PBS logoThis looks a little scary. One of the most attractive English-language features of North American free-to-air satellite TV is the plethora of PBS channels. As you can see here, a modest-sized dish can pick up a half-dozen national PBS feeds plus the statewide broadcasts from Oklahoma, Louisiana and Montana.

One of these days, perhaps not so long from now, that might all change. In advance of next week’s NAB Show, TV Technology ran an interview with Edward Caleca, former senior VP of technology for PBS and currently an “executive consultant” for the network. Caleca said “Stations have been looking for a NRT (non-real time) solution that is a pull model versus the current push model. The current system is delivered on satellite, which is very inefficient for file delivery. The future will be public or private internet.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard someone on satellite say that they’re going to move to much, much cheaper internet-based distribution, but the PBS cluster would arguably have the largest impact if and when it leaves. As always with FTA satellite, the key is to enjoy it while you can.

VIZIO SmartCast P-Series 55” Class Ultra HD HDR Home Theater DisplayVizio announced a couple of weeks ago that it’s selling some great looking Ultra HD sets with Google Cast (previously ChromeCast) built in and a nifty Android-based remote, but without ATSC over-the-air TV tuners. As a result, Vizio can’t call them TVs, so they’re “home theater displays” instead.

(It reminds me that when I shop for a monitor for my desktop computer, I typically keep looking until I find one that includes a TV tuner. The price is about the same, and being able to watch TV comes in handy now and then. But I digress.)

If you love free OTA TV the way I do, this is a little scary. As Jared Newman pointed out at TechHive, these sets are being actively marketed as “tuner-free,” as if tuners were an inconvenient nuisance. When Newman asked Vizio about that, “Vizio cited its own surveys, which found that less than 10 percent of customers were watching over-the-air broadcasts.” The company also said something about simplified menus. Based on computer monitor/TV prices, I’d also bet the tuner might cost Vizio as much as $5.

Considering the growth in cord-cutting, Vizio’s move away from tuners might seem strange. Then again, folks who forgo pay TV because they’re barely staying above water aren’t likely to buy the latest Ultra HD set. As long as this trend doesn’t spread to less expensive sets, it’ll probably amount to nothing, but for now, I’m keeping an eye on it.

Girl in baseball cap watching old TV next to stuffed animal

© DesignPicsInc / Depositphotos.com

The opening week of the major league baseball season is here at last. Not so coincidentally, Adweek ran an interview with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred addressing the sport’s fading appeal to young viewers. “MLB has the oldest median TV audience at 56 years, compared to 49 for NFL viewers and 41 for NBA fans,” Adweek’s Tim Baysinger wrote.

Let’s blend in another report. Mike Farrell wrote in Multichannel News that “Canadian research company Convergence Consulting Group estimated that 1.13 million U.S. TV households cut the cord in 2015, about four times the pace of 2014.” That annual report also said that the pay TV universe is contracting, but the group of cord-cutters and cord-nevers (who have never paid for TV) will grow by over 2 million households in 2016.

Now MLB has one great advantage – its comprehensive streaming package, MLB.TV, available to almost anyone at a reasonable price. Its trouble, which I don’t see it addressing, is that it markets itself only to serious fans. That is, if you’re not already a baseball fan, you won’t get much opportunity to get hooked on the sport.

Update: Yet another way MLB is reaching out is with a free daily game streaming on Yahoo Sports. That’s a nice gesture to cord-cutters, but again it requires a preexisting desire to watch baseball games.

I thought of all this as I surveyed the upcoming sports broadcasts as shown by my Tablo. Looking out over the next couple of weeks of over-the-air TV, there will be NBA games, NHL games, golf, auto racing, four soccer leagues, and even a Legends Football League game. But no baseball whatsoever for its opening weeks. Is it any wonder that cord-nevers embrace other sports?

My solution to this problem is to go back to what made those 56-year-olds MLB fans in the first place. Require each team to simulcast six games a month over the air. That roughly matches what a lot of teams did 40 or 50 years ago, showing a few road trips a month on local independent stations.

All of those games are already being covered by local pay-TV networks, so the only new cost is the loss of exclusivity for those 36 out of 155 or so non-national games. But those free broadcasts become a great selling tool for the teams where they can promote upcoming home games, sell more MLB.TV subscriptions, and generally get viewers to fall in love with the local players. Kids in broadcast-only homes will find these games and might start watching baseball when the NBA season is over.

If you want folks to buy your product, you’ve got to give them a taste of it. If MLB wants to get serious about attracting new fans, it’s going to have to get back to its old model of giving a taste away for free.

KlowdTV logoKlowdTV is an OTT provider that’s trying to build a virtual cable system from scratch, one network at a time. They’ve got the skinniest bundles around, and subscribers get a lot of flexibility in picking channels. That’s why it’s so sad to write that last week KlowdTV lost one of its best programmers, beIN Sports.

