You may not know what a digital sub-channel is, but, if you enjoy classic movies and TV shows, there’s a good chance you’ve watched one.
More than two dozen nostalgia-themed TV networks have debuted since 2009, when the switch from analog to digital broadcasting allowed American television stations to offer multiple channels in their signal instead of just one. This TV launched in 2008, followed by Me-TV (which began as a Chicago independent station) in 2010, Antenna TV in 2011, COZI-TV in 2012, Movies! TV Network in 2013, getTV, Escape, Grit, Heroes & Icons, and The Works in 2014, and Laff, Buzzr, Decades, and Comet in 2015. And a new one seems to pop up every few months.
Most of these turnkey “diginets” are programmed with classic TV series or movies that are controlled by the network’s owner/partner or licensed from third parties at relatively low cost. All are available free, over-the-air with an antenna (ask your grandpa) as “.2” or “.3” sub-channels of local stations that have existed for generations. Some are also carried by cable systems in local markets where they have an affiliate. But no retro digital TV network has ever offered a live, 24/7 stream of its broadcast signal on-line.
Comet, a science-fiction and horror-themed network that launched last Halloween on 100 stations covering 60 percent of the U.S., is now offering a Watch Live streaming option via their website. And, unlike “TV Everywhere” apps that require you to be a cable or satellite subscriber in order to view the live streaming feed of a free channel, Comet’s stream does not require viewer authentication. Apparently, anybody can watch Comet anywhere now, even if there’s no affiliate in your city.
But here’s the best part: Comet’s streaming feed is commercial-free. The ad breaks are still there, but the commercials aren’t (replaced with a We’ll be right back slate). And, while Comet doesn’t have a mobile app (yet?), you can stream to your Apple or Android device via the device’s web browser. You can even watch on your TV at home by using Airplay to “cast” from your computer to an Apple TV, or with similar programs available for other streaming players.
So, now that we’ve gotten the technical stuff out of the way, is there anything worth watching on Comet? Plenty, actually.
Comet is owned by Sinclair Broadcasting and programmed with movies and TV shows from the MGM library. But before you get excited about watching THE WIZARD OF OZ or GONE WITH THE WIND for free, remember that MGM sold its library to Ted Turner in 1986 and no longer owns any of the films it produced during Hollywood’s Golden Age. (Thanks, Mr. Kerkorian.) The good news: that sale led to the creation of TCM, which has done more in the last 22 years to keep classic film in the mainstream than any other entity. The bad news: you won’t be able to watch any pre-1986 MGM movies for free on Comet.
So what’s left? More than 4,000 films, most from other libraries that the current MGM has bought over the years through typically twisty mergers and acquisitions.
In addition to the studio’s post-1986 film releases and TV productions, MGM also controls much of the United Artists library, which Turner sold back to MGM (it’s complicated), as well as all or part of: Orion Pictures; Filmways; the Cannon Group; Polygram Filmed Entertainment; Island Pictures; Atlantic Entertainment Group; the Samuel Goldwyn Company (founded in 1979); and American International Pictures.
Of these, the AIP library is the most enticing to me, with hundreds of horror and sci-fi titles, including many of my favorite films of all time. In recent weeks, Comet has aired COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970) and its sequel, THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971) and its sequel, BLACULA (1972) and its sequel, and more than twenty other AIP classics, many unavailable through any other streaming source. Comet also broadcasts rarities like THE TWONKY (1953), VOODOO ISLAND (1957), ALAKAZAM THE GREAT (1960), BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER (1960), and COUNTESS DRACULA (1971) as part of their Saturday afternoon Cult Classics Theater programming block.
Films are the largest component of the Comet schedule, with five airing each weekday, eight on Saturday, and nine on Sunday. Of course, with more than 40 timeslots dedicated to movies each week, you can expect some reruns. In that regard, Comet follows a pay TV model, releasing a slate of films each month that play over and over again. For example, ONCE BITTEN, the 1985 vampire “classic” with Jim Carrey, is on the schedule ten times in the first two weeks of this month. But you also get a number of higher profile titles like THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976), the original MAD MAX (1979), THE TERMINATOR (1984), THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI (1984), and CHILD’S PLAY (1988) sprinkled into the mix.
As with all over-the-air TV stations, Comet censors contemporary movies “for content,” so expect audio drops on curse words and an occasional edit. And, even though the network offers a widescreen broadcast feed to affiliates and streams in 16:9, many of the movies screen in 4:3 transfers. In fairness, this is no different than the popular Svengoolie broadcasts on MeTV Saturday nights, which draw large audiences of genre fans despite frequent Aspect Ratio Police infractions.
Comet airs TV shows as well, with multiple daily broadcasts of MGM-produced series like Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007) and the remake of The Outer Limits (1995-2002). And even though most of the MGM-produced classic TV shows are now controlled by Warner Bros. (thanks to the Turner acquisition and subsequent merger with Time Warner), Comet still has a few TV rarities, including Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot (1967-1968) and the black-and-white adventure series Men Into Space (1959-1960). Both air early on weekend mornings, with Men also popping up elsewhere on the schedule.
If you’re a cord-cutting sci-fi and horror fan with a particular fondness for 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s films, Comet is a great addition to your viewing options. Even if you’re not, a streaming diginet is a big game changer for all fans of classic movies and TV. Others may follow their lead, but I doubt they’ll be commercial-free and subscription-free.
I’m not even sure why Comet is, but I’m not complaining.