The United Nations declared November 21 as World Television Day, and 2016 marks the 20th anniversary of that celebration. We free-to-air enthusiasts should feel a special pride in that recognition, since we can see TV from over a dozen countries using just a medium-sized satellite dish here in North America.

As the UN puts it, “World Television Day is not so much a celebration of the tool, but rather the philosophy which it represents. Television represents a symbol for communication and globalization in the contemporary world.” Personally, I see it as a corollary to Mark Twain’s quote “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” When you can see that the game shows in Portugal look about the same as ours or that the news readers from Saudia Arabia use pretty much the same format, it’s a subtle reminder that all of us humans are, y’know, just people.

Advanced Television has a nice rundown of the impact of television in various countries around the world. And the European Broadcasting Union created a special commemorative video that I embedded at the top of this post. I feel a special affinity to European broadcasting right now. I’ll explain more in a few days.

Cartoon figure reclining and watching televisionThe Video Advertising Bureau released its latest State of Digital Video report (PDF), and none of its results are very surprising to anyone who’s been paying attention. Going by the number of minutes watched, 89% of video viewing was on a television set, 10% on a desktop computer, and only 1% on a smartphone. If you go by monthly reach, 93% watched TV but 83% used a smartphone. That just makes sense; no one uses their phone to settle in for a binge.

The VAB report also says that the smart TV is the fastest growing platform. If you drop by a Walmart or Target, it’s easy to see why; at least half of the TVs on the shelf are smart, and at competitive prices.

On the other hand, fewer people use desktop computers on the internet, and it looks like most of them switched to smartphones. Which is why I had to revamp this blog and to be mobile-friendly.

I could go on about all the info-nuggets from the infographics of the 33-page report, but if you’re curious, you really should go read the PDF!

Logos for DVR+ and VuduVudu released some great news for Channel Master DVR+ owners. Now Vudu will offer thousands of ad-supported feature films to view for free. That’s true on all of Vudu’s platforms, but it’s an especially good match on the DVR+,  which doesn’t require a monthly subscription fee for its guide data.

According to an article in Variety, the plan is to squeeze a little revenue out of some of the older films on Vudu’s virtual shelf. I’m also guessing it’s a way to bring in a lot more viewers who might be persuaded to pay a few dollars to rent the latest Hollywood blockbuster. “There’s no better value than free,” said Jeremy Verba, VP and GM of Vudu. “We see a gap in the marketplace for watching free HD movies on-demand.”

Vudu has been on the DVR+ for a long time now, but every title had to be purchased or rented. (Vudu also regularly offers TV pilots that can be “purchased” for free.) With YouTube and over a dozen other digital channels, it’s a strong incentive for DVR+ owners to plug into the internet. With a good set of broadcast channels, there’s no need to pay for entertainment.

NCTA logoThe former National Cable and Telecommunications Association (recently renamed “NCTA – The Internet & Television Association”, complete with dash)  has canceled its venerable The Cable Show trade show (renamed “INTX: the Internet and Television Expo” a couple of years ago) a few months after scheduling it in April 2017 directly opposite the NAB Show. I held my tongue when they thought INTX was supposed to wrest NAB attendees away, and I barely restrained myself when NCTA renamed itself to something without those initials but included them anyway. Now this. Just wow.

NCTA has a long history of renaming itself. A small group of community antenna companies organized in 1951 to form the National Community Television Council, then renamed it to National Community Television Association just a few months later. In 1968, the group changed to the National Cable Television Association. Trying to work “internet” into its title somehow, NCTA renamed in 2001 as the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. Then earlier this month came that hyphened mess that makes the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim sound reasonable.

There’s also a lot of good in NCTA’s history. It created the Cable Ace awards at a time when only broadcast shows were eligible for Emmys. The Cable Show ran for over 60 years, and I now wish I’d had the time to drop in on one of them. Instead, they’re just walking away. As reported in Variety, NCTA president and CEO Michael Powell said in a statement, ““We believe large trade show floors, dotted with exhibit booths and stilted schedules have become an anachronism. … Ending INTX gives us a clean slate and we are excited to explore presenting our industry in new and different ways.”

I remember when COMDEX ended its run when it announced it wouldn’t hold a show in 2004. I’ve still got the program from a few years earlier when it seemed that the computer trade show would run forever. This feels about the same. RIP, The Cable Show.

Thumbnails of dozens of TV shows

The typical Tablo TV show display screen

It’s a fun perk of most pay-TV subscriptions to have access to a bunch of on-demand programming. It’s nice to flip through the listings and find something worth watching, even if it usually comes with unskippable advertising. (Ditto for Crackle and other free, ad-supported services.)

But I’ve found a way to use an over-the-air TV DVR (such as Tablo or DVR+) to build a better version of the on-demand vault. All it takes is sufficient hard drive space and about a half hour of planning every week. My secret is to record every movie, show, and sporting event that I think I might want to watch any time in the future.

With the Tablo, it’s pretty easy. After the app spends some time syncing up with the receiver, I start by checking OTA sports, typically a sad little list. Then channel by channel, I sift through available TV shows and movies. (Bonus points if a movie is on the local PBS station. On Spanish-language channels, anything but sports is out.) Along the way, I tell the DVR to record this and that, which usually adds up to more TV than I have time to watch in a month.

The DVR+ isn’t quite as friendly, though its guide data doesn’t require a subscription like Tablo’s. In this case, I fire up TitanTV and go to the custom broadcast channel grid that I created earlier. Then I click on each channel and thumb through its three-day program grid. When I see something I want to record, I search DVR+ for the title and set the recording.

Both DVRs use external USB hard drives, and it’s great that they’re coming down in price. There’s no good excuse any more for getting a portable drive that’s less than 1 terabyte, and you should probably spend a little more to get a 2 TB drive. That’ll hold a huge library of shows that your DVR recorded while you didn’t even notice. (For example, my 2 TB drive currently holds over a dozen sporting events, over 200 movies, and close to 1000 TV episodes.)

The best part is when you get a chance to sit down and watch something from the weeks’ accumulation of shows. It’s just like an on-demand library except it won’t contain anything you hate. And once you start watching, you’ll be free to jump past any commercials. Maintenance is easy; when you discover that a particular show wasn’t worth the dozen episodes you requested, just delete them to free up space for the next potential binge.

When I pull up my long list of recordings and the wife asks, “What’s all that trash?,” I don’t mind. It’s better to record a show that I’ll never watch than to wish for entertainment and not have enough. Besides, she’s used to me by now.