Startup Fancy Bits, founded by two former GitHub employees, has launched Channels, a kind of DVR for the streaming age. The $8 per month service pulls video from feeds as disparate as cable channels, live streaming apps, on-demand services and over-the-air broadcasts and places them into a single app. “What we’re building towards is something that was sort of built 20 years ago,” said co-founder Jon Maddox. “Really, we’re just trying to make this single place for people to go watch their TV that everybody is looking for.”
Fast Company reports that, “users install Channels on a server device, which can be a desktop computer, a network-attached storage device, an Nvidia Shield TV streaming box, or a Raspberry Pi mini-PC … [and] video then streams over Wi-Fi to Channels’ viewer apps on Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV, iOS and Android.”
What the user can record depends on what she subscribes to, and “with an HDHomeRun tuner, you can record local channels from an antenna, and if you’re in a market served by Locast — a nonprofit that streams local over-the-air broadcasts — you can capture those channels with no antenna at all.” Channels also just partnered with PlayOn, a service for “recording video from on-demand sources such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+.”
Setting up Channels is, admitted Maddox and co-founder Aman Karmani, a bit of a nerd exercise but they also aim to make the app “simple and dependable once it’s up and running,” not dissimilar to traditional DVRs like TiVo. Channels started as a side project for Maddox and Karmani, who were drawn to HDHomeRun; their first version of Channels in 2015 streamed video natively from HDHomeRun tuners to Apple TV.
When Microsoft acquired GitHub in 2018, the two, with new partner Papertrail co-founder Eric Lindvall, left to make Channels their full-time gig.
Channels has evolved to be “more like a universal DVR.” “We’re at a point now that what customers are demanding is essentially cable,” said Maddox. “They’re tired of segmented content and disparities all over the place, using apps that have different browse flows, and different watch lists, and all of that. They want one place.”
At the same time, streaming services are building their own menus and, noted Techsponential president and lead analyst Avi Greengart, “each streaming service wants to keep as much data about how customers search, find, and watch content as possible.”
“Channels, then, is a way for consumers to take back some control,” says Fast Company. “Once the DVR makes a recording, users can keep it for as long as they want and … the amount of video they can keep is only limited by the size of their hard drives.” “People have an ownership over this with Channels, I think,” Maddox said. “They feel like it’s theirs. They can do stuff with their own content.”
Running the risk of copyright infringement is a potential hurdle, but Maddox and Karmani plan to stay a small business — and have no interest in creating plug-and-play boxes.