illustration of a television with a sad face

© / Matthew Cole

Here at FTABlog, we’ve followed’s short rise to fame. We marveled at its ability to bring every over-the-air channel from its host cities to every viewer across the country. We subscribed to its monthly service when it was available. We even used it to watch Jeopardy from a faraway city. Then the big media companies with very deep pockets got the courts to agree that the very real copyright law loophole that ivi employed to justify its business plan wasn’t enough to override subsequent retransmission laws. Ivi gamely appealed its verdict, but today the Supreme Court declined to hear that appeal. It’s over.

All along, I said that the case was as if a Native American tribe had discovered an old treaty giving it ownership of what became Las Vegas, then showed it to the casinos and asked them to pay rent. I don’t care if the treaty had been notarized by President James Garfield, there’s enough money on the line that someone would find a way to invalidate it. Technically legal often isn’t enough.

And for one more metaphor, the original injunction against ivi was like a dear friend slipping into a coma. No one was optimistic about its recovery, but each further setback was still bad news. With the Supreme Court dropping the matter, it’s as though our friend has quietly passed away. Rest in peace, You are missed.

Update: The fine folks at GeekWire also weighed in on this legal end-of-the-road. According to GeekWire, ivi issued a statement (where?) about the decision: “TV is broken and stifling innovation isn’t going to fix it.  There’s too much at stake to allow copyright conglomerates to ruin the opportunity to gracefully innovate to new business models rather than facing utter demise. Did they learn nothing from the music industry? This is why the FCC must step up and take action.” Go read the whole GeekWire article.

FilmOn viewer screen shotYesterday, I said I’d tell you why I probably won’t renew my FilmOn subscription when it expires later this month. Let me start with some background.

Early in 2012, I took the plunge and paid for a year’s worth of FilmOn. It had an interesting set of channels, it included a USB over-the-air antenna to supplement them, and it wasn’t much more than $100. That’s a pretty good deal, but it got better. A couple of weeks later, as I was poking around to see what other channel packages were offered, FilmOn presented me with the option to add its British set for no added cost. Cool! I jumped on that, and I’ve been enjoying BBC, ITV and the rest ever since. I presume it was some database glitch that let me subscribe from the states, but I certainly didn’t complain.

On top of all that, as I wrote a couple of months ago, FilmOn added some New York over-the-air channels. The availability of those New York channels has been spotty, and I only see them on my internet browser; I can’t see them from my Android phone, iPhone, or Windows standalone player. But hey, I always love out-of-market over-the-air stations. And just within the last week or two, FilmOn also added my local Denver ABC, CBS, and NBC affiliates, though still no Fox.

Quick aside: There’s an old joke that says the moon is more important than the sun because the moon lights our way when it’s dark, but the sun only shines when it’s already bright outside. That’s the way I feel about TV stations; I can get the major networks anywhere, but the little networks on local sub-channels and low-powered stations are often harder to find. always carried every channel from each of its markets, and Aereo apparently carries every New York channel. I wish FilmOn would follow suit.

In addition to the local channels, FilmOn has added a ton of video podcasts. At first, they were all mixed in with the regular 24/7 channels, but now they’re labeled On Demand. Unfortunately, it appears that the podcast feeds don’t always update often; I’ve been seeing the same edition of the Onion News Network, from October 2012, every time I check.

In another change, FilmOn has positioned a great set of channels as free for anyone. The free channels include four from the UK (Yesterday, Challenge, 4 Music, and Sky News), any available local broadcast channels, and the majority of FilmOn’s regular networks. That makes a purchase decision more difficult, because I’d no longer be buying all the channels, I’d only be paying for the subset that I couldn’t otherwise watch for free. (FilmOn also offers a large, hoary set of movies on demand for subscribers only, but that’s not that appealing to this Netflix household.)

So now that renewal time draws near, I don’t see any offer that’s nearly as good as what I chose a year ago. Now the full package of channels is $199 per year. The New York locals are $99 per year, and if I thought I could rely on them, I’d be interested. And if I could somehow be certain that I’d keep my current full set of British channels for another year, I’d be interested. But in general, FilmOn changes so frequently that it’s hard to imagine what it will look like a year from now. Once (if?) FilmOn settles down, it’ll be easier for a prospective subscriber to judge just how much it’s worth.

Filmon LA logoIn a remarkable press release, FilmOn and its owner, Alki David, announced that the service now streams affiliates of the four major broadcast networks to seven markets. After suspending its major network feeds from Los Angeles and San Francisco (more on that in a moment), FilmOn offers the big four in New York, Dallas, Chicago, Miami, Washington, and Denver, and says it will add nine other cities in the next two weeks.

Way down in the 12th paragraph of the release, it finally mentions what the release’s headline screams, that David is suing Aereo for trademark infringement, saying that it’s too close to FilmOn’s over-the-air computer plugin, called the Aero. Now that’s burying the lede!

You really need to check out this rambling, oddly punctuated release. Here’s one paragraph, copied and pasted verbatim:

Personally I blame the lawyers said Mr. David. If it were not for their insatiable desire to create billable controversy we would not be in the situation where I have to spend my time and resources to punish them.

