Two C-band dishes against a sunset sky

Two backyard C-band dishes

There’s a thread over at DBSTalk that references a SkyReport note that says that a guy at National Programming Services said that Motorola said that they’d stop providing pay-TV programming to C-band viewers. (And I’ll send a prize to the first person to correctly diagram that sentence.)

This note revived the recurring theme that this is The End for C-band dishes. Previous versions of The End came when ESPN left and when NFL Sunday Ticket left. And if you really rely on C-band for your pay-TV programming, it would change everything if Motorola really shuts down its authorization stream.

But other posters in the thread claim that it’s all a ploy by NPS to convert its customers to Dish Network and pocket the referral fees. Other C-band programming vendors such as Skyvision are still offering annual contracts. So we’ll have to wait and see what happens.

From a FTA perspective, if you’re not a C-band subscriber, this isn’t so bad. Remember that C-band is where FTA got started, in the days when everything was unscrambled. Then C-band dishes sprouted in back yards, then cable TV operators began getting annoyed; they persuaded the senders to scramble most signals. Viewers eventually shifted to cable or small-dish pay-TV, and the C-band dishes shriveled (ok, rusted) away until only a small fraction of them remained in operation.

Perhaps as a result, now there’s an amazing array of sports feeds and other stuff on C-band if you’ve got a capable HD FTA receiver. You can visit Ricks Satellite Forum to see what’s been available in recent weeks. For regular channels in the clear, there’s always the great C-band list at Global Communications.

Maybe when pay-TV subscriptions on C-band finally pass away, a few more dishes will come down. (Which will be more used C-band dishes on the market. They’re already pretty cheap.) Maybe it will also mean that broadcasters and cable systems will worry less about the dishes that stay up. And then maybe we’ll see more and more content in the clear on C-band.

Crossroads abstract imageThe relaunch of FTAList is really close now. The completely redesigned database is working well, and the new basic page layout is ready. I had hoped for a Feb. 1 relaunch, but now it looks like it might slip a few days past that. It’s just as well, because it would be great to get more input about what features and directions it should go.

First, a few background notes. Although the new database is set up to include them, there won’t be any C-band listings … yet. There will be a Troubleshooting page to address the most common problems that FTA viewers run into. Each channel list page will include a notes section, where you can read about recently lost channels, for example.

But here are some questions that you can help answer:

  • Should we recognize channel updaters? Some folks are nice enough to pass along reports of channels that they’ve found. Should they be recognized on the channel list the way that LyngSat does it?
  • In what ways should the lists be sortable? By name, of course. By language (for satellite pages). By satellite (for language pages). Probably by transponder (on satellite pages only). Maybe a selectable include / don’t include circular-polarity channels button? What else?
  • What to do with the Movies & Sports page? Back in the glory days of a couple dozen OTA channels on FTA, it made a lot of sense to use the Movies & Sports page to round up the sports and movies that they’d have available. With those channels gone, do you still want to see this roundup? If so, which channels should be included?
  • Should we have a forum? There are any number of fine online forums where you can discuss satellite TV. Do we want one more just because it would be the official FTAList forum?
  • What else? No single person ever has as many good ideas as the group has together. What other ideas do you have to improve FTAList? Leave a comment and let us know what you think.

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.