Sinclair Broadcast Group logoSeveral media outlets are reporting that Sinclair Broadcasting Group is requiring its local station news anchors to read promotional messages on air that complain about “biased and false news”. Fortune says that the script includes a passage, apparently to be read without irony, “some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’.”

This was the brilliant tactic of Fox News, to hammer away at the message that not only is it the best source of information, but that most other sources are not to be trusted. It was a great way to build ratings even if it sometimes misled its viewers about the motivations or veracity of other reports.

After running John Oliver’s take on Sinclair last Friday, I hadn’t expected to write about them again so soon. As I mentioned then, I’m more concerned about the displacement of true localism, though I find this discounting of other points of view very disturbing when it’s required reading for dozens of stations. As an old newspaper guy, I feel a certain affinity for the truth, for verifiable facts. This kind of “local” news won’t help us get there.

America One Television logo

The America One logo as it looked in 1996

Eleven Sports announced today that it has launched an over-the-top subscription channel on Twitch. I’m fascinated by Eleven’s third-tier sporting events, but a unique draw for me is its connections to the long-defunct America One broadcast TV network, which acted like a dot-two diginet even in its analog days.

America One launched in 1995, carried mostly part-time by a motley collection of LPTV, Class A, cable and satellite channels, plus the occasional full-power station. Its programming mirrored its affiliate list with a hodgepodge of old movies and inexpensive TV shows, backed with a few pioneering minor-league and oddball sports events, often shown live. America One was so pioneering that it was one of the first networks to offer online live video streaming back in the 1990s when that meant a postage-stamp window embedded in a browser. Always, it seemed to be flailing for viewers.

The network’s ownership went through a lot of changes. Wikipedia says it was launched by USFR Media Group. The Internet Archive shows that in 2001 it was purchased by US Farm & Ranch Supply Company. That isn’t mentioned in the Wikipedia article, which goes on to detail shareholder moves and holding company acquisitions in the 2000s. Meanwhile, the roster of sports grew to include the Canadian Football League, the ECHL, and the National Lacrosse League among many others.

In 2011, America One spun off One World Sports. At that point, both networks were owned by One Media Corporation, headed by the chairman of the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League. In addition to Cosmos games, One World picked up some of America One’s live sports programming. In its heyday, One World Sports had an impressive array of foreign and minor-league games. As I type, fuboTV still has a landing page devoted to One World Sports, which continues to illustrate how important it was to fuboTV.

By 2015, One Media Corp had sold America One to Center Post Networks, LLC, owner of Youtoo TV. In November 2016, the channel’s staff was furloughed as a cost-cutting measure, and a small set of recorded events started repeating every week. As Wikipedia put it, “In March 2017, the channel was quietly replaced on television providers by a new channel branded as Eleven Sports Network.” On March 16, Eleven announced “the acquisition of certain One World Sports’ distribution assets”. And almost a year later, it’s ready for OTT.

Through the years, I kept track of America One and its sports offspring because it was one of the few channels I could never get. It so happened that I was never in range of one of its broadcast affiliates, never had DirecTV, and could pick it up only fleetingly through my free-to-air satellite dish. By the time I subscribed to fuboTV in late 2016, One World Sports had already begun circling the drain. You can’t have everything, and America One will always be the one that got away.

Satellite dish surrounded by chain-link fences“Distractions” is the word I’ve been using recently to describe what’s been going on at FreeTVBlog World Headquarters since early February. Last week, it became worse than that – they asked for my satellite dish. Let me explain.

The city of Denver is in the middle of a storm sewer improvement project along the busy street next to my office. It’s probably necessary; during heavy rains, the nearby manhole cover would often pop off for an impromptu fountain in the middle of the road. For some reason, the fix involves a large chunk of my easement. You homeowners will recognize the easement as the part of the yard that you mow and water, yet which any utility folks can tear up when they feel like it.

Last week, I got the news that the project would require the removal of a huge, 60-year-old silver maple tree. (I know of its approximate age because I saw its 1964 size at HistoricAerials.com, a great site where any armchair historian or retronaut can spend hours browsing around. But I digress.) The next day, my water turned sputtery and brown. And on top of all that came an email that asked, “Is this satellite dish active? If not active, can it be removed by our contractor?” Arrgh!

The dish in question is pictured above. The pole is my original free-to-air satellite pole, inexpertly sunk in a concrete-filled five-gallon drum, and later (long story) carefully offset into the ground to make it plumb. In the old days, it pointed at a cornucopia of FTA channels. After those went away, I repointed it to the satellite with the national PBS feeds. That’s how I still use it today, supplementing the larger, motor-driven dish that points to most of the channels at FTAList.com. Anyway, that dish is at least 20 feet from the street, so I was incredulous and unhappy that the construction folks might think it was in the way.

Thank goodness I got them to agree, and since then the threat level has diminished. The tree was taken down in half a day, and I’m getting used to its absence the way I felt a week after losing my wisdom teeth. Denver Water came out within hours of being notified, flushed my pipes clean, and offered to return if construction caused the problem to recur. (Although a contractor later rang my doorbell and guided me to the spot on the street where my water main lived, all just so he could insist there was no possible way his construction folks could have caused my dirty water. Sure.) And workers erected some temporary chain-link fence sections on three sides of the dish, presumably to deter overenthusiastic excavators. By the time I return from the NAB Show five weeks from now, they say they’ll have rebuilt my sprinkler system, resodded my yard, paved a wider sidewalk, and protected me from the next impromptu spring-rain fountain. Here’s hoping.

Local construction distractions have grown so large that I’m taking a short break. Meanwhile, as the FCC investigates its own chairman to see whether his actions improperly benefitted Sinclair Broadcast Group, here’s John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight story from last July about Sinclair’s hands-on approach to local news. Whenever I hear the NAB talking about the benefits of localism, I think about iHeartMedia’s reportedly impending bankruptcy and Sinclair forcing stories down to all of its already huge station group. So how do we get back to true localism?

A wall of multi-colored sticky notesFuboTV, which really needs to be capitalized at the start of a sentence, added a few more local affiliates to its lineup, according to a note in Cord Cutters News. It’s got CBS, ABC, and Fox coverage for over two-thirds of US households, which is impressive. Which reminded me of a thought about fuboTV that I hadn’t shared yet.

Despite my minor squabble over billing, I don’t bear fuboTV any ill will. The more choices we viewers have among over-the-top streaming services, the better. However, and I’ve been wrong before, I just don’t see how fuboTV can reach the critical mass of subscribers it needs to survive long-term.

It’s one of the most expensive services, running $45/month for its standard plan. But more telling is its focus – fuboTV wants to appeal to OTT sports fans, but it doesn’t carry the ESPN channels. That’s like a cooking-focused service without Food Network. The Diffusion Group estimated that fuboTV had only about 150,000 subscribers at the end of 2017, and last week it turned out to be about right on its Sling estimate of 2.3 million subs.

I sympathize with fuboTV, which started as an inexpensive, niche soccer-focused OTT service. Some time in 2016, it determined, probably correctly, that it needed to go big or quit. To its credit, fuboTV expanded its lineup well except for those Disney-owned channels. If you really are a sports fan who doesn’t care about ESPN, it’s for you. But are there enough people like you out there?