Rogers Cable, Shaw Cable, Bell TV (formerly Bell ExpressVu) and Star Choice – Beware of the Killer Internet

Is Future More Local? More Free?

Is Future More Local? More Free?

Whenever I start to think about the future of media technology, production and distribution I tend to look for analogies that can be mapped onto emerging and future scenarios. Amongst the mess created from the two satellites that collided over Siberia and the internet talk relating to space junk, a post titled “Satellite Diss” by By Farhad Manjoo on almost got lost in the debris. However after reviewing it this morning it provides an analogous base that supports my own personal viewpoint on the future of media and its distribution.

“Satellite Diss” is an article on Sirius XM Satellite radio and its current business problems. After reading it I can’t help but think it provides some fodder that can be mapped to other distribution media. It’s also something that we as consumers and the Canadian Cable and Satellite TV providers need to consider as it appears that consumers are speaking about what they are willing to pay for in a changing world related to new and networked based media devices.

According to the “Satellite Diss” Sirius XM has some business challenges. The company is unable to meet a $175 million debt payment due at the end of the month, the company has more than $3 billion of debt and it has hired bankruptcy advisers at the same time its been talking to satellite TV companies about a possible takeover.

The report goes on to note that “Like print newspapers, travel agencies, and record shops, Sirius XM offers what seems like a pretty great service—the world’s best radio programming for just a small monthly fee—that has, in practice, been eclipsed by something far cheaper and more convenient: the Internet.”

Napster, Internet and iPods Have Changed Everything

Napster, Internet and iPods Have Changed Everything

Farhad Manjoo’s article goes on to point out that with the advent of Napster people got used to getting every song on demand. While Sirius and XM offer a multitude of specialty music stations, much of their business model was also tied to  exclusive acts such as Howard Stern. Personalities were used to convince customers to pay $10 or more a month for their radio service. However when Apple released their iPod MP3 player, and MP3 playes became mainstream, they proved to be the killer app that worked against Sirius XM. Even though the iPod itself couldn’t receive any radio signals, it could connect to a home computer and access a wealth of free radio content from the Internet. With the combination of Napster and Apple’s iStore, Consumers got used to downloading their content and the Dye was cast against subscription radio services.

I have to say that I have to agree with Mr. Manjoo’s assessment. In my case I just purchased a Hyundai Sonata. It came a three month free subscription to Sirius XM and an auxiliary input port to the cars radio system. The auxiliary input is built with an iPod interface as well as a stereo mini connector that will accept any other MP3 player’s output. When my wife and I saw that the subscription rate was $14.99 per month for the XM service we immediately saw much more value with the MP3 player interconnect. We can purchase an awful lot of MP3 players vs the $180.00 a year XM subscription cost.

The Power Of Radio Is Local

The Power Of Radio Is Local

But its not really the money. Like a lot of people I feel the real value in radio is with local news and information. In Canada free over the air Radio has made a real financial comeback based primarily on a local, local, local –almost narrowcast– mantra. And for me, while driving and listening to radio I tend to stick with information based Radio stations longer than music based stations.

“Satellite Diss” goes on to point out that the Internet doesn’t have to be the death of Sirius XM. It assumes that the company can get its debt in order and that if it does, the company might actually discover that the Internet can be its savior. Given that Howard Stern’s radio show is one of the most pirated programs on the internet, Manjoo’s advice is for Sirius XM to figure out a way to get it to the largest possible audience at very low prices. He asks the company to forget about their specialized hardware and move to making the service available  to every Internet-connected device on the market. Given the companies current situation this seems like sound advice.

In my Rogers Cable – Beware of the Killer Rabbit (Ears) For Free Over-the-air Digital HDTV post to this blog I pointed out one aspect about the free over-the-air experience. Jeffrey Breen’s positive experience reinstalling an over-the-air TV antenna system in his mothers home surprised him. Once it was completed and he saw the results, he started to question the value of a basic cable subscription. This is similar to XM’s subscription based model, its competition with free over-the-air local radio and free downloadable Internet content. In the case of the “Satellite Diss” post, not only does it question the viability of a subscription based business model but it questions the long term viability of “exclusive content” through closed channels being the savior of big media.

Internet Connected Home Media Centres

Internet Connected Home Media Centre

I contend that given the pervasiveness of home based IT networking, it wont be long before we see the Media Center equivalent of the iPod delivering Internet sourced visual media on a mass scale. In fact it’s my belief that this kind of content will soon hit mainstream, if it hasn’t done so already. After all how long will it be before we see cable and satellite TV subscription packages like newspapers, travel agencies, and record shops are now viewed in the Internet age.

