Wherever.TV logoToday, Wherever.TV put out a press release to announce that it had relaunched its service “after an extensive overhaul.” Considering that it’s been around since 2007, well before anyone coined the term “over-the-top,” this makes Wherever both the newest and one of the oldest internet-based streaming services.

Wherever was founded by Mark Cavicchia, who also invented “its core patent,” the Global Interactive Program Guide. The service picked up a lot of buzz at the 2009 International CES (don’t call it the Consumer Electronics Show, but for 2018 you can call it just plain CES), named by show organizers one of the top 30 new innovators. “That’s what blew me away more than consumer interest, the fact that big, big companies are coming to us, figuring out ways to integrate our product into their existing products to expand what they do for their customers,” Cavicchia told the Pittsburgh Business Times that month.

In subsequent years, Internet Archive-captured pages show that Wherever listed American over-the-air broadcast channels, American pay-TV channels such as Fox News, Fox Business, and the Weather Channel, and a variety of international channels. The press release that Wherever issued in December 2015 when Cavicchia stepped down as CEO said that the service and the guide were inspired in 2005 when he was living in Shanghai and wanting to watch US-based channels on the internet.

With the revamp, things look different at Wherever. It offers only a few packages: Choice, Spanish, World News, and Faith. Choice is the most complete, with 40 lower-tier channels such as eScapes, One America, and Mav TV, and runs $9.99/month.

An old Wherever Facebook post suggested Choice14 as a free trial promo code; it worked for me, so I loaded the service today. It was a brief test, and I wasn’t impressed. I didn’t try every channel, and the majority loaded okay, but there were six that failed including my beloved eScapes. Scrolling through the guide, I found Comedy Time at the beginning and Comedy TV almost at the end. The “classic movie channel” Films On Reel was showing a public domain Beverly Hillbillies episode. Clicking the TVGuide button showed me “Programming not available”.

I never root against a plucky OTT startup, even a rebooted one, but right now I don’t see anything to recommend Wherever unless you’re that much in love with one of its channels that aren’t available elsewhere. As it stands now, I’d rather have Pluto TV’s free package of channels than Choice’s, and it’s hard to imagine too many viewers paying $10/month for these lesser-known channels to stand alone or to supplement cable TV, Hulu, Netflix, or Sling. I hope that Wherever gets better again.

FitzyTV logoIf you’re a pay-TV subscriber, there’s another way to watch some of your channels away from home. FitzyTV provides a nice selection of free channels, including four possibly out-of-market local stations, after authentication through your provider.

Based on its domain’s whois information, FitzyTV is a product of James Fitzgerald of San Diego. It’s currently available in the Google Play App Store, though its web site promises that the iOS version is coming soon. (The Android version, published by Fitzgerald Technologies LLC, is still in beta.)

That App Store description reveals its main emphasis. “FitzyTV turns your Android phone into a DVR for the online TV channels you have access to as part of your cable or satellite subscription.” Although watching live channels on an Android phone (or tablet) is free, the cloud DVR is $5/month for 20 hours of recordings.

Even without a DVR, FitzyTV’s free version has its uses. It includes Chromecast, even for channels that don’t otherwise support it. Four full-time local stations – WNBC and WABC New York, plus KNTV and KRON San Francisco – are available even for pay-TV subscribers outside those cities. There are also primetime feeds for Fox east and west, though CBS is absent.

The other channels in FitzyTV are: ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPNews, HGTV, MSNBC, CNBC, FX, FXX, FXM, AMC, Bravo, E!, Oxygen, USA, Food Network, Disney, Disney Junior, Universal Kids, Syfy, Comedy Central, TV Land, MTV, NatGeo, Olympic, Golf, NBC SportsNet, and a few NBC RSNs. If the associated pay-TV subscription doesn’t include the channel, FitzyTV won’t play it. For example, when I logged in with my Sling Blue account, it wouldn’t play ESPN or ABC, but both were available when I logged in under my cable subscription.

