Playboy and other filthon continues to look more like a brainstorming session than a service. (How long was it in beta? A whole year?) A couple of days after lowering its rate to less than $5, FilmOn raised it back to $9.95/month. And it returned its previous set of adult channels, including Playboy and a few “Filthon” offerings, for an extra $5/month.

In addition to these broad changes, there were also more of the now-typical addition and subtraction of regular channels. This time, TVE – Spain is out. The MyNetwork affiliate for Los Angeles, KCOP, is in. And FilmOn added US Armenia, plopped right in the middle of the over-the-air broadcast channels. Maybe that means that US Armenia has an OTA sub-channel in LA?

In one news story, FilmOn founder Alki David said that he had a deal with Playboy, though not with the big four broadcast networks. Along those lines, David said in a Reuters interview that he’s prepared for a fight.

Anyway, I’m tired of writing about all these FilmOn changes. Suffice it to say that if you’re interested in possibly subscribing, go to the site to see the latest channel chart and price. They’ve probably changed since I started typing this.

It’s easy after the fact to say you knew this was going to happen. But I just knew this was going to happen. According to a report by, Qualcomm is going to pull the plug on FLO TV.

I’m often reminded of what Dish CEO Charlie Ergen said at a CES a couple of years ago about Sling — maybe it’s not a good standalone product, but it’s a great feature. That’s what I always thought about FLO TV. As an added feature to a good smartphone, that’s some nifty technology. As a pricy standalone, subscription-based TV service, it’s an answer looking for its question.

* Quick moron joke: A guy asks his moron buddy whether he left his car’s blinkers on. The moron looks out the window and says, “Yes. No. Yes. No.”

That’s the way I feel trying to keep track of FilmOn’s rapidly evolving service. It dropped its adult content option. It dropped KTLA. It showed KCET (PBS) among its offerings, but never streamed it when I looked. (In any case, KCET is gone now.) It dropped ABC and KCAL, then put them back. And best of all, FilmOn dropped its price to a more competitive $4.99/month.

Finally, FilmOn got sued by the big four networks. The billionaire behind the service, Alki David, had an interesting interview at TVNewsCheck, where he said he has a “cavalier attitude” towards copyrights. I think I know what’s going to happen, and my only question is when.

* Meanwhile, my favorite personal streamer,, keeps on streaming. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my opinion is that even if ivi wins its court cases, Congress will then change the copyright law to put them out of business. I asked the ivi folks about what they see as an alternative to this bleak (for them) scenario, and all I got back was that they were “very optimistic” about their future. But they did take down the Research Channel slot the day after I told them that it had gone off the air.

The reason I care about internet-based TV is that it’s a likely candidate to be the primary TV delivery system within 20 years. As bandwidth approaches infinite capacity at minimal cost, more TV will be sent through the internet. Satellite and terrestrial broadcasters now enjoy huge economies of scale in reproducing shows, particularly live events, to millions of simultaneous viewers. That advantage will diminish as new technologies and higher speeds come online. Everything changes.

Update: There’s a comment here that looks and sounds like it’s from the founder of, Todd Weaver. (It takes a few days to get a conclusive retina scan.) So go read the comments. Oh, and I forgot to mention earlier, here’s a short news story with a lawyer who says there’s no law against viewers watching streaming TV. I feel better about watching these streams already.

FilmOn LogoLast week, stirred up a minor media storm by publicly launching an application for streaming a couple dozen Seattle and New York over-the-air (OTA) broadcast channels (and a few others), then asking a court to declare that it is playing correctly by the copyright rules. Now it’s time for Round 2.

This week, took a different approach. It also announced that it’s available to the full public, rather than just a beta group. It requires a different application for users to watch streamed channels, including six Los Angeles OTA broadcasters. But FilmOn, which says it’s been in beta for about a year, makes no special claim of staying within the rules, although you’d hope that it’s legal.

FilmOn offers those six, plus a collection of minor cable channels, for $9.95/month, which is about twice ivi’s current price. FilmOn also offers an add-on pack of Playboy TV and several “FilthOn” channels for an additional $5/month.

Unlike ivi’s peer-to-peer application, FilmOn’s app did not make my Windows firewall bark, so it might not be p2p-based. (I allowed the firewall to block outgoing traffic, but ivi still runs okay.) You can use the FilmOn app for about a minute before it asks for a subscription login.

Maybe I hit it at a bad time, but this morning, the supposed NBC affiliate feed showed its weather channel, and CBS was a black screen. Both recovered this afternoon, but unless I was looking for a cheap Playboy TV subscription, I think two sets of broadcasters for half the cost makes ivi a better choice. Assuming that both survive for any serious length of time.

Update: Broadcasting & Cable’s John Eggerton tells me that the broadcasters have filed a counter-suit against in New York. But for now, both services are still streaming.

ivitv logoThere’s a new internet startup called ivi TV that is streaming 27 over-the-air (OTA) channels from New York City and Seattle. It has only three downsides: it uses peer-to-peer technology, it costs $4.99 a month after a free trial, and it’s unlikely to survive into 2011. I’d say the odds are better than 50-50 that it’s gone before Halloween.

ivi is trying to dance on the edge of two different US laws. On one hand, it wants to be treated as a cable operator by relying on a piece of copyright law that allows cable systems to retransmit OTA signals so long as they pay statutory licensing fees. On the other hand, it doesn’t want to be subject to the FCC, which requires cable and satellite companies to negotiate retransmission fees for OTA channels.

In less than a week, ivi has received cease and desist letters from NBC-Universal, CBS, Disney, ABC, The CW Television Stations, Inc., Fox Television, Major League Baseball, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, WGBH,, and more. So yesterday, ivi filed a preemptive Complaint for Declaratory Judgment of Copyright Noninfringement in US District Court in Seattle.

