Clark Gregg playfully hugs Ming-Na Wen

Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wen at the Disney Media Networks International Upfronts in 2013.
© Jean_Nelson /

This is upfront season. That’s when TV networks gather advertising buyers into large meeting rooms and present the highlights for the next TV season, hoping that they’ll pay top dollar for ad slots on such superb entertainment. YouTube held its own ad buyers meeting, and announced that it reaches more consumers aged 18-49 than the top 10 prime time TV shows. That led Broadcasting & Cable’s John Consoli to crunch some Nielsen ratings, and he came to an alarming conclusion. Over 1 in 10 millennial viewers, 18- to 34-year-olds, have stopped watching broadcast TV since just last year.

That was just the latest sign that broadcast TV is in trouble. Last week, Fox CEO James Murdoch said, “Over the long term, but approaching quickly, all video entertainment will be consumed over IP streaming networks.” For the coming year, online video ad spending is projected to rise by 18-28%, depending on who you ask. TV just isn’t as attractive any more.

Here at FreeTVBlog, we happen to prefer free broadcast TV. (Over-the-top video, whether free or reasonably priced, is also acceptable, but I digress.) To convince these millennials to recognize the benefits of this great resource, broadcasters just need to shift how they think about it.

You see, these millennials want instant access on demand, preferably without paying for it. The free part is pretty easy for cord-cutters who have switched to an OTA antenna, but broadcast TV seems to be the opposite of on-demand. That’s where the paradigm shift needs to come.

My Tablo gets it. When I want to choose shows to record, Tablo displays a picture list of every program coming up on my broadcast channels over the next couple of weeks. The list doesn’t care when the show airs, or which channel it’s on. I just pick this one and that one, and a few days later, it’s ready for on-demand viewing.

That’s not the only way Tablo presents potential recordings. It also includes a standard live TV grid, or I can narrow the list by channel, or prime-time only, or genre. But the paradigm shift is to think of broadcast not as appointment TV, but as a constant source of programs that can be scooped up and saved to watch whenever.

That’s what the broadcasters need to do – embrace and promote OTA DVRs as pre-planned on-demand devices. Any system of suggesting programs, or of listing every available program, will help cord-cutters appreciate the wealth and variety of choices they have for free with local TV.

Four men in virtual reality chairs

The Dell booth showed off virtual reality with a little motion and breeze thrown in.

Virtual reality. VR. That was the hottest technology on display at the NAB Show a couple of weeks ago.

VR doesn’t have anything to do with broadcasting, not yet. But it could happen sooner that you might think. For example, Streambox exhibited real-time VR streaming at the show.

On the second day of the show, I was reminded that even though we’re taller and dressed like grown-ups, we’re all kids inside. We filed in to a large meeting room for a VR seminar. Smiling workers handed each of us an official Google Cardboard viewer. Projectors showed a few VR apps to download to our phones. We took our seats, and many of us reconfigured our Cardboards from storage to Velcro-secured viewing mode. We were ready for whatever demonstration they could throw at us. The seminar began.

About 40 minutes into the scheduled hour, there had been plenty of discussion and shared expertise, but no demonstrations. That’s when I started hearing the unmistakable sound of ripping, unfastened Velcro. One by one, we realized we would not be playing with our new toys.

(Side note: Cardboard is available for anyone to manufacture, and I had bought a cheap knock-off a couple of months earlier. The type of Cardboard they handed out, which looked like this, was very much easier to assemble and use. Highly recommended.)

If you haven’t experienced VR, get a Cardboard and try it with your smartphone. That’ll give you a good taste of what the (currently) expensive VR headsets deliver. I’m not sure exactly where VR will fit in the future of video story-telling, but I’m sure we’ll see more of it somewhere.

It’s been just two weeks since the NAB Show opened. It feels more like two months. I’ve still got a couple of topics left from the show that I need to get to, and this is one of them. Next, I’ll give you a wrap-up with what I saw about virtual reality.

StartUpLoft banner at the NAB Show

KlowdTV wasn’t in the Start Up Loft at the NAB Show. It was in the Sprockit area for startups. Which is different. I don’t know why.

The best part of these big conferences is the opportunity to meet people. I had a nice talk with Bill O’Hara, CEO of KlowdTV, an OTT company which streams a lot of interesting Spanish channels and an oddball assortment of English channels. KlowdTV had to drop beIN Sports last month, and O’Hara talked me down from the conspiracy theory I had concocted in response. It was a simple financial issue, O’Hara said, not exclusivity. Glad to hear that they’re playing fair.

As we talked, it occurred to me that I hadn’t sufficiently explain why I love KlowdTV. It’s based on very skinny bundles. The first $2/month covers just the platform and a one-hour cloud DVR. Small, themed packages of channels, such as Sports, News, and Entertainment, are available for $3/month. The net result is that it takes $5/month to subscribe to one package, $8/month for two, and so forth. Some individual channels are a la carte for $1 or more. Want more cloud DVR space? Twelve hours for $4 looks like the sweet spot, but you can pay for more or less.

For that price, subscribers get to watch their channels pretty much anywhere. KlowdTV is available on Roku, Amazon FireTV, AppleTV, Chromecast, PC and Mac browsers, and the KlowdTV app for iOS and Android. I like using my Roku to put the eScapes smooth jazz and landscapes channel on my big screen.

