Re-christening of FTABlogOh, wow! Has this been on mute all this time?

Hi everybody! Thanks for coming by. I’ve got lots of stories to catch up on, starting with the NAB Show (which every TV enthusiast must attend at least once) and continuing on to the latest from FilmOn, Aereo, and some satellite stuff too.

I slapped a new coat of paint on this blog as well to help bring it up to date with its evolving mission. We’ll talk about free TV (as in free speech) no matter where it comes from.

One of the ongoing trends is toward directed, on-demand viewing, as opposed to just turning on the TV to see what’s on. In that spirit, I’ve made a couple of additions. At the FTABlog home page, there’s a rotating cartoon from, which is a great resource for free TV. And I’ll be embedding more 80s music videos now and then. They’re fun to watch, and they’re a great example of my First Law of Programming: Every channel, no matter how it started, becomes like every other channel. Remember how MTV started?

So please keep checking back to see what’s new, and suggest what you might want to see. Thanks for coming by.

Looking at a bunch of successful blogs, I see that some of them have a topic that doesn’t have much to do with anything else. This blog is going to start including some music videos from the days when MTV played them. Here’s the long version of a song from Mr. 80s video: Huey Lewis. If you want to skip forward to the music, it starts at about 2:14.

Aereo logo

A new TV service, Aereo, formally launched this week. Aereo is the old Bamboom (previously discussed here) with a new name and deeper pockets. And those pockets are needed to defend against the inevitable lawsuits from broadcasters.

Aereo’s plan is to install a tiny over-the-air (OTA) TV antenna for each of its subscribers, then stream the programming from that antenna to only that subscriber over the internet. They’ll only stream within the subscriber’s market, so a New York viewer can’t buy anything but New York channels. But Aereo will be streaming those channels without anyone’s permission and without paying any retransmission fees. TV stations hate it when you do that.

Aereo’s paradigm is different from those of my beloved and FilmOn, which both lost all of their major OTA channels when injunctions went against them. I think it’s got a chance in court. But I’m not so sure how many viewers will want to pay $12/month for channels they can get for free OTA.

While the broadcasters’ case against Aereo is pending, both sides are also presenting their positions in public. The article that got to me today is in Multichannel News, in which a New York Latino community activist says that major networks won’t give as much support to Spanish-speaking communities if they don’t get retransmission money.

That doesn’t make sense to me. Any local viewer with a decent OTA antenna can watch these channels for free right now. That’s what Aereo says it’ll do: stream in-market from a rented OTA antenna. Aereo might make it easier to watch some weaker signals, which include a higher percentage of Spanish-language channels.

Broadcasters are looking for the younger, device-savvy, cord-cutting audience. Until OTA technology reaches devices (and it’s coming), this is a way to ensure that this new audience stays with OTA broadcasting. Fighting Aereo to prop up a bit of immediate cable/sat retrans cash is short-sighted.

Unless you consider that the parent companies of the big OTA networks are heavily invested in cable channels. The emerging OTT and OTA technologies are starting to pull customers away from those lucrative ventures. Could that be the real reason OTA networks don’t emphasize OTA reception? It sure would be a good reason to try to kill off Aereo.

Drawing robot at a deskI’ve been back from CES for a couple of weeks now, and I think I’m finally over it. Sure enough, there were record crowds, so I was right about that. Best highlights:

  • Justin Bieber appeared at the TOSY Robotics booth. I would have thought that the over-18 attendee requirement would have locked out his fans, but there was a modest crowd forming as I walked past. I was more impressed by their drawing robot (pictured here). I wonder if these folks saw Hugo?
  • Earth, Wind & Fire performed a stunning, underpromoted 30-minute set on the Sony campus. (Seriously, I’ve been to other shows that were smaller than just the Sony booth.) Now we’re talking my generation.
  • Dream Multimedia, the folks behind the Dreambox FTA receiver, had a booth. The folks there said they’re planning a push into North America. More on that in a future post here.

Unlike some previous years, I attended CES as just a plain old “industry affiliate”. There’s no magic to this; if you want to go next year, I already told you how you can qualify. If you want to know what it’s like to attend CES as press, Rob Beschizza explained it well in a post a couple of days ago at BoingBoing. I would only add that if you’re not press, you don’t need to come on Day 0 (as he puts it), which means that you need at least Day 2 to see everything on the floor. Day 3 is probably unnecessary, and Day 4 is garbage day, as I said last year.

More photos from the show:

Giant plush Hopper advertising Dish Network in front of CES

Dish Network pulled out all the stops in promoting its new Hopper whole-house technology. In addition to this 25-foot plush in front of CES, Dish had huge ads in the official programs and billboard trucks circling the show.

Little DirecTV dish on huge uplink trailer

Radiation Hazard? Not for this little DirecTV dish. Do you suppose that sign was meant for the huge satellite uplink trailer instead?

Woman on CES Show Floor dressed as The Stump. That's right, like a tree stump.

Easily the most frightening thing I encountered at CES this year. This woman wandered the show floor promoting The Stump, which is an iPad stand. You can watch video of her in action here but don't blame me if it gives you nightmares too.

crowd at CES 2011

The crowd was pretty thick at CES in 2011 (pictured). Looks like even more will attend this year.

Once again, it’s time to get ready for the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Over the years, I’ve learned to predict attendance based on Las Vegas hotel rates. During the worst of the recession, room rates started at a normal price and went down as the show drew closer. Sure enough, attendance declined. Last year, rooms started a little high and stayed there. Attendance was back to pre-recession levels. This year, it’s crazy.

Every official CES hotel is sold out, at least at the CES rate. The big hotels on the strip are available, but at a price. Per night, the Mirage is $674, the MGM Grand is $613, and even the lowly (but convenient) Riviera is $499.

Downtown used to be a safe haven; the official CES buses don’t go there, but the city bus (#108) does. A few years ago, I had a nice room at the Fremont for $40/night. Now it’s sold out. The Golden Nugget is available at $284/night. Even the Four Queens is $229/night.

This all means two things. First, if you’re coming, I hope you already lined up a reasonable hotel rate. Second, attendance at CES will be incredible. Last year’s crowd was enough to reduce Las Vegas to a snail’s pace. There were long, long lines for cabs, at monorail stations, and at most restaurants. This year will probably be worse. Have fun, but be prepared.

(If you do still need a room, the best under $100/night right now looks like Sam’s Town, which has a shuttle to Harrahs. From there, you can hope to get on the monorail to the convention center, or you can walk across the strip to the Mirage, where you can catch a CES bus.)