The Way Ahead (1944) on IMDb

The Way Ahead is an inspiring war film starring David Niven showing how disparate civilians came together to work as a British Army fighting unit. It was written by Eric Ambler and Peter Ustinov and directed by Carol Reed, who together had created a similar 44-minute training film in 1943. The Way Ahead was an expanded remake of that earlier film.

Niven’s autobiography said that the film was shown for many years for training at the British Army’s officer training school where he had graduated in 1930. It’s that good, in fact all of the top 25 in the Internet Archive Top 100 are Leonard Maltin-rated 3½ (of 4) stars or better.

Last week, David Garrick at The San Diego Union-Tribune pointed out an impartial perspective on the decline of cable TV subscriptions. Cities have reported decreases in their franchise fees, which are typically set at a fixed percentage of cable systems’ revenues. For example, the city of San Diego has seen cable franchise fees drop 12.2 percent over the past two years, an annual loss of over $2 million.

Some cities have contemplated adding a tax on internet-delivered pay-TV, but Garrick couldn’t find any that had implemented it. Do cities get a franchise fee from internet service providers? It seems to me that would fix the problem.

Coming at it from another direction is my favorite pundit, Shelly Palmer. He wrote yesterday that TV has a problem coming from the other direction – its advertisers. Network ad sales groups are trying to whip up data-driven metrics to repackage their shows to attract ad buyers in ways the Nielsen ratings don’t. “Of course, the pressure on TV ad sales is not Nielsen’s fault,” Palmer wrote. “The blame can be placed squarely on changes in consumer behavior.”

Put another way, companies that buy ads don’t really want ads, they want results, either sales or an increase in brand awareness. The truly data-driven future is when these companies can track each outcome and pay the TV intermediary accordingly.

As always, Palmer sticks the dismount. “TV, the art form, is in its platinum age. But the future present of video packaging and distribution is on-demand and digital. TV the platform simply cannot survive under its current business model. It must evolve.” I would add that the natural benefits of free broadcast TV (ubiquity, attractive price, one-to-many bandwidth usage) should keep it in the mix in the decades to come, although its evolved form has yet to be unveiled.


 A Star Is Born (1937) on IMDb

In this Technicolor blockbuster,  Janet Gaynor stars as an aspiring Hollywood actress, and Fredric March as a fading movie star who helps launch her career. From all accounts, A Star Is Born was fairly faithful to the true state of Hollywood at the time, and its deeply resonant themes of achievement and personal sacrifice led to two major remakes with a third in production for 2018.

Some film historians believe that the marriage of Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Fay was the film’s real-life inspiration. John Bowers has also been identified as inspiration for the Norman Maine character given his similar fate. Wherever it came from, this slice of film industry life is an excellent choice for the Internet Archive Top 100.

Zombie hand coming out of his grave from TV

© Nomadsoul1 / Depositphotos

Looking for something more cheerful than anything going on in Washington right now? Then let’s talk about zombies. That’s what Scott Fybush at Current did yesterday, writing an extensive article about donations of commercial TV licenses that turned into “zombies” after their owners cashed out the value of their spectrum.

Those donated licenses are just low-power commercial digital TV, and their public broadcasting recipients – WGBH Boston, WNET New York, and WPBT Miami – are still deciding what to do with them. Meanwhile, their previous owners, who had sold their spectrum rights in the FCC auction earlier this year, get a tax write-off.

Fybush wrote that the FCC called these licenses “zombies” because, although they aren’t in active use, they can be resurrected if another broadcaster is willing to lend some of its own channel capacity to get them back on the air. Since they’re commercial licenses, the public stations could use them for commercial side projects, such as ATSC 3.0 sandboxes. Piggybacking on strong, existing UHF public TV channels could give the former low-power stations a wider reach than they ever had in their first lives.

It’s all a lot more complicated than I want to recap here, so you really ought to go over to Current and go read it!


Screen shot of a basketball game

University of Kansas basketball, as seen on KMCI TV

Thanksgiving Weekend often means travel time at FreeTVBlog World Headquarters, and this time the trip was to Kansas City MO to see relatives. An application of my mobile TV scanner revealed something I hadn’t noticed before: there are live sports available on independent over-the-air stations in KC.

There is nothing remarkable in a local affiliate simply carrying nationally broadcast sports, so I don’t get excited about games on the major networks or Stadium, the diginet formerly known as American Sports Network. Besides those outlets, there were two independent stations with regional sporting events over at least the couple of weeks after Thanksgiving. KMCI had games from Missouri State, Missouri-Kansas City, and the University of Kansas (twice). KSMO (technically a My Network affiliate) had another Missouri-Kansas City game plus part of its season-long coverage of the Kansas City Mavericks minor-league hockey team.

I think that Kansas City’s unusual situation has helped create this OTA opportunity. It’s not its size; Kansas City is the number 33 TV market, below Raleigh NC and Indianapolis, for example. Yet neither Raleigh nor Indianapolis have any non-network college basketball scheduled for the next couple of weeks.

My guess is that the answer is either its geography or its pay-TV regional sports network. Since the Kansas City market is split between Missouri and Kansas, it has twice as many schools to show. And Kansas City’s feed of Fox Sports Midwest gives them a lot of St. Louis Blues and Oklahoma City Thunder, neither of which is a big draw in KC.

For whatever reason, I’m thankful that there is another place where everyone with an antenna can watch the type of occasional local sports that I grew up with. It would be great if more stations could follow its example.