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?

Close-up of icons

OTA recordings show an antenna symbol, while Sling’s show a cloud

Finally finding a use for the second USB port in back, and answering my occasional complaint here, Sling announced yesterday that it has added a DVR for over-the-air TV to its AirTV Player. It’s just a beta for now, but it’s open to all AirTV Player users, at least the ones who hear about it. I first noticed it in a story by Jeff Baumgartner at Multichannel News, although I later found the press release at PR Newswire (registration required). But I never saw an email from Sling or AirTV about it.

As its information page explains, there are still plenty of caveats to this early OTA beta. The USB hard drive has to be fast enough to handle HD recording, which means that most portable hard drives are good but many thumb drives are too slow. Viewers can’t watch a recording until it’s finished. Rescanning for local channels removes any pending recording requests. Buffered viewing, with pausing and rewinding, still isn’t available for live OTA TV. And the the AirTV uses a single OTA tuner, so viewers can’t watch one OTA show while recording another.

One plug in a USB port, showing the other USB port emptySpeaking of that tuner, I was amused by AirTV’s illustration (shown right) of where to plug in the USB hard drive. Looking at the unit from behind, they suggest the leftmost USB port, although mine is working fine in the right port. What’s missing from that picture is AirTV’s OTA tuner, which is a Hauppauge dongle that plugs into the other USB port. If you don’t have them both attached, you don’t have an OTA DVR.

In about 12 hours of testing, I couldn’t find any big problems yet. OTA recordings line up with cloud DVR recordings of Sling programming. They also populate the Continue Watching ribbon as appropriate. The guide appears to be Rovi-based, and shows everything scheduled for about six days forward. I couldn’t find anything through Search, but I can scroll over to any show I already know about, and the AirTV Player will allow series recording like a TiVo Season Pass.

This Local Channels DVR Service is free during the beta period, matching Channel Master’s DVR+ (which still supports Sling at the moment) and Stream+ (which “will be shipping here any day”). Despite the limitations of a single tuner, it’s a big step up for the AirTV Player. We’ll see whether the finished product will be enough to make it the cord-cutters’ favorite.

View of the infield during a baseball game

Philadelphia and Toronto – two of the teams that will appear on WPIX’s Yankees and Mets broadcasts.

Friday’s post was about the excitement of watching some spring training baseball games on free-to-air satellite TV. Once the regular season arrives, FTA satellite dish owners will be just like most other American viewers, with almost no major league baseball games available on free broadcast TV.

Unless you live in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, your free-TV exposure to regular-season games will probably be limited to 10 Saturday games on Fox. WPIX in New York will carry 22 Mets games and 21 Yankees games. KTLA in Los Angeles starts with five Dodgers games, all before May 1. Last year, KTLA belatedly added a few more Dodgers games in September.

The big winner is Chicago. WGN plans 55 regular-season White Sox games while WLS, the ABC affiliate, will show 25 Cubs games. Having the Cubs on a station other than WGN just doesn’t feel right. I’ll get used to it.

Everyone else is pretty much out of luck. As I wrote two years ago, there are a few minor-league baseball teams that show local games, but most big-league teams squeeze every dollar by putting every possible game on a pay-TV regional sports network. Especially with the growth of cord-cutting and cord-nevers, I think they’re taking the short-term cash while blocking a new generation of potential fans. Let’s hope that one day some other teams will see the light.