My early-morning scribbles at CES

My early-morning scribbles at CES

In the middle of the night after my first day at the CES show floor this year, I woke up with a vision. If you put a cluster of attractive free-to-air channels together on one transponder, that would make a much more sustainable business plan than for any single channel. I was so inspired that I scribbled down some notes for some free channels ideas, and that’s the photo* to the right of this paragraph. But I didn’t mention it to anyone.

Anyway, the following week, a group called FreeDBS announced that they’re actually going to try to do just that. What a fun, almost spooky coincidence! Their web site lists a channel chart that looks a lot better than mine, although the lineup is certain to change by the time it launches. For now, it even includes The Golden Age of Movies, which is the new name for White Springs TV.

However it happens, this could be a nice boost to FTA receiver sales. In the first days of radio, some of the commercial stations were created and funded by the companies who made radio sets, because content is the key to sales. Here’s hoping that something good comes out of this.

Since we get to watch its formative stages, maybe this is the best time to make channel suggestions that aren’t on the FreeDBS list yet. The channel would have to own national rights to its content, eliminating most OTA TV stations.

Most of these suggestions involve channels that are already available in the clear on C-band:

  • Classic Arts Showcase. CAS will give permission to almost anyone to rebroadcast its channel. I find it very relaxing. It’s also available on Dish Network to anyone with an active Dish receiver.
  • America One. Years ago, a Netflix-wannabe called GameZnFlix had a great idea. It took a Ku-band slot on the international satellite at 97 W (then Intelsat Americas 5) and carried all of America One’s programming, but it used all the “local” ad slots for GnF ads. But after a month or two, GnF switched to its own mix of low-budget movies that it licensed inexpensively. I’d love to see the national A1 feed on Ku-band or maybe another similarly sponsored virtual station.
  • AMG TV. This is another A1-type network, but without as much team sports. We had a nice preview of it when several former RTV stations switched to AMG in the months before they vanished from Galaxy 18.
  • Blue Highways. It’s not on C-band, but it’s prominently featured on TVU. Music, country, and country music.
  • The Liberty Channel. (on IP-based Sky Angel) Hear me out on this. This channel includes a surprising amount of college sports, more than BYU. It shows a secular movie every weekday afternoon. And it’s a good candidate to be able to contribute financial support to ensure the wider reach that a project like FreeDBS can provide. Sure we’ve already got a lot of religious channels on Ku-band, but this might be a good fit.

Now it’s your turn. If you know of a channel that would be a good fit on FreeDBS, add a comment here to tell us what and why. Maybe it’ll be on FTA some day.

(*BTW, the other note on that page was from the second day as I was watching a discussion with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. He said that the reason the V-chip in TV sets isn’t used by most consumers is that when something is required by the government, then there’s no reason for third-party sellers to promote that feature, so fewer people are inspired to use it. That’s a good argument in favor of choices rather than mandates.)

Hollywood Classics 100 Movie Pack

Hollywood Classics 100 Movie Pack

The most common topic in the FTAList inbox for the past three months has been White Springs TV. Where did it go? When will it come back? As was written here, this fine 24-hour movie service says it suffered some sort of catastrophic failure on October 1, and we haven’t seen it on any satellite since then.

About a month ago, I sent them an email to say that I wouldn’t be adding any new programming grids for White Springs after the first of this year until WSTV became a FTA channel again. At that time, they said that they were hopeful of arranging financing to return to a different satellite. And that’s the last I’ve heard from them.

I would really love to see White Springs return to satellite, but we should face the reality that it’s gone and may never return. So here are some alternative ways for you to satisfy your public-domain movie cravings.

  • Public-domain movie box sets. The DVD set pictured here, Hollywood Classics 100 Movie Pack, is just one example of the many sets that Mill Creek Entertainment has produced. If you search Amazon for 50, 100, or 250 movie packs, you’ll find plenty more. (And if you buy something through these Amazon links, I get a small commission.) There are about a dozen 50-movie packs on my shelf at home. Their movie lists are strikingly similar to the list of movies shown by White Springs. Search online for the best price, or get more than $25 of them from Amazon to get free shipping. (They’re bulky, of course.) When you have a few of these, it’s almost as good as WSTV, and without commercials.
  • The Internet Archive. Archive.org is a great free resource in any number of areas, but what’s relevant to this discussion is its movie archive. It lists over 1,800 feature films for downloading or streaming. While there’s some overlap, this is a different set of movies than what Mill Creek provides.
  • TVU Networks. As was said here earlier, TVU is a delivery system for a remarkable array of programming choices. Among those choices are several public domain movie channels, most named Nostalgia or PDTV. If you prefer being surprised rather than choosing your movie, this would be a good source for you. You’ll need to install a special browser plug-in or run the TVU application separately. And if you don’t mind streaming movies on your computer, that brings us back to …
  • White Springs TV online. Yes, there’s nothing more like White Springs than White Springs itself. Its online stream (direct link) uses Windows Media Player, so there’s no need for special plug-ins. And who knows, maybe one of these days they’ll update the WSTV web site with more information about their comeback. If you keep checking, you might be the first to know.

