Christopher Williams

Automating your TV downloads with SABnzbd+ and Sick Beard

Why bother with a DVR when you can get your computer to automatically download TV shows soon after they air? By using a few open-source tools and a Usenet account (yeah, I know, don't talk about Usenet), you can build such a system quite easily. Naturally, it works best in a home server environment, but you can run it on your desktop or notebook as well.

Standard Disclaimer: Your use of this software and configuration is at your own risk. Check the legality of downloading TV shows in your area. This post is purely for the sake of information.

This tutorial is for Ubuntu 10.04, but it should, with a little tweaking, work on any major operating system. To get started, you will need a few things:

Note: For some advice on getting this running on a Mac, see the followup post.

  1. A computer - I would use a cheap, headless desktop that is always on and has lots of storage (colloquially known as a "home server"). Again, this tutorial assumes that you're running Ubuntu, so adjust accordingly.
  2. A Usenet provider - I won't go into this, given the rule about not talking about Usenet.
  3. A few bits of open-source software: SABnzbd+ and Sick Beard

So, let's get started. I assume at this point that you have Ubuntu installed, are somehow interfacing with it (whether that's directly over SSH does not matter), and have a terminal open. I also assume you have root access.

Step 1: Setting up SABnzbd+

First, we'll need to install a few packages. This command installs SABnzbd+, a theme and the git version control system (we'll need this later):

$ sudo apt-get install sabnzbdplus sabnzbdplus-theme-smpl git-core

From here, we will need to configure SABnzbd+. To do this, run $ sabnzbdplus and open http://<server IP>:8080 in your web browser. If you're running this on your local machine, it will automatically open the page for you.

Now follow the directions on the setup wizard. For more information on the wizard options, visit the SABnzbd+ Wiki.

Once you finish the wizard and SABnzbd+ restarts, you can go back to your terminal and press Ctrl-C to close SABnzbd+. Now, as root, edit /etc/default/sabnzbdplus, changing the options as appropriate. Here is a cut-down version:


Now you can start SABnzbd+ as a daemon by running sudo invoke-rc.d sabnzbdplus start. Let's open it up again in the web browser and configure it a little more.

First, let's change the download directories. Click on "Config" and then "General". The default setting for completed downloads is ~/downloads/complete, and the default for in-progress downloads is ~/downloads/incomplete. This looks messy to me, so I would change the completed download folder to "Downloads/Usenet" and the temporary folder to something like "Downloads/Usenet/.incomplete". This way, I wouldn't have to see incomplete downloads, but I would have to remember to clear it out every once in awhile.

On the same page, set the post-processing scripts folder. I would use "/home/chris/.sabnzbd/scripts". This folder contains (or, will contain, once you create it) scripts that are run when downloads are completed. We'll use this later to have Sick Beard organize our episodes for us. You may want to $ mkdir now so that you don't forget.

Step 2: Setting up Sick Beard

First, we're going to use git (which we installed at the beginning of the tutorial) to download Sick Beard. So, let's download the latest code from the repository:

$ git clone

Once this command finishes, there will be a directory called Sick-Beard which contains everything you need. Inside that directory, run:

$ python

Much like SABnzbd+, Sick Beard is configured within the browser, so open http://<server's IP>:8081 and then click "Config" and "General". Configure this as you see fit. When you're done, move onto the "Episode Downloads" subtab.

Again, configure this as you see fit. You will have to play around with the search frequency until you find a balance between performance and fast downloads. You will definitely want to change "NZB Action" to "SABnzbd" so that Sick Beard uses the SABnzbd+ API to queue downloads instead of dumping NZB files into a folder. Of course, fill in your SABnzbd+ information in the lower-left pane of the page. You can find the API key in the SABnzbd+ configuration on the General page. For the category, enter "tv" and for the IP and port, "". I would leave "Keep folder" checked for now and disable it later. "Rename episodes" should remain checked. "Scan & Process TV Download Dir" should not be checked.

Next up, search providers. This is how Sick Beard will find NZBs, so you want to make sure to get this right. I would start by picking one or two of the supported search providers and creating an account with them. You can get your UID and hash from the RSS feed URLs at the search provider. You can safely ignore the "Notifications" subtab for now.

While we're at it, let's make Sick Beard run as a daemon as well. Go back to your terminal and press Ctrl-C to close Sick Beard. In the Sick-Beard directory:

$ sudo cp initscript /etc/init.d/sickbeard

Now edit /etc/init.d/sickbeard (as root). It should look something like this:

# Lots of other stuff that you don't need to worry about

Now set it to run at boot and start the daemon:

`` $ sudo update-rc.d sickbeard defaults $ sudo invoke-rc.d sickbeard start``

Sick Beard should now be fully set-up!

Putting it all together

Now we'll integrate Sick Beard with SABnzbd+. First, we'll copy the post-processing scripts into the right location (which we set up earlier). In the Sick-Beard directory:

$ cp autoProcessTV/* /home/chris/.sabnzbd/scripts/
$ cd /home/chris/.sabnzbd/scripts/
$ rm
$ mv autoProcessTV.cfg.sample autoProcessTV.cfg

We copied all of the scripts into SABnzbd+'s scripts directory (which we created earlier), removed one that is for a different Usenet downloader and renamed the configuration sample. Now edit autoProcessTV.cfg, which should look like this:


Now we have just one configuration step remaining: telling SABnzbd+ to use the script for downloads in the TV category. So, open up SABnzbd+, go to "Config" and then "Categories". For the "tv" category, change the script dropdown to "" and the processing dropdown to "D" (this tells SABnzbd+ to repair broken files, then extract, then delete the RAR files). Now click the "Save" button next to the "tv" category.

Adding a show to Sick Beard

We can finally start using the system! Adding a new show to the system is a little more unwieldy than I'd like, but it isn't too complicated. The first step is to add a directory somewhere on your hard drive, and the next step is to tell Sick Beard where to find it. So, let's pick a show (say, Burn Notice) and create a directory for it:

$ mkdir ~/Videos/TV\ Shows/Burn\ Notice/

Now, on Sick Beard's home page, click "Add Shows" and then under "Add Single Show", click Browse. Find the directory you just created and click "Add Show". It'll search by name and give you a list of shows. Pick the correct one and click Continue. The show will now appear in your Show List and information will show up within a few minutes. When an episode is posted to Usenet, Sick Beard will automatically download it.

Now you have your own Usenet-powered DVR! For more information on SABnzbd+ or Sick Beard, visit their websites at and

Part Two: Getting it working on a Mac

Next: Automating Your Movie Downloads with SABnzbd+ and CouchPotato