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Here’s what you won’t be getting for free today

Housekeeping

Every January 1 always makes me a little sad. If we still operated on the same copyright laws that were in place when I was a kid, then some of the works created when I was a kid (or a few decades earlier) would now be freely available in the public domain. The Center for the Study of the Public Domain points out every year a sampling of the new works we really should have had available – it never made sense to change copyright rules retroactively. Here’s the report for 2017:

Current US law extends copyright for 70 years after the date of the author’s death, and corporate “works-for-hire” are copyrighted for 95 years after publication. But prior to the 1976 Copyright Act (which became effective in 1978), the maximum copyright term was 56 years—an initial term of 28 years, renewable for another 28 years. Under those laws, works published in 1960 would enter the public domain on January 1, 2017, where they would be “free as the air to common use.” Under current copyright law, we’ll have to wait until 2056.1 And no published works will enter our public domain until 2019. The laws in other countries are different—thousands of works are entering the public domain in Canada and the EU on January 1.

Born Free

What books would be entering the public domain if we had the pre-1978 copyright laws? You might recognize some of the titles below.
The Constitution of Liberty by Friedrich A. Hayek book cover

  • Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
  • John Updike, Rabbit, Run
  • Joy Adamson, Born Free: A Lioness of Two Worlds
  • William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany
  • Friedrich A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty
  • Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties
  • Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Politics of Upheaval: The Age of Roosevelt
  • Dr. Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish
  • Scott O’Dell, Island of the Blue Dolphins
  • John Barth, The Sot-Weed Factor
  • Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique de la raison dialectique

Dr. Seuss's Sam-I-Am running with a book on a platter: Read them freely! And you may. Share them and you may, I say. ...But not until 2056.The books above are but a fraction of what would be entering the public domain on January 1. Imagine them being freely available to students and teachers around the world. Readers interested in iconic stories of courage in the face of racial injustice, or middle class America in the late 1950s, or just great literature, would have something to celebrate. In the current political climate, Shirer’s work, and also those of Hayek, Bell, and Schlesinger, might provide food for thought. And Dr. Seuss’s beloved books would be legally available for free online for children (of all ages).

You would be free to use these books in your own stories, adapt them for theater, animate them, or make them into a film. You could translate them into other languages, or create accessible Braille or audio versions.2 You could read them online or buy cheaper print editions, because others were free to republish them. Empirical studies have shown that public domain books are less expensive, available in more editions and formats, and more likely to be in print—see here, here, and here. Take, for example, The Conscience of a Conservative by Barry Goldwater—like the works listed above, it was published in 1960; but unlike those works, it’s in the public domain because the copyright was not renewed. You can legally download it for free, and the purchase price for an eBook is $0.99, instead of $10 or $20.

Imagine a digital Library of Alexandria containing all of the world’s books from 1960 and earlier, where, thanks to technology, you can search, link, annotate, copy and paste. (Google Books has brought us closer to this reality, but for copyrighted books where there is no separate agreement with the copyright holder, it only shows three short snippets, not the whole book.) Instead of seeing these literary works enter the public domain in 2017, we will have to wait until 2056.

The Frozen-in-Time Machine

Consider the films and television shows from 1960 that would have become available this year. Fans could share clips with friends or incorporate them into homages. Local theaters could show the full features. Libraries and archivists would be free to digitize and preserve them. Here are a few of the movies that we won’t see in the public domain for another 39 years.
The Apartment movie poster

  • The Time Machine
  • Psycho
  • Spartacus
  • Exodus
  • The Apartment
  • Inherit the Wind
  • The Magnificent Seven
  • Ocean’s 11
  • The Alamo
  • The Andy Griffith Show (first episodes)
  • The Flintstones (first episodes)

These works are famous, so thanks to projects like the National Film Registry, we’re not likely to lose them entirely. The true tragedy is that of forgotten films that are literally disintegrating while preservationists wait for their copyright terms to expire.3

The Magnificent...Life-Plus-70?