Las Vegas sunset

Las Vegas sunset

As the last memories of the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas fade, it’s time to bring up one last related thought. You can get a free ticket to the exhibit floor (where most of the cool stuff is) of the next CES.

(If you want to visit purely satellite-based exhibitors, then you’ll have much better luck at the annual National Association of Broadcasters Show, scheduled for April 12-15, 2010, in Las Vegas. Or you can go to the Satellite 2010 show near Washington DC, but then you lose all the benefits of visiting Las Vegas. Anyway, you can substitute the relevant information for one of these shows in the following instructions, and it’ll probably work just as well.)

  1. You need to work for a company in a related industry. This is a lot easier than it sounds. If you fix cars, work at Walmart, or sell iPhones, you qualify for consumer electronics. If you don’t, no problem. Suppose you wake up tomorrow morning and decide that you’re going to start a sole proprietor industry consulting business. Good for you, entrepreneur! Now print a few business cards and you’ll have all the proof you’ll need. To avoid embarrassment, rehearse a good reason why you’re visiting.
  2. You need to find an invitation. Again, this isn’t that hard. Just run a web search on “CES Free Pass”, and you should find pages of exhibitors who would love to invite you to visit their booth. These free passes are often good for keynote speeches and other events where the show hopes to draw a crowd.
  3. You need a place to stay. Unless you can commute, you’ll need to pay for a hotel. Usually, your best bet is to reserve a room directly with a nearby hotel. You might not want tot use Travelocity or Expedia or let the show do it for you because you can typically cancel or adjust a direct reservations if and when the rates go down. Las Vegas has the advantage here with thousands of rooms available at low rates.
  4. You need a way to get to the show. Unless you can drive from home, avoid cars. With thousands of cars converging on the convention center, you’ll have a long walk anyway from wherever you find a space, and you’ll probably pay quite a bit for the privilege. CES operates hotel shuttles, and in Las Vegas, the monorail offers the fastest transportation around town. If you travel light, you can even ride a city bus (#108 PDF) directly from the airport to the convention center.

So there you have it. Next time you hear details of a show and wish that you had attended, go ahead and make that wish come true. Dig around for a cheap airfare, get yourself registered, then come out and see what you’ve been missing.

The show floor at CES

The show floor at CES

Long, long ago, when I was working as a sports reporter, a colleague taught me a lesson. No matter how much time you have to spend in the rain covering a game, no matter how rudely you are treated by a player in the postgame locker room, never complain about it, because most readers would be happy to trade places with you for a day.

Since I just got back from the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, you can guess where this is going. The problem with CES isn’t that it treats its visitors poorly, (it tries to pamper them, really), it’s that for satellite TV in general and FTA reception in particular, there isn’t much of relevance on the exhibit show floor any more. Last year, I saw lots of small dishes for home use, and for a couple of years before that, they had actual cutting-edge FTA receivers to look over. This year, there were almost no FTA receivers, and the only small dish I saw was from a guy selling a multi-LNB, multi-satellite mount. Asked for the best way to dial in those adjacent birds, he told me, “Hire a professional.” Uh, thanks.

The only place I found FTA receivers was at the Coship booth, which was in the middle of the netbook vendors. That should tell you where Coship thinks the market is. The company has some nice-looking receivers, but they’re hard to find on North American shelves.

The other major FTA presence was just outside the Las Vegas convention center. Every year, there are any number of technical and trade magazines stacked up and available for free. You could choose from Variety, Wired, Broadcasting & Cable, iPhone Life, and many more. This year, for the first time I could remember, you could also grab a copy of Tele-Satellite Magazine, probably the best magazine for FTA enthusiasts. I was really happy to see it there. If you’ve never read it, or even if you just used to read it, click that link to go to its site and read an issue online.

Hi there. How have you been? Me, I’ve been working on a major redesign for the guts of FTAList.com. I’ve also realized that I neglected to point out (as many of you have noticed) that the blog has shifted away from the old FTAList subdomain to this bright, shiny dedicated WordPress site. So it’s okay to remember all of those old entries as long as remember to come here from now on.

Why the redesign? As the great old Equity stations and White Springs have left us, what remains is increasingly fragmented between regular old linear DVB-S, circular-polarity content, DVB-S2, and even C-band programming. FTAList needs to evolve to become something that matches what each visitor wants to see, so that’s what I’ve been working on.

(Yes, I think that White Springs might be gone forever. I hope I’m wrong, but three months off the satellites is not a good sign.)

Today, I’m making my annual pilgrimage to the slowly shrinking Consumer Electronics Show. The big buzz this year is 3D TV. Some folks who haven’t experienced it yet think it’s a goofy innovation like quadrafonic sound. Personally, I have experienced 3D TV, and I think it’s as inevitable, if about as far away, as HDTV was 10 years ago. It’s that cool, that different.

Look for more posts about the show in the next few days, and expect all of my posts to be here at FTABlog.com. I’m looking forward to writing more soon.