All of this activity plays to my belief that free over-the-air media, coupled with Internet delivery, is the future of media delivery. Hence it’s despicable to me personally that free over-the-air TV gets such a rough treatment in Canada. It comes from everywhere including the companies that own the stations broadcast stations themselves. There is almost no public discussion from them on picking up free Digital HDTV television over the air and they even dance around the issue of updating their analogue transmitters which is the basis of their business model.  In light of an August 2011 shut off date of  analogue TV in Canada, I can only attribute the lack of public debate to the fact that a growing number of Canada’s free TV stations are owned by the same companies that own our countries Satellite and Cable TV distribution companies. Given that those BDU’s business model is based on charging for TV delivery one has to wonder how committed they are to the concept of free over-the-air TV. I’ve yet to see any champion among them.

To conclude I invite you read an article by Michael McEwen. It’s in February’s Broadcast Dialogue and its titled In Search of the Holy Grail. In it McEwen talks of the sad state of of Canada’s conversion to free over-the-air HDTV and the lack of its focus on Canadian consumers. While the article speaks of a lack of Government leadership and on some aspects of Canadian Content, I can’t help but think it’s also missing the points I outlined in this post. That being the strength of free over-the-air HDTV coupled with the strength of Internet delivery, over that of subscription services touted by Canadian “big media”, is the cornerstone  for future media delivery.

Whatever you believe I feel McEwan is correct about one thing. The consumer is missing in whatever little debate is going on in Canada on this crucial subject. Given that the future of our television system appears to be driven by the Marketplace –a big point in McEwan’s article– I guess in the end we’ll have to vote with our wallets… And we’ll probably have to vote against this through the various BDU’s by simply saying no to their subscription plans. Isn’t that a great way to define Canadian social policy…..


Rogers Cable – Beware of the Killer Rabbit (Ears) For Free Over-the-air Digital HDTV

Jeffrey Breen Yankee Group

Jeffrey Breen Yankee Group

Jeffrey Breen who oversees the development and operation of the Yankee Group’s client–facing systems and its internal infrastructure and support systems makes a couple of interesting observations about over-the-air ATSC television in a blog post titled Cable and Satellite Providers: Beware the Killer Rabbit (Ears) .

He talks of how he was pleasantly surprised when he hooked up a Zenith DTT901 digital converter box to his mothers older NTSC LCD TV set. It was not only the quality of the reception from the Boston area TV stations that caught his attention but the additional sub channels that the broadcasters  are able to broadcast using their single ATSC channel frequency.

Free Over The Air TV Is Worth Considering

He noted that the $50 to $70 set-top box provided digital-perfect reception of Boston’s network affiliates and more with several additional sub-channels to boot. The box provided automatic scaling, zooming, and cropping of HD and SD programming and it even included an on-screen program guide.

One thing Breen noted was “With DTV so easily available, of such high quality, and with such advanced features — for free — why would anyone in the city or suburbs ever pay a $9 or $10 monthly fee for a barebones “local TV” package again?”

Time To Reconsider Free TV

Time To Dust Off Those Old Misconceptions Around Free TV

Great question Jeff. I wish we had basic cable packages in Toronto at that price. I just checked Rogers Cable TV pricing in Toronto –note Rogers has the cable monopoly for the City–and it’s advertising its cable TV rates as low as: $32.97 /mo. That’s quite the difference. Jeff would also be interested to know that I just got a letter from Rogers noting that there will be (yet) another rate increase in the next few months. My initial calculation is that my cable will rise at least $3 per month from $61 to $64.  Yikes….

The solution that Jeffery Breen writes about is certainly worth considering. Especialy here in the Toronto area where we have the benefit of both the Canadian and American free over-the-air broadcasters. For Canadians interested in making the switch (or switching back) a good place to start is the Canadian Over-the-Air (OTA) Television Forums.


Introducing Raven The Very First Web-Based Vector Editor

Raven is the very first web-based vector editor that mimics Illustrator. Raven doesn’t match its counterpart feature-by-feature but its results are pretty impressive.

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Video of the G1’s new virtual keyboard in action

We all know that Apple has over saturated the airwaves with advertising about its iPhone. However in case you’ve never seen it, Android is the Open Source equivalent and because of its Open Source nature it can be just as powerful appealing as an iPhone. It appears the community is waiting for an Android “Cupcake” update (which is actually a G1 phone firmware update) so that Androids development can progress further. While we reflect on all of this here is a video that show the interface to an Android phone.

