A wall of multi-colored sticky notesOver at Business Insider, Antonio Villas-Boas ran a very honest, even-handed description of his attempt to get by with Sling TV instead of cable. The most important quote: “Live TV over the internet using Sling TV never had to buffer, and it never cut out for me, either.” From what I read, the factor that drove him back to cable was his inability to get his favorite channels, a short list including PBS (but if you’re using a Roku, just get the PBS app) and TLC. My second law of programming is that any channel a viewer watches regularly is important, any channel he never watches is a waste of bandwidth, and those channels are different for every viewer. But seriously, TLC? You couldn’t manage without watching Sister Wives as soon as it aired? Perhaps I’m prejudiced because I remember when it was The Learning Channel, before it succumbed to my first law of programming.

Speaking of Sling, this morning, Dish announced its quarterly numbers, and for the first time it revealed the official number of Sling subscribers, now over 2.2 million. That was very close to The Diffusion Group‘s estimate of about 2.3 million, so maybe its other numbers are also about right.

Free NAB Show Expo Pass registration is ending soon. If there’s any chance you can drop in to look around in the Las Vegas Convention Center this April 9-12, you’ll be glad you did. Thanks to the folks at Ikan International, you can register for free with the code LV7962 by clicking here.

American Cable Association logoFor folks who built their business on serving the public for free, TV broadcasters sure are ramping up their work to get more money from viewers. A survey by the American Cable Association projected that retransmission consent fees will rise 88% by 2020 for its members.

Although it’s not automatic (the price of a product is not solely based on the price of its ingredients), cable companies typically pass along those fees as rate increases to their subscribers. Which means that folks who don’t get their local channels for free with an over-the-air antenna will be paying that much more for the privilege of watching those same channels delivered over a wire.

One could argue that local channels have become less valuable, not more, in recent years as viewership has declined. Yet the ACA could point to an operator who saw its retransmission payout rise from $8.53 per subscriber per month in December 2017 to $14.65 in January, a jump of almost 72%.

In a statement, ACA president and CEO Matt Polka said, “The corporate broadcasters are out of control. No other industry operates this way. No other sector would get away with such massive price increases in just three years.”

The subscriber rate hikes that these retransmission fees will cause should accelerate the move to cord-cutting, and some of those viewers might get too busy with Netflix or Amazon Prime to watch as much local TV. By raising the price, broadcasters might be hastening the day when their public service just doesn’t matter. Too many people will stop watching, and they might just take some cable systems down with them.

A wall of multi-colored sticky notesWhat a day! I’ve got very serious storm drain work going on outside my normally peaceful office, and from the beeping it sounds like an excavator is running slow, backward circles around the project. With my kid off at high school, I keep remembering the photo of that poor Florida dad wearing a Trump 2020 shirt while asking in vain about his daughter. I can’t find anything exciting or positive enough to overcome all that, so you’re getting a second helping of notes this week.

John Eggerton, the hardest working man in Washington, noted that the National Association of Broadcasters would like the FCC to tweak the retransmission consent / must-carry rule, by which unpopular channels can force themselves onto the cable dial while popular ones can hold their signal for ransom. Currently, the default is must-carry; a station that would prefer to negotiate for some cash has to formally notify cable systems and the like. The NAB would prefer to switch that default to retrans, in case one of its member stations fumbles the paperwork (it happens) and could lose out on that sweet, sweet retrans money. Never mind that the unpopular stations are the least likely to have the kind of staff to handle proactive paperwork to request must-carry status.

As mentioned by Jeff Baumgartner, sports-first OTT streamer fuboTV has added a Family Share option. For $6/month, instead of two simultaneous streams, a subscriber can add a third stream to share “with additional family members.” At some level, aren’t we all family? This was just a few days after fuboTV hooked up with a unit of Sears Holdings to offer cash back or rewards or something like that. Because nothing says forward-thinking like a close relationship with Sears.

And the diginet Bounce announced today that it had swung a deal with The Wendy Williams Show to broadcast episodes in prime time the same day that they ran in syndication during the day on local stations. The press release said, “The deal represents the first-ever repurposed programming arrangement done by a new-generation broadcast network, also known as a multicast network.” I see this as another sign that a lot of people don’t have over-the-air TV DVRs, because if they did, why wouldn’t they just record the afternoon show?

Next week, more rest, fewer distractions, less snark. I hope.

Several musicians in a TV studio

A Cuban dance band performing at WTVJ Miami

This was supposed to be just the story of how I found nine NBC-owned broadcast TV stations in the clear on my free-to-air dish. But then my system acted up a little, so now it’s also about my satellite foibles.

It all started when I noticed a fresh note at Ricks Satellite Forum that said that certain NBC stations had popped up at certain hours on AMC 15, the satellite at 105 degrees west. I told my dish to move over to check, and those channels came in, but their signal was erratic. Hmm. As a test, I told the dish to switch over to another satellite, and the motor stopped halfway there.

One of the challenges of setting up a FTA dish system is that there are several parts that all have to be good for it to work. In this case, the motor had been installed just a couple of months earlier, so I doubted that was the problem. Instead, I guessed that the signal up the cable from my FTA receiver to the motor wasn’t getting through consistently. I checked the connections all the way from the receiver to the switch outside, all good. That outside cable had been bumped around lately, so I ordered a replacement cable.

When the winter weather cleared up enough for me to try it, I installed my brand-new quad-shield cable in place of the old one. That was a letdown; it didn’t change anything. Hmm. Next I wondered whether it might be the switch, since DiSEqC switches don’t last forever. As a test, I bypassed it; still no motor movement. Just for grins, I checked the short cable connections at the motor and found I could tighten one just a half-rotation. One more try, and now everything’s perfect again. It was yet another reminder that sometimes the simplest things are the ones that count, and when a satellite system starts acting funny, check absolutely every connection.

Back to those stations, which I most commonly see during daylight hours. They are the NBC-owned broadcasters in Boston, Connecticut, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Miami, Dallas, San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. (The transponder is 11880-V, SR 30000 if you’re playing along at home.) Their arrival just before the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics might be a coincidence, or it might mean that they’ll go away soon after the games are over. For however long it lasts, it’s been pretty nifty to sample all that local programming.