A wall of multi-colored sticky notesWhat a day! I’ve got very serious storm drain work going on outside my normally peaceful office, and from the beeping it sounds like an excavator is running slow, backward circles around the project. With my kid off at high school, I keep remembering the photo of that poor Florida dad wearing a Trump 2020 shirt while asking in vain about his daughter. I can’t find anything exciting or positive enough to overcome all that, so you’re getting a second helping of notes this week.

John Eggerton, the hardest working man in Washington, noted that the National Association of Broadcasters would like the FCC to tweak the retransmission consent / must-carry rule, by which unpopular channels can force themselves onto the cable dial while popular ones can hold their signal for ransom. Currently, the default is must-carry; a station that would prefer to negotiate for some cash has to formally notify cable systems and the like. The NAB would prefer to switch that default to retrans, in case one of its member stations fumbles the paperwork (it happens) and could lose out on that sweet, sweet retrans money. Never mind that the unpopular stations are the least likely to have the kind of staff to handle proactive paperwork to request must-carry status.

As mentioned by Jeff Baumgartner, sports-first OTT streamer fuboTV has added a Family Share option. For $6/month, instead of two simultaneous streams, a subscriber can add a third stream to share “with additional family members.” At some level, aren’t we all family? This was just a few days after fuboTV hooked up with a unit of Sears Holdings to offer cash back or rewards or something like that. Because nothing says forward-thinking like a close relationship with Sears.

And the diginet Bounce announced today that it had swung a deal with The Wendy Williams Show to broadcast episodes in prime time the same day that they ran in syndication during the day on local stations. The press release said, “The deal represents the first-ever repurposed programming arrangement done by a new-generation broadcast network, also known as a multicast network.” I see this as another sign that a lot of people don’t have over-the-air TV DVRs, because if they did, why wouldn’t they just record the afternoon show?

Next week, more rest, fewer distractions, less snark. I hope.

CW logoMichael Malone at Broadcasting & Cable wrote this afternoon that the CW will expand its programming to six nights a week including Sunday evenings. At 12 hours a week, it’s still not a full-fledged network, but at least we’ll get a couple more hours of fresh programming broadcast over the air.

YouTube TV looks a lot more attractive to me now that it has added the Turner networks, as reported by FierceCable’s Ben Munson. Beginning March 13, the price will rise from $35/month to $40, but before then subscribers can lock in that $35 rate. There are also reports that MLB Network will become available. Now if it can add Comedy Central, then I might think about switching.

Finally, Alan Wolk at Decider wrote yesterday that over-the-top services such as Sling and YouTube TV, though not exactly “cord-cutting” according to his strict definition, are “poised to take over the world.” Jeff Baumgartner of Multichannel News had estimates of all the OTT providers, with Sling leading at 2.3 million subscribers and DirecTV Now second at 1.2 million. However, Netflix has about 55 million subscribers in the US alone, so we might need to wait a while before OTT completes that world takeover.

Scissors cutting a cable in front of a video screen

© paulmhill / Depositphotos

Huffington Post’s Todd Van Luling ran an article yesterday about the 5 Cable-Cutting Problems You Probably Didn’t Think About. They’re worth considering, though most of those problems could have been easily prevented. Go ahead and read that article first, then come back for the rebuttal.

1. The new live services have buffering issues. Yes, DirecTV Now and Hulu have had well-publicized problems, but Sling with its earlier launch seems to have figured that one out after its first couple of months.

2. It’s impossible to get every channel you had before. Most of the comments were about trouble with local channels because of bad over-the-air TV reception. The lesson here is not to return to cable, it’s to upgrade your OTA reception.

3. Streaming live sports can be particularly tricky. (See also #1.) The three comments were, in essence: My husband needs the local channels, We have (an OTA) antenna but it’s flaky, and We were watching the Super Bowl on Hulu when it puked. In other words, it’s another problem that would be solved mainly with a good OTA antenna.

4. Internet problems can mess with streaming. This is the most important issue of the five. If you cut the cord and want to stream over-the-top services, you need reliable internet service with decent bandwidth. You’re stuck if your internet provider fails, but that’s also true for cable viewers when their provider has problems.

