Dish Network and NagraStar shut down a different kind of pirate this week. According to Advanced Television, the two won a court order against Lool Tech Co. and a partner over the Lool IPTV box, which streamed mostly Arabic channels.
Dish and Nagra had been on a tear, picking off distributors and even endusers of the NFPS IKS service, which streamed pay-TV channels that apparently originated from Dish. But Lool looks like it’s different. Lool boasts over 700 Arabic channels, which is more than Dish handles, so at least some of them must be from other sources. The Advanced Television story mentioned instead that “the Lool defendants retransmitted channels in which DISH holds exclusive rights”.
This reminds me a lot more of our dear departed NimbleTV, which was built with the goal of facilitating overseas pay-TV subscriptions to be viewed in the US. Every channel was paid for by the US subscriber, but Dish really didn’t like it, and Nimble soon shut down. Dish has the US rights to certain foreign channels, so there’s no good way to provide them otherwise.
There are still web sites such as wwiTV.com that provide links to hundreds of IP-delivered channels, originating all over the world. I guess it’s when you build them into a box or sell them as a service that Dish thinks you’ve gone too far.
According to an article in Bloomberg today, the “live and on demand video news network” Cheddar plans to give away small over-the-air UHF antennas. Cheddar is renting broadcast space from DTV America in five markets and will partner with advertiser Dunkin Donuts to give away antennas in those markets.
Jon Steinberg, founder of Cheddar, said that the number of broadcast-only homes is rising. “Anywhere we can provide a stream that replicates that cable news viewing experience is where we’re going to be,” he said.
Cheddar’s eight-hour programming day is available on Sling TV and as a separate app. “It also has a second feed — two to three hours a day of original content plus archived programming — that’s carried on Facebook and will air on the broadcast stations.”
It’s great to see another entry into the universe of digital sub-channels. I hope that more OTA choices will lead to more OTA viewers, which then lead to more OTA choices.
As I wrote when I first received my AirTV a couple of months ago, it came without all of the functionality that I saw at its demo at CES. Over-the-air channels were pushed aside, not integrated, and it took several clicks just to get over to them.
It’s taken a long time, even longer than promised, but AirTV has fixed the problem. I suspect the delay may have had something to do with a change in direction; instead of choosing a few favorite OTA channels to join the Sling TV crowd, they’re all integrated in the same channel guide bar complete with logos.
AirTV is still without a DVR, although Sling offers a lot of on-demand programming from its networks. With my Sling app on my Android phone and tablet, I can record most OTT network programs, but there’s no OTA channel support. I’m guessing it’ll be a long time before Sling/Air can straddle that divide, all the more reason to keep my Tablo and Channel Master DVR+ around.
The new AirTV receiver, made to integrate Sling TV and other over-the-top sources with over-the-air local channels, was a big hit at CES. As I wrote and photographed at the show, that AirTV allows users to mix OTA channels with Sling channels in a favorites list, making it easy to switch between say, NFL Network and the local CBS station.
Having heard reports of a two-week or longer delay in shipping for some signups, I was so excited to get my AirTV box delivered today. It has a lot of great features, but it does not have that OTA favorites integration. A call to support verified what I experienced, but they assured me that those features will probably arrive in a future software update. How disappointing to be shown one set of features at CES only to find them unavailable 10 days later!
The AirTV starts up as an Android TV box before defaulting to SlingTV. It has full access to the Google Play Store for apps, movies, TV and music. The receiver comes with Sling TV, YouTube, and Netflix preloaded, has Chromecast baked in, and it works fine with Hulu, Crackle, Vudu, ESPN, and any other Android TV app I’ve tried on it. Even Tablo works; that’s another OTA channel source. The remote is a little wide (about 2.25 inches) but has a nice, smooth feel. There’s a small, easy-to-remember set of buttons, including dedicated Google, Netflix, and Sling access. The remote also has a mic for voice commands.
After I plugged in the AirTV OTA Adapter, really a Hauppauge USB dongle, the AirTV recognized it and, after prompting me, scanned in my local channels. It missed the goofy channels that broadcast without identifiers (looking at you, KHDT) and missed my Movies! affiliate, but pulled in the majors just fine.
