Hello again. Vacation time is over, but I kept holding off on posting here until there was some good news to report. No one wants to read about such dreary stuff as the St. Louis Cardinals shifting all of their baseball games away from OTA TV, or about the Research Channel going off the air because of University of Washington budget cuts.

This week, that good news arrived. First came word that those same Cardinals had agreed to move their radio contract back to KMOX, an AM station that most of the country can pick up after dark. That’s great for us lovers of free content and nighttime driving trips, but it’s not really FTA TV.

The big news is that BYU’s football team will leaving the Mountain West Conference next year and become independent. (Most of BYU’s other teams will join the West Coast Conference.) The reason we should care is that this gives BYU control over its broadcast rights for football, and indications are that most of the games will be live on BYU TV.

As discussed in stories in The Salt Lake Tribune and BYU’s Daily Universe, this means that BYU will use its successful football team to drive demand for BYU TV, which is already available on Dish Network, DirecTV, and FTA. And that goes along with what I’ve been preaching for years: If you want new viewers to convert to your cause, give them a reason to tune in. We’ll see whether BYU uses the opportunity to promote its other programming during the games.

At a minimum, this means more live major-college sports should be available a year from now on FTA. And we can all give thanks that at least one religious broadcaster understands what it takes to attract viewers.

Ned Beatty in Network

Ned Beatty as Arthur Jensen in Network

And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that perfect world in which there’s no war or famine, oppression or brutality — one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused.”
– Arthur Jensen, “Network”

In my last post, I promised predictions about the future of television viewing. Here’s the first of them, from the eerily prescient film Network. (If you haven’t seen it, run out and buy or rent an unedited, uncensored version. Don’t just watch it on broadcast TV.) When Network came out, according to one source, about 50 corporations controlled the US media. Less than 30 years later, we’re down to six that own the great majority of the TV networks viewed in the US. In general, they will work to ensure that they continue to own all significant sources of TV ad revenue.

I’m not pointing that out to say they’re somehow evil for concentrating network ownership so thoroughly. It’s the duty of a corporation to maximize profits; consolidation decreases redundant expenses and removes competitors. In the absence of legal restraint, it’s only natural for something like this to happen.

Anyway, the most likely scenario is that these huge content owners will continue to be the only source of “new” channels. They’ll populate them mostly by repackaging existing assets, adding just enough original shows to ensure demand. Even the broadcast networks, if they can get enough leverage over their over-the-air affiliates, might switch to national feeds supplemented by local advertising inserted by cable systems.

OR if you’d prefer to think positive, satellite TV may ride to the rescue with something completely different. Think of what Ted Turner accomplished in the late 1970s. He turned a local independent station into a national network. While the times are different now, there aren’t any barriers preventing others from doing the same thing.

The real trick is for a station to own national rights to all of its programming. For college stations, such as those run by the University of Washington and Brigham Young, it’s easy to get a cheap (student) workforce to create lots of content. For others, such as the kinda-comatose White Springs TV, the trick was to use a lot of content that nobody owns. Other national networks with very modest programming budgets include America One, RTV and Tuff TV. (I was going to include old FTA friend AMG, but I couldn’t find any active affiliates for it.)

If you can take that national content and add a very local presence for one underserved home market, then you can create a new superstation, one that relies on local car dealer ads as much as national dishwasher soap ads. Whenever big content owners squeeze out local voices, the new superstation can be there with extensive news coverage, local sports events, and a home-town feel to it. Then that station can go up on satellite to be picked up by FTA viewers, out-of-town cable systems, or both.

Or you can turn that equation upside-down and do it the way a lot of RTV and America One affiliates do it. They create a nice piece of local programming, then rely on the network to fill the rest.

Finally, there’s always FreeDBS. If those folks can really get that project off the ground, it could provide a great example for other folks who want to put something interesting on our TV sets. There’s always hope.

Ocean wave“Something’s comin’ up
And I don’t know what it is
Something’s comin’ up
And I don’t know where it’s gonna take me” –Barry Manilow

My apologies for starting a post with a Barry Manilow lyric. There’s a similar snippet in West Side Story, but that one is more optimistic. “Something’s Comin’ Up” matches what I see – the video viewing world will be much different 10 years from now, but no one knows exactly how it will look. Whether it will be good or bad for us viewers will depend on a lot of factors, especially how fast your internet connection will be.

First comes an amazing story published by Advertising Age. According to report from Horizon Media, the median age for prime-time broadcast TV viewers has gone up by four years during the last four years. That means that there were only as many new, young viewers added as there were older viewers who died. The same median almost-47 year old in 2006 kept watching and became the median almost-51 year old today. (Props to Tod Sacerdoti for mentioning the report on his blog.)

Think about it. This means that very few young people care about broadcast TV. But they do care about the internet. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski seems to be recognizing and anticipating this shift, finding wireless internet spectrum from mobile satellite services and setting his sights on taking a chunk away from broadcast TV. The broadcasters are fighting hard against this idea even though they’d get paid for relinquishing the space and that, well, they don’t actually own those pieces of spectrum in the first place.

Second, there’s Nielsen’s Law of Internet Bandwidth: A high-end user’s connection speed grows by 50% per year. It used to be crazy to think that every home user could get any channel he wanted, live or on demand, via IP. Now with ever-faster speeds and load-balancing, widely distributed content servers, that’s not so crazy. It used to be easy to say that satellite broadcasting offered the least expensive way to simultaneously reach hundreds of millions of live viewers. At some point, an IP-based delivery system will be cheaper. Already, PBS has announced it will shift some of its non-real-time program delivery from satellite to IP.

