Category: OTT

Comparing Sling vs. DirecTV Now with VPN

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Logos for Sling TV and DirecTV NowI’ve had a Sling TV account for a few months, and I signed up on Day One for DirecTV Now. After a week of playing around with both, I can say that which service you prefer will depend on what you want out of it.

The channel lists and prices have been hashed out elsewhere. My favorite set is Sling Blue ($25/month) with NFL Network though not ESPN. For a boatload of channels with everything but NFL, the $35 intro price for DirecTV Now also looks good. But there’s one feature of both services that I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere – how well do they work with a virtual private network (VPN)? Can subscribers access out-of-market TV channels if they appear to be connecting away from home? The answer is often yes.

Sling appears to rely on IP location to qualify viewers. When I VPN into any market then launch Sling, I can see any local Fox and NBC channels it carries there, but not any regional sports networks. (ABC requires Sling Orange and a special request. Full list of available locals here.) As a test, I VPN’d into Dallas, used just a Zip Code and a Visa gift card, and was able to sign up for a Sling Blue account that includes Fox Sports Southwest. Of course all of that is only available if my IP address is in Dallas, and it only works on my tablet if location services are turned off. (Full list of available regional sports channels here.)

DirecTV Now uses browser-based streaming, so some browser-based recorders such as PlayOn might work with it. Sling uses a proprietary app even on the desktop, so third-party recording isn’t as practical. DirecTV Now includes ABC, Fox and NBC in some markets, and it includes regional sports from more markets than Sling. Since I have a legitimate Chicago mailing address (long story), I signed up for DirecTV Now in Chicago, and it includes Comcast SportsNet Chicago. But only with a VPN into Chicago, and only on the desktop. (Full list of DirecTV Now locals and regional sports networks here.)

When I launched the DirecTV Now app on my tablet, it refused to do anything until I turned on location services. Of course, with my location visible, the app offered only its cornucopia of national channels but nothing from Chicago.

You should keep this location-based limitation in mind if you’re hoping to watch local channels from the road. I imagine I’d have little recourse trying to watch Cartoon Network from Berlin or my local NBC station from another state. And if you want to sign up expecting to use VPN to watch your favorite locals, remember that these services might close that loophole any day now. (Come to think of it, using a VPN might violate your subscriber Terms of Service, so read that carefully.) Both services offer short-term free trials, so check ’em out. No matter what, it’s fun while it lasts.

See FCC, FTC chairs in person at CES

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Alexis Ohanian talking at CES
Gary’s Book Club is another way to meet industry leaders. Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, dropped by during CES 2015. (photo by the blogmeister)

Two of the best parts of CES every year are the chance to see industry leaders in person and the chance to learn about new trends. Some of those discussions are presented as SuperSessions, free to all conference attendees, and CES just released its SuperSession schedule for the January 2017 show, now just five weeks away.

The most important session for the future of TV, both broadcast and over-the-top, is on January 5, the same day the exhibit hall opens. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez will present their views for an hour starting at 11:30. Other SuperSession topics will include artificial intelligence, the sharing economy, and self-driving cars. You can find the full list here.

If you needed another reason to join me at CES, there it is. Just drop me a line so we can meet while we’re there.

Most folks still watch video on TV

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Cartoon figure reclining and watching televisionThe Video Advertising Bureau released its latest State of Digital Video report (PDF), and none of its results are very surprising to anyone who’s been paying attention. Going by the number of minutes watched, 89% of video viewing was on a television set, 10% on a desktop computer, and only 1% on a smartphone. If you go by monthly reach, 93% watched TV but 83% used a smartphone. That just makes sense; no one uses their phone to settle in for a binge.

The VAB report also says that the smart TV is the fastest growing platform. If you drop by a Walmart or Target, it’s easy to see why; at least half of the TVs on the shelf are smart, and at competitive prices.

On the other hand, fewer people use desktop computers on the internet, and it looks like most of them switched to smartphones. Which is why I had to revamp this blog and FTAList.com to be mobile-friendly.

