Chase Carey, speaking at the NAB keynote

Chase Carey, speaking at the NAB keynote

While I continue to put together way too many NAB photos to tell you what the show is like, I’ll mention what Chase Carey, president of News Corp., said at the keynote. Carey wasn’t on board with the “embrace the future” theme; he said that if Aereo survives and folks continue to watch for free (without retransmission consent money), he’ll convert Fox to a cable network.

This pronouncement caught the attention of a lot of TV people, but I think it’s only saber-rattling. If Fox and its other network friends fail in the courts against Aereo, they’ll go straight to Congress to change the rules. The threat of pulling the Super Bowl off the air will give representatives cover for doing what the networks’ money asks them to do, and there you’ll have it.

Consider that Fox could decide to go cable tomorrow. It could have made the switch years ago, when retransmission money was a tiny fraction of what it is now. But it didn’t and it won’t because it just doesn’t make sense. The end, at least to me.

On the other hand, Broadcasting and Cable’s Jon Lafayette presents a more nuanced examination of what Fox would gain and lose by taking themselves off the public airwaves. In particular, doing so would negate the argument broadcasters have been making about needing all that spectrum they’ve been fighting to keep. So go read that.

Once upon a time, this already sort of happened. WGN and WTBS converted from distant over-the-air superstations (from the perspective of most cable TV systems) to cable channels. In both cases, they continued to locally broadcast most of the programming they sent to the cable systems, with just enough difference to make it count. The easiest way for Fox to convert would be to pick a few of its most popular shows and substitute reruns or infomercials over-the-air for an hour or two a night. To watch next year’s “House” or “24”, you’d need to watch it on cable, but local news would still be over-the-air. I still don’t think it’ll happen, but if it does, see if that’s the way it plays out.

Erik Moreno speaking at NABThere are all kinds of fun stories coming out of the 2013 edition of the NAB Show, but what I heard this morning was not fun. During a session called Mapping the Future of Broadcast Television, one of the co-general managers of the company behind Dyle, the mobile TV system, revealed what it plans to do once the service is on its feet. Dyle viewers will be “authenticated,” and if they subscribe to a service that pays retransmission fees to local broadcasters, their device will be turned on. Left unsaid was what would happen to those poor souls who dare to watch over-the-air TV at home for free with an antenna.

Erik Moreno, co-general manager of Mobile Content Venture, was one of the panelists in the session, and he said a lot of things that made sense. There was a lot of talk among panelist about the tension between cell phone companies providing on-demand digital content and TV broadcasters, both grabbing for the same spectrum. Moreno correctly pointed out that this shouldn’t be an either-or question. “If I were God,” he said, “I would make sure to have both.” Broadcasting is the best delivery method for live and popular programming, and on-demand is great for individualized and long-tail requests.

Moreno made note of a simultaneous announcement at the show that Fox was launching a streaming app similar to that available from ABC. He said that mobile users will appreciate being able to watch the stream over their cell phones, then will be disappointed by the data usage bills they’ll get. At that point, mobile TV will have a great opportunity to catch that audience and switch them to Dyle, which would presumably need to be included in their cell phone hardware.

As I’ve pointed out before, Dyle’s press releases had been careful to note that subscriptions weren’t necessary … yet. Moreno made it clear that this was only because there are so few Dyle-compatible stations that they needed to grow the market before beginning to monetize it.

If I needed someone to create and implement a successful business plan, Moreno would be high on my list. But listening to such a casual, naked rejection of free TV over the public airwaves left me shaken and sad.

Instead of ending on such an unhappy note, let’s look to the future. In my next post, I’ll try to give you an idea of what the NAB Show exhibit hall is like. Spoiler: It’s fun, interesting, and even inspiring.

CES 2013 exhibit hallFirst, let me apologize to anyone who tried to visit here in the past week only to be turned away, often by a 500 database error. According to my web host, FTABlog suddenly began devouring huge chunks of memory for no good reason, and its server had nothing to do with that. After wrestling with the problem for a few days, I moved the blog to a new host, and this time the transition seems to have been successful. Who says I never learn my lesson?

Now I’ve got a lot of CES reporting to catch up on. The first, most interesting bit is that I was proved right; the onsite staff of CNet reportedly voted Dish Network’s Hopper with Sling receiver as 2013 CES Best of Show. Unfortunately for Dish, CBS owns CNet, and CBS (among others) is suing Dish because of the Hopper’s advertising-skipping function. So CBS got wind of the award and squashed it, directing CNet to pick somebody else.

