Take This Cable Bill and…

11 Jul

5816578607_b28148910cI have seen the future, and cable companies aren’t going to like it. Led by my kids, I have plunged head-first into a world of streaming video, on-demand entertainment, and options anywhere on any device.

For the first time in more than 40 years I am living without cable TV. Getting there hasn’t been easy, or cheap. But having invested the time to research and put the pieces together, I’ve got to say I am excited by the possibilities, and the savings.

CTCWhy would a middle-age guy (ok, a bit beyond true-middle age guy) plunge himself into this? Well let’s go through some background. For the last 10 years I have ping-ponged between Comcast, AT&T and DirecTV.

Of course the cable companies were all too happy to facilitate this with better and better intro packages. My most recent deal was AT&T’s U-verse cable and Internet. For which I was paying $136 a month. But that would eventually go up to $170ish after the deal ran out. Do some quick math, and I was paying $1600 now and that was going to jump to $2000 this October.

For that I was getting a crap-load of channels and allegedly an 18mb Internet connection. In truth I was watching fewer than a dozen of the channels, and the throughput on my Internet connection seldom fared better than 12mb.

But my move to cut the cord wasn’t just a protest of AT&T’s terrible service. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the aha moment came when I watched what my kids were doing. They were deep into their shows, but neither were watching broadcast TV. One lives on Netflix and the other finds hours upon hours of entertainment on YouTube.

And in truth, I watched very little live TV, aside from the morning and even news. But if I was going to do this, I didn’t want to live like some entertainment pauper. I wanted access to everything I want to watch, I wanted it on whatever device I wanted to watch on—tablet, TV or computer, at home or from the road.

And so my journey began. (If you just want to get to the numbers and equipment, click here to jump down.)

The Pieces

First thing was to get a better Internet connection. Theoretically I could use anything over 12mb, but if all three of us were using the connection at the same time I wanted to maintain high speed. So I opted for Comcast’s 50mb package. Ironically they wouldn’t sell it to me without bundling in a basic cable receiver. An HD receiver and DVR, of course, cost extra. Total monthly tab, $56 for the first year, $77 after that.

Finding the alternative sources for programming was easy. If you’re not sure where to find your favorite shows check Can I Stream It. Netflix and Hulu have massive libraries of shows. And many of the cable networks post their programming a day or two after it airs, like Comedy Central for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Both services cost less than $10 a month.

Other shows, like those on Amazon, required a season pass for the current season. So if I wanted to keep up with season 2 Orphan Black from BBC America, that was $25.99. I later discovered a world of free streaming access to most shows and movies, via Popcorn Time (complete with privacy protection) and amateur sites like Watch Series (be warned most streams come with a flood of pop-up ads). For a great resource check out StreamMyTV.com.

The major networks and local stations should have been an easy solve. Living within 10 miles of the broadcast towers I should have been able to get these over the air (OTA) signals easily using a small in-home antenna like this. But I live in a valley surrounded by trees and homes. So I had to install an antenna like this on my roof. (It felt very 60s to install an antenna.) With this installed I had my choice of more than three dozen stations.

TabloProductAndTabletAndTV_FrontLeftI opted to splurge a bit by installing a Tablo TV receiver. This little box takes all the feeds from my antenna and streams them out to all the devices in my home, providing an on-screen guide and DVR function. I even can access it from the road. There were other options, like Simple.TV, but Tablo offered features the others did not.

Getting the signal from the Internet to my TV was easier than expected. Roku rules the roost here, allowing me to plug in dozens of channels like HBOGo and WatchESPN, which I could access by relying on friends and family to sign me in to their cable accounts. But I also installed a Chromecast unit on one TV. That relies on you having the site or app on you computer or tablet and then clicking an icon to “cast” the feed to your TV.  It’s rather awkward at first, but I like using it in my office since I can take any video on my computer and throw it to the TV.

All-in-all, it took me a week of experimentation to put the pieces together.

So what’s the result? As promised, we now can watch just about anything from anywhere. It takes a bit of retraining to align channels with apps. But then again, how many times did I have to learn a new channel line up, and remote, when I changed cable companies.

I can’t help but think this is only going to get easier as my kid’s generation comes into the marketplace and companies like Comcast & AT