A wall of multi-colored sticky notesOver at Business Insider, Antonio Villas-Boas ran a very honest, even-handed description of his attempt to get by with Sling TV instead of cable. The most important quote: “Live TV over the internet using Sling TV never had to buffer, and it never cut out for me, either.” From what I read, the factor that drove him back to cable was his inability to get his favorite channels, a short list including PBS (but if you’re using a Roku, just get the PBS app) and TLC. My second law of programming is that any channel a viewer watches regularly is important, any channel he never watches is a waste of bandwidth, and those channels are different for every viewer. But seriously, TLC? You couldn’t manage without watching Sister Wives as soon as it aired? Perhaps I’m prejudiced because I remember when it was The Learning Channel, before it succumbed to my first law of programming.

Speaking of Sling, this morning, Dish announced its quarterly numbers, and for the first time it revealed the official number of Sling subscribers, now over 2.2 million. That was very close to The Diffusion Group‘s estimate of about 2.3 million, so maybe its other numbers are also about right.

Free NAB Show Expo Pass registration is ending soon. If there’s any chance you can drop in to look around in the Las Vegas Convention Center this April 9-12, you’ll be glad you did. Thanks to the folks at Ikan International, you can register for free with the code LV7962 by clicking here.

A wall of multi-colored sticky notesI’ve signed up to attend the NAB Show, probably the biggest convention for free TV, this April 9-12. Paul McLane at Radio World wrote yesterday that there will be some significant changes this year. For the first time since I started attending them nine years ago, the main keynote speech won’t be in the ballroom of the adjacent Hilton / LVH / Westgate Hotel but in “a 1,000-seat new Mainstage area of the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center”. There are also changes designed to make conference sessions easier to attend, so you should go read it! Also, Radio World is giving out free exhibits passes if you sign up before March 2.

Speaking of the NAB, Broadcasting & Cable’s John Eggerton, the hardest working man in Washington, reported that it had sold its headquarters. Under terms of the deal, NAB will be leasing the current building until its new headquarters, just a couple of blocks from the Washington Nationals’ baseball stadium, is ready in late 2019.

And over at FierceCable, Ben Munson interviewed Philo CEO Andrew McCollum, who said that his mostly sports-less streaming service hopes to add more channels but has trouble pulling them away when their owners also offer news and sports networks. I never root for failure, but I can’t see the benefit of live entertainment channels to millennials who are used to watching content on demand. In my opinion, any supplement to broadcast TV and Netflix requires what they don’t offer so much – live news and sports.

Even a hurried, single day at CES will produce plenty of bits and pieces that don’t fit into a real story. So I conclude my 2018 coverage with the following hodgepodge in lieu of a regular set of Wednesday notes.

  • CES attendees tend to wear business attire, mostly business casual. (You can judge for yourself if you watch some of the B-roll videos available online.) But I did see one guy wearing the Rick and Morty T-shirt that I’ve embedded here, so I guess there’s no true dress code.
  • I passed someone else walking with a selfie stick, apparently dictating a video blog post. Exact quote: “This is, like, giant convention center.” I almost wish I could have stuck around to hear more.
  • Man holding a cnet sign on a stick, guiding a group at CESAnother, different use of people carrying sticks was the trend toward guided tours. I saw more of them, each leading groups of about a dozen rapt followers, than in the past four CESs put together. Personally, I can’t imagine allowing someone else to curate my serendipity of finding new products and trends that I find interesting, much less hiring them to do it. Those tours must not be designed for people like me.
  • I got a chance to catch the glasses-free 3D TVs at the Stream TV booth. BOE is partnering with Stream to make 8K TVs with Stream technology that lets viewers have the 3D experience with their naked eyes. A few years ago, 3D was a big deal at CES, then it was written off as a fad. Maybe this will be the big comeback.
  • Booth with small video-projecting robots on wheelsFor some reason, I was impressed by the Keecker, which is a voice-enabled robot with cameras, an audio system and a video projector; it can roll around to project movies on any wall in your home. Then I got home and the wife asked, “Why would you need that?” Well, you could use it for videoconferencing, or tell it remotely to show you what’s going on at home, or use its smartphone app to see exactly how humid it is. I guess it just struck me as cool.
  • My predictions of record-breaking hugeness seem to have been accurate. CES wrapped up with the largest exhibit area ever, and I’ll bet that when the audited attendee numbers come in, they’ll also be the highest ever. How long can it grow like this?
  • VIP ROOM sign stuck to doorFinally, in my opinion nothing says “Prepare to enter our special place to be treated as royalty” like a VIP Room sign printed on a wrinkled piece of copier paper and stuck to a door by two pieces of tape. Of course, now I’ve completely torpedoed any chance that they would invite me in. See you next year, CES!