For me, the biggest disappointment is how awkward it is to watch OTA channels on AirTV. After that initial scan, the only way to access locals is to scroll all the way to the right in the Sling TV guide, click the unlabeled blank TV for “View Over the Air and Internet Channels,” then click Launch. That brings you to the most recently viewed channel; the remote’s up and down buttons will channel up and down. After some trial and error, without the benefit of documentation, I discovered that holding the OK button for a second before releasing it brings up a list of previous channels, plus a link to the OTA program guide. That guide can import OTT live channels such as those in Pluto TV. But clicking the Guide button on the remote drags the user away to the Sling guide and the most recent Sling channel viewed.
The AirTV has two USB ports – presumably one for the OTA dongle and one for an external hard drive. Although it recognizes a USB drive, it will only use it for Android-based storage; there’s still no DVR. Another oddity: my TV set reports that the HDMI signal from the AirTV receiver is just 720p. My other HDMI sources, including my ChannelMaster DVR+, serve up the full 1080p. AirTV is reportedly capable of 4K, but I don’t have any 4K sets to test.
In summary, the AirTV is a perky, responsive TV box. I had hoped to see exactly how well it integrates OTA with OTT only to discover that it hardly integrates them at all. This receiver has a lot of promise, and the right software, especially if it includes a DVR, could make this the perfect cord-cutter device. As it works today, it’s still missing some pieces.
There were so many new and interesting devices available at CES that I hesitate to talk about one that isn’t quite ready yet. A lot of people have been writing about the Mohu AirWave, the latest over-the-air TV receiver meant to integrate with over-the-top streaming services, so I guess I’ll add what I saw.
The AirWave takes a different approach to OTA-OTT integration. Its OTA antenna is built-in, and it uses wifi for streaming access, so it should be particularly attractive to literal cord-cutters. The AirWave provides a nice OTA guide with free program data, plus access to the usual OTT suspects. Once it reaches your shelf, it will be able to send that OTA-OTT signal to just about any viewing device you can imagine, including those that get attached to the TV set.
(Mohu was also excited about its free Untangle.TV web app, which launched in November. Untangle interviews visitors about which shows they want to keep, then illustrates how much money they’d save over cable with strategic OTT subscriptions and a Mohu OTA antenna. Nice to have to show cord-cutter wannabes.)
There’s so much to like about the AirWave that I feel sad about its drawbacks. The first kicker is its release date. The AirWave won’t be available until “late Spring 2017,” and only at Best Buy. The second, as noted by Streaming Media, is that it’s still fairly limited, with only a single tuner and no DVR. That could change by the time the next version comes out, but that’s even more speculative than saying version 1.0 will make it to Best Buy before June 20.
Like so many devices, the AirWave strikes me as about 3/4 of a perfect cord-cutter OTA-OTT solution. There are a bunch of almost-perfect devices out there, and each seems to be missing a different piece.
The CES exhibit floor opened today, so I got a chance to actually see AirTV, which I wrote about a couple of days ago. The Dish Network’s subsidiary’s new receiver showed off its promised unification of over-the-air TV and SlingTV, with easy Netflix integration to boot.
To answer my most important question about AirTV, there will be no subscription fee for guide data, at least according to the project developer I talked to at the Dish / Sling booth. (He preferred that I didn’t mention his name.) Not now, and not in the foreseen future. On the other hand, no DVR either. They were still discussing whether to allow local OTA recordings even as Sling rolls out a cloud-based, 100-hour DVR, currently in beta.
Upon installation, an AirTV with the OTA USB dangle will scan for available channels, then lay them out on a typical (for Sling) left-right program strip. As you can see by this photo, users can mix local channels and Sling pay-TV channels in their favorites list. I also saw a strip of Netflix shows, ordered by previous viewings and suggestions. And I also saw the Google Play Store on-screen button for adding any number of TV-friendly apps.
I’ve got a unit on order, and I’ll write a better review once I can put the receiver through its paces. Till that happens, I’ll know that I was right about at least one thing. The AirTV developer confirmed that the OTA USB dangle is a rebranded Hauppauge.