As a Mountain Time resident, I’m really surprised that my locals would be okay with me watching the earlier east coast feeds of NBC and ABC. FitzyTV seems like a helpful service, but I wonder how long it will last.

NFL logoAs reported by Variety, FierceCable, and plenty of other outlets, Verizon announced today that it will pay the NFL more than $2 billion for another five years of streaming rights through the 2022-23 season. It’s a hefty increase over its current $1 billion four-year deal, yet Verizon will no longer be the exclusive source of streaming games on smartphones, although it can offer them on its other properties such as Yahoo Sports, AOL, and Go90. Also, Go90 still exists.

The only games that aren’t covered are out-of-market Sunday afternoon games, which will continue to be the big, expensive carrot dangled by DirecTV for at least a few more seasons.

The best part of the deal, from my perspective, is the end of the goofy no-phone rules by which I could watch a game on NFL Network on Sling on my tablet but not my phone, or watch Monday Night Football on the Watch ESPN app on my AirTV but not my phone. You get the idea. It seems like a win-win – the league gets more viewers and we get to watch our paid services where we want. Let’s hope when the details emerge that it works out that way.

If you read nothing else, check out today’s article in Wired about the origins of Net Neutrality, written by the guy who coined the term, Tim Wu. The concept that bridges, railroads, and other common carriers shouldn’t discriminate based on traffic type goes back hundreds of years, and the telecommunication version goes back to the early 1970s. Wu also offers a bit of hope from the court system. “The Supreme Court requires that an agency demonstrate its action was not ‘arbitrary’ or ‘capricious’; it must ‘examine the relevant data and articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action.'” he wrote. “And when it changes course dramatically, as the FCC has, the agency must explain why it ‘now reject[s] the considerations that led it to adopt that initial policy.’”

Joel Espelien of TDG Research wrote that despites its denials, Amazon is prepping a skinny bundle of pay-TV channels to launch in the first half of 2018 as an Amazon Prime benefit. As he pointed out, for folks who subscribe to Prime mainly for the free shipping, everything else is gravy; it “feels like it’s free.” Amazon doesn’t need to make money on TV in the short term, and getting customers hooked on a “free” set of channels might be a great opportunity to upsell them on some premiums.

And Parks Associates released a report on Smart TVs and The User Experience, as reported on today by Broadband TV News and others. It said that viewers want easy navigation and discovery in their TV interfaces. I’d add that curation underpins that discovery component, and that ease of use is paramount. When Roku first came out, I wondered why anyone would choose it over a connected, dedicated Windows PC, which could access everything the Roku could and then some. Now I know better.

Last week, David Garrick at The San Diego Union-Tribune pointed out an impartial perspective on the decline of cable TV subscriptions. Cities have reported decreases in their franchise fees, which are typically set at a fixed percentage of cable systems’ revenues. For example, the city of San Diego has seen cable franchise fees drop 12.2 percent over the past two years, an annual loss of over $2 million.

Some cities have contemplated adding a tax on internet-delivered pay-TV, but Garrick couldn’t find any that had implemented it. Do cities get a franchise fee from internet service providers? It seems to me that would fix the problem.

Coming at it from another direction is my favorite pundit, Shelly Palmer. He wrote yesterday that TV has a problem coming from the other direction – its advertisers. Network ad sales groups are trying to whip up data-driven metrics to repackage their shows to attract ad buyers in ways the Nielsen ratings don’t. “Of course, the pressure on TV ad sales is not Nielsen’s fault,” Palmer wrote. “The blame can be placed squarely on changes in consumer behavior.”

Put another way, companies that buy ads don’t really want ads, they want results, either sales or an increase in brand awareness. The truly data-driven future is when these companies can track each outcome and pay the TV intermediary accordingly.

As always, Palmer sticks the dismount. “TV, the art form, is in its platinum age. But the future present of video packaging and distribution is on-demand and digital. TV the platform simply cannot survive under its current business model. It must evolve.” I would add that the natural benefits of free broadcast TV (ubiquity, attractive price, one-to-many bandwidth usage) should keep it in the mix in the decades to come, although its evolved form has yet to be unveiled.