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.

Caribbean weather spot on WSEE

Caribbean weather spot on WSEE

Reversing a long, unhappy trend of late, a new, English-language major network affiliate has become available on Ku band. It’s WSEE, the CBS station in Erie PA, and what we’re seeing on AMC 21 is the Caribbean version of it. (A tip of the hat to P.T., who sent me an email about it.)

So why is there this Pennsylvania station with Caribbean weather and news inserts? According to Wikipedia: “WSEE-TV has been part of the Primetime 24 lineup since November 1997 … The Primetime 24 service provides American network television service to C-Band and some cable viewers in Latin America, the Caribbean, and in rural parts of the United States where local signals are not available.”

As always, there’s no way to tell how long this channel will remain available in the clear on Ku band. But if it lasts till Sunday, then a little bit of pro football will have returned to FTA. Woo hoo! And if anybody else spots any other fun channels, drop me an email or leave a comment with it. Thanks for all your help!

A menu. You know, for a la carte

A menu. You know, for a la carte

Here’s a small item that happens to illustrate a big point, one that’s a source of frustration to some satellite viewers. According to Multichannel News, The owners of the Fine Living Network are going to change it into the Cooking Channel next year.

It doesn’t sound like much of anything, but think about it for a moment. If you or I wanted to start the Cook This channel, we’d have to go to all sorts of cable and satellite operators to try to work out deals for them to carry Cook This and maybe even pay us a little for it. FLN’s owner, Scripps, won’t have to do that for the Cooking Channel. Instead, if the original contract was flexible enough, the new channel will be automatically carried to the millions of people who have FLN on their channel guides. Probably some of the people who would never think to sample Fine Living will be interested in Cooking.

Channel refocusing goes on all the time. My First Rule of TV Networks is that no matter its niche at its launch, every channel tends to become like every other channel. The Game Show Network adds poker. TV Land adds original series. American Movie Classics runs a scripted weekly drama. You get the idea. (Turner Classic Movies is the lone exception. Thank you, TCM!)

There’s also been a fair amount of rebranding. The Nashville Network became TNN, which became Spike. The Cable Health Network became Lifetime. And soon, FLN will become Cooking.

My point is that any channel’s presence on cable and satellite is a huge opportunity. If you own one, and you think another format will work better, you’re free to try your experiment. Of course, this is intensely valuable, and this is the reason why the handful of companies that own the majority of pay-TV channels will fight to prevent them from being offered one at a time, or a la carte. If viewers could choose not to subscribe to FLN, they probably wouldn’t notice Cooking’s launch.

Remember why we have bundled channels. The first multi-channel distribution system was cable TV. Most cable systems began with simple analog technology that simply delivered every available channel, maybe as many as 36. Premium networks such as HBO required a physical filter on the line to allow or disallow reception. No one could choose to subscribe to only MTV or to block out The Weather Channel.

Flash forward to now. Satellite providers routinely add or subtract individual channels from individual receivers. There’s no technological reason for not selling each channel a la carte. But content providers understandably resist the idea. It’s not just that they won’t get the extra 2 cents per month per subscriber for their Rerun of Everything Else Channel. It’s that they might want to rebrand the Rerun channel to take advantage of the next fad. And if they do, they’ll want the built-in potential viewers that bundled programming provides.

Finally, this is another reason to enjoy FTA programming. FTA viewers are used to having everything change. We search out new and fun shows instead of stumbling onto them as we scroll past Channel 285 in our guide. We work hard to find the shows we like, and that makes them all the better to us. And of course, it’s nice that they’re all free.

Map showing location of White Springs FL

Map showing location of White Springs FL

A fair number of readers have been emailing to ask about the status of White Springs TV, that station that shows lots of public domain movies from its lonely spot on Galaxy 27. On Thursday, October 1, we stopped seeing that channel on our receivers, and around that time, its old web site started showing an Under Construction page.

According to Victor Ives, monarch of White Springs TV, it’s not all that bad. His folks experienced “massive internal technical” problems, Ives said, but they’re hoping to use this as an opportunity to upgrade their equipment or their satellite transponder position or something. Meanwhile, viewers can watch the streaming version of WSTV on its more recent web site, WhiteSpringsTV.com. Let’s hope WSTV gets back on the air soon.