Echostar booth at 2010 NAB Show

Echostar's a separate company from Dish, so this photo isn't that relevant. Oh well.

Once again at a big convention, I’ve come up with an idea that has very little to do with the show.

This morning, I watched a presentation about mobile over-the-air TV. After that, I saw the keynote speech by NAB CEO Gordon Brown. (He’s a much better speaker than his predecessor, BTW.) Brown said that the public is better served by keeping broadcast TV rather than turning that spectrum over to wireless internet companies.

And that reminded me of the limited spectrum, the finite satellite positions taken up by pay-TV satellite providers.

By rule, a certain percentage of channels on each satellite have to be for non-profit, public interest programing. NASA TV, Angel One, and C-SPAN are three examples of PI channels.

Did those first two remind you of something? They used to be in the clear until Dish Network scrambled them a few months ago.

Dish interprets the PI mandate to provide them for free but only to active Dish receivers. What if the government wrote a more directed rule that, to provide the widest public service, all PI channels must stay unscrambled for any receiver? We’d get at least a dozen new channels, Dish would lose essentially no subscribers, and all of that public service programming would reach a wider audience. Sounds good to me!

(That photo of the Echostar booth here at the NAB Show isn’t strictly relevant to this topic. I just wanted to post one of the photos I took today.)

Gee whiz, I never expected that I’d be writing so much about the NAB Show. Anyway, the exhibit hall opens next Monday in Las Vegas. Just in case you get a chance to join me there, here’s my survival guide for the NAB and other big trade shows like it.

  1. Wear comfortable shoes. This is the highest priority, because if you have bad shoes, it can ruin the whole show for you. You will be walking. A lot. On hard surfaces. Most of the time, when you’re not walking, you’ll be standing. Unless you’re used to being on your feet all day, they won’t be happy with this. Find those comfy shoes now and break them in before you arrive.
  2. Have a plan, but don’t expect to stick to it. Make note of the high points that you absolutely have to see. Add some topics that sound interesting, but which don’t have the same high priority. Make a list of exhibitors you want to meet. Then walk onto the floor with the expectation that your schedule may change. There will be a lot of interesting stuff out there, including something you never thought of. Don’t be afraid to set aside what looked good yesterday when you want to learn more about something that’s amazingly cool today.
  3. Bring food. It shouldn’t be a lot. A PowerBar or Clif Bar or maybe even a Snickers will do. If you prefer something warm and mediocre, you can take a half hour to wait in line, pay too much, then struggle to find a place to eat lunch. Or you can unwrap a protein bar from your pocket or bag and munch on it as you sit and watch an exhibitor’s presentation. Save your time to visit more booths, and save your money for a real meal after the exhibit hall closes for the night.
  4. Get a lightweight map. If there’s an application with a map that you can load on your smartphone, (such as the NAB app), that’s the lightest map you can get. Otherwise, get the map that weighs the least. When you remember that you wanted to visit TooCool’s booth, you’ll want to know where to find it. When you want to find the nearest rest room, you’ll definitely be thankful for the map.
  5. Beware of heavy freebies. There are so many great things for free at a big show. Free magazines. Free catalogs. Pens. Paperweights. Bags for carrying them all. You can probably haul around all the pens that you’ll get, but anything that feels a little heavy at 11 is going to be a burden by 4. If you really need that two-inch-thick catalog, plan to pick it up as you leave for the night.
  6. Choose your bag well. With all those fliers and freebies, you’ll probably also want a free bag to carry them around. Don’t just grab the first one you see. Make sure your bag is substantial enough to carry the Blu-Ray disc player you hope to win. Make sure it won’t embarrass you because it’s made of coated paper, has a garish promotion on the side, has a long handle made of twine, or all three. Better is a bag made of fabric with a tasteful, colorful logo and a short, strong handle. When you see one of those, grab it fast; those are the bags that run out before the show’s over.
  7. Wear comfortable shoes. Seriously.
  8. Time your presentations well. If you pass by a booth with a mob standing around watching a presentation that you’d like to see, make a note of when the next showing will be, then keep moving. If you pass by a booth with a presentation that’s going to start in 10 minutes, have a seat if you think it’ll be of interest to you. Use this 10-minute break to check your schedule, check your email, and get friendly with the folks at the booth. You’ll get the benefit of an unobstructed view of a full presentation and your feet will get the benefit of a full half-hour break. Then get up and walk back to that booth you passed, if it’s about 10 minutes before that next showing.
  9. For your top priority event, get there early. If your schedule is built around the 2 o’clock show at the 3D Theater, get there at 1:30. If Neil Armstrong is signing moon rocks at 4, get to his booth by 3. If it’s really that cool, it’ll be that popular too, and you’ll probably be waiting in a long line. If there’s no line when you arrive, hang around the neighborhood until it starts to form. If no line ever forms, make sure you’ve got your schedule right; maybe Neil isn’t supposed to sign anything until tomorrow.
  10. Drink, especially water. The air is dry in Las Vegas, and hours of walking and standing take more effort than sitting around all day. Dehydration will make you and your muscles feel more tired. When you pass a water fountain, take a drink. Consider bringing a small refillable bottle. And when any exhibitor offers any kind of liquid refreshment, it’s probably a good idea to take it. Come to think of it, that’s good advice on any occasion, isn’t it?
  11. Wear comfortable shoes.
  12. Wear comfortable shoes. Okay?