It’s Now or . . . 2056?

What 1960 music could you have used without fear of a lawsuit? If you wanted to find guitar tabs or sheet music and freely use some of the great music from this year, January 1, 2017 would have been a rocking day for you under earlier copyright laws. Elvis Presley’s hit song It’s Now or Never (Wally Gold, Aaron Schroeder) would be available. So would Only the lonely (know the way I feel) (Roy Orbison, Joe Melson), Save the Last Dance for Me (Mort Shuman, Jerome Pomus), and Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini (Paul J. Vance, Lee Pockriss). Your school would be free to stage public performances of the songs from the musical Camelot (Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe). Or you could set a video to Harry Belafonte’s Grizzly Bear (Harry Belafonte, Robert DeCormier, Milt Okun) from Swing Dat Hammer. Today, these musical works remain copyrighted until 2056.4

Science from 1960—copyrighted research, still behind paywalls

1960 was another significant year for science. Max Perutz and Sir John Kendrew published articles on the structure of hemoglobin and the structure of myoglobin, respectively, and Robert Burns Woodward published an article describing a total synthesis of chlorophyll. (All three later won Nobel Prizes in Chemistry.) Theodore Maiman demonstrated the first working laser, a ruby laser. And the US launched its first successful weather satellite, TIROS-1.

If you follow the links above (and you do not have a subscription or institutional access), you will see that these 1960 articles are still behind paywalls. You can purchase the individual articles from the journal Nature for $32. A distressing number of scientific articles from 1960 require payment or a subscription or account, including those in major journals such as Science and JAMA. And the institutional access that many top scientists enjoy is not guaranteed—even institutions such as Harvard have considered canceling their subscriptions because they could no longer afford the escalating prices of major journal subscriptions.

It’s remarkable to find scientific research from 1960 hidden behind publisher paywalls. Thankfully, some publishers have made older articles available in full online, so that you can read them, even though it may still be illegal to copy and distribute them. In addition, some older articles have been made available on third party websites, but this is not a stable solution for providing reliable access to science. Third party postings can be difficult to find or taken down, links can get broken, and would-be posters may be deterred by the risk of a lawsuit. Under the pre-1978 copyright term, all of this history would be free to scholars, students, and enthusiasts.

Not all scientific publishers work under this kind of copyright scheme. “Open Access” scientific publications, like those of the Public Library of Science, are under Creative Commons licenses, meaning that they can be copied freely from the day they are published.

Works from 1988!

Most of the works highlighted here are famous—that is why we included them. And if that fame meant that the work was still being exploited commercially 28 years after its publication, the rights holders would probably renew the copyright. But we know from empirical studies that 85% of authors did not renew their copyrights (for books, the number is even higher—93% did not renew), since most works exhaust their commercial value very quickly.

Under the law that existed until 1978 . . . Up to 85% of all copyrighted works from 1988 might have been entering the public domain on January 1, 2017.

That means that all of these examples from 1960 are only the tip of the iceberg. If the pre-1978 laws were still in effect, we could have seen 85% of the works published in 1988 enter the public domain on January 1, 2017. Imagine what that would mean to our archives, our libraries, our schools and our culture. Such works could be digitized, preserved, and made available for education, for research, for future creators. Instead, they will remain under copyright for decades to come, perhaps even into the next century.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the current copyright term is that in most cases, the cultural harm is not offset by any benefit to an author or rights holder. Unlike the famous works highlighted here, the vast majority of works from 1960 do not retain commercial value,5 but they are presumably off limits to users who do not want to risk a copyright lawsuit. This means that no one is benefiting from continued copyright, while the works remain both commercially unavailable and culturally off limits. The public loses the possibility of meaningful access for no good reason. You can read more about the current costs associated with orphan works—works that are still presumably under copyright, but with no identifiable or locatable copyright holder—here and here. Importantly, the US Copyright Office has been engaged in efforts to find solutions to the orphan works problem. However, unlike other countries, the US has not enacted any such solutions.