The Verge has a superb story on the whole affair, and it gets bonus points from me for dragging in Alki David, our friend from Quite a while ago, fresh from getting smacked by CBS (among others) after his first attempts to stream over-the-air programming, David sued CBS for allowing CNet to report extensively on piracy, including how-to pieces, and for the related site, which supposedly hosted circumvention software. In that lawsuit, CBS lawyers argued that CNet was independent of CBS’s control. The Verge writes, “Holding CBS responsible forCNET, CBS’ lawyers argued, ‘would create grave uncertainties for writers and publishers — including search engines, web encyclopedias, blogs and most technology journalists — that seek to communicate truthful information about emerging technologies including P2P file-sharing services.'”

I don’t know whether David can use this to show that CBS isn’t quite so hands-off when it comes to CNet, and I think it’s a darned shame that Dish was denied another CES Best of Show (it won in 2009 for the ViP 922 receiver). But I think the Hopper has a chance of beating the courts and becoming a real game-changer. As a Dish shareholder, I sure hope so.

During Dish Network’s press conference at the International CES Monday, I saw a more likely future for TV on the go than the one promoted by Dyle and the Open Mobile Video Coalition. Those are the groups that think viewers will want to watch live TV when they are moving but not driving, not in an airplane, and not in a subway. As I’ve written before, that type of mobile video is a weak solution for a limited audience. On the other hand, Dish showed its answer for everybody on the go.

As part of its new Hopper with Sling receiver technology, Dish announced Hopper Transfers, a system where the receiver prepares and copies a DVR recording to a viewer’s iPad. Then that viewer can watch the show anywhere using that iPad, even on an airplane or in a subway.

Dish already provides TV Anywhere, so viewers with Sling-enabled receivers can watch live programming from smartphones and tablets through the internet, but there are some places the internet won’t reach. The answer there isn’t live TV in a few settings, it’s viewer-selected TV that’s available anywhere he has his iPad.

Todd Spangler wrote more about the press conference in his article at Multichannel News, so you should go read that for the most information about what happened. About the only thing he didn’t mention was that Dish said it will offer an over-the-air dongle for its Hopper with Sling receiver. Sorry I don’t have a picture of that dongle, but it looked like a USB stick, pretty close to the one I’m using to pick up a couple dozen OTA channels on my laptop here in Vegas. (2nd Update: The Dish booth confirmed the dongle is this one, released in late 2012.) My ViP 922 receiver back home uses an optional, modular piece that slides all the way in to a panel in the back of the unit. I wonder why Dish couldn’t make room for an internal OTA antenna in the receiver it hopes to use to differentiate its service from cable and DirecTV, and to keep viewers from cutting the cord. Even if it’s just the cord to the satellite dish.

You've been ownedYesterday, the US Copyright Office published updated rules governing what consumers can do with some of the stuff they “own”. (The Electronic Freedom Foundation has more details.) You might be surprised what’s illegal.

Want to rip your DVD to put on your iPad to watch during a flight? Illegal, even if you own the DVD and no one else watches it.

Want to modify your Kindle Fire to run non-Amazon applications? Illegal, even if it’s just to change the background image.

The good news is that now it’s officially okay to extract video snippets from a DVD for fair use in creating noncommercial works. And it’s still okay to jailbreak smartphones, just not tablets.

The bad news, albeit not strictly related, is that the US Supreme Court will soon decide whether it’s still legal for you to sell your stuff on eBay. You see, there’s a old, common-sense principle called the “First Sale Doctrine”. When you buy something new, you have to pay (through the supply chain) royalties to the folks who created it. But after that first sale, you own that physical thing, whether it’s a book, a dress, or a DVD. You can use it as often as you want, give it to a friend, or sell it on eBay without anyone’s permission.

For what’s going on, let’s turn to Marvin Ammori’s article in The Atlantic.  “John Wiley & Sons, a textbook publisher, sells expensive versions of the textbooks here and less expensive versions abroad. Supap Kirtsaeng, a foreign graduate student at University of Southern California, decided to help pay for his schooling by having relatives buy him copies of the foreign versions abroad, send them to him, whereupon he’d sell those books on eBay to willing students. He’d make money, the students would save money, but Wiley might have fewer sales of its pricey American versions.”

The problem is that some lower courts have held that such foreign-created works are not bound by the first-sale doctrine. And there are a whole lot of things for sale in the US that were made elsewhere – those iPads, for instance. If it meant keeping control of secondary sales, companies might manufacture even more of their stuff overseas.

Some folks hate the idea of seeing their work freely resold. Almost 20 years ago, Garth Brooks withheld his new CDs from any store that sold used copies for that very reason. The big copyright holders would love to get another excuse to squeeze more cash from consumers.

In this ever-shrinking world, the notion of artificially raising prices in one region while selling for less elsewhere just seems silly. I don’t know if it’ll do any good, but the populist group Demand Progress is planning a day of action for Monday, October 28. You can find out more information at Maybe if enough citizens let their government know what’s right, they’ll do the right thing. Maybe.