Just before the CES exhibit floor opens Thursday, Dish Network announced that its AirTV set-top box is available for purchase. The AirTV player supports SlingTV (another Dish subsidiary), YouTube and Netflix, streaming up to 4K quality. What’s most intriguing at this blog is that, with an optional over-the-air TV dongle, “access to local OTA channels is integrated into the Sling TV channel guide.”
AirTV released a cute promotional video that you can watch here (warning: autoplay). Most viewers won’t see OTA duplicates as shown at 0:35, but the guide information looks good for what we can see of it. Even better is the revelation that the AirTV player will allow users to download Android apps from the Google Play Store. The voice-enabled remote controls “all HDTVs and external audio devices.” Sounds like a great deal at $100 without OTA, and even better at $130 with the OTA dongle, and amazing considering that it includes $50 in SlingTV credit.
There are a lot more details in the press release, but left unaddressed is whether there will be any subscription charges for guide data. That’s going to be one of my first questions when I visit the Dish/Sling booth at CES later this week. Meanwhile, here’s a comparison you won’t find anywhere else: Take a look at the OTA dongle that AirTV sells.
Now look at the Hauppauge 1191 USB TV Tuner, available on Amazon and elsewhere.
I guarantee that the AirTV OTA USB dongle is a rebranded Hauppauge like the one FilmOn once sent me. I’ve used that OTA dongle for years when I travel with my laptop to bring in OTA signals. So it’s possible that the AirTV version might be valuable even when you’re not home. I’ll let you know what I find out this week.
PhoenixBTV launched earlier this month, offering a beta of 22 Phoenix area over-the-air TV channels via its Android and iPhone apps, but only for registered viewers physically present in the Phoenix market. Last week, the company added a web site to watch via browser. Freed from device-level location checking, PCs with a Phoenix VPN can tune in to see exactly what PhoenixBTV is serving up.
As you can see by my screenshot (click it to enlarge), PhoenixBTV came up with a pretty decent interface and grid, although some of the program info isn’t accurate. I’m surprised that it lets viewers examine shows over a week in advance; does it mean a cloud DVR is coming, or do they think viewers will find appointment viewing in the future?
Although the lineup is heavy on shopping, Spanish-language, and religious programming, there are a few channels that might interest secular English speakers. Independent KAZT leads off with daytime paternity-type talk shows, prime time game shows and nighttime sitcoms. There are the movies of ThisTV, plus old Luken Communications favorites Retro TV, REV’N, and Tuff TV, which Luken helped launch but doesn’t own any more. Okay, that’s only five channels, but what do you want for a free beta?
I’ve whipped up a TitanTV channel lineup that shows almost all of PhoenixBTV’s offerings. (It’s missing KPHE6 44.6.) To see that lineup, create an account or log in to TitanTV.com, click the tool bag (next to the plus sign) to manage channel lineups, click the Create Lineup from Token button, then in the copy and paste this token: 7MxSYp7G5dlpSHgggcXn4GwPmzFADnGfTKzFbZ2JAti!LJvfdrlGNA and click Save.
As I wrote last time, I hope that PhoenixBTV has its programming permissions in order. For now at least, anyone with a computer in the Phoenix area can go check it out.
I often mention my First Rule of TV Programming: Every channel, no matter what its original topic or theme, becomes like every other channel. SyFy adds pro wrestling. MTV turns away from music. GSN picks up reality shows. Et cetera. If the Chess Channel launched today, two years later it would carry sitcoms. (The only exception to this rule is Turner Classic Movies. Please don’t ever change, TCM.)
It looks like I’ll need to add a corollary to that rule: Every over-the-top multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) will become like every other MVPD. First KlowdTV started with a quirky set of channels then morphed under new management to embrace conservative news networks. Now fuboTV has announced that its soccer-centric offerings, starting at $10/month, will give way to a broad set of national channels that will cost over three times as much.
As it exists in 2016, fuboTV makes a great OTT supplement to free broadcast TV for soccer fans, even moreso for Spanish-language soccer fans. (Quick disclaimer: fuboTV advertises on FreeTVBlog and its sister web sites, but I pay for my own subscription.) The current base package includes beIN Sports, One World Sports, Univision Desportes and a half dozen interesting channels for that $9.95 base price. Gol TV and TyC Sports are part of a $4 add-on package. I can’t imagine a better solution for the soccer fan on a budget.
