Sidereel: Your Dial Tone for TV
It’s a great time to be a cord-cutter. Thanks to Internet companies like Amazon, Apple, Boxee, Google, Hulu, Netflix, and Roku, it’s getting easier every day to cancel your cable or satellite TV subscription without giving up on your favorite TV shows. There’s just one problem. If you do cut the cord—as I did two years ago—it gets a lot more complicated to figure out where to watch your shows, and when new episodes are available. These are things that your DVR usually handles if you’re a cable subscriber—and for better or worse, there’s no equivalent (yet) of a universal DVR for Internet video.
But there is help. The best service I’ve found for locating and tracking my favorite shows comes from a San Francisco startup called Sidereel. At the Sidereel website, you can search for your favorite shows, add them to a personalized calendar, and sign up for e-mails that will notify you when new episodes are out. There are also handy links to all the places online where you can watch the shows. For example, my current favorite show, Fringe, is available on Amazon, Hulu, iTunes, and Xfinity TV, and a Hong Kong-based site called Megavideo (who knew?). Last week, Sidereel also came out with an iOS app that lets you do most of the same things from your iPhone or iPad.
Sidereel isn’t a household name like YouTube or Netflix, but the angel-funded, 35-employee startup says it’s the world’s largest independent TV site. It attracts a million users every day, and over 10 million per month (the average user comes back once every three days). Unlike Apple or Hulu or most of the other players in the Internet TV space, Sidereel isn’t in bed with—or at war with—any particular TV network or media conglomerate, so its advertising-driven episode guide and tracking service can afford to be all-inclusive. With 9,200 shows in Sidereel’s catalogue, you’re pretty sure to find the shows you like.
I wanted to find out more about this unusual and under-recognized startup, so I headed over to Sidereel recently to spend some time with founder and CEO Roman Arzhintar. Right off the bat it was clear that Arzhintar isn’t your typical brash SoMa/Silicon Valley CEO—he’s more John Hodgman than Master of the Universe. He came to startup life only after abandoning careers as a lawyer and a globetrotting novelist. He says it’s “almost the story of my life” that “things end up being great but for all the wrong reasons.”
Arzhintar got interested in media at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, where he was a protege of the college president, former CBS president Arthur Taylor. But he took a roundabout path into the media business, getting a law degree, spending three years as a corporate attorney for a technology firm, realizing that “not only was I a bad lawyer but I also hated being a lawyer—there’s no interaction with people,” then spending a while writing fiction while touring France, Spain, Argentina, and Chile.
He finally ended up in San Francisco working for Guba, a startup that had created a search tool for Usenet, the vast Internet discussion system that predates … Next Page »