Creative Commons LicenseThe Public Domain Day 2017 web pages by Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

PhoenixBTV opens PC web access to free TV

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PhoenixBTV live TV gridPhoenixBTV launched earlier this month, offering a beta of 22 Phoenix area over-the-air TV channels via its Android and iPhone apps, but only for registered viewers physically present in the Phoenix market. Last week, the company added a web site to watch via browser. Freed from device-level location checking, PCs with a Phoenix VPN can tune in to see exactly what PhoenixBTV is serving up.

As you can see by my screenshot (click it to enlarge), PhoenixBTV came up with a pretty decent interface and grid, although some of the program info isn’t accurate. I’m surprised that it lets viewers examine shows over a week in advance; does it mean a cloud DVR is coming, or do they think viewers will find appointment viewing in the future?

Although the lineup is heavy on shopping, Spanish-language, and religious programming, there are a few channels that might interest secular English speakers. Independent KAZT leads off with daytime paternity-type talk shows, prime time game shows and nighttime sitcoms. There are the movies of ThisTV, plus old Luken Communications favorites Retro TV, REV’N, and Tuff TV, which Luken helped launch but doesn’t own any more. Okay, that’s only five channels, but what do you want for a free beta?

I’ve whipped up a TitanTV channel lineup that shows almost all of PhoenixBTV’s offerings. (It’s missing KPHE6 44.6.) To see that lineup, create an account or log in to TitanTV.com, click the tool bag (next to the plus sign) to manage channel lineups, click the Create Lineup from Token button, then in the copy and paste this token: 7MxSYp7G5dlpSHgggcXn4GwPmzFADnGfTKzFbZ2JAti!LJvfdrlGNA and click Save.

As I wrote last time, I hope that PhoenixBTV has its programming permissions in order. For now at least, anyone with a computer in the Phoenix area can go check it out.

Check out this new Texas broadcast museum

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TV Technology magazine ran a nice article last week about the latest place to admire tons of old broadcast TV technology. The Texas Museum of Broadcasting and Communications opened in September, but I first noticed it from that article.

Chuck Conrad, a serious collector of old equipment, bought a vacant former automobile dealership building in Kilgore TX to house all of his stuff and show it off to the public. There are about 70 TV cameras in Conrad’s collection, with about 40 on display. There are hundreds of other broadcasting pieces, from microphones to an early radio automation system and everything in between. “Then there are the radios and TVs,” Conrad told TV Technology. “We’ve never really counted them, but there are a lot, with many more in storage, just waiting their turn to go on display.”

The crowning glory and “tipping point” in the collection is a restored 1949 DuMont Telecruiser loaded with equipment from the first TV station in Texas. After spending years restoring that bus-like vehicle, Conrad just had to create a museum for it.

Last year, The Texas Bucket List featured the TMBC before it formally opened. I’m glad to be able to share that with you. Next time I’m in Kilgore, I definitely need to visit!

Here’s your last chance to get fuboTV cheap

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fubo2017 channel lineup chart
Tentative channel lineups for fuboTV’s 2017 packages. (Click to see full size)

I often mention my First Rule of TV Programming: Every channel, no matter what its original topic or theme, becomes like every other channel. SyFy adds pro wrestling. MTV turns away from music. GSN picks up reality shows. Et cetera. If the Chess Channel launched today, two years later it would carry sitcoms. (The only exception to this rule is Turner Classic Movies. Please don’t ever change, TCM.)

It looks like I’ll need to add a corollary to that rule: Every over-the-top multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) will become like every other MVPD. First KlowdTV started with a quirky set of channels then morphed under new management to embrace conservative news networks. Now fuboTV has announced that its soccer-centric offerings, starting at $10/month, will give way to a broad set of national channels that will cost over three times as much.

