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.

 

View from the top of Pikes peakI’m sure that most of you are familiar with Pikes Peak, “America’s Mountain”. If you look at it up close, you might wonder about the cool, thin air at its 14,000-foot apex. You might think of the amazing views from the top, or the interesting wildlife you could encounter along the way. If you have a historical bent, you could consider how its roads and facilities have changed in the past 100 years.

Me, I wondered how many TV stations you could see from there.

This Labor Day weekend, I set out to find the answer. As the crow flies, Pikes Peak is only 57.4 miles from FTAList world headquarters, but the drive is a bit longer than that. It takes about 75 miles to reach the entrance of the Pikes Peak Highway, and then it’s another 19 miles of twisty, steep road to the top. The Pikes Peak Highway was a lot more adventurous, or dangerous, back when the top 10 miles or so were unpaved and completely without guardrails. Now that it’s paved all the way up, it feels more like a drive through a park, although the rest of the family tightly gripped their armrests while gazing out the side windows into glorious oblivion.

TV setup on Pikes PeakAfter we reached the summit parking area, I got out my gear. My portable digital TV setup is currently a rebranded Hauppage HVR-950 that I got from FilmOn (much more about that in a future post), a 6-inch antenna, and a laptop with enough horsepower to run TV viewing software. I set it up on the viewing stand near the southeast corner (see photo), but a scan only picked up about a dozen channels. Maybe the metal fence was in the way?

I relocated to a convenient ledge on the north side of the visitors center there and ran another scan. A few minutes later, I had 49 channels on my list. I didn’t recognize some of the call letters, so I set the laptop to hibernate, put it away, and went inside to feast on Pikes Peak’s world famous high-altitude doughnuts.

Back at FTAList world headquarters, I unpacked the laptop and checked the call signs. Turns out that it had picked up possibly every TV station between Cheyenne WY (almost 160 miles away) and the peak, except the channels of Colorado Springs, which sits just to the east of the mountain. That included a low-power station in Denver and several other Denver-area stations that I can’t scan in from here.

Unfortunately, each scan erases the results of the previous scan, so I don’t know which stations I picked up from the other side of the summit. That’ll give me a reason to return, other than magnificent scenic beauty and doughnuts.

This cornucopia of channels might be important. What if Aereo or a similar company put a bank of tiny antennas in a box on top of the Pikes Peak visitors center, then sent those signals along to subscribers? It could be a selling point, a way to differentiate its service from what you can get at home with rabbit ears. Mountaintop TV could be really cool.

UPDATE: Check the comments for the TVFool link with the precise list of the channels you can see on Pikes Peak. I had no idea TVFool knew about mountains.

When last we left this blog, it was almost time for the NAB Show, the annual event produced by the National Association of Broadcasters.

NAB president Gordon Smith presented the keynote speech at the convention. As I’ve written before, I think Smith is perfect for the job, keeping various broadcaster constituents on the same page while using his Washington connections to lobby for the best possible deal for his members. Anyway, a few minutes in, a part of his speech gave my brain whiplash.

(W)e will continue to protect the rights of all viewers who depend on their local TV stations as a lifeline for news, emergency information and, of course, entertainment.

We’re also fighting to ensure that viewers continue to have dynamic content choices, by retaining a free market retransmission consent process.

Notice that there aren’t any ellipses in that quote. Smith really said in consecutive sentences that TV broadcasters are an indispensable lifeline for their viewers, but if the local cable system won’t pay broadcasters enough, they’ll feel free to cut off those viewers.

I don’t blame Smith for stating both of those positions; they highlight the conflict that broadcasters face when they alternately defend their free bandwidth and resist calls to fix the retransmission consent system. I just thought it was a little weird to juxtapose them. He wasn’t going for irony there.

Smith seemed a little distracted. He gamely read the speech from the teleprompters, and the next morning, he was caught looking by a change-up thrown by Betty White. (See next paragraph.) It’s as though he had been working on an important negotiation and had to fly in at the last minute.

Betty White at an NAB breakfastThe second day featured a morning breakfast with TV legend Betty White, who accepted praise graciously, then went to sit down and chat with Smith. They talked about how the industry had changed, about perseverance, that sort of thing. Then Smith, no doubt reaching for a note someone had given him said, “I hear that you’re quite a football fan.” White looked at him as if he had suggested that she kept a cage of squirrels in her house. “No,” was her simple answer. Smith recovered, but we all learned that Betty White does not suffer foolish questions.

There was a lot of other stuff, of course, mostly in the exhibit halls.

