As FCC Chairman Ajit Pai works tirelessly to improve the lives of Comcast and Sinclair shareholders everywhere, here are a few of the latest details.

First John Eggerton wrote about the FCC in court defending its reinstatement of the UHF discount. It used to be a holdover from analog TV days when a UHF station had more limited reach and was more difficult to find on the dial compared to VHF stations. Then a few years ago the FCC noticed that’s not how digital TV works so it eliminated that holdover. But reinstating it would help really large TV station ownership groups become even larger, so that’s what Pai’s FCC did. That decision is being fought in court by Free Press, Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, Prometheus Radio Project, Media Mobilizing Project, Media Alliance, National Hispanic, Media Coalition, and Common Cause.

Later that day Eggerton wrote about FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s new Twitter campaign to register her concerns with the ATSC 3.0 rollout framework that the FCC is planning to vote on next week. The tweet he quoted mentioned the lack of backward compatibility with current TV sets. “Remember when I asked as part of #NextGenTV NPRM that there be complete assurances that #consumers will not be burdened w/ unwanted, unexpected costs? Not looking good despite nxt week’s @FCC action.”

And barely a half hour later, Eggerton was back again, this time about how self-described limited government group Alliance for Freedom was joining the NAACP, Benton Foundation, Common Cause, Free Press, and Public Knowledge in objecting to the FCC’s plan to cap Lifeline subsidies for telephone and internet service, saying it “will gut the program and continue to widen the digital divide.” Now maybe you’ll believe me every time I say that John Eggerton is the hardest working man in Washington.

Sling TV has added Samsung smart TVs to its list of supported devices. Jeff Baumgartner writes that it’s available now on all 2016 Samsung smart TV models, and will reach other Samsung models later. Sling is now available on LG connected TVs, Android TV devices (including the Dish-made AirTV Player), Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Xbox One, some web browsers, the DVR+, and iOS and Android mobile devices. I’m still waiting for Sling to be available on Linux, a natural OS for cord-cutters.

John Eggerton, the hardest working man in Washington, writes that more strange bedfellows have come together to fight the proposed Sinclair-Tribune merger. Those new members are the United Church of Christ, the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians – Communications Workers of America, the Parents Television Council, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Herndon-Reston Indivisible, and the Leased Access Programmers Association. It seems that there are plenty of reasons to not like the deal, and each organization only needs one. For more on the latest, you should go read it!

Sling International showing Dish Network notice that "We apologize for the interruption of service."Long-time readers might remember that I maintain a subscription to Sling International’s World Sports pack. It’s a pretty decent set of live sports channels and a few other interesting English-language bits thrown in, if you don’t mind watching stuff you’ve probably never heard of. But my main reason is not to watch live baseball from Japan or cricket highlights; it’s to keep track of the delivery system and channel lineup. Unlike what happens to Sling TV’s normal US channels, if anything changes, I can’t find anywhere else on the web that talks about it.

Case in point. One of the benefits of keeping that World Sports subscription is being able to check in on an old favorite that I’ve known since its FTA satellite days, Fashion TV. I’ve written about this channel for over eight years. It was one of the first free satellite channels to upgrade to HD, then it moved to Dish Network for a while, then it was gone, and then it surfaced among Dish International’s free English channels, thrown in with almost any other package.

In recent years, it looks to me as though Fashion TV is shifting its emphasis away from mostly showing models walking funny and wearing clothes that make them look like they lost a bet. There are more swimsuits on runways, and photo shoots of swimsuits, and lingerie. Or maybe those were just the snippets I checked in on as I was keeping track of available channels. Honestly, if you added up the time I’ve spent watching Fashion TV, it’s got to be less than an hour total over the past five years, but I know which shows I prefer there.

About three weeks ago, when I checked on Fashion TV, what I saw looked like the image embedded in this post. It’s the standard Dish Network card for a temporary technical difficulty, most often a weather-related outage. I shrugged and moved on – Ebru still has Doctor Who reruns.

A week later, that card was still there for Fashion TV. A second week later, still no change. I chatted with Sling customer service, and the rep’s only information was that they were having problems with the signal. Now it’s a third week (or more) and the card has stayed the same.

Notice that there’s no suggestion that Fashion TV is gone for good. I can still scroll back to see program images from the past week; they just don’t work.

If this were ESPN, or heck, even if this were the DYI network, a “temporary” outage that lasted two days would light up some corner of Internet discussion, but I can’t find anyone else who’s noticed this one. I’ve reached out to Sling / Dish, and I’ll update this post when I hear anything. Till then, weird, huh?

Update: Sure enough, Fashion TV never returned. If I ever find out what happened, I’ll post it here, but my guess was that it was simply money – Fashion TV wanted more than Sling wanted to give.