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Android Meets E Ink on Vimeo

An item that we’ve been working on at Ryerson is in the area Mobile technology. The video below is on a technology associated with Android which is the open source mobile telephone technology that will emerge in the next few years.The video is interesting for two reasons. First it demonstrates how the technology can be interconnected to an e-ink display and secondly the video talks of how Android is more than a telephony technology, but an open source technology that goes well beyond portable handset telephones.

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NAB 2009 – “Imagine The Community” Video

As most of you know I’m planning to go to NAB 2009 and later post about it on this blog. Just in case you’re interested here is the official “Imagine The Community” NAB 2009 video.

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NAB 2009 – Oppourtunity To Have Your Material Screened On A 24ft. Silver Screen

Click Image For More Details

Click Image For More Details

NAB 2009 – The NAB Show and are once again presenting  REEL IMPRESSIONS 2009.  It’s a joint partnership to showcase the projects created by industry professionals using employing products they’ve seen or purchased as a result of attending NAB. REEL IMPRESSIONS projects your project on a 24ft. silver screen in a state-of-the-art 300-seat digital theater in the Central Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center during the NAB 2009.

The good news is that REEL IMPRESSIONS 2009 will feature four different showcases:  Cinematography, Editing/Visual Effects, Animation, and Student Work.

Cross-Border Cloaking – How To Watch Those American TV Websites In Canada

I almost overlooked an artice that appeared in todays Toronto Star. Titled “Denied the right to watch TV online? You’ve been geo-blocked” written by Bill Brioux, the article highlighted how to get around geo-blocking or geo-gating. If you’ve ever tried to access some programs from Hulu in Canada or if you’re on the road in the US try watching content from CTV and Global, you might find your access is restricted to their online videos because you’re outside of the territories where they hold the rights.

We sure like to see this in Canada eh!

Geo-blocking us Canadians eh! Click here if you want to understand us.

According to the article as many as a half-million Canadians are using a free service called to view online videos from anywhere they want.  AnchorFree runs an virtual private network called Hotspot Shield that’s ad-supported and allows Canadians to view geo-blocked content. The system works because once installed the shield prevents content providers from knowing what country you are in.

GigaPan Epic Captures Photographs of Obama’s Inauguration Using Standard Point And Click Camera

GifaPan Epic

GigaPan Epic

The 1,474 megapixel photo from the Obama’s inauguration was accomplished with a $380 device and a stock point and shoot camera. The GigaPan Epic is a $380, AA-powered robotic system that automates large scale photography. You calibrate the system the mechanical arm/finger automatically take the shots at perfect intervals.

To take a picture with the Epic, you have to to hook up a camera and push a few buttons. The Epic will calculate how many pictures are needed to take the picture, and will automatically push the shutter and rotate the camera. After the Gigapixel Epic is done taking pictures, place the memory card into any Windows or Mac computer and thebundled GigaPan Stitcher software will generate the image.

The Pinball Hall of Fame – Las Vegas

I Remember Tis Game!

I Remember This Game!

Another place I’ve been threatening myself to go to in Las Vegas is the The Pinball Hall of Fame. According to Kevin Kelly the Hall of Fame is run by Tim Arnold and the Las Vegas Pinball Collectors Club as a non-profit labor of love and you can enter for free anytime they’re open and play one of their 141 pinball machines for a couple of quarters.

According to the Pinball Hall of Fame website, the games belong to Tim Arnold and range from 1950s up to 1990s pinball machines. Older games from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are the prevelant, as this was the ‘heyday’ of pinball.  It’s all pure pinball (and a few arcade novelty games) from the past. And since it’s a non-profit, excess revenues go to non-denominational charities.

The PHoF is run by Tim Arnold who, according to the website, is a veteran arcade operator who made it big in the 1970s and 1980s during the Pacman era. He and his brother opened ‘Pinball Pete’s’ in Lansing, Michigan, and at the height of their success, the Arnold brothers weren’t counting coins, they were counting shovelfuls of coins.

The Pinball Hall of Fame is a registered 501c3 non-profit. It relies on visitors stopping by to play these games, restored pinball machine sales, and ‘This Old Pinball’ repair dvd videos (available for sale at the museum). After the PHoF covers its monthly expenses for rent, electricity, insurance, endowment savings, the remainder of the money goes to the Salvation Army.