Third, more households are cutting back or dropping traditional pay-TV services. A report from Yankee Group said that one in eight would at least cut back in 2010. Add in anecdotal evidence of viewers who are switching to broadcast HDTV with dozens of channels in most markets. With an increasing minority of broadcast TV viewers, maybe it’s not so simple to predict the end of over-the-air TV.

(Or maybe we can anyway. At least one federal spectrum reallocation plan suggested free lifeline cable TV for soon-to-be-former OTA viewers. One TV repeater district servicing far-flung households in rural Nevada suggested switching everyone there to satellite pay-TV.)

So what does it all mean for FTA satellite? Leave a comment and tell me. Meanwhile, I’ve got one crazy prediction that I’ll save for my next post.

Upside-down, kind of broken dish

Not the right way to point a dish

Just when I thought I had figured out every way to get a dish installation wrong, Mother Nature showed me another one. Earlier this week, some really high winds blew over my primary Ku-band dish, supports and all.

First, some background. When I was just getting started in FTA, I wasn’t entirely sure what would be the best spot in my yard for a dish. On one hand, I needed to secure the dish so it wouldn’t move. On the other, I wanted to be able to move it if I turned out that I had misjudged the angle over the trees to the satellite that I wanted. (This impermanence also improved the WAF for the project. That’s important!)

One day Real Soon Now I’ll lay out all the steps and missteps of those early days, but today you just get a couple of highlights. My first attempt at impermanent dish mounting was a metal pole in a five-gallon bucket of cement. This technique works pretty well with a tiny Dish Network-style dish on a low pole. But for a 76-cm Ku-band dish, I needed a taller pole, and the bigger dish caught more wind. In almost less time than it takes to type, the contraption blew over, bending the dish arm and showing me that an above-ground bucket of cement is insufficient ballast for a high Ku-band dish.

Major Step 2 was construction of a wooden platform to hold the foot of the dish. I took three regular 2x4s and cut them all in half. Laying them out on their sides, I lined up the six pieces so that the outer four formed roughly a square and the other two lined up with the screw holes on the dish foot. After leveling the platform, I screwed them together, screwed the dish foot to the middle pieces, and all was well. The broad, heavy platform kept the dish in one place, especially with it so low to the ground.

A few years later, I upgraded to a 1.2-meter dish. For this taller, heavier dish (with a much heavier pole-foot), I built a larger platform, using 10-foot 2x4s for a roughly 5-foot square. I attached the foot to the north side of the platform, knowing that the prevailing northerly winds could not push the dish forward and down because the attached platform would be in the way.

It lasted for a couple of years that way, until Monday. That’s when freakishly strong winds came from a freaky direction – south. The wind blew the dish backward, taking the platform with it. When the dish landed hard, the platform continued its rotation and smacked down on the dish arms.

It looked awful, but fortunately, there was little lasting damage. The dish foot screws all ripped free of the wooden platform. One of the RG6 cables snapped off at its connector. The plastic LNB holder had broken in two. But the dish, even the support arms were all as good as new. Some Super Glue for the holder, a fresh RG6 cable and new screws on a flipped-0ver platform got the dish back in business. I made sure the platform was level and repointed the dish, and all is well.

What’s the lesson here? If you should happen to choose such an impermanent “sled” platform for a dish, at least get something to fasten down the front of the platform so it won’t flip back. I bought a couple of heavy-duty tent spikes, attached a cable between them, then drove them down far enough so the cable prevents the platform from moving up, but not so far as to force it off level. What you use to keep it down is up to you.

Beware the zombie satellite

Beware the zombie satellite

Some bloggers make lots of short posts to quickly reflect whatever they care about at the time. So far, I’ve been collecting thoughts and lumping them together. Would you rather see shorter, more frequent posts? Like it the way it is? Leave a comment, please.

* The mainstream media is slowly coming around to reporting the odd problem that is Galaxy 15. About a month ago, April 5, Intelsat lost control of the satellite. That’s not so unusual; all satellites eventually go bad. But when most satellite die, they die. Galaxy 15 isn’t responding any more, but it still thinks it’s alive, and that’s what’s causing the problem.

Galaxy 15 carried some C-band programming, almost all scrambled, which cable TV systems picked up, descrambled, and passed along to their subscribers. You can get a good idea of what it had by seeing what’s on Galaxy 12, the replacement that Intelsat quickly moved into position. Galaxy 15 thinks that it’s still relaying those signals, so it’s continuing to broadcast on similar frequencies.

Without a steady hand to keep it in one place, Galaxy 15 is shuffling over to a Lagrange point, one of those gravitational dips that weakly attract wandering objects. Along the way, it’s going to pass by AMC 11, an SES New Skies satellite that also broadcasts to cable systems on similar C-band frequencies. They’re not too worried about collisions; there’s a lot of room up there, and plenty of time to move out of the way. But Galaxy 15 could get close enough to interfere with AMC 11′s signals. If the satellite operators don’t take corrective action, cable subscribers could have to spend several days without MTV.

For a more thorough discussion of this situation, your best choice is Doug Lung’s updated story in TV Technology.

* My latest tweet (you are following FTAList on Twitter, aren’t you?) concerns the US Court of Appeals ruling on setting damages on satellite piracy. The original case was three years ago, but the appeal was decided yesterday.

A jury found that one sad guy had watched unauthorized DirecTV signals for 435 days, so he was fined $43,500. Another guy had distributed four illegal devices, and he got hit with $44,000.

Not only is piracy unethical and bad karma, it’s also got a terrible risk-reward ratio. But you already knew that.

* When you’re away from your dish, the next best thing is TVU Networks for Windows, iPhone or iPad. You’ll recognize a lot of the foreign-language channels that are available FTA, plus several public-domain movie channels that are almost as good as White Springs used to be. Poke around the long list of channels and check it out.