I could go on about all the info-nuggets from the infographics of the 33-page report, but if you’re curious, you really should go read the PDF!

Study shows growth in OTT subscribers

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Parks Associates logoAlmost two-thirds of US broadband households subscribe to at least one over-the-top TV service. That’s one of the findings of a Parks Associates report released this week. The report that also lists the top 10 OTT TV service for US viewers and notes that all of them gained subscribers since last year.

Here’s that Top 10 list:

  1. Netflix
  2. Amazon Video (Amazon Prime)
  3. Hulu
  4. MLB.TV
  5. WWE Network
  6. Sling TV
  7. HBO Now
  8. Crunchyroll
  9. Showtime
  10. CBS All Access

Not only are these OTT services adding more viewers, those viewers are watching more often on their TV sets instead of their computers. “We are clearly seeing OTT video moving to the television,” said Brett Sappington, Parks’ Senior Director of Research. “OTT users watch OTT services on their TV screens between 17-20 days per month, much more than platforms such as a PC, smartphone, or tablet.”

There are a lot more details in the announcement about the report, so you really should go read it!

Vudu freebies improve DVR+ experience

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Logos for DVR+ and VuduVudu released some great news for Channel Master DVR+ owners. Now Vudu will offer thousands of ad-supported feature films to view for free. That’s true on all of Vudu’s platforms, but it’s an especially good match on the DVR+,  which doesn’t require a monthly subscription fee for its guide data.

According to an article in Variety, the plan is to squeeze a little revenue out of some of the older films on Vudu’s virtual shelf. I’m also guessing it’s a way to bring in a lot more viewers who might be persuaded to pay a few dollars to rent the latest Hollywood blockbuster. “There’s no better value than free,” said Jeremy Verba, VP and GM of Vudu. “We see a gap in the marketplace for watching free HD movies on-demand.”

Vudu has been on the DVR+ for a long time now, but every title had to be purchased or rented. (Vudu also regularly offers TV pilots that can be “purchased” for free.) With YouTube and over a dozen other digital channels, it’s a strong incentive for DVR+ owners to plug into the internet. With a good set of broadcast channels, there’s no need to pay for entertainment.

Hotel guests want a TV experience like home

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2009 Hyatt TV interactive menu
A Hyatt TV menu from just seven years ago. Photo by Karl Baron

Remember when I mentioned that I spent a couple of weeks in Columbus OH over the summer? I thought ahead and brought the family Roku 3 receiver with me. Thank goodness Roku now has a procedure to supply the password for the hotel room to hook into the Wifi. (Although I was disappointed that Tablo never considered this scenario and wouldn’t play my home recordings on the Roku as it did on my tablet. But I digress.)

The memory of that stay popped right back to the front of my head when I read a press release from ADB of Broomfield CO, just up the street from FreeTVBlog World Headquarters. Announcing its 2016 In-Room Entertainment Preference Study, the press release promised “reveals eye-opening conclusions” that lined up with what I’ve experienced.

Hotel guests want interactive program guides. When a guest arrives, he wants to know what channels are available and what shows are on tonight. That’s so obvious to me that I once prototyped a web site to match each individual unit; subscribing hotels would maintain their channel lists on a service such as TitanTV, then provide an easy URL to guests when they arrive. That idea still might work, but it doesn’t top the immediacy of an on-screen interactive guide.

Hotel guests want to be able to stream OTT content like at home. See my Roku.

Hotel guests want to read their hotel-related messages on the screen. Like on-screen checkout? That’s been available in the big hotels for what seems like forever.

Then at the end of the press release comes the punchline. “ADB used the findings from this study to reinvent its iTV platform called vuTyme. … vuTyme also offers Searchable IPG, OTT services access like Screencasting from BYOD, direct-to-guest messaging through the TV and more.”

I have no idea whether this vuTyme is better or worse than its alternatives. But ADB is right when it reminds hoteliers what their guests really want.

