After running through a few of the best 80s videos, it’s time to remind ourselves that there’s a wide base of mediocrity supporting the top. Here’s a very remarkable, if not especially good, video that uses a song with some history.

In 1972, Elliot Lurie wrote and sang Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl), which became a huge #1 hit for his band Looking Glass. Trouble was, the ballad wasn’t a typical song for the group, which used a different lead singer for most of its work. Looking Glass is often called a one-hit wonder, but that isn’t quite accurate. A year later, Lurie wrote and sang Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne, another ballad with a similar tone, and it peaked at #33.

A decade later, the singer Josie Cotton picked up Jimmy Loves Maryann (with improved spelling) to follow her few minor hits. This cover was even more minor, peaking at #82 and completely escaping my notice in 1984. I only noticed it a few months ago after a note that the song had been covered. But what a video! It contained so many 80s video cliches:

  • Motorcycle, with helmet-off reveal
  • Jugglers
  • Tumblers
  • Snake-handlers
  • Mimes
  • Guy with a whip
  • Gratuitous flame-breathers
  • And a circle of candles

Most of which were whizzing by in the background, as if to distract us from the singer. And oh yes, absolutely none of which had anything to do with the song. That’s a pet peeve: If you have a good story already in your song, why not make a video of that story?

Anyway, for a concentration of pure 80s-excess fever dreaming, check this out:

ivi mug and FilmOn USB deviceIn my last post, I mentioned that my current ATSC USB device is a rebranded Hauppage. FilmOn threw it in when I purchased a one-year subscription around the first of the year.

FilmOn is the service that streams over 100 channels of video for less than $15/month. As first a visitor, then a subscriber, I’ve watched FilmOn throw everything they could find into its product, and most of it works.

FilmOn was launched in the US just a few days after ivi.tv began. ivi streamed over-the-air broadcast signals, many of them out-of-market, by citing an obscure clause in US copyright law. The broadcasters sued, saying that clause didn’t apply here. A preliminary injunction effectively shut down ivi in February 2011, and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that injunction last week. Todd Weaver, ivi’s founder, told me that he’s still not sure what his next step will be.

FilmOn also started with streaming OTA channels, and its preliminary injunction came before ivi’s. FilmOn settled the lawsuit with the networks for $1.6 million, according to the Wall Street Journal. Then Alki David, FimOn’s founder, launched BarryDriller.com, another streaming site using the micro-antenna technology of Barry Diller’s Aereo service. (Since Aereo survived the networks’ first attempt at a preliminary injunction, that technology looked like a winner to FilmOn/BarryDriller.) That prompted a fresh lawsuit from the networks, BarryDriller is off the air, and that’s where we are now.

(While I was in Chicago, which happened to be just before the latest lawsuit, I was able to use my Denver-registered netbook to see the Chicago stations that BarryDriller was streaming. So BarryDriller must have been using an IP-based check to see where its subscriber was during the stream.)

Anyway, FilmOn has an interesting collection of channels, including such lesser networks as American Primetime TV, AMG TV, Free Speech TV, Fashion TV, and many, many more. It shows the major broadcast networks as “Coming Soon”. We’ll see. But meanwhile, the OTA device can be integrated into the FilmOn software, giving viewers with good reception another way to see all of their local channels.

To me, FilmOn and ivi represent two kinds of optimism. Weaver was so sure that his reading of the law was accurate that ivi’s excellent matching technology would create a whole new TV ecosystem. When he encountered dissent or barriers, he continued on, strong in his convictions. On the other hand, David kept weaving, adding and subtracting and tweaking FilmOn. When the networks shut him off, he launched a counterattack on CBS and whipped up the USB antenna for subscribers. David was just as confident in his cause, but looked for ways around obstacles instead of trying to march through them.

And that’s the state of streaming TV today. Ah, if only FilmOn were free to carry the UK OTA channels. I hear that it does if you are in Great Britain. Did you read any stories about how some US viewers used UK proxies to watch TV on the BBC’s streaming site? I’ve read those stories too. Do you suppose that’s legal?

View from the top of Pikes peakI’m sure that most of you are familiar with Pikes Peak, “America’s Mountain”. If you look at it up close, you might wonder about the cool, thin air at its 14,000-foot apex. You might think of the amazing views from the top, or the interesting wildlife you could encounter along the way. If you have a historical bent, you could consider how its roads and facilities have changed in the past 100 years.

Me, I wondered how many TV stations you could see from there.

This Labor Day weekend, I set out to find the answer. As the crow flies, Pikes Peak is only 57.4 miles from FTAList world headquarters, but the drive is a bit longer than that. It takes about 75 miles to reach the entrance of the Pikes Peak Highway, and then it’s another 19 miles of twisty, steep road to the top. The Pikes Peak Highway was a lot more adventurous, or dangerous, back when the top 10 miles or so were unpaved and completely without guardrails. Now that it’s paved all the way up, it feels more like a drive through a park, although the rest of the family tightly gripped their armrests while gazing out the side windows into glorious oblivion.

TV setup on Pikes PeakAfter we reached the summit parking area, I got out my gear. My portable digital TV setup is currently a rebranded Hauppage HVR-950 that I got from FilmOn (much more about that in a future post), a 6-inch antenna, and a laptop with enough horsepower to run TV viewing software. I set it up on the viewing stand near the southeast corner (see photo), but a scan only picked up about a dozen channels. Maybe the metal fence was in the way?

