Fight for the Future, Demand Progress, and Free Press are organizing one last-ditch effort to fight the FCC’s coming vote to kill net neutrality. On Tuesday, Dec. 12, dozens of web sites (including this one) will display banners suggesting what the future will be like if internet service providers are allowed to pick winners and losers. The Break the Internet project directs visitors to call their Congressional representatives to pressure the FCC to hold off on making that change.

A few years ago, this tactic worked great to stop SOPA by threatening anyone who would face re-election. The difficulty this time is that the FCC commissioners don’t have to worry about being voted out by the public, so pressure is necessarily indirect. (There’s also the problem of the Republican majority at the FCC in favor of dropping Title II protection and Republican control of both houses of Congress.)

Will this online protest do any good? I doubt it, but I’ve been wrong before.

Pluto TV guide screenInventing free TV packages on paper was something I used to do a lot. In the glory days of free-to-air satellite TV, the idea was to put together enough free (or dirt cheap), attractive, useful channels on one transponder to get viewers to buy and install Ku-band equipment, and then the size of the audience would attract other channels and so forth.

I’m reminded of those big ideas when I fire up Pluto TV, an amazing collection of live channels and video on demand. It’s all free, mostly ad-supported, and it makes a wonderful supplement for cord-cutters who rely on over-the-air broadcast TV.

My top two categories of typically neglected genres on OTA TV are news (most of the day) and sports (most of the week). Pluto has news covered, with NBC News, CBS News, The Weather Network, Bloomberg, and much more. And Pluto has a bit of sports, with Stadium, Big Sky Conference schools, and a couple of other Pluto-originated catchalls. There are also several live movie channels and plenty of alternative entertainment channels. The lineup changes now and then, but you can download a list (pdf). And like my imaginary satellite service, it’s asking for more channels to join its lineup.

(Lately my guilty pleasure has been Slow TV, with long, uninterrupted videos of Norwegian train rides. As with NatureVision TV, it’s a soothing background for any other activity. And for the holidays, there’s also a fireplace to “watch”. Such peaceful enjoyment!)

Pluto also offers a lot of free ad-supported on-demand movies and TV shows. Vudu’s Movies On Us is a similar free program, but I wonder whether Pluto’s inventory is larger.

Viewing platforms are not a problem. I can watch Pluto on just about anything: smartphone, tablet, Windows desktop, Roku, AirTV, and more. It’s a big reason why I’m looking forward to seeing Channel Master’s new receiver next month; if it’s based on Android TV, it’ll run the Pluto TV app. If anyone can combine a good OTA DVR (like CM’s DVR+) and Pluto TV in the same box, they’d have a great combo for cord-cutters.

 

 

If you read nothing else, check out today’s article in Wired about the origins of Net Neutrality, written by the guy who coined the term, Tim Wu. The concept that bridges, railroads, and other common carriers shouldn’t discriminate based on traffic type goes back hundreds of years, and the telecommunication version goes back to the early 1970s. Wu also offers a bit of hope from the court system. “The Supreme Court requires that an agency demonstrate its action was not ‘arbitrary’ or ‘capricious’; it must ‘examine the relevant data and articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action.'” he wrote. “And when it changes course dramatically, as the FCC has, the agency must explain why it ‘now reject[s] the considerations that led it to adopt that initial policy.’”

Joel Espelien of TDG Research wrote that despites its denials, Amazon is prepping a skinny bundle of pay-TV channels to launch in the first half of 2018 as an Amazon Prime benefit. As he pointed out, for folks who subscribe to Prime mainly for the free shipping, everything else is gravy; it “feels like it’s free.” Amazon doesn’t need to make money on TV in the short term, and getting customers hooked on a “free” set of channels might be a great opportunity to upsell them on some premiums.

And Parks Associates released a report on Smart TVs and The User Experience, as reported on today by Broadband TV News and others. It said that viewers want easy navigation and discovery in their TV interfaces. I’d add that curation underpins that discovery component, and that ease of use is paramount. When Roku first came out, I wondered why anyone would choose it over a connected, dedicated Windows PC, which could access everything the Roku could and then some. Now I know better.

You know all those promises by internet service providers that they don’t need any silly Title II rules to behave themselves? Those rules haven’t been repealed quite yet, but Charter is already using the likely FCC decision to argue its case against New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. As Daniel Frankel writes at FierceCable, “In its letter to the judge, Charter discussed how the FCC’s proposed ‘light-touch’ regimen dispenses of rules governing paid prioritization, thus damaging Schneiderman’s case regarding Netflix throttling.” Which leaves us with little reason to expect anything better than the worst-case scenario once ISPs can do whatever they want.

Jeff Baumgartner of Multichannel News hits the highlights of a report by The Diffusion Group predicting that legacy pay TV service penetration will fall to 60% by 2030. Meanwhile over-the-top pay TV will grow from 4% of U.S. homes to 14% by then. I remember when I encountered my first report like this at an old magazine job and immediately thought it was a big deal. The wise senior editor looked at me as the rookie I was and gently admonished, “They’re just guessing.”

On the other hand, as Jeremy Barr of The Hollywood Reporter and others noticed, ESPN laid off another 150 employees this morning. “The cuts represent less than 2 percent of ESPN’s 8,000-strong workplace, and the network is still hiring.” The wife asked me if this is the start of the network’s death spiral. I assured her that ESPN would endure, if ever so slightly more frugally. The real pinch should come in two or three years when sports rights fees will stop escalating, and owners and players will need to agree on the best way to divide a more stable revenue pie. I predict at least one major sports lockout by 2020, but I’m just guessing.

At my desk at FreeTVBlog World Headquarters, I’ve got a TV on either side of my monitor. The right TV is hooked up to my AirTV, Sling’s Android TV-based receiver. The left TV is attached to my Channel Master DVR+.

AirTV is great for dishing up all sorts of internet-based TV. Thanks to my distant cable TV subscription (long story, I’ll elaborate in a few days), I can watch Fox Sports, ESPN, and other cable channels through their apps. On the other hand, its integration of over-the-air TV is just enough to watch live; there’s no way to record it.

The DVR+ is the opposite – great at recording OTA but with a much weaker selection of internet-based channels. In fact, those channels haven’t changed in a very long time, so I’d been wondering whether Channel Master was focusing on something else. I also found myself wishing that the DVR+ were also based on Android TV, the better to add complementary functionality to its OTA recording.

Today I noticed, thanks to Jeff Baumgartner, that Dave Zatz of ZatzNotFunny had connected the dots and then some. Zatz said that Channel Master would introduce the Stream+ at CES in January 2018, and he posted the YouTube video above. It’s supposed to be based on the Technicolor Skipper, a 4K Android TV receiver. Technicolor makes the AirTV.

The Stream+ sounds like could be a worthy addition to one of my desk TVs. I wonder which box it will replace.