. (And if you buy something through these Amazon links, I get a small commission.) There are about a dozen 50-movie packs on my shelf at home. Their movie lists are strikingly similar to the list of movies shown by White Springs. Search online for the best price, or get more than $25 of them from Amazon to get free shipping. (They’re bulky, of course.) When you have a few of these, it’s almost as good as WSTV, and without commercials.
  • The Internet Archive. Archive.org is a great free resource in any number of areas, but what’s relevant to this discussion is its movie archive. It lists over 1,800 feature films for downloading or streaming. While there’s some overlap, this is a different set of movies than what Mill Creek provides.
  • TVU Networks. As was said here earlier, TVU is a delivery system for a remarkable array of programming choices. Among those choices are several public domain movie channels, most named Nostalgia or PDTV. If you prefer being surprised rather than choosing your movie, this would be a good source for you. You’ll need to install a special browser plug-in or run the TVU application separately. And if you don’t mind streaming movies on your computer, that brings us back to …
  • White Springs TV online. Yes, there’s nothing more like White Springs than White Springs itself. Its online stream (direct link) uses Windows Media Player, so there’s no need for special plug-ins. And who knows, maybe one of these days they’ll update the WSTV web site with more information about their comeback. If you keep checking, you might be the first to know.

Over-the-air and small-dish antennae

Over-the-air and small-dish antennae

There are some people out there who don’t appreciate FTA for what it is. They don’t want a wild cornucopia of sports feeds, news from other countries, and oddball channels. They just want their regular TV networks, and they want to pay as little as possible to get them.

Maybe you’re one of these people who want what you might call “normal TV.” For that purpose, FTA just isn’t the best choice. So what should you do? You may be surprised at the free and low-cost alternatives that are available.

The best way to get your local broadcast channels is with a standard, pointy or bow-tied over-the-air (OTA) antenna. Connect that to your digital-ready TV set or cheap converter box, and you’ve got loads of free entertainment with very little effort. But that works only if you can pull in strong enough OTA signals where you live.

What if you can’t get local OTA channels, or if you want a few pay-TV channels? Then we start looking at alternatives that are cheap but not free.

Dish Network offers an unadvertised starter set of 20 channels (the list is here) for $9.99/month. You’d have to buy and install your own equipment, but old standard definition Dish receivers are pretty cheap, and Dish dishes are at least as cheap as FTA dishes. If Dish offers them, you can add your local channels for an extra $5/month. You can add a set of Public Interest channels for free. You can add the true Superstations (KWGN, KTLA, WWOR, WPIX, WSBK) for $1.50/month each. If you call and sign up for autopay, Dish will give you the Cinemax channels for a year for a penny. You could cobble together a cheap, decent set of channels this way.

Dish also has the Family Pack, using a different mixture of channels, for $24.99/month, and so begins the slippery slope. If you’ve simply got to have ESPN, Dish’s Classic Bronze 100 at $39.99/month is probably the cheapest way to get it. These advertised packages also have the advantage of including equipment and installation if you commit to a year or two.

Another way to avoid equipment purchases is to sign up for cable. Most local cable systems offer an unadvertised “lifeline” package at a price lower than their most basic package. It typically includes all of your local channels plus local government and public access channels and sometimes a few extras. (For example, where I live, Comcast includes TBS and Bravo.) The exact lineup will vary, of course, but it’s something you can ask your cable company about.

If you’ve got broadband internet access, you can look around for streaming media options. Most of those “normal TV” channels aren’t available live, but you can find some old clips or even full-length programs to watch online. And some of what is available live might surprise you if you Google around or stop by TVU Networks.

Or you can turn to DVDs for your TV entertainment. Some public libraries offer DVDs for checkout. Redbox rents new-release DVDs for $1/night. Netflix, hated source of pop-under ads, lets you swap DVDs by mail for $8.99/month or more. Swap a DVD lets you indirectly trade your DVDs for the cost of postage.

So there are most of your choices for free or cheap “normal TV.” But if you want over 200 channels of free TV, and you’re not picky about what they’re about or what language they’re in, then FTA is definitely your best choice.