ShowDrive logoVariety reported yesterday that our old friends at Simple.TV are launching a cloud DVR service called ShowDrive. That’s the payoff to the company’s new direction that I wrote about in April.

According to Variety, ShowDrive will debut in the UK, where an unnamed third party will sell special devices to record Freeview over-the-air TV and store those recordings in the cloud, “where they are instantly transcoded and made available for streaming.” The devices will also allow users to use some online video apps.

That article also said that Simple.TV will announce who it will partner with in the US in January at CES. (Which was the International CES last year, but now is simply CES. But I digress.) For more details, you really ought to go read Variety.

Voom and Hulu logos

Hulu’s announcement last week that it would offer almost* commercial-free programming for an extra $4/month reminded me of its connection to the former Voom Networks. That connection is only in my mind, unless you want to buy into the following conspiracy theory.

First, let’s talk Hulu. It’s owned by three of the six large content companies in the US: Comcast (NBC), News Corporation (Fox), and Disney (ABC). Hulu’s primary distinguishing feature as an over-the-top pay-TV service was its long-time insistence on including commercials, even though it knew that was an issue for potential and current paid subscribers. Then why did it take so long for Hulu to offer a higher-priced, ad-free* version? I assume it’s because its owners, three major TV networks, did not want audiences to get used to the idea of watching regular TV shows anywhere without commercial interruption.

Back in the days when TV stations used only the public airwaves as a free service, advertising was the only way to pay the bills, yet broadcasting was mostly a lucrative business. When cable permeated America, many stations also picked up retransmission consent fees, which have risen astronomically since. In time, the major networks got a piece of both of those revenue streams, but it must have been baked into the content providers’ minds that commercial interruption was a lifeline that they would not easily relinquish.

Now to the conspiracy theory. In 2003, back when HD programming was unusual, Cablevision launched Voom, a standalone satellite TV service with 21 channels of commercial-free HDTV. In 2005, Dish Network pretty much bought out Voom’s satellite lease and resold the Voom channels to Dish subscribers. That’s where I came in; I loved Voom’s colorful, uninterrupted programming, and they soon became some of my favorite Dish channels.

(It’s important for me to point out here that, although I was both a Dish beta tester and shareholder at the time, I had and have absolutely no inside information about anything that happened between Dish and Voom. The theory I concocted is based only on public news accounts, of which the Wikipedia entry is a decent summary, and there’s an excellent chance that it’s completely wrong. But my theory is entertaining to consider, and it mostly fits what we know.)

Voom was rolling along. It had a 15-year contract with to Dish to distribute its programming, which it was selling to over a million subscribers. The only hint of a problem was that Voom content was becoming a bit … repetitive. A lot of the series on its schedules, mostly foreign imports, remained the same.

In January 2008, Dish tried to end its contract with Voom, saying that Voom hadn’t invested its required $100 million in content in 2006; Cablevision offered what it said was proof that it had followed the letter of the contract. In May 2008, without warning, Dish dumped all of the Voom channels, replacing them with roughly equivalent channels, such as Palladia substituting for Voom’s Rave HD music channel. Without a major distributor, Voom closed up shop a few months later. Meanwhile, Voom’s owners sued Dish, and then things got really weird.

In November 2010, New York state judge Richard Lowe ruled that Dish’s then-parent Echostar had “systematically destroyed evidence in direct violation of the law” by erasing emails. Lowe said he would instruct the jury to assume that those emails would have helped Voom prove its case. Despite that hefty sanction, the case continued to trial in September 2012. Just before Dish CEO Charlie Ergen was due to take the stand, Dish settled the case, paying over $700 million to Cablevision.

To recap, it appears that Dish was making a profit on every Voom subscriber, yet it decided to fatally wound the service and then wiped evidence that would explain why, even though that would end up costing Dish almost three-quarters of a billion dollars. Until Ergen writes his memoirs, we’ll never know why Dish did that, so let me make up something that fits.

Dish needs decent relationships with the folks who create its channels. Those are some of the same people who fought so hard and long against letting Hulu subscribers watch TV without ads. Voom’s channels had no ads. What if the big media companies put pressure on Dish to dump the Cablevision-created upstart and substitute similar, ad-supported programming? There’s no way Dish would have chosen Voom over the six huge companies who control Dish’s bread-and-butter channels. Could they have wielded the stick of threatened channel blackouts or the carrot of improved contract terms to offset the cost of deleting all the emails associated with those conversations? There’s no way of knowing, but that sure matches the mindset of those Hulu owners.

*Even when it tried to create an ad-free service, Hulu couldn’t make it 100%. As the signup page states, a few shows are not included “due to streaming rights”. Subscribers still have to watch commercials before and after Grey’s Anatomy, Once Upon A Time, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Scandal, New Girl, Grimm and How To Get Away With Murder. Those all have ties to the owners’ production companies, and I guess they can’t let go.