As it exists in 2016, fuboTV makes a great OTT supplement to free broadcast TV for soccer fans, even moreso for Spanish-language soccer fans. (Quick disclaimer: fuboTV advertises on FreeTVBlog and its sister web sites, but I pay for my own subscription.) The current base package includes beIN Sports, One World Sports, Univision Desportes and a half dozen interesting channels for that $9.95 base price. Gol TV and TyC Sports are part of a $4 add-on package. I can’t imagine a better solution for the soccer fan on a budget.

Yesterday, fuboTV announced that it will offer over 30 general interest channels plus plenty of sports for an introductory price of $34.95/month. That will go up to $50/month “in about 12 months” according to an article in Multichannel News. There’s still an emphasis on sports, but it’s hard to tell how it’s much different from DirecTV Now except for fewer channels and a lot less marketing clout. The 2017 fuboTV is also a close match to Sling TV Blue plus Sports Extra, a combination that’s also $35/month, again without the visibility of a top-five MVPD.

David Gandler, fuboTV’s CEO and co-founder, told Multichannel News that his current audience is 55% Hispanic, and that his new service will find a different audience than his cable-substitute OTT competitors. “There will be a learning curve over the next 24 to 36 months as we get a sense of who are customers are,” Gandler said.

According to that article, “fuboTV plans to sunset its current $9.99 per month service and incent current subscribers in the coming weeks and months to sign up for the new, fuller version of fuboTV.” I reached out for clarification, and was told via email that “All legacy plans will remain. However, you will not be able to sign up for a new one once the new product launches.”

The take-home message here is that if fuboTV sounds at all interesting to you, now is the time to subscribe to the basic service while it’s still around. You can watch on your phone, your tablet, and most TV streaming devices such as Roku and Apple TV. There’s no contract or long-term commitment, and there’s a 24-hour free trial. fuboTV includes a cloud-based DVR for time-shifting live matches from other lands or any other show you want to watch later. If we subscribers are going to get incentives to upgrade next year, that might be worth something too. I’m not being too selfish when I suggest that you really should check it out!

PhoenixBTV walks Aereo’s hazardous path

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PhoenixBTV screen shots from the Android app storeIf you stay in one place long enough, you’ll probably find a restaurant black hole. That is, one restaurant will build the storefront and furnish the dining area and kitchen and everything, then go out of business. A couple of months later, a second restaurant will move in, usually change the cuisine and shuffle some decor, and soon it also goes out of business. Maybe half a year after that, a third restaurant will start making arrangements towards its own grand opening in the same spot. And you wonder, what does this third place know that the first two restaurants didn’t?

There must be something attractive in a restaurant black hole’s location, yet there’s also a fatal flaw. I remember one spot at the corner of an extremely busy intersection, so it always had lots of cars passing by, but its driveways were too close to the corner to get in and out easily and it didn’t have enough parking. My current example is in a strip mall anchored by a very busy grocery store, but in a neglected corner of the center, not visible from the grocery store’s front door.

Didja Inc. is testing a service in the Phoenix AZ market that provides some over-the-air TV signals to users of its PhoenixBTV Android and iPhone apps. You can see where I’m going here. Taking freely available OTA signals and passing them along to subscribers was in the business plan of ivi.tv, FilmOn, and most famously, Aereo. All three were blocked by court actions brought by broadcasters and their friends, even though the latter two services had well-financed legal teams. Aereo lost in a weird US Supreme Court decision that was based not on what Aereo did but what it was like. FilmOn continues to fight in federal court.

According to a story by Jeff Baumgartner in Multichannel News, PhoenixBTV is steering clear of the big four networks while carrying Phoenix’s digital subchannels and independents. I remember when FilmOn did that for a couple of months in its markets, until the court made it stop. The PhoenixBTV site suggests it plans to add major networks eventually in “a paid premium version with more than 50 channels of local broadcast TV including the most-watched channels!”