I relocated to a convenient ledge on the north side of the visitors center there and ran another scan. A few minutes later, I had 49 channels on my list. I didn’t recognize some of the call letters, so I set the laptop to hibernate, put it away, and went inside to feast on Pikes Peak’s world famous high-altitude doughnuts.

Back at FTAList world headquarters, I unpacked the laptop and checked the call signs. Turns out that it had picked up possibly every TV station between Cheyenne WY (almost 160 miles away) and the peak, except the channels of Colorado Springs, which sits just to the east of the mountain. That included a low-power station in Denver and several other Denver-area stations that I can’t scan in from here.

Unfortunately, each scan erases the results of the previous scan, so I don’t know which stations I picked up from the other side of the summit. That’ll give me a reason to return, other than magnificent scenic beauty and doughnuts.

This cornucopia of channels might be important. What if Aereo or a similar company put a bank of tiny antennas in a box on top of the Pikes Peak visitors center, then sent those signals along to subscribers? It could be a selling point, a way to differentiate its service from what you can get at home with rabbit ears. Mountaintop TV could be really cool.

UPDATE: Check the comments for the TVFool link with the precise list of the channels you can see on Pikes Peak. I had no idea TVFool knew about mountains.

When you think of famous Madonna videos of the 80s, Borderline isn’t near the top. It’s not her first US hit; Lucky Star hit #4 on Billboard, while Borderline later peaked at #10. It was her first US gold single (how did Lucky Star miss?), but it was soon eclipsed by Like a Virgin and Material Girl, and it all snowballed from there.

What I see is a Madonna who’s still playful, if not innocent, and what I hear is a nice tune with a good bass line. It’s a video that tells a story with not a lot of posturing or dance numbers. If you haven’t seen it lately, see what you think.

TVU networks logoAfter spending years watching oddball little networks and local stations over free-to-air satellite, I got to thinking: Why don’t *I* create a TV station? (And judging by the number of emails I get on this topic, I’d say it’s not just me.)

Putting a 24-hour TV station on satellite is pretty darned expensive. The last extremely rough estimate I’d heard for a dedicated Ku-band slot was about $10,000 a month. (If you’ve got a better figure, please leave a comment.) And that doesn’t account for all of the equipment you’d need to prepare your content and deliver it on a scheduled basis.

But now we all live in the age of fast internet connections, and an internet-based TV station is a lot cheaper to broadcast. For a good example try the Livestream Broadcaster device, a darling of the 2012 NAB Show. Or you can do what I did, start a channel using TVU Networks’ Broadcaster software.

There are a lot of really good things about TVU Broadcaster:

  • It’s free for noncommercial use. You’re welcome to set up the software and broadcast a channel, and all it takes is your time and bandwidth.
  • It includes a scheduler. It doesn’t have a lot of features, but it really works, and it’s included. The scheduler would be an extra paid (and full-featured) component of any other system.
  • There’s no limit on viewers. With most streaming systems, you have to multiply the number of viewers times your stream rate to figure the amount of bandwidth you need to pay for. TVU is based on a peer-to-peer system, so you don’t have to worry about any of that.
  • TVU provides a dedicated player for iOS and Android. So your channel will be available on a lot of smartphones.
  • There’s enough documentation to get you started. Good stuff such as format type, recommended parameters, and even a test file to broadcast.
  • It has a built-in audience. Anyone with the TVU Player will see your channel in a list with hundreds of others as they look for fun content for viewing.

But there are also a lot of not-great things about TVU:

  • There’s no support. Well, there’s supposed to be support, but I’ve never seen it. The most recent version of Broadcaster was released in 2008, and TVU’s forums tell a sad story of years’ worth of unanswered questions.
  • The scheduler is very rudimentary. It lets you stack your program files, then plays them in that order, and that’s it. There’s no good way to swap a new file in the middle, except to add it to the stack, then move it one position at a time until it’s in the right place, then delete the old file.
  • Relying on peer-to-peer is a turnoff for some viewers. They worry about adding a special plug-in that might use their upstream bandwidth without their noticing. I understand the hesitation there.
  • The player doesn’t work on all platforms. It doesn’t work on Google Chrome in Windows except on TVU’s official Watch TV page. I still don’t know how to embed a player on my site so it’ll work in Chrome, or in Macintosh Safari for that matter. (See: support.)
  • There’s no way for a broadcaster to edit a channel name or description after launching it. Which is why my channel still has “test” in its name and a completely inaccurate description.
  • The TVU channel list is a zoo. There are ways to filter by language and category, but it can be really hard to pick through hundreds of choices to find something you want to watch.

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I visited the TVU booth at the NAB Show in April. A nice woman there listened to my questions and assured me that TVU was continuing to support Broadcaster, and that I should consider a Pro account. I said that I’d be happy to invest in a Pro account if TVU would demonstrate that it truly offered active support. We emailed each other a few times in the following weeks, but that correspondence did not dissuade me that TVU had not turned its back on Broadcaster.

If you try to go straight to the TVU Networks home page, you’re greeted with a popup-style window that asks, “Looking for TVUPack?” with the options “Yes, take me to tvupack.com” and “No, take me to tvunetworks.com”. That says it all. TVU Broadcaster is a surprisingly good tool, but all of its signs point to a dead end.

Update: I guess I was right. TVU’s site now shows that “TVU Networks shut down service to the TVU Player on February 25,2013.” Sure glad I didn’t buy the Pro account.