Robot at CES playing beer pong

Where can you watch robotic beer pong other than at CES?

The January 2017 edition of CES (don’t you dare call it the Consumer Electronics Show) is now accepting registrations here. Every year, the show is a wonderful tumult of innovations in various stages of development (prototype, half-baked, blueprint, or vaporware). Some of those products will definitely make a difference in your life in just a few years, or even sooner. CES is also a great place to meet the people behind the TV innovations that we enjoy.

In past years, I’ve enjoyed some of you who read the blog, and it would be really nice to meet more. So sign up and drop me a line so we can get together and explore CES again.

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.

Four men in virtual reality chairs

The Dell booth showed off virtual reality with a little motion and breeze thrown in.

Virtual reality. VR. That was the hottest technology on display at the NAB Show a couple of weeks ago.

VR doesn’t have anything to do with broadcasting, not yet. But it could happen sooner that you might think. For example, Streambox exhibited real-time VR streaming at the show.

On the second day of the show, I was reminded that even though we’re taller and dressed like grown-ups, we’re all kids inside. We filed in to a large meeting room for a VR seminar. Smiling workers handed each of us an official Google Cardboard viewer. Projectors showed a few VR apps to download to our phones. We took our seats, and many of us reconfigured our Cardboards from storage to Velcro-secured viewing mode. We were ready for whatever demonstration they could throw at us. The seminar began.

About 40 minutes into the scheduled hour, there had been plenty of discussion and shared expertise, but no demonstrations. That’s when I started hearing the unmistakable sound of ripping, unfastened Velcro. One by one, we realized we would not be playing with our new toys.

(Side note: Cardboard is available for anyone to manufacture, and I had bought a cheap knock-off a couple of months earlier. The type of Cardboard they handed out, which looked like this, was very much easier to assemble and use. Highly recommended.)

If you haven’t experienced VR, get a Cardboard and try it with your smartphone. That’ll give you a good taste of what the (currently) expensive VR headsets deliver. I’m not sure exactly where VR will fit in the future of video story-telling, but I’m sure we’ll see more of it somewhere.

It’s been just two weeks since the NAB Show opened. It feels more like two months. I’ve still got a couple of topics left from the show that I need to get to, and this is one of them. Next, I’ll give you a wrap-up with what I saw about virtual reality.

StartUpLoft banner at the NAB Show

KlowdTV wasn’t in the Start Up Loft at the NAB Show. It was in the Sprockit area for startups. Which is different. I don’t know why.

The best part of these big conferences is the opportunity to meet people. I had a nice talk with Bill O’Hara, CEO of KlowdTV, an OTT company which streams a lot of interesting Spanish channels and an oddball assortment of English channels. KlowdTV had to drop beIN Sports last month, and O’Hara talked me down from the conspiracy theory I had concocted in response. It was a simple financial issue, O’Hara said, not exclusivity. Glad to hear that they’re playing fair.

As we talked, it occurred to me that I hadn’t sufficiently explain why I love KlowdTV. It’s based on very skinny bundles. The first $2/month covers just the platform and a one-hour cloud DVR. Small, themed packages of channels, such as Sports, News, and Entertainment, are available for $3/month. The net result is that it takes $5/month to subscribe to one package, $8/month for two, and so forth. Some individual channels are a la carte for $1 or more. Want more cloud DVR space? Twelve hours for $4 looks like the sweet spot, but you can pay for more or less.

For that price, subscribers get to watch their channels pretty much anywhere. KlowdTV is available on Roku, Amazon FireTV, AppleTV, Chromecast, PC and Mac browsers, and the KlowdTV app for iOS and Android. I like using my Roku to put the eScapes smooth jazz and landscapes channel on my big screen.

The catch? There’s no ESPN in KlowdTV’s Sports and no CNN in its News. Sports includes Gol TV, Fight Network, FightBox, and three other channels. News has Bloomberg, Newsmax, One America, and four international channels. The other packages have similar mixes of competent, not-so-mainstream offerings.

O’Hara was especially proud of his Spanish-language packages. For example, KlowdTV’s 11 Mexican channels compare to SlingTV‘s 12-channel Best of Spanish TV, but the KlowdTV customer would pay $5/month vs. $25 to SlingTV. There are more channels included in that $25, but that’s the point. In an ideal world, an OTT subscriber would stack small packages and a la carte channels to pay for exactly what he wanted and nothing more.

The FCC has been talking about regulating OTT distributors as similar to cable and satellite pay-TV companies, although the FCC is still moving very slowly on that front. If KlowdTV gets the chance to negotiate like Comcast, maybe we could see dozens of little bundles.

When I subscribed to DishWorld (now Sling International) a couple of years ago, I knew I was using a beta of the Next Big Thing. Will KlowdTV become the Next Next Big Thing? Time will tell.

Video studio with displays

© antb / Depositphotos.com

Old joke: I can finally afford something I’ve wanted for 15 years – a 2001 Saturn hatchback.

Seriously: What do you do when circumstances change to allow you to attain what you have dreamed about for years, but those same circumstances make that prize unattractive?

When I got started with this TV stuff 10 years ago, the main topic was free-to-air satellite. There were some high-quality channels, but there was also some trash. This led to a frequently asked question, “How much does it cost to run a TV channel? Because I could do better than half of what’s up there.”

For example, White Springs TV ran a steady diet of public domain movies on the transponder that also distributed its parent company’s radio network. It looked like the work of one or two people, and it ran 24/7 for years. White Springs wasn’t trash, but it suggested that shoestring operations were possible.

I remember meeting with a satellite technician at the 2008 NAB Show to try to come up with something similar. He knew where to find some cheap satellite bandwidth and I knew where to find cheap content (more public domain rubbish, at least to start), but then we began to realize that running a linear channel is more complicated then that. We barely knew the words “playout automation,” so we never got to first base with our plans.

There were other bits of information here and there. I bought a copy of Brock Fisher’s 2008 book Start a TV Station. (He also published a 2012 version, but I never read that one.) I found a web page describing how to build a TV channel with mostly open source software components. I even experimented with a rudimentary streaming feed using TVU Broadcaster, a platform that TVU soon abandoned.

Fast forward to now. There is so much over-the-top streaming software and inexpensive hardware that I’m sure I could launch that 24/7 linear stream with just a little more research and work. But when I look around, I see that’s probably not the best idea. When it comes to streaming anything but sports, on-demand is what’s in demand, especially with younger viewers. Instead of trying to program 24 hours of mostly filler or reruns, I’d be better off creating individual shows and putting them where they can be streamed or downloaded when someone actually wants to watch them. Now that I can finally achieve my 2008 dreams, I don’t think they’re worth it.

A recurring meme at the 2016 NAB Show was the democratization of video. Equipment and streaming hosts are so inexpensive that anyone can make a movie or a short and show it to the world. The great news is that I have an equal opportunity to dazzle an audience with some amazingly fun content. All I need to do is create it.