Two receivers, a goofy little antenna, and my lovely business card holder

The Stream+ receiver sitting atop its older brother, the DVR+.

During CES this January, I thought I heard a tinge of sadness when Channel Master executive vice president Joe Bingochea explained that his freshly launched, Android TV-based Stream+ relied on Google’s Live Channels app for its live TV and DVR functionality. At the time, I chalked it up to the bittersweet necessity of discarding the work that his company had done to create a pretty good DVR for its slightly older device, the DVR+. Looking back on it today, I’m not so sure.

I wanted the Stream+ to be great. Scratch that – I expected the Stream+ to be great, which is why I bought it on the day it was announced. Pairing Channel Master’s DVR expertise with Android TV’s wealth of apps was bound to be a huge upgrade over the limited over-the-top channels available on the DVR+. After weeks of delays, a Stream+ arrived on my doorstep on Monday. I’m sad to say that it is not yet great.

Google’s Live Channels has its benefits, such as episode descriptions within its program guide, but it has serious drawbacks compared to the DVR+. As Sebastian at Cord Cutting Helper pointed out in a review of that app, the program guide is limited to about 48 hours and cannot be searched. For a recording in progress, you can’t watch the beginning until the entire recording is finished.

Channel Master’s Stream+ support pages also blame Google often enough, with their frequent postscript, “Channel Master is not responsible for ‘Live Channels’ functions or issues. All Guide data, logos, and images are provided by Google. Any Guide data issues & questions, and bugs should be reported to Google.” Channel Master’s lengthy Known Issues page lists a bunch of problems and feature requests related to the Android TV OS and the Live Channels app while pointing out that its hardware appears to be fine. And don’t get me wrong, I believe everything Channel Master says about it.

On the other hand, no one’s offered a clear reason why Netflix isn’t available on the Stream+. On the Air TV Player, a very similar box also made by Technicolor but for Sling TV, Netflix is so integrated that it has a button on the remote. On the Stream+, Netflix doesn’t show up in the app store. Even after I sideloaded the latest version, the Netflix app refused to run, reporting that it was “not compatible with your device” even as the Who’s watching Netflix? screen loaded in the background.

(Bingochea also said he wished that the Amazon Prime app was available, but that appears to be a problem with most Android TVs including the Air TV Player. Unlike Netflix, the Amazon Prime app ran just fine after I sideloaded it.)

I have a few more minor quibbles with the Stream+. It’s recommendation bar is dominated by a link to a short YouTube video advertisement for the Stream+, which seems pointless in a post-purchase setting. Adjacent to the Live Channels is a Channel Master app; when clicked, it’s only message is Coming Soon. And on a personal level, the DVR+ knew the codes to control my five-year-old, admittedly off-brand TV/monitor, and so did the Air TV Player, but the Stream+ remote didn’t.

Now that I’ve got the griping out of my system, I need to also point out the good things about the Stream+. It has a Micro SD slot for recordings because one of the Known Issues about Live Channels is that the “External USB hard drive intermittently disconnects”. An external USB drive is cheaper per gigabyte than a Micro SD card, but the added slot shows that Channel Master wanted to find a hardware workaround for what it thinks is a Google bug. (I’ve also heard it whispered that an external USB drive usually works okay, which speaks to CM’s commitment to reliability.)

That wealth of Android TV apps remains Stream+’s biggest advantage over the small, fixed collection of internet TV channels in the DVR+. Its technical specs match up well against those of the Air TV Player’s, particularly its two internal tuners compared to the single USB tuner made for the Air TV Player, which uses a USB drive for recordings.

Two of those Android TV apps that I loaded are for Tablo and HDHomeRun’s DVR. Both of these OTA DVRs require separate hardware plus subscription fees, and both are a clear step above Live Channels. Like every other non-Netflix app I tried, they worked fine on the Stream+.

As I type, the Air TV Player is $130 (and includes a $50 Sling credit) and shipping today; the Stream+ is $150 and only available as a pre-order. For now, if you can get by with a single tuner (a big if!), and if you believe that Air TV’s DVR will remain free after its beta period is over, the Air TV Player is a better deal.

I definitely sympathize with Channel Master’s choices. Without subscription income, the DVR+’s homegrown Linux-based system was probably going to be a dead end. The natural way to provide a full spectrum of TV options was to embrace the equally free Android TV OS and Live Channels. The currently empty Channel Master app and the (hopefully?) placeholder YouTube video suggest that improvements are in the pipeline. The Stream+ has the potential for greatness, and I hope it gets there soon.

An antique clock in a glass jarAs I prepare for the short Daylight Saving weekend (pictured), I notice that over at TechHive, Jared Newman addressed a topic I mention too rarely – some TV viewers are not good candidates for cord-cutting. Newman is mostly on the mark but I think I can do better.

Let’s start with the reasons Newman gave. Your must-have channel list is too long. That deserves the top spot, because if you can’t live without channels X, Y, and Z, then you need a service or combination of services that will deliver them all. I would add that this is an opportunity for reflection whether that set of channels is really worth that much money to you.

Your DVR needs are too particular. Some over-the-top services are fussy about which channels can be recorded and for how long. Over-the-air channels require a device or service to record them. In general, I doubt this is the deal-breaker very often.