Hardly anyone ever mentions this, but there is one way for viewers to pay for distant, out-of-market OTA stations, if only a few of them. The latest renewal of STELA, the legislation that enables Dish Network and DirecTV to retransmit local signals back to local markets, also renewed the old, odd grandfathered status of the five legally defined superstations: KTLA, Los Angeles; KWGN, Denver; WSBK, Boston; and WWOR and WPIX, New York. Dish viewers can pay a little to subscribe to any or all of these stations. In turn, Dish pays a set amount to a pool which is redistributed to copyright owners. Local stations who have exclusive rights within their markets to certain syndicated shows can ask Dish to block those shows on the superstations, but few stations bother, probably because so few Dish viewers subscribe to them.

Back to ivi. I’d dearly love to have out-of-market OTA channels available to me, and I think that ivi could pay a flat fee to the copyright office as described in the law. The superstations show that you can build a fair framework for this sort of thing. I could even point out the local broadcasters’ public service duty they owe for using scarce, valuable spectrum. But I don’t believe it’ll happen.

If you’ve been using the internet long enough, maybe you remember That was a Canadian company that, in late 1999, wanted to take advantage of the law in Canada that allows anyone to retransmit any OTA signal in exchange for a small payment to a copyright pool. iCraveTV started streaming postage-stamp-sized Real Video feeds from its antennas in Vancouver and Toronto. Which could pick up all of the Canadian OTA stations, plus those from Seattle and Buffalo. The usual suspects in the US hit the ceiling and started suing. iCraveTV tried to restrict its viewers to Canadians, without much success. Eventually, despite having a good chance of eventually winning in Canadian courts, iCraveTV folded. (Cnet has a great postmortem interview with iCraveTV’s founder.)

It was a smart move for ivi to try to get that judgement of noninfringement. If it fails, the founders can cut their losses right away. If it succeeds, ivi may have a few months to build up some cash flow (at thousands of users x $5) to pay to defend the lawsuits that the deep-pocketed entertainment companies will surely rain down on them. If ivi continues to survive in court, those entertainment companies will turn to Congress to fix the copyright act, and that will be the end of that.

(Since I have an unusual interest in TV listings, I wonder whether someone might go after ivi just for its excellent program guide. Where does ivi get that information? There’s no way that all of those stations are cooperating. So either ivi has licensed the listings information from one of the large listing services or, well, they haven’t.)

Sadly, I can’t imagine that ivi will thrive in the long run. But as Keynes put it so well, in the long run, we’re all dead. We can enjoy ivi for as long as it’s legal and alive. No matter how short a time that is.

Update: Responding to this post, an ivi tv spokesman said that the iCraveTV legal battle doesn’t apply to ivi. I’d say there are obvious differences, but I expect the same kind of legal firestorm nonetheless. The spokesman also noted that just as satellite companies had to go through a legal process to eventually retransmit locals, this is the beginning of the same kind of process for internet-based OTA delivery. But I’d point out that with few exceptions, OTA channel rebroadcasts are still restricted to their local markets.

I sincerely hope that ivi is as legal as they say it is, and the TV revolution it could bring makes a fun thought experiment, at least. Is it possible for ivi to get so popular that Congress would refrain from killing it? Let’s see if we get that far.

Ocean wave“Something’s comin’ up
And I don’t know what it is
Something’s comin’ up
And I don’t know where it’s gonna take me” –Barry Manilow

My apologies for starting a post with a Barry Manilow lyric. There’s a similar snippet in West Side Story, but that one is more optimistic. “Something’s Comin’ Up” matches what I see – the video viewing world will be much different 10 years from now, but no one knows exactly how it will look. Whether it will be good or bad for us viewers will depend on a lot of factors, especially how fast your internet connection will be.

First comes an amazing story published by Advertising Age. According to report from Horizon Media, the median age for prime-time broadcast TV viewers has gone up by four years during the last four years. That means that there were only as many new, young viewers added as there were older viewers who died. The same median almost-47 year old in 2006 kept watching and became the median almost-51 year old today. (Props to Tod Sacerdoti for mentioning the report on his blog.)

Think about it. This means that very few young people care about broadcast TV. But they do care about the internet. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski seems to be recognizing and anticipating this shift, finding wireless internet spectrum from mobile satellite services and setting his sights on taking a chunk away from broadcast TV. The broadcasters are fighting hard against this idea even though they’d get paid for relinquishing the space and that, well, they don’t actually own those pieces of spectrum in the first place.

Second, there’s Nielsen’s Law of Internet Bandwidth: A high-end user’s connection speed grows by 50% per year. It used to be crazy to think that every home user could get any channel he wanted, live or on demand, via IP. Now with ever-faster speeds and load-balancing, widely distributed content servers, that’s not so crazy. It used to be easy to say that satellite broadcasting offered the least expensive way to simultaneously reach hundreds of millions of live viewers. At some point, an IP-based delivery system will be cheaper. Already, PBS has announced it will shift some of its non-real-time program delivery from satellite to IP.

Third, more households are cutting back or dropping traditional pay-TV services. A report from Yankee Group said that one in eight would at least cut back in 2010. Add in anecdotal evidence of viewers who are switching to broadcast HDTV with dozens of channels in most markets. With an increasing minority of broadcast TV viewers, maybe it’s not so simple to predict the end of over-the-air TV.

(Or maybe we can anyway. At least one federal spectrum reallocation plan suggested free lifeline cable TV for soon-to-be-former OTA viewers. One TV repeater district servicing far-flung households in rural Nevada suggested switching everyone there to satellite pay-TV.)

So what does it all mean for FTA satellite? Leave a comment and tell me. Meanwhile, I’ve got one crazy prediction that I’ll save for my next post.