  • I met Crook and Chase at a booth for The Nashville Network (launching soon), and I told them about my First Rule of Programming, of which the original TNN was a prime example. (“We are going to have some cooking shows,” Lorianne Crook said in agreement.)
  • There was a big push for mobile DTV, mainly in the form of Dyle TV, but it remains a technology in search of an audience.
  • All the satellite delivery companies were there, and lots of streaming providers. I talked with TVU Networks, since I’m broadcasting a test channel through TVU, but they’re much more interested in selling IP-based newsgathering gear. Much more about that in a future post.
  • I ran into Alexander Wiese, the publisher of Tele-satellite magazine, at his booth. He dropped by FTAList world headquarters the next week and took some photos, but I haven’t seen them in virtual print yet.

Every year, I visit the NAB Show and the International CES. (Don’t you dare call it the Consumer Electronics Show, see the editors note here.) If you want to see the latest Dish or DirecTV receivers, or if you just want to see the latest amazing gadgetry, go to CES. If you want to learn the most about the cutting edge of TV and video delivery, nothing beats the NAB Show. I’m looking forward to it already.

Aereo logo

A new TV service, Aereo, formally launched this week. Aereo is the old Bamboom (previously discussed here) with a new name and deeper pockets. And those pockets are needed to defend against the inevitable lawsuits from broadcasters.

Aereo’s plan is to install a tiny over-the-air (OTA) TV antenna for each of its subscribers, then stream the programming from that antenna to only that subscriber over the internet. They’ll only stream within the subscriber’s market, so a New York viewer can’t buy anything but New York channels. But Aereo will be streaming those channels without anyone’s permission and without paying any retransmission fees. TV stations hate it when you do that.

Aereo’s paradigm is different from those of my beloved ivi.tv and FilmOn, which both lost all of their major OTA channels when injunctions went against them. I think it’s got a chance in court. But I’m not so sure how many viewers will want to pay $12/month for channels they can get for free OTA.

While the broadcasters’ case against Aereo is pending, both sides are also presenting their positions in public. The article that got to me today is in Multichannel News, in which a New York Latino community activist says that major networks won’t give as much support to Spanish-speaking communities if they don’t get retransmission money.

That doesn’t make sense to me. Any local viewer with a decent OTA antenna can watch these channels for free right now. That’s what Aereo says it’ll do: stream in-market from a rented OTA antenna. Aereo might make it easier to watch some weaker signals, which include a higher percentage of Spanish-language channels.

Broadcasters are looking for the younger, device-savvy, cord-cutting audience. Until OTA technology reaches devices (and it’s coming), this is a way to ensure that this new audience stays with OTA broadcasting. Fighting Aereo to prop up a bit of immediate cable/sat retrans cash is short-sighted.

Unless you consider that the parent companies of the big OTA networks are heavily invested in cable channels. The emerging OTT and OTA technologies are starting to pull customers away from those lucrative ventures. Could that be the real reason OTA networks don’t emphasize OTA reception? It sure would be a good reason to try to kill off Aereo.

Abstract green cash pillsJust so you don’t have to, I subscribe to a dizzying list of news streams about broadcasting. In today’s NAB SmartBrief, I saw a headline that stopped me cold: “Feds could benefit more by letting broadcasters lease spectrum, says Sinclair exec”.

The first part of that headline agrees with what I’ve promoted for years. Broadcast spectrum is precious and finite, and it would be only appropriate for anyone using public airwaves to pay rent for the privilege. If the fee were based on a small percentage of advertising sales, then non-profits (who sell no ads) get a free pass but commercial stations get dinged.

The second part of the headline was the punchline. The Sinclair Broadcast Group is a publicly traded corporation that believes strongly in its fiduciary duty to maximize profits for its shareholders. It’s not afraid to make controversial political moves to make sure that happens. It’s not afraid to get into hard-fought retransmission disputes to make sure that happens. From all appearances, Sinclair would rather be profitable than loved. That’s why I was mystified that someone there would agree with my idea, which would benefit society as a whole at a cost of slightly reduced profits.

Then I clicked through to the original TVNewsCheck article, which included an interview with Mark Aitken, Sinclair’s vice president of advanced technology. Aitken’s proposal is for stations to take some of their allotted bandwidth and lease it to wireless carriers. He says, “Currently, broadcasters are obliged to pay 5% of their revenue from supplying auxiliary data services. When you look at the immense capacity that broadcasters could make available to carriers, it adds up to big dollars in revenues for broadcasters and, as a result, big dollars for the U.S. Treasury.”

So rather than paying a tax on the bandwidth that stations use, the plan is for them to take the bandwidth they’re getting for next to nothing, lease it to a third party, then pocket 95% of the rent? Now that sounds more like a Sinclair Broadcast Group proposal!

What would make a better headline for that plan? Leave a comment if you’ve got a good one.