David Rehr and Gilbert Huph

NAB past president David Rehr (left) and Mr. Incredible's old boss Gilbert Huph

The NAB Show is just a couple of weeks away, which means that today is about the last time I can talk about the NAB president who presided over the 2009 show. David Rehr probably had some great skills and ideas, but every time I saw him, all I could think of is how much he reminded me of Mr. Incredible’s old insurance company boss Gilbert Huph. He was nowhere near as short as Huph, but he wasn’t tall enough to dispel the similarity. The main thing was that Rehr seemed to be perpetually squinting. When I first saw him on stage, I really thought that someone must have tilted a light in his eyes. Nope. He just looked that way a lot. I hope he’s doing well somewhere else now.

(That photo of Huph, shamelessly copied from my friends at the Internet Movie Database, is © 2004 Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, but I think this is fair use of it. I loved The Incredibles. I saw it in a theater. I bought the soundtrack CD. I bought the DVD. You should too. Please don’t hurt me, oh mighty Disney lawyers. And Rehr’s photo is from last year’s show, only about a month before he resigned.)

The current NAB president is a former US Senator from Oregon, Gordon Smith. He strikes me as someone who has a better chance of persuading Congress to do more of what the NAB wants. Best of all, he doesn’t remind me of any cartoon characters. Maybe I’ll check out his keynote speech.

* The NAB Show exhibit floor opens April 12, and you have until about April 4 to get a free exhibits pass. Stan Lee will be at the NAB Show this year. So will Michael J. Fox, NBC’s Dick Ebersol, lots of 3D demonstrations, and a whole lot of satellite equipment in one place. Just go to the NAB Show site and register with code AM15. Rooms at Circus Circus, the Sahara and downtown are really cheap, and some other rooms in Vegas are really good. Come join me!

If you plan to visit, please drop me a line so we can see if we can get together. I’d love to meet more of the people who read this blog!

* Also please drop me a line if you see any ads on FTAList that link to sites that promote piracy. Most of the ads there come from Google AdSense, a fine program that pays for FTAList’s hosting bills. Unless specified otherwise, any site can bid on ad space, and sometimes pirates have used this process to buy ads on FTAList. I can manually screen out individual sites, but I have to notice them first. If you see a pirate ad before I do, please let me know.

* Lately I’ve been tweeting about the latest advances of Freeview, the UK’s FTA satellite TV service. Every time I post one of those tweets, I think about our old friends at FreeDBS, the group that wants to put a couple dozen channels up on a North American satellite. For a long list of all the puzzle pieces they’ve been assembling, you really ought to visit their site.

I asked Edward Raisley, their technical adviser and a commenter here, if he had anything new to share with you. Raisley said that they’re working on organizing a new mixed martial arts league for the Free Fight channel. That’s the great thing about FreeDBS; it dares to think big. Here’s hoping that we’ll see that channel with a bunch of others some time sort of soon.

What, you hadn’t noticed my tweets? Please follow FTAList on Twitter, then you too can get a few bits of satellite news every week.

Liberty Channel graphic

Liberty, one channel that mixes in secular programming

Religious broadcasters, of which there is no shortage on FTA, could grow their flocks while making the world a better place if they’d only make one small change: Add a bit of secular programming.

This is not a new idea. Pat Robertson’s original CBN Satellite Service slowly evolved into The Family Channel, then Fox Family, and now ABC Family. Along the way, CBN grew a hugely profitable network and eventually retained a prime slot for its 700 Club program. A big part of the success story was the mixture of carefully selected secular programming with religious shows.

Have other religious channels taken note of this successful formula? Not so much. Most religious channels carry nothing but religious programming. For those who believe in that particular flavor of religion, that might be very comforting, but for everyone else, it’s like a continuous infomercial.

I often hear that a primary mission for these channels is evangelism, carrying their message to those who don’t already believe it. Well, the first step of evangelism is to lure these non-believers into your tent, and the way to do that is to offer something that they want to watch. Once a secular viewer has tuned in, a channel can use commercial breaks to talk about other shows that could help fill a need in the viewer’s life. Or the commercials could be for the attractive elements of some religious show. Or the channel could just take advantage of the secular lead-in to whatever religious show follows. In any event, a channel with occasional secular programming will not be a channel that non-believers automatically skip.

There are a few channels with the right idea. Start with the Liberty Channel, which I have to admit isn’t on FTA these days. Check Liberty’s program guide. There are game shows, cooking shows, college sports, classic TV, secular movies, and a generous serving of religion. Then look at BYU’s schedule. They’ve got college sports, musical performances, and Discussions on the Book of Mormon. These are both university stations, but there’s no reason why Daystar or 3ABN couldn’t run an afternoon movie or episodes of Bonanza.

Everybody wins when religious broadcasters add secular programming. Broadcasters get the opportunity to present their message to a new audience. Viewers can discover a new way to improve their well-being. Even hard-core non-believers will enjoy being able to watch shows that they like. In all, it would fulfill another primary goal of most religions: It would make the world a better place.

Spring flowersJust a short note to remind you that Daylight Savings Time begins for most of us this Sunday. Our weekend will be shortened, and we won’t get that hour back until October. At least the snow is melting and the flowers are thinking about blooming.

In particular, changing from standard to daylight time always makes the TV listings a little wacky. Different channels have different ways of expressing how they’re handling the 23-hour day, and the listing services don’t always translate it correctly. So if you’re in the habit of checking the movies & sports page to see what’s coming up, you might want to take those listings with an extra grain of salt. Or maybe with an extra hour, one way or the other.