Video studio with displays

© antb / Depositphotos.com

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.

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.

TV news reporters clowning around before their report

With my FTA satellite receiver, I can watch live remote footage as reporters set up and sometimes clown around before their 30 seconds on air.

Did you know that there are over 250 free TV channels that don’t require internet access or a subscription? They’re available through free-to-air satellite via a medium-sized (30-inch) dish and some inexpensive equipment. (When I mention this, newcomers usually look at me like I’m crazy or nefarious. I’m definitely not nefarious, but I digress.) Because there are so many channels, and because they come and go without warning, I created FTAList.com, which is now in its 10th year of operation. FTAList only carries permanent (until they change) TV channels, but there are also dozens of radio channels. My favorite FTA sessions are live feeds of news crews and sporting events, but those are gone within hours; your best bet to find such ephemeral TV is constant scanning or Ricks Wildfeed Forum.

Long-term (over a month) readers may remember that this blog was once known as FTABlog, because its original purpose was to talk about free-to-air satellite news and other FTAList stuff. The last few days, I’ve been checking the skies to update those FTA channel listings. So what the heck, let’s talk again about what’s new on free satellite TV these days.

Over at AMC 21 (125 degrees west), there are more PBS feeds than you can imagine, including some PBS channels you might not get locally: PBS Kids, V-Me, World, Create, and FNX.

On Galaxy 18 (123 W), the University of Washington channel is gone (although available as a live stream on the internet) but KBS World is available again after years of being scrambled. Both were around during the FTA glory days, so I notice them more than some others.

Another channel that emerged after years of scrambling is Macy’s Satellite Network on AMC 15 (105 w). It’s not all that interesting, but there are several Macy’s music channels on the same transponder.

Azteca 7 popped up in a couple of places, Eutelsat 117 (116.8 W) and in Azteca 13’s old slot at Galaxy 25 (93.1 W). Azteca 7 shows some pro football games (in Spanish, of course); it had the Pittsburgh-Denver playoff game last Sunday.

The majority of Ku-band FTA channels can be found on one satellite, Galaxy 19 (97 W), so it also occupies the majority of my updating time. Sadly, I’m not that interested in most of the channels there, either because they’re preoccupied with someone else’s flavor of religion or in a language I don’t understand or both. I’m happy to see Retro TV hanging in there, and I wish more of its sister channels were also available.

So there’s a quick update on some of the FTA changes I saw this month. For more complete channels listings and information about how to watch, visit FTAList. Next time, I’ll return to terrestrial TV, and the best antennas to receive it.