HDHomeRun DVR screenshot

The HDHomeRun DVR’s Discover screen offers good suggestions in lieu of an alphabetical list of what’s available.

Completing my whirlwind day at CES last week was a visit to the SiliconDust hospitality suite where I met with its ever-gracious CEO Theodore Head. He was showing off a great new product, the HDHomeRun Connect Duo+, which combines their best-in-class over-the-air TV tuner technology with DVR software and 250 GB of storage, all built in to one small box. To explain the significance of the Connect Duo+, I’ll need to go back a few years.

SiliconDust has been making HDHomeRun tuners for quite a while, and they’ve always been the perfect ingredient for a homebrew entertainment system, whether that was Windows Media Center, Plex, Kodi (formerly XBMC), or something else. A few years ago, they ran a successful Kickstarter campaign (to which I contributed) to fund the creation of their own DVR system. After months of work, it was ready for beta users to play with, but I ran into self-inflicted problems.

The HDHomeRun DVR could store its recordings on a semi-dedicated PC’s hard drive, but the recommended way was using a Network-Attached Storage (NAS) device. Actually, it required one of a limited set of NAS boxes, but I didn’t pay attention to that part. I rushed off to the computer parts store, bought a cheap NAS and a couple of hard drives, and put it together. Because what I bought wasn’t compatible, it didn’t work. Embarrassed, I put it all aside and got busy with other projects.

In late 2017, I heard a gathering buzz about the DVR, so I got the right NAS this time and was able to get it set up somewhat easily. It’s amazing how well the right parts work! The DVR functions well, though I still use my Tablo for OTA recording and playback on a regular basis. I’d go into a full description, but TechHive already did that just a couple of weeks ago. Its review of the DVR is harsh but not inaccurate; TechHive loved the hardware but wrote, “Unfortunately, HDHomeRun DVR is still too rough to recommend”.

That’s why the Connect Duo+, when it ships later this year, will be a huge step forward. Instead of needing to download software and set up a NAS, the user should be able to just plug in this box and watch. The amount of storage is just a bit limiting, but it should appeal to customers who doesn’t want to buy an external USB drive or identify, purchase, and assemble the right NAS. You know, regular people. I look forward to giving it a try once it’s released.

Two men on a stage in front of a crowded room

Ben Sherwood, right, interviewed by Variety co-editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein at CES

Wednesday morning at CES, Ben Sherwood, president of Disney-ABC Television Group, sounded upbeat about his division’s prospects for the coming few years. “I’ve been at this long enough to know that every decade obituaries are written about broadcast,” he said. “In my view, the sky is not falling; I think the sky is rising.”

Interviewed by Variety co-editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein, Sherwood declined comment on Disney’s proposed purchase of some Fox Studio assets, though he added, “Personally, I’m extremely excited about it.”

The Disney direct-to-home streaming service won’t begin until 2019, though Sherwood said that his group was “heavily involved” in its preparation. An ESPN+ streaming service should start in Spring 2018. He said that Disney’s timeless characters and content would provide “an irresistible family service” for households and kids.

The expansion of distribution methods has fractured the audience, but viewers are watching more video than ever. “It’s a critical period, but I would say that it’s always been a critical period,” Sherwood said.