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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

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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

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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.

Most folks still watch video on TV

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Cartoon figure reclining and watching televisionThe Video Advertising Bureau released its latest State of Digital Video report (PDF), and none of its results are very surprising to anyone who’s been paying attention. Going by the number of minutes watched, 89% of video viewing was on a television set, 10% on a desktop computer, and only 1% on a smartphone. If you go by monthly reach, 93% watched TV but 83% used a smartphone. That just makes sense; no one uses their phone to settle in for a binge.

The VAB report also says that the smart TV is the fastest growing platform. If you drop by a Walmart or Target, it’s easy to see why; at least half of the TVs on the shelf are smart, and at competitive prices.

On the other hand, fewer people use desktop computers on the internet, and it looks like most of them switched to smartphones. Which is why I had to revamp this blog and FTAList.com to be mobile-friendly.

I could go on about all the info-nuggets from the infographics of the 33-page report, but if you’re curious, you really should go read the PDF!