Thanks to going down a rabbit hole started by an email I received from Roku, I’ve discovered a sorta-free but actually just cheap streaming service called Locast, which rebroadcasts local TV channels online in several major cities throughout the US, including here in DC. I’m...considering it.

I cut the cord several years ago, back when I lived in Madison, WI. We used antennas for local channels, and thanks to the combination of flat terrain and a couple of 1500 ft tall TV broadcast antennas right in town, pretty much even the least powerful mini indoor antennas brought in every local channel.

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Since moving to DC a couple years ago, we’ve been getting by with intermittent ability to view our local TV channels, even though I got beefier amplified antennas for both our TVs. The only station that reliably always comes in is Fox, NBC is ok, CBS seems to vary by season, sometimes yes sometimes no, and ABC, never.

We don’t watch much of any live local TV so this doesn’t bother me, except for certain sports events which I access using different Roku apps and my dad’s Comcast password (thanks dad!). Yesterday, I got an email from Roku:

I was puzzled by this, but when I first received the email there wasn’t any news about what this really was about. Today, there are some news reports with statements from both Roku & Fox. You can read more detail at that link, but basically Roku is threatening to remove the Fox apps because their contract with Fox (specifically the Fox TV networks, which weren’t bought by Disney) expires on January 31 and Roku wants to get more favorable terms from Fox to keep the Fox TV apps available on the Roku app store.

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In addition to the suggested live TV services mentioned in the email from Roku, that link above on Cord Cutters News suggested this Locast. It’s set up as a nonprofit, and rebroadcasts OTA TV channels in mostly large cities, namely DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, NYC, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Phoenix, LA, SF and Seattle. South Dakota is also in luck, with both Sioux Falls and Rapid City being covered by Locast as well.

People in these locations can stream their local channels through the Locast website, all the major streaming box/smart TV platforms (Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV), mobile devices (iOS & Android), and even DVRs from Tivo, Dish, DirecTV and U-Verse.

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Then I found this review of Locast on The Verge, and turns out, technically Locast is free, but really they want you to donate at least $5/month to them, and if you don’t set up a recurring monthly or yearly donation, it interrupts whatever you’re viewing every 15 minutes to nag you to donate. This is done by breaking into the feed, regardless of whether it’s a commercial or the actual show. That sounds like a pretty terrible experience, so basically, I consider this a barebones $5/month local channel streaming service.

I don’t really want to spend $5/month just to view my local channels, but that’s definitely cheaper than all the other live TV streaming services like Sling, Youtube TV, Hulu Live, etc. I don’t need those, because the only live TV we watch in my house is sports and my wife occasionally wants to watch some awards show or the Macy’s thanksgiving parade.

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Most everything that’s on cable channels we can stream through their respective Roku apps (again, thanks dad!) including live sports from ESPN, TNT and NBCSN Washington. The only gap is CBS. I only intermittently can pull it in with an antenna, and CBS hides local channel streaming behind the CBS All Access paywall. Fuck that noise. Usually my wife quickly gives up on those awards shows with their long commercial breaks and instead watches them commercial-free the next day on Hulu, or whichever cable channel app that award show was on.

But, $5/month really ain’t that bad of a deal, and having the local channels just work through a Roku app instead of having to futz with the antennas and the crappy TV reception around here is appealing. Not appealing enough to spend the $40-50/month on those other more robust live streaming platforms, but at $5/month for Locast, I might just have to give this a whirl.

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We shall see!

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