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As liberating as cord-cutting can be, it can also introduce some frustrations.
The live TV streaming service you’re paying for might not let you record certain channels or skip through commercials, or its TV program guide might be less intuitive than what you had with cable. Meanwhile, subscribing to more than one live TV service means juggling separate apps with their own DVRs, and mooching a pay-TV login from a friend or family member means watching live TV through dozens of separate apps.
FitzyTV is a free app that deals with those annoyances by pulling all your live streaming channels into one viewing guide, while also offering its own cloud DVR for an additional fee. For cord-cutters in certain situations, it could be a useful tool, and at the very least it’s interesting as a proof of concept. But it also rests on shaky ground—if not legally, then at least technically—that results in several major limitations. Even as FitzyTV alleviates some streaming TV headaches, it introduces new ones.
FitzyTV is a free app you can download on Amazon Fire TV devices, Android TV devices, and Android mobile devices. Once installed, it lets you log into your existing pay-TV package—whether it’s cable, satellite, or streaming—and stream live channels through a simple grid guide.
To be clear, the only content FitzyTV provides on its own is a handful of free internet-based streaming channels, such as Cheddar and Buzzr. To watch any other channels through the app, you must be getting them already through an existing pay-TV package.
Why bother with FitzyTV, then? If you’re still paying for cable or satellite TV, you could use the app on a Fire TV or Android TV device to avoid renting a second or third cable box. And if you’re sharing someone else’s cable-TV password, the app will spare you from needing dozens of “TV Everywhere” apps to watch live TV.
More importantly, FitzyTV offers a cloud DVR service that costs $5 per month or $50 per year for each 25 hours of recording capacity. You can access those recordings from anywhere at no additional cost, and there are no limits on how long the recordings are stored, which channels you can record, or whose commercial breaks you can skip.
By comparison, most live TV streaming services have different rules and restrictions on recording and ad-skipping, and cable box DVRs often cost a lot more for access across multiple televisions. If you’re frustrated by the limits on your current DVR service, $5 per month isn’t a lot to pay for a workaround. (Just keep in mind that FitzyTV’s DVR is separate from any recordings you make directly through a live TV streaming service or cable box.)
FitzyTV even works with Locast, a non-profit service that streams free over-the-air broadcast channels in 13 U.S. cities. If you’re in a market that Locast serves, using the two services together effectively creates an over-the-air DVR without extra hardware costs or an antenna setup.
Unlike an actual pay-TV provider, FitzyTV has not partnered with any TV networks to deliver its live streams. Instead, the company uses a web crawler to find live channel streams from TV Everywhere sources, then uses the authentication tokens associated with customers’ pay-TV accounts to gain access to the streams.
James Fitzgerald, the CEO of the eponymous FitzyTV—and until recently its sole employee—argues that this service is legal because it’s accessing streams that are freely available on the internet, and that users are already entitled to receive. As for recording those streams, Fitzgerald cites Cablevision’s landmark court victory over TV networks a decade ago, allowing it to build a network-based DVR.
Legal or not, FitzyTV’s approach has some major limitations, the biggest of which is that some apps—including Nick Jr., Science, History, A&E, and Lifetime—don’t offer live streams in their TV Everywhere apps. Because FitzyTV doesn’t have a video on-demand element, it can’t play or record content from those channels at all.
FitzyTV also doesn’t pull in broadcast streams for local affiliate stations. Instead, it grabs the nearest stream from the networks’ “owned and operated stations” in major cities, which is why I received local channels from Detroit and Chicago while using FitzyTV in Cincinnati. The service doesn’t support Fox Sports regionals, either, yet it strangely showed me some regional sports channels that were not included with any of my pay-TV services I tested, such as SNY in New York City.
Frustrating as that might be for users, I’m concerned that FitzyTV’s tendency to serve these out-of-market streams could poke a hole in Fitzgerald’s legal argument that users are only getting channels to which they’re entitled. He has not yet responded to my request for comment on that matter.
Even if FitzyTV addresses its channel access issues, it’s still at the whim of whatever each TV Everywhere source provides in terms of video quality. While some live TV services, such as YouTube TV, now deliver 60-frames-per-second video across the board in their own apps, Locast streams and many cable channel streams are stuck at 30 frames per second in Fitzy TV.
Other rough edges
Setting aside FitzyTV’s legal gray areas and channel limitations, the service has some other rough edges to work out.
On the live TV side, channels sometimes take a long time to load, and the TV guide provides no program information beyond episode titles. Stranger still, the app appears to add all channels to your favorites list when you login with a TV provider, which means you must remove channels to make the favorites list manageable.
For DVR, FitzyTV offers only a 24-hour channel guide and no search or browse functions, limiting your ability to find shows to record. Meanwhile, the recordings themselves only support fast forwarding in 30-second increments, with no visual preview of what you’re skipping through. And while you can watch recordings that are still in progress, jumping to the end of them routinely caused long buffering times.
The bigger missing piece, though, is app support. Fitzgerald told me that an iOS app is coming soon, and that a Roku app could follow within a couple months, but that still leaves out Apple TV, Chromecast, game consoles, smart TVs, and the web.
Having said all that, it’s kind of miraculous that FitzyTV works as well as it does, given the service’s unorthodox nature. The guide itself is fast and simple, you can pause and rewind live TV channels, and I had no trouble accessing my recordings. And even for live TV, no other service makes TV Everywhere streams so easy to access.
All of which adds up to the most cautious of recommendations for FitzyTV. For a certain subset of cord-cutters, it could be just the right tool for the job, but it’s a non-starter if it doesn’t serve the channels you actually watch, or work on the platforms you use. And if networks take umbrage with FitzyTV’s out-of-market streams, that could put the entire service in jeopardy. FitzyTV is certainly an interesting product, but it’s not ready to relieve all your cord-cutting annoyances just yet.
Jared Newman has been helping folks make sense of technology for over a decade, writing for PCWorld, TechHive, and elsewhere. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for straightforward tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for saving money on TV service.