And it wraps up with a quoted assertion that “ has more content than Aero(sic) and Netflix combined”. Sure.

For a more impartial view of these events, check out Eriq Gardner’s story in today’s The Hollywood Reporter. According to Gardner, “The lawsuit represents a specialty of the eccentric David: revenge litigation. After he was sued by the broadcasters, for instance, he turned around and filed a lawsuit against CBS for facilitating piracy.” Gardner also notes that FilmOn lost an injunction, but it’s effective only in the area served by the Ninth Circuit of the US Court of Appeals. Which is why those California stations aren’t streaming.

Personally, my FilmOn subscription expires this month, and I probably won’t renew it. I’ll write more about why, including FilmOn’s recent content changes, tomorrow.

This week, I’ve been accumulating lots of news about streaming TV. None of it seemed worthy of a long post, but all of it’s worthwhile. Let’s start with this video, embedded to the right of these words, of Roku vice president of marketing Chuck Seiber speaking on a panel discussion at Streaming Media West. Seiber said, “As it turns out, people are pretty comfortable watching TV a certain way. Very established behavior and it’s pretty hard to change that.” The original article is at

More streaming notes:

The Super Bowl last Sunday was streamed as well as broadcast over the air. CBS claimed that the event was viewed through “nearly 10 million live video streams, up more than 100 percent from last year, resulting in a record 114.4 million minutes streamed, which was up 46 percent over last year’s game.” But Dan Rayburn wrote at the Streaming Media Blog that the online version had “really bad video quality, lots of pixelation and a stream that look(ed) to be encoded at less than 1Mbps.” Rayburn summed it up by saying, “For all the people who talk of streaming media technology supposedly replacing broadcast TV distribution, this is just another example of many where one webcast can’t even be delivered to a small audience with HD video, or a reliable user experience.” Go read the rest!

Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro wrote an op-ed piece for USA Today with more about the CNet/CBS Best of Show disaster. I already wrote about most of the details, but this is the first I’d heard that the Hopper Sling had been the unanimous choice of the CNet editors before CBS butted in. Shapiro asserted that through this action, CBS destroyed its reputation and that of CNet. It also brought more attention to Dish’s new product than a relatively quiet Best of Show award.

On a related note, CBS also blocked CNet from reporting on Aereo, another company that CBS is suing. The Verge has the full report on that story, which seques to …

Jeff John Roberts just wrote a report for GigaOm from the inside of Aereo’s transcoding plant in Brooklyn. There are plenty of photos of the setup, including Aereo’s servers and proprietary transcoding devices. Go see how it works!


Giant Onkyo Headphones in front of the Gibson tentIt’s been just two weeks since I walked through an unusually blustery Las Vegas wind to visit the outdoor Central Plaza at the International CES. The Gibson tent had a 15-foot wide pair of “Onkyo headphones” at its entrance. As I paused in its sweet spot, alone in the cold, huge twin speakers thumped out a glorious, full-bodied rendition of Steely Dan’s “Do It Again”. That’s my favorite memory of the show this year.

Here are a few more odds and ends from CES 2013:

  • I was going to make this a post by itself, but I figured that you’d heard enough about streaming non-directed channels versus on-demand programming. At CES, I had a great conversation with Jennifer Baisch of iStreamPlanet. She explained how her company handled the 2012 Olympics streams with no problems, but iStreamPlanet also has clients that broadcast 24/7. The next day, I talked with a guy from a major streaming device company who didn’t want me to quote him. He said that cord-cutting is overblown, and that the overwhelming percentage of viewers continue to subscribe to pay TV. Over-the-top internet-based delivery makes a great complement to that, he said, and it will continue to co-exist with the traditional cable model. Maybe I was hasty in shutting down my streaming channel. If I come up with a compelling reason to program a new one, I’ll do it.
  • On Monday’s press day at the Mandalay Bay, the press facilities were simply overwhelmed. CES likes to say that it issues more press credentials than the Super Bowl, and when all those people cram into one large room, it’s not good. I was just leaving to get some fresh air when I spotted a flier advertising Nokia’s press hospitality suite upstairs. I went up there and enjoyed a half hour of peace and quiet, rehydrating while my phone recharged. Many thanks to Nokia for providing that oasis in the desert.
  • To me, what makes CES worth it is not the products I see, it’s the people I meet. My favorite this time was entrepreneur and Wired editor Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, Free, and his latest, Makers. Anderson gave a nice presentation on Makers at the American Express OPEN booth, always a great place to get good business ideas.
  • I warned you about the iPhone cases. If I said I counted each and every one of them, I’d be lying, but doing the math, I’m sure there were at least 100,000 of them physically present at CES. They were in every hall, in big booths and tiny booths, occasionally under water, but more often in long rows and columns. Here are just a couple photos of them. I have more.


That wraps it up for me. If you want a really long post with a lot more product profiles, go visit Robert J. Elisberg’s post on his CES trip. I completely agree with everything he says up to his ninth paragraph. Unlike Robert, I was brave enough to visit Central Hall. Twice!