Yesterday, fuboTV announced that it will offer over 30 general interest channels plus plenty of sports for an introductory price of $34.95/month. That will go up to $50/month “in about 12 months” according to an article in Multichannel News. There’s still an emphasis on sports, but it’s hard to tell how it’s much different from DirecTV Now except for fewer channels and a lot less marketing clout. The 2017 fuboTV is also a close match to Sling TV Blue plus Sports Extra, a combination that’s also $35/month, again without the visibility of a top-five MVPD.
David Gandler, fuboTV’s CEO and co-founder, told Multichannel News that his current audience is 55% Hispanic, and that his new service will find a different audience than his cable-substitute OTT competitors. “There will be a learning curve over the next 24 to 36 months as we get a sense of who are customers are,” Gandler said.
According to that article, “fuboTV plans to sunset its current $9.99 per month service and incent current subscribers in the coming weeks and months to sign up for the new, fuller version of fuboTV.” I reached out for clarification, and was told via email that “All legacy plans will remain. However, you will not be able to sign up for a new one once the new product launches.”
The take-home message here is that if fuboTV sounds at all interesting to you, now is the time to subscribe to the basic service while it’s still around. You can watch on your phone, your tablet, and most TV streaming devices such as Roku and Apple TV. There’s no contract or long-term commitment, and there’s a 24-hour free trial. fuboTV includes a cloud-based DVR for time-shifting live matches from other lands or any other show you want to watch later. If we subscribers are going to get incentives to upgrade next year, that might be worth something too. I’m not being too selfish when I suggest that you really should check it out!
If you stay in one place long enough, you’ll probably find a restaurant black hole. That is, one restaurant will build the storefront and furnish the dining area and kitchen and everything, then go out of business. A couple of months later, a second restaurant will move in, usually change the cuisine and shuffle some decor, and soon it also goes out of business. Maybe half a year after that, a third restaurant will start making arrangements towards its own grand opening in the same spot. And you wonder, what does this third place know that the first two restaurants didn’t?
There must be something attractive in a restaurant black hole’s location, yet there’s also a fatal flaw. I remember one spot at the corner of an extremely busy intersection, so it always had lots of cars passing by, but its driveways were too close to the corner to get in and out easily and it didn’t have enough parking. My current example is in a strip mall anchored by a very busy grocery store, but in a neglected corner of the center, not visible from the grocery store’s front door.
Didja Inc. is testing a service in the Phoenix AZ market that provides some over-the-air TV signals to users of its PhoenixBTVAndroid and iPhone apps. You can see where I’m going here. Taking freely available OTA signals and passing them along to subscribers was in the business plan of ivi.tv, FilmOn, and most famously, Aereo. All three were blocked by court actions brought by broadcasters and their friends, even though the latter two services had well-financed legal teams. Aereo lost in a weird US Supreme Court decision that was based not on what Aereo did but what it was like. FilmOn continues to fight in federal court.
According to a story by Jeff Baumgartner in Multichannel News, PhoenixBTV is steering clear of the big four networks while carrying Phoenix’s digital subchannels and independents. I remember when FilmOn did that for a couple of months in its markets, until the court made it stop. The PhoenixBTV site suggests it plans to add major networks eventually in “a paid premium version with more than 50 channels of local broadcast TV including the most-watched channels!”
Didja CEO Jim Long says it has its current broadcasters’ permission during the apps’ free beta period; I hope he’s also got contracts for when PhoenixBTV tries to go commercial. As for the legality of PhoenixBTV and its differences from Aereo, Baumgartner wrote, “Though Didja’s technical approach does involve the capturing of local over-the-air TV signals, Long declined to discuss the architecture of PhoenixBTV in much detail. Long also would not get into the business relationship his company has with local broadcasters.” Uh oh.
(By the way, the PhoenixBTV is only available on its apps, which require a device-level location check just like the DirecTV Now apps. Unlike DirecTV Now, there appears to be no way to reach PhoenixBTV from a deskop computer.)
So I wonder what Didja knows about the restaurant location it’s moving into. I’m sure it sees the lucrative possibility of streaming OTA on subscribers’ phones. Does it also have a good workaround for the fatal flaw, or will it suffer its predecessors’ fate?