NCTA changes name, cancels trade show

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NCTA logoThe former National Cable and Telecommunications Association (recently renamed “NCTA – The Internet & Television Association”, complete with dash)  has canceled its venerable The Cable Show trade show (renamed “INTX: the Internet and Television Expo” a couple of years ago) a few months after scheduling it in April 2017 directly opposite the NAB Show. I held my tongue when they thought INTX was supposed to wrest NAB attendees away, and I barely restrained myself when NCTA renamed itself to something without those initials but included them anyway. Now this. Just wow.

NCTA has a long history of renaming itself. A small group of community antenna companies organized in 1951 to form the National Community Television Council, then renamed it to National Community Television Association just a few months later. In 1968, the group changed to the National Cable Television Association. Trying to work “internet” into its title somehow, NCTA renamed in 2001 as the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. Then earlier this month came that hyphened mess that makes the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim sound reasonable.

There’s also a lot of good in NCTA’s history. It created the Cable Ace awards at a time when only broadcast shows were eligible for Emmys. The Cable Show ran for over 60 years, and I now wish I’d had the time to drop in on one of them. Instead, they’re just walking away. As reported in Variety, NCTA president and CEO Michael Powell said in a statement, ““We believe large trade show floors, dotted with exhibit booths and stilted schedules have become an anachronism. … Ending INTX gives us a clean slate and we are excited to explore presenting our industry in new and different ways.”

I remember when COMDEX ended its run when it announced it wouldn’t hold a show in 2004. I’ve still got the program from a few years earlier when it seemed that the computer trade show would run forever. This feels about the same. RIP, The Cable Show.

How delays might derail set-top box reform

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Public Knowledge logoYou may be asking yourself how the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to eliminate the outrageous cable set-top box monopoly ripping off millions of consumers could be stopped. You may even be asking yourself this as you review your latest burgeoning cable bill.

Welcome to the world of Washington politics, where the most powerful industries like cable and Hollywood spend millions of dollars on Congress and the policymaking process to get their way.  Not only are consumers and citizens who just want fairness and competition in the marketplace outgunned, but they face the clever political strategies that enable powerful monopolies and corporate giants to block the public interest without being held accountable to consumers.

How does this happen? The set-top box fight may be shaping up to be a prime example of how policymakers who don’t want to anger their constituents can protect corporate interests without ever having to officially come out against consumers. You just delay a regulatory process so that the clock runs out and the FCC doesn’t have the opportunity to vote to explode the set-top box monopoly.

This summer, and even now, we’ve seen the elements of this strategy play out. After Chairman Wheeler proposed rules to eliminate the set-top box monopoly and hundreds of thousands of consumers cheered the effort, House Representatives passed a spending bill prohibiting the FCC from completing new rules this year. Soon after, the Senate Appropriations Committee did something similar. Of course, they never outright said that they’re against competition or more choices for consumers; they just label the issue as “very complicated,” or they “have concerns,” or just say whatever they can think of to justify telling the FCC to take more time and not end this consumer rip-off in 2016.

Recently, Chairman Wheeler came forward with adjustments to his proposal designed to address many of the concerns raised by cable monopolies, Hollywood and some policymakers. Cable got an apps-based plan and Hollywood got its copyrights protected even more. Wheeler then suggested that the Commission vote on the proposal September 29.

So we’re done, right? Not so fast!

Over the next two weeks, you can expect to see a barrage of criticism, misleading advertisements, bogus copyright claims backed by millions of dollars in cable and Hollywood lobbying, and a massive display of spin. Again, cable and Hollywood will never outright say they’re against competition, but somehow this proposal is always too complicated, won’t work as intended, and fails to do something or other that should force policymakers to delay.