Didja CEO Jim Long says it has its current broadcasters’ permission during the apps’ free beta period; I hope he’s also got contracts for when PhoenixBTV tries to go commercial. As for the legality of PhoenixBTV and its differences from Aereo, Baumgartner wrote, “Though Didja’s technical approach does involve the capturing of local over-the-air TV signals, Long declined to discuss the architecture of PhoenixBTV in much detail. Long also would not get into the business relationship his company has with local broadcasters.” Uh oh.

(By the way, the PhoenixBTV is only available on its apps, which require a device-level location check just like the DirecTV Now apps. Unlike DirecTV Now, there appears to be no way to reach PhoenixBTV from a deskop computer.)

So I wonder what Didja knows about the restaurant location it’s moving into. I’m sure it sees the lucrative possibility of streaming OTA on subscribers’ phones. Does it also have a good workaround for the fatal flaw, or will it suffer its predecessors’ fate?

Comparing Sling vs. DirecTV Now with VPN

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Logos for Sling TV and DirecTV NowI’ve had a Sling TV account for a few months, and I signed up on Day One for DirecTV Now. After a week of playing around with both, I can say that which service you prefer will depend on what you want out of it.

The channel lists and prices have been hashed out elsewhere. My favorite set is Sling Blue ($25/month) with NFL Network though not ESPN. For a boatload of channels with everything but NFL, the $35 intro price for DirecTV Now also looks good. But there’s one feature of both services that I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere – how well do they work with a virtual private network (VPN)? Can subscribers access out-of-market TV channels if they appear to be connecting away from home? The answer is often yes.

Sling appears to rely on IP location to qualify viewers. When I VPN into any market then launch Sling, I can see any local Fox and NBC channels it carries there, but not any regional sports networks. (ABC requires Sling Orange and a special request. Full list of available locals here.) As a test, I VPN’d into Dallas, used just a Zip Code and a Visa gift card, and was able to sign up for a Sling Blue account that includes Fox Sports Southwest. Of course all of that is only available if my IP address is in Dallas, and it only works on my tablet if location services are turned off. (Full list of available regional sports channels here.)

DirecTV Now uses browser-based streaming, so some browser-based recorders such as PlayOn might work with it. Sling uses a proprietary app even on the desktop, so third-party recording isn’t as practical. DirecTV Now includes ABC, Fox and NBC in some markets, and it includes regional sports from more markets than Sling. Since I have a legitimate Chicago mailing address (long story), I signed up for DirecTV Now in Chicago, and it includes Comcast SportsNet Chicago. But only with a VPN into Chicago, and only on the desktop. (Full list of DirecTV Now locals and regional sports networks here.)

When I launched the DirecTV Now app on my tablet, it refused to do anything until I turned on location services. Of course, with my location visible, the app offered only its cornucopia of national channels but nothing from Chicago.

You should keep this location-based limitation in mind if you’re hoping to watch local channels from the road. I imagine I’d have little recourse trying to watch Cartoon Network from Berlin or my local NBC station from another state. And if you want to sign up expecting to use VPN to watch your favorite locals, remember that these services might close that loophole any day now. (Come to think of it, using a VPN might violate your subscriber Terms of Service, so read that carefully.) Both services offer short-term free trials, so check ’em out. No matter what, it’s fun while it lasts.

See FCC, FTC chairs in person at CES

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Alexis Ohanian talking at CES
Gary’s Book Club is another way to meet industry leaders. Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, dropped by during CES 2015. (photo by the blogmeister)

Two of the best parts of CES every year are the chance to see industry leaders in person and the chance to learn about new trends. Some of those discussions are presented as SuperSessions, free to all conference attendees, and CES just released its SuperSession schedule for the January 2017 show, now just five weeks away.

The most important session for the future of TV, both broadcast and over-the-top, is on January 5, the same day the exhibit hall opens. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez will present their views for an hour starting at 11:30. Other SuperSession topics will include artificial intelligence, the sharing economy, and self-driving cars. You can find the full list here.

If you needed another reason to join me at CES, there it is. Just drop me a line so we can meet while we’re there.