The catch? There’s no ESPN in KlowdTV’s Sports and no CNN in its News. Sports includes Gol TV, Fight Network, FightBox, and three other channels. News has Bloomberg, Newsmax, One America, and four international channels. The other packages have similar mixes of competent, not-so-mainstream offerings.

O’Hara was especially proud of his Spanish-language packages. For example, KlowdTV’s 11 Mexican channels compare to SlingTV‘s 12-channel Best of Spanish TV, but the KlowdTV customer would pay $5/month vs. $25 to SlingTV. There are more channels included in that $25, but that’s the point. In an ideal world, an OTT subscriber would stack small packages and a la carte channels to pay for exactly what he wanted and nothing more.

The FCC has been talking about regulating OTT distributors as similar to cable and satellite pay-TV companies, although the FCC is still moving very slowly on that front. If KlowdTV gets the chance to negotiate like Comcast, maybe we could see dozens of little bundles.

When I subscribed to DishWorld (now Sling International) a couple of years ago, I knew I was using a beta of the Next Big Thing. Will KlowdTV become the Next Next Big Thing? Time will tell.

TitanTV logoTitanTV is better than ever. I was reminded to check out its latest features when I dropped by the TitanTV booth at the NAB Show last week. Not only have those folks added common OTT listings, they also let users share special grids that they created.

First some background. TitanTV has been around a little longer than my flagship site FTAList, and they’ve always allowed users to construct custom TV program grids even with broadcast channels of different markets. That’s why from the beginning, FTAList included TitanTV channel codes whenever possible, so users could make individualized grids that matched however their free-to-air satellite receiver was set up.

That kind of flexibility even helps with local channels. Suppose that a new digital sub-channel pops up in your town. While you wait for the listing services to notice the addition, you can add an out-of-town affiliate for that sub-channel network in the matching position for your local grid. A week or two later, when you see two of them, you can delete the out-of-towner.

At previous NAB Shows, I asked TitanTV to let me create a read-only grid, so I could stack every FTA satellite channel on FTAList (at least all the channels with program data) and let site visitors see what’s available. Last week marked the first time that anyone there was receptive to the idea, and it’s also the first time that it might not be necessary. TitanTV recently added a feature to send other TitanTV users a code to access the sender’s custom program grid. Now if I create my own FTA grid, I can list that code so visitors can see what I see with a minimum of effort.

TitanTV still isn’t perfect. Although they provide a default grid for Sling TV, for example, they’ve accidentally included Luken TV’s The Family Channel instead of Freeform, which had formerly gone by the names ABC Family, Fox Family, The Family Channel, The CBN Family Channel, and the Christian Broadcasting Network Satellite Service. That default Sling grid also includes a couple of Local Programming slots, probably placeholders for the channels they don’t cover, such as Polaris, Maker, and Newsy. Anyway, thanks to the grid sharing feature, if you want to see how Sling looks on my DVR+, with Hollywood Extra, Kids Extra, and the west feeds of the Disney channels, you can copy and paste the code:
into your TitanTV account’s channel lineups.

Whether you’re a cord-cutter, a free-to-air satellite buff, or even just a typical pay-TV subscriber, I continue to recommend TitanTV for the perfect customizable view of your viewing choices.

Video studio with displays

© antb /

Old joke: I can finally afford something I’ve wanted for 15 years – a 2001 Saturn hatchback.

Seriously: What do you do when circumstances change to allow you to attain what you have dreamed about for years, but those same circumstances make that prize unattractive?

When I got started with this TV stuff 10 years ago, the main topic was free-to-air satellite. There were some high-quality channels, but there was also some trash. This led to a frequently asked question, “How much does it cost to run a TV channel? Because I could do better than half of what’s up there.”

For example, White Springs TV ran a steady diet of public domain movies on the transponder that also distributed its parent company’s radio network. It looked like the work of one or two people, and it ran 24/7 for years. White Springs wasn’t trash, but it suggested that shoestring operations were possible.

I remember meeting with a satellite technician at the 2008 NAB Show to try to come up with something similar. He knew where to find some cheap satellite bandwidth and I knew where to find cheap content (more public domain rubbish, at least to start), but then we began to realize that running a linear channel is more complicated then that. We barely knew the words “playout automation,” so we never got to first base with our plans.

There were other bits of information here and there. I bought a copy of Brock Fisher’s 2008 book Start a TV Station. (He also published a 2012 version, but I never read that one.) I found a web page describing how to build a TV channel with mostly open source software components. I even experimented with a rudimentary streaming feed using TVU Broadcaster, a platform that TVU soon abandoned.

Fast forward to now. There is so much over-the-top streaming software and inexpensive hardware that I’m sure I could launch that 24/7 linear stream with just a little more research and work. But when I look around, I see that’s probably not the best idea. When it comes to streaming anything but sports, on-demand is what’s in demand, especially with younger viewers. Instead of trying to program 24 hours of mostly filler or reruns, I’d be better off creating individual shows and putting them where they can be streamed or downloaded when someone actually wants to watch them. Now that I can finally achieve my 2008 dreams, I don’t think they’re worth it.

A recurring meme at the 2016 NAB Show was the democratization of video. Equipment and streaming hosts are so inexpensive that anyone can make a movie or a short and show it to the world. The great news is that I have an equal opportunity to dazzle an audience with some amazingly fun content. All I need to do is create it.