You have lots of TVs used simultaneously. This situation is made for live OTA TV. But if you rely on OTT services, they allow a finite number of streams. Then again, supplying a house with a half-dozen different shows at once is going to be pricey no matter how you go about it unless it’s with OTA antennas.

Your ISP still gives you a great TV deal. Except for short-term promotional offers, I don’t see such great bundle deals any more. Though internet service providers are important, as I’ll explain in a minute.

You fear change. That sounds harsh, but if you widen this just a little to say that you don’t want the hassle of changing how you get TV, then that’s more understandable.

I’ve got three more reasons why some households aren’t good candidates for cord-cutting. You can’t get good OTA reception. This might be the case if you live in an apartment in the basement or on the side of the building opposite the broadcast towers. It’s also true for customers living on the edge … of a TV market. Some of the OTT services will sell some of those stations in some markets, but for the full breadth of local OTA channels, you may need cable or pay-TV satellite.

Your ISP has usage caps. Although the need for them is questionable at best, usage caps are spreading to more cable-TV territories. They’re an excellent way for cable companies to generate more income while herding viewers to their own zero-rated content. If you’ll watch enough OTT TV to start bumping into those caps, it might not be worth switching.

You can’t get decent broadband. As of last summer, 34 million Americans lacked access to broadband internet service. Some of them get their TV via satellite, either pay-TV or free-to-air or both. Until that broadband gap gets filled, they’ve got no good cord-cutting alternative.

Most of the time, cord-cutting becomes a lifestyle choice. When someone gives up $5 lattes, it’s usually not because they can get them for $2.50 somewhere else. It’s usually because they pondered the question of whether the money they were spending could be used better elsewhere. A lot of cord-cutters aren’t looking for cheaper alternatives; they’re deciding what they no longer need to buy.

Sinclair Broadcast Group logoSeveral media outlets are reporting that Sinclair Broadcasting Group is requiring its local station news anchors to read promotional messages on air that complain about “biased and false news”. Fortune says that the script includes a passage, apparently to be read without irony, “some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’.”

This was the brilliant tactic of Fox News, to hammer away at the message that not only is it the best source of information, but that most other sources are not to be trusted. It was a great way to build ratings even if it sometimes misled its viewers about the motivations or veracity of other reports.

After running John Oliver’s take on Sinclair last Friday, I hadn’t expected to write about them again so soon. As I mentioned then, I’m more concerned about the displacement of true localism, though I find this discounting of other points of view very disturbing when it’s required reading for dozens of stations. As an old newspaper guy, I feel a certain affinity for the truth, for verifiable facts. This kind of “local” news won’t help us get there.

America One Television logo

The America One logo as it looked in 1996

Eleven Sports announced today that it has launched an over-the-top subscription channel on Twitch. I’m fascinated by Eleven’s third-tier sporting events, but a unique draw for me is its connections to the long-defunct America One broadcast TV network, which acted like a dot-two diginet even in its analog days.

America One launched in 1995, carried mostly part-time by a motley collection of LPTV, Class A, cable and satellite channels, plus the occasional full-power station. Its programming mirrored its affiliate list with a hodgepodge of old movies and inexpensive TV shows, backed with a few pioneering minor-league and oddball sports events, often shown live. America One was so pioneering that it was one of the first networks to offer online live video streaming back in the 1990s when that meant a postage-stamp window embedded in a browser. Always, it seemed to be flailing for viewers.

The network’s ownership went through a lot of changes. Wikipedia says it was launched by USFR Media Group. The Internet Archive shows that in 2001 it was purchased by US Farm & Ranch Supply Company. That isn’t mentioned in the Wikipedia article, which goes on to detail shareholder moves and holding company acquisitions in the 2000s. Meanwhile, the roster of sports grew to include the Canadian Football League, the ECHL, and the National Lacrosse League among many others.

In 2011, America One spun off One World Sports. At that point, both networks were owned by One Media Corporation, headed by the chairman of the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League. In addition to Cosmos games, One World picked up some of America One’s live sports programming. In its heyday, One World Sports had an impressive array of foreign and minor-league games. As I type, fuboTV still has a landing page devoted to One World Sports, which continues to illustrate how important it was to fuboTV.

By 2015, One Media Corp had sold America One to Center Post Networks, LLC, owner of Youtoo TV. In November 2016, the channel’s staff was furloughed as a cost-cutting measure, and a small set of recorded events started repeating every week. As Wikipedia put it, “In March 2017, the channel was quietly replaced on television providers by a new channel branded as Eleven Sports Network.” On March 16, Eleven announced “the acquisition of certain One World Sports’ distribution assets”. And almost a year later, it’s ready for OTT.

Through the years, I kept track of America One and its sports offspring because it was one of the few channels I could never get. It so happened that I was never in range of one of its broadcast affiliates, never had DirecTV, and could pick it up only fleetingly through my free-to-air satellite dish. By the time I subscribed to fuboTV in late 2016, One World Sports had already begun circling the drain. You can’t have everything, and America One will always be the one that got away.

Local construction distractions have grown so large that I’m taking a short break. Meanwhile, as the FCC investigates its own chairman to see whether his actions improperly benefitted Sinclair Broadcast Group, here’s John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight story from last July about Sinclair’s hands-on approach to local news. Whenever I hear the NAB talking about the benefits of localism, I think about iHeartMedia’s reportedly impending bankruptcy and Sinclair forcing stories down to all of its already huge station group. So how do we get back to true localism?