A press release from MRI-Simmons came out a couple of days ago, and several well-respected industry news sites dutifully reported its findings. Sorry, but I just don’t get it.

Here’s the lead: “The latest Cord Evolution insights reveal that roughly 31 million US consumers – 12% of the adult population – are Cord Nevers (CNs); that represents an increase over the 2017 level of 9%.” MRI-Simmons defined Cord Nevers as those who “have never paid for a traditional TV connection.”

Let’s do the math. Those numbers indicate that the total US viewing population is currently about 258 million, of which 227 million have bought pay-TV. The total US population grew by a bit more than 3 million from 2016 to 2018, so let’s say that two years ago the total viewing population was 255 million. Back then, about 232 million (91%) said they had ever paid for it. So how could there be about 5 million fewer pay-TV veterans now? Only 2.8 million Americans died in 2017. Was virtually every death a pay-TV viewer who was replaced by a young new viewer?

My guess, using only the info in the press release, is that MRI-Simmons would have been better off mentioning the margin of error in its survey using “roughly 24,000 in-person, in-home interviews”. That could account for differences in the sampled groups from 2017 and more recently. Or maybe MRI-Simmons nailed an amazing truth.

What I find funniest about this release is noting the outlets that uncritically repeated the story. Broadband TV News, Media Play News, Rapid TV News, and even Broadcasting & Cable reported the survey results without mentioning how unusual those numbers are. If every US funeral equals another Cord Never, then I’d say that ought to be the lead.

As young adults become heads of households and older adults pass away, I’m confident that there’s a true reduction in the percentage of current and former pay-TV subscribers. But I’m less confident that there were 5 million fewer of them in the past two years.

Writing in his regular column in TV News Check yesterday, Harry Jessell said something pretty close to what I said a couple of months ago. He wrote, “I don’t know it for a fact, but I know that it’s true that Charlie Ergen is the money behind Locast,” the non-profit over-the-air TV streaming service.

Jessell pointed to most of the evidence that I mentioned earlier, that Locast founder David Goodfriend used to represent Dish in Washington, and that it’s a heck of a coincidence that the Locast app is now on the Dish Hopper receiver. And Jessell also provided the principals’ public denials, noting that Dish co-founder Charlie Ergen declined to comment about the Locast connection during Dish’s Feb. 13 earnings call. About the only thing of mine that Jessell didn’t use was Locast’s otherwise odd choice of Ergen’s home, Denver, as the smallest of its first markets.

As I understand it, the key to Locast’s survival is its non-profit status. That way it can use the chunk of copyright law originally meant to encourage repeater towers to send local free TV over the internet. And that’s why Ergen and Dish have to stay at arm’s length; I’m surprised the Locast app is already on the Hopper. Then again, maybe it’s all just a coinincidence.

By the way, I’ve been meaning to note that my previous difficulties with Locast have evaporated. If I use a GPS emulator on my Android tablet to appear to be within one of Locast’s TV markets, I can see that market’s channels. Since the enabling copyright law was designed for spreading free-TV signals beyond their original reach, I feel like I’m just taking advantage of the world’s best repeater.

On a day when most of the electronic industry’s press is focused on the opening of CES, and when Dish Network announced plans to add Google Assistant to its Hopper receivers, Dish also quietly flipped a switch. Locast, the free over-the-air TV streaming service, now has an active app on at least some Hopper receivers. Since FreeTVBlog World Headquarters happens to be in one of Locast’s markets, I can verify that it’s up and running; reports from other viewers suggest that it’s only working within those markets.

This is pretty much what I predicted almost a year ago when Locast first came on the scene. I wrote, “What do you think it would be worth for Dish, in its next OTA retransmission impasse, to be able to tell its customers to flip over to the local Locast feed? Could Dish add Locast as a digital service alongside YouTube and Netflix?”

Was this always Locast’s goal? I have no way of knowing for sure, but it’s easy to build that scenario. David Goodfriend, chairman of the non-profit behind Locast, worked as a Dish vice president for seven years. Despite its stated goal of benefiting online viewers, Locast only carries the primary channels and ignores the sub-channels, which Dish doesn’t rebroadcast. In recent months, Locast has beefed up its geofencing technology – VPNs and location spoofs don’t work as they did at launch. And check out Locast’s first seven markets by size: six of the top nine (New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, Houston, and Boston), plus #19 Denver, home of Dish.

Locast’s Hopper app itself isn’t anything special, just a standard program grid with the major networks shuffled to the top, but it works just fine for delivering live local TV. For now, the app offers no DVR capabilities or any other coordination with any other Dish programming. I’ll keep checking in and let you know when that changes.