But why would cable and Hollywood repeatedly call for a delay? Because then any FCC Commissioners still debating the merits won’t have to risk voting to anger the cable monopolies or Hollywood giants. It also enables these Commissioners to say to consumers, “I feel your pain and will vote on this issue only if and when we finally figure out all these complicated details.” Naturally, many on Capitol Hill can echo these sentiments, claiming to defend consumers while cable companies and Hollywood keep offering them campaign contributions. It’s all just too perfect — no fingerprints, no hard votes, and nothing to show for all these months and years of deliberation. It’s just another day in Washington to them.

Unfortunately, it’s the consumers who end up hosed, paying more than $200/year to support cable’s ridiculous set-top box monopoly.

You may be wondering where the White House is in all this. Didn’t the President come out for set-top box competition? Didn’t he also issue an Executive Order requesting all his agency heads move forward on pro-competitive rules like this one?  Well, yes, those are both true. But will the White House actually stand firm?

You’re not the only one curious about what the White House might do to promote competition for consumers. Don’t think cable and Hollywood haven’t also considered the President’s impact. They press their misinformation campaign there as well, galvanize all the players within the Administration who always support the interests of monopoly “rightsholders” to weigh in, and hope to stalemate the Executive Branch with internal disputes. By now this strategy should sound familiar — they’re pushing for a delay, asking the White House to take more time to think about what the few content maximalists within the Administration keep yammering about.

So here we are, either two weeks away from the FCC finally moving forward to break the cable box monopoly, or another delay. Stay tuned to see what happens, or dive right in and help us peel back the disinformation and stealth by demanding FCC action and no Congressional interference!

Gene Kimmelman is the President and CEO of Public Knowledge. This article was originally posted on the Public Knowledge web site.

Klowd TV is back as a conservative OTT platform

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According to Bloomberg Technology, the remains of KlowdTV OTT service have been resurrected by the owners of the One America News Network, a conservative news channel. The new KlowdTV looks a lot like the old version, which OANN owner Charles Herring purchased after it ceased operations in June.

In addition to OANN, KlowdTV also carries conservative channels TheBlaze and Newsmax. Herring told Bloomberg, “We know there’s a demand, but there wasn’t a single place where you can pick up all three of these channels.” Other channels in the $8/month bundle include The Now Network, AWE, two GolTV channels, the Fight Network and FNTSY Sports.

It’s always nice to have choices, and I enjoy GolTV, but I liked the old KlowdTV for eScapes and other sports. Let’s see if this version of KlowdTV does any better than its predecessor.

KlowdTV suspends services, closes down

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KlowdTV error message

Update: The other shoe dropped. I just received KlowdTV’s promised email to subscribers, now former subscribers. The email began “It is with much regret that we inform you that we are permanently closing our doors.”

There weren’t any specifics about why KlowdTV had to shut down so suddenly in the middle of the month.  Maybe they couldn’t make payroll? It had something to do with money; the note included “we have been unable to raise the required capital to continue operating and expanding the platform. … We apologize for the short notice, and for failing to keep the platform going.”

So long, KlowdTV. You will be missed.

Previously: KlowdTV, a plucky company that was pioneering super-skinny streaming TV bundles, has suspended all services indefinitely. That announcement was buried in KlowdTV’s program grid page, visible only to subscribers. For non-subscribers, the only indication pops up on a sign-up attempt. The note reads “Our apologies. We are not accepting new subscribers at this time.”

Of course, for subscribers who watch KlowdTV through its streaming app on Roku, Android or Apple, the streams simply stopped working. Only on the WatchMyKlowd web page was the message “Our apologies. All services have been suspended indefinitely. Your account has been set to deactivate at the end of your current billing period. Please check your email address (the email used when signing up) for an email containing additional information.”

I’m disappointed by the loss of KlowdTV, and I’m also disappointed at how it happened. Just two months ago, I was praising KlowdTV CEO Bill O’Hara for staying proactive in handling the loss of the beIN Sports channel. Oh well. When I hear anything more about what went down, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, many of KlowdTV’s streaming channels area available on FilmOn‘s $15/month premium package. Too bad there’s no one left to offer us KlowdTV’s skinny choices.