Back from Europe

HousekeepingOTA
German newspaper rack showing Das neue Antennen-TV
What’s the selling point for this Munich newspaper? “The new antenna TV” section, subtitled “What you need to watch now”

I’m back from a week in Germany, and I know both more and less than when I left home. I don’t have any big stories, but I’ve got lots to ramble about.

At the Berlin Wall Memorial, I saw one of the first efforts at geographic restriction on TV, when East Germany told its citizens to turn their antennas away from the west. In nearby apartments, I saw normal oval satellite antennas with two LNBs. My budget hotel in Munich served up dozens of the same channels I see on my FTA receiver in the states. I guess those channels are just free anywhere.

Meanwhile, all three personal streaming services based in FreeTVBlog World Headquarters in Denver performed flawlessly. For the fastest look-in at what my rooftop antenna was receiving, the clear winner again was my venerable first-generation SimpleTV unit. I’d click the SimpleTV app on my phone or tablet, and in about 30 seconds I’d be watching the weather report from eight time zones away. (This also reassured my paranoia by proving that the house was intact, the electricity and internet service were on, and my valuables were still in place. Assuming that a burglar would consider an old SimpleTV unit valuable.)

To watch prerecorded shows, my Tablo also worked well. The wife and I caught up on some of our prime-time storylines the following evening, which was midday Denver time. The Tablo just takes a little longer to sync up before it’ll allow me to watch anything from home. But my true guilty pleasure was watching a couple hours of NFL RedZone live during a Munich Sunday evening thanks to my Dish Hopper 3 and Anywhere app. My previous Sling-loaded Dish receiver had streamed the way a dog walks on its hind legs – enough to surprise friends but not reliably. But this Hopper streamed flawlessly.

On the other hand, the Dish Anywhere app now allows subscribers to transfer recordings to phone or tablet for offline viewing. I pulled down a movie, but when I tried to watch it on a plane two weeks later, it said it wouldn’t play without refreshing my permission to watch it. Dish needs to communicate better about those limits.

I’m still decompressing, but I’ll always remember watching live Denver weather from a high-speed train zooming from Berlin to Munich. It’s just another minor miracle of the internet age.

Celebrate World Television Day

FTA satelliteOTA

The United Nations declared November 21 as World Television Day, and 2016 marks the 20th anniversary of that celebration. We free-to-air enthusiasts should feel a special pride in that recognition, since we can see TV from over a dozen countries using just a medium-sized satellite dish here in North America.

As the UN puts it, “World Television Day is not so much a celebration of the tool, but rather the philosophy which it represents. Television represents a symbol for communication and globalization in the contemporary world.” Personally, I see it as a corollary to Mark Twain’s quote “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” When you can see that the game shows in Portugal look about the same as ours or that the news readers from Saudia Arabia use pretty much the same format, it’s a subtle reminder that all of us humans are, y’know, just people.

Advanced Television has a nice rundown of the impact of television in various countries around the world. And the European Broadcasting Union created a special commemorative video that I embedded at the top of this post. I feel a special affinity to European broadcasting right now. I’ll explain more in a few days.

SMPTE provides a glimpse of future TV tech

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SMPTE logoThe SMPTE (Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineering) Annual Tech Conference was held last week in Hollywood. It’s one of those tools meetings, where most of the focus is on which technologies will carry the industry forward. Everyone wants the next big technological hit while avoiding perceived failures such as the 3D fad of a few years ago.

My buddy Andy Marken was on hand to cover the show in his own bite-sized style. For example, “Mary-Luc Champel, standard director for the MPEG ATSC (Motion Picture Experts Group, Advanced Television Systems Committee) noted that in studies as many as half of the folks got physically ill and that the industry would have to move slowly so VR didn’t suffer the same end as 3DTV.” Virtual reality is amazing, but maybe it’ll have trouble going mainstream? It’s much too long for me to run the whole thing here, but you should check out Andy’s full report and see for yourself.