Some background: beIN Sports began its life as Al Jazeera Sport before being spun off as its own company, still owned and operated by folks in Qatar. You know how, if you’re reading Moby Dick, then everything looks like a whale? The last couple of weeks, I’ve been reading The Ugly Game, a book which claims to describe exactly how soccer enthusiasts in high places in Qatar supposedly spread a lot of wealth to ensure it would host the World Cup in 2022, a plan that’s still controversial.

What I’ve heard is that those deep-pocketed Qataris were also happy to spend big for TV rights to good soccer leagues and then happy to require very little from any system that wanted to distribute beIN Sports, all to build its exposure as soon as possible. For example, beIN Sports is included with several other channels in Sling’s $5/month Sports Extra add-on. In Sling’s international packages, beIN is frequently thrown in for free or in the standalone $10 World Sports package. It’s in fuboTV‘s $7 package. It’s on Dish and DirecTV, and you get the picture.

Last Thursday, KlowdTV CEO Bill O’Hara sent an email with the sad announcement that the beIN Sports channels “will no longer be available” on his service. He wrote, “We are continuing to explore ways to continue our relationship, but at this time there does not appear to be a viable way to continue providing the beIN sports channels.” In a nice gesture, KlowdTV gave subscribers two free months of what’s left of its sports package, which still includes Gol TV and other channels.

I’m a big fan of KlowdTV, which is why I subscribed. One themed package plus one hour of virtual DVR time is just $5/month, extra packages are $3, and several a la carte channels are available separately. So what blocked beIN? Was it a simple rate increase, or that fuboTV wanted OTT exclusivity, or something else? KlowdTV is exhibiting at the NAB Show in a couple of weeks, so I hope to know more then.

In the aftermath of CES, I mentioned that I picked up three new indoor TV antennas. Now that I’ve put them to the test, I have some surprises to share with you.

Four different TV antennas ready to testFirst, a few notes about the testing. Since digital TV reception is pretty much a pass/fail proposition, I used the signal-to-noise ratio readings from my indispensable HDHomeRun networked tuner, expressed through the Hdhomerun (sic) Signal Meter app. Those SNR numbers tell me how well the antenna is working, and symbol quality readings tell me whether I’d be able to view the channel. Most of the over-the-air channels that broadcast to FreeTVBlog World Headquarters come from the west-northwest, although a few OTA channels of interest come from the north. Primary testing took place just inside a west-facing window.

As one baseline, a ran a quick set of readings from my rooftop Cable Cutter antenna. I installed it carefully to pick up the weak northern signals while keeping the primary WNW signals; those WNW SNR numbers are a little less than optimum as a result. Then I turned to the west window and my indoor champion: the HomeWorX HW110AN. Flat against the window, the HomeWorX posted SNR numbers as good as the rooftop for the WNW channels except for the three Denver channels that still use VHF.

Next up was the Cable Cutter Mini, also from HD Frequency. Because of its lineage, I expected great things from the Mini, but the results were underwhelming. Flat against the window, the Mini handled VHF 9 better than the HomeWorX but was weaker on 7 and 13. Then I had an inspiration. Turns out that the Mini’s SNR improved greatly when I held it perpendicular to the window. I went back to the HomeWorX and saw the same thing: positioned like an old-style pointy yagi antenna, these smaller antennas could pick up VHF signals okay even though they were designed more for UHF reception.

Another CES antenna that shouldn’t really count was included in the box for the Aura, an Android- and Kodi-based OTA receiver that I’m looking forward to reviewing soon. The little telescoping stick is a lot like the compact antenna I bring along with my laptop tuner on road trips. The Aura’s antenna picked up the strongest stations, and would make a decent starter for someone disconnecting cable, but it wasn’t in the same league as the others.

(Speaking of telescoping antennas, an even smaller one is attached to my TabletTV T-Pod unit. An apples-to-apples comparison isn’t possible, but it also failed to tune in Channel 9 from the window. TabletTV would be better with an external antenna jack, and it would also be better with movie listings with titles instead of “Movie,” but I digress.)

My final CES antenna was the Magic Stick TV, and my expectations were low. As you might guess from its company’s name, PVC Antenna Inc., this is an indoor-outdoor antenna sealed in about 10 inches of narrow PVC pipe. The Magic Stick TV’s slick packaging and its glib CES presenter had me thinking infomercial bait. When I held the antenna lengthwise against the window, its VHF numbers were similarly unimpressive, but pointing it like a boom microphone, I got even better VHF numbers than the other two indoor antennas had delivered at their perpendicular best. Shifting back to lengthwise, its UHF numbers matched the other two, and in one corner of my office I could just barely pick up those northern channels. If I had to pick among the three, the Magic Stick TV would be the winner.

Although the Magic Stick TV’s performance was unexpected, my biggest surprise was that the position of the antenna, both relative to windows and to its presenting angle, changes reception much more than the antenna itself. The top three that I tested posted identical numbers on most channels when positioned perfectly. Depending on which channels you care about and how much you’re willing to fiddle with the antenna, any of these three should work fine. Based on its low price, I’d still recommend the HomeWorX.