Alki David's Twitter photo

@alkidavid‘s Twitter profile photo

Eriq Gardner at The Hollywood Reporter just published an amazing, solid biography of Alki David, the self-described eccentric behind FilmOn. It provides such an entertaining look into the background of David, the fun guy, and FilmOn, the company that is bucking a huge, entrenched industry.

Who knew, before this article, that Charlie Sheen, Ice-T, and Andy Dick are board members of FilmOn? Who knew about the reason David fired a supermodel from his new over-the-air station? There is such a wealth of interesting information here that you just have to read the article.

The part that leaves me wanting more is David’s quote that “We have deployed over 2.5 million (tiny OTA) antennas in major cities all around the country.” Wouldn’t it be great to get Aereo-style OTA channels available through FilmOn? I’m looking forward to it.

 

Simple.TV deviceYet another service that offers over-the-air channels streamed to internet devices is about to hit the market. This one looks legal, because it uses your home antenna.

Simple.TV is a great story. It showed off a prototype at the International CES in January, won a Best of CES award from CNET, then rode a successful Kickstarter project to create a finished product for consumers. You plug in your home OTA antenna and an ethernet connection, then it streams the shows to you wherever you are. Add a USB hard drive and it’ll even act as a DVR for you. All for the cost of the $150 device, although you might want to spring for the $4.99/month enhanced TV listing subscription.

Streaming this way isn’t completely new. You can hook up a Slingbox or a TiVo and get the same results with the right equipment. What’s new is that Simple.TV has brought that functionality down to a lower price point with a, dare I type this, simpler interface.

What fascinates me is that programmers don’t seem to care much about this kind of streaming, but they’re still battling hard against Aereo, which is only different in that it maintains the OTA antenna for you. Cablevision was the most recent company to dogpile on Aereo, submitting a brief that says Cablevision’s cloud-based DVR is nothing like Aereo’s because Cablevision paid retransmission fees. Yes, this is the same Cablevision that publicly suggested less than two years ago that any non-profit could freely retransmit any OTA channel. So you might want to take all that with a grain of salt.

Anyway, Simple.TV is supposed to begin shipping units this week. I hope it encourages more people to explore the wealth of programming they’re already getting for free.

Leslie EllisLeslie Ellis is the force behind Translation-Please.com, a great blog that discusses TV’s technical side in terms that we normal humans can understand. She’s also got a blog on Multichannel News, and that’s where she just posted a concise background piece about that TV bandwidth that lots of folks are fighting over.

How much bandwidth do you need for a channel? Why are channels set the way they are? What happens to them after they’re switched to carry data services instead? Leslie answers all these questions, so go read it!

MBC logoAs I mentioned in an earlier post, I spent a few days in Chicago last month. Every baseball fan should make a pilgrimage to Wrigley Field at least once. Nuff said.

Between my Wrigley tour and a game the next day, I had some time to spare. I happened to see a brochure for The Museum of Broadcast Communications just down the street from my hotel, so I went to check it out.

As a physical museum, MBC is a work in progress. The radio floor is laid out with a row of Radio Hall of Fame portraits and little else, but there are great old specimens of receiving equipment around the corner.

Upstairs on the TV floor, there are almost a dozen exhibits of old programming, but there’s arranged erratically. One is sports through the decades, another is children’s shows, another is sitcoms. But there’s no flow to the narrative, just different pull-outs of TV history, often Chicago-centric programming. There’s also a TV news setup in one room so you can try your luck at delivering a story from the anchor desk or a weather forecast in front of a green screen.

My guide at the museum kept showing me its different sections, and when we got to the TV area, he made it a point to mention that I really should check the archive of video that’s available online at Museum.TV, which happens to be the MBC’s web site. That archive was unavailable then, but a recent check showed that it’s a treasure trove now. MBC has hundreds of video clips available on demand. You have to register to view them, they’re pretty low-quality, and they use Windows Media Player, but this wealth of free TV history is just amazing. This feast for the TV historian gives me hope that the physical museum might get its act together too. Check it out!

Dyle screenshotThere’s an old fable about a dog lying in a manger. The dog can’t eat the hay in the manger, but it blocks the horse from eating. The moral: People frequently begrudge something to others that they themselves cannot enjoy.

So we turn our attention to Dyle, the latest flavor of mobile digital TV. As a service, it’s a dog. It uses TV station bandwidth to send a signal that only Dyle-approved devices can receive, and requires each device to be registered online to work. It’s using free bandwidth, but it only promises to remain free to viewers (which it ominously calls “subscribers”) through the end of 2012.

The problem Dyle purportedly solves is viewing live digital TV while moving, as in a car or train. Based on the FAQs, it might not work inside buildings, so I’m guessing that subways are out. It won’t work in airplane mode, so that leaves flyers out. You wouldn’t watch it while driving. So that leaves passengers on buses, cars, and trains, if they can pick up a signal inside one of those things.

Other reports such as this old Washington Post story suggest another reason for Dyle’s existence: To justify retaining bandwidth instead of letting the FCC hand it to cell phone companies to improve internet access. Or if broadcasters ever have to sell it, to improve that real estate so it isn’t a vacant lot. By creating a competitor to IP-based mobile video, broadcasters have built an plausible alternative to handing over that bandwidth.

Any new service is going to have a chicken-egg problem, but Dyle has few chickens or eggs. Despite some proof-of-concept standalone devices, mobile TV needs to be on the smartphone that’s already in the viewer’s pocket. But it was only last month that Dyle was finally able to announce the first Dyle-compatible phone, which uses MetroPCS service. (I don’t think the major cell companies are going to rush to embrace the technology that will help the FCC deny them bandwidth.) And stations? Dyle has exactly one in Colorado. And that’s one more than in at least 10 other states. In Washington DC, where you’d think they’d be showing it off to FCC staffers, Dyle has five stations. A cornucopia of entertainment it ain’t.

I have zero knowledge of Dyle’s internal decision-making, and I’ve been wrong before, but I see Dyle as a service that takes away free publicly licensed TV bandwidth that could have been used for more digital sub-channels such as MeTV and Antenna, and then spoons it out to the few “subscribers” who might actually use it. I don’t mind setting aside a little room for broadcast mobile TV, but Dyle is a dog.