Smart network logo

SMART, Channel 276, is available in both America’s Top 120 and the Welcome Pack.

Today, I finally did it! After months of family discussion and weeks of Dish-less viewing, I finally cut the cord on my Dish Network account, though not so deeply as to break it completely. I did it by switching to a package I’d used once before, but only indirectly, all to preserve a few channels that I absolutely cannot get anywhere else.

As of last week, my Dish service was the America’s Top 120+ package, a standard set of channels plus the local regional sports networks. That’s $68/month, plus $12/month for local OTA channels if desired. (As I wrote earlier, I dropped the locals months ago when I was saving just $10/month.) I also pay $7/month for the five true superstations, which Dish stopped offering over four years ago; if I ever drop them, I won’t be able to get them back. To keep the door open for this unique set of perfectly legal out-of-market stations while cutting costs, I needed a really inexpensive package.

Dish’s quiet, unpromoted answer is the Welcome Pack. I had encountered its oddball collection of channels years ago when I subscribed to Nimble TV, which was a “concierge” service that resold the Welcome Pack with New York City locals. Nimble is long gone, but Dish continues to offer the Welcome Pack, which still includes a subscriber’s actual local stations. Unlike a switch to any other core programming, self-service isn’t an option; a Dish customer service representative has to make the change. In my case, a quick online chat with a CSR fixed everything in less time than it takes for me to type this post.

The cost of my new package is $23/month, up recently from $20, but that includes the locals. To spare you the math, I’m saving $45 or $57/month, depending on whether you count the locals’ cost. The return of locals also means the return of Prime Time Anytime, where my Hopper DVR automatically records the prime-time satellite feeds of the four major OTA stations in town. And the Welcome Pack includes a surprising number of channels that aren’t included in AT120+: Bloomberg, Boomerang, Discovery Family, Hallmark, Hallmark Movies, and Oxygen.

Most of the sports and other channels I would miss are waiting for me with my Sling Blue subscription, which also includes even more channels that I wasn’t getting with AT120+. I also have access to the Watch ESPN app because of a complicated story that I keep forgetting to tell you. There’s no hope for my regional sports networks, but considering the other channels and the money savings, well I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy. If something compelling comes up, I can always switch back. For now, everything looks good.

An antique clock in a glass jarAs I prepare for the short Daylight Saving weekend (pictured), I notice that over at TechHive, Jared Newman addressed a topic I mention too rarely – some TV viewers are not good candidates for cord-cutting. Newman is mostly on the mark but I think I can do better.

Let’s start with the reasons Newman gave. Your must-have channel list is too long. That deserves the top spot, because if you can’t live without channels X, Y, and Z, then you need a service or combination of services that will deliver them all. I would add that this is an opportunity for reflection whether that set of channels is really worth that much money to you.

Your DVR needs are too particular. Some over-the-top services are fussy about which channels can be recorded and for how long. Over-the-air channels require a device or service to record them. In general, I doubt this is the deal-breaker very often.

You have lots of TVs used simultaneously. This situation is made for live OTA TV. But if you rely on OTT services, they allow a finite number of streams. Then again, supplying a house with a half-dozen different shows at once is going to be pricey no matter how you go about it unless it’s with OTA antennas.

Your ISP still gives you a great TV deal. Except for short-term promotional offers, I don’t see such great bundle deals any more. Though internet service providers are important, as I’ll explain in a minute.

You fear change. That sounds harsh, but if you widen this just a little to say that you don’t want the hassle of changing how you get TV, then that’s more understandable.

I’ve got three more reasons why some households aren’t good candidates for cord-cutting. You can’t get good OTA reception. This might be the case if you live in an apartment in the basement or on the side of the building opposite the broadcast towers. It’s also true for customers living on the edge … of a TV market. Some of the OTT services will sell some of those stations in some markets, but for the full breadth of local OTA channels, you may need cable or pay-TV satellite.

Your ISP has usage caps. Although the need for them is questionable at best, usage caps are spreading to more cable-TV territories. They’re an excellent way for cable companies to generate more income while herding viewers to their own zero-rated content. If you’ll watch enough OTT TV to start bumping into those caps, it might not be worth switching.

You can’t get decent broadband. As of last summer, 34 million Americans lacked access to broadband internet service. Some of them get their TV via satellite, either pay-TV or free-to-air or both. Until that broadband gap gets filled, they’ve got no good cord-cutting alternative.

Most of the time, cord-cutting becomes a lifestyle choice. When someone gives up $5 lattes, it’s usually not because they can get them for $2.50 somewhere else. It’s usually because they pondered the question of whether the money they were spending could be used better elsewhere. A lot of cord-cutters aren’t looking for cheaper alternatives; they’re deciding what they no longer need to buy.