5. You might have to fight your cable company. Well, yes, some cable companies are notoriously stubborn about cancelling service. Yet every month thousands of subscribers manage to complete the process.

Also, content libraries shift. What you want next month may have left Netflix, but if your heart is set on a given movie or show, buying or renting it online is still cheaper than a big cable bundle. And I think that points to another mindshift that’s helpful to a cable-cutter – even when that one program isn’t available, there’s always something else that is.

To summarize my perspective, if you want to drop pay-TV, the first order of business is to get a great OTA antenna positioned for maximum reliability and channel selection. Second is to line up really good broadband internet access. Then if you want some of those old channels, my current recommendation is Sling, which has the best price and few issues. That might be different a year from now as lineups shift and the other OTT services mature. The video disruption experiment continues.

Corporation for Public Broadcasting logoThis is depressing. Just a couple of weeks ago, an FCC commissioner wanted to revisit educational program requirements for broadcast TV stations, pointing to local PBS stations as the proper substitute. Today, the president’s proposed 2019 budget eliminates funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which subsidizes those local PBS stations.

As described by Ted Johnson in Variety, the previous year’s budget tried the same trick, but fortunately “funding survived, which is a testament to just how much of a wish-list the White House budget really is, as opposed to something that will actually gain traction on Capitol Hill.”

Patrick Butler, president and CEO of America’s Public Television Stations, said he hoped that Washington would see that “we provide the only preschool education for more than half of America’s children, that we are the backbone of public safety communications networks at the local, state and national levels, and that we do more to equip America’s citizens to do the hard work of democracy than anyone else.”

I’m surprised that anyone has to explain this, but education is a societal investment. Kids with hope and knowledge grow up to become productive taxpayers. Kids who see no way out become unhappy burdens to society. Let’s hope that Congress again recognizes that a small outlay today can prevent huge outlays for years to come.

NBC PyeongChang 2018 Olympics logoSpeaking of 1992, as I was just a few days ago, in that same winter I participated in a survey about a special cable-TV package for the Olympics that was coming up that summer. Of the possible names, I picked the Olympics Triplecast, which was what NBC went with. They thought that two million households would pay $95 or more to see three channels of live coverage from Barcelona rather than waiting for prime-time, tape-delayed Olympics programming for free. Only about 200,000 subscribers paid for what the Philadelphia Inquirer called “the biggest marketing disaster since New Coke”.

Which brings me around to the 2018 Winter Olympics, which begin in a couple of days, and how to watch. Most the options are based on one question: What parts do you want to watch, and how much are you willing to pay to watch them? Maybe that’s two questions.

The Tablo blog suggests that you might be able to get by with free over-the-air TV, especially if it’s recorded on your Tablo receiver. But NBC will be sharing Olympics coverage with some of its other pay-TV channels. As broken down by Sports Illustrated, NBC will offer 176 hours of events during the 18-day PyeongChang games, NBC Sports Network will have 369(!) hours, and USA Network and CNBC will fill in a bit with 40 and 46 hours respectively. (Ironically, NBC’s Olympics channel will have no event coverage, just a few hours a day of news and highlights.)

Among streaming services, Sling TV Blue will give you NBC Sports Network and USA for just $25/month. CNBC is part of Sling Blue’s News Extra add-on, another $5/month, so you could see whether those few events are worth it to you. DirecTV Now makes that choice for you, including all three in its most basic Live A Little package at $35/month. Ditto for YouTube TV‘s standard $35/month plan. Fubo TV has all three in its basic $45/month tier.

Then there’s Hulu. Its $40/month “Live TV experience” includes all of those networks and access to its library of TV shows and movies. Mallory Locklear of Engadget reported that Hulu Live customers will be able to build a personalized schedule of the events they care about. “For example, users selecting luge and freestyle skiing as their favorites will see coverage of those events appear up top in the Olympic Winter Games section of the Hulu UI.”

Compared to the Triplecast, today’s over-the-top streaming viewers get more coverage for less than half the cost, not even considering inflation. If I don’t need to watch the Olympics live, then recording broad swathes of NBC on my Tablo would probably work, letting me skip past the puff pieces and the sports I don’t want to watch. On the other hand, I’m really happy with my basic Sling Blue subscription, and I’ll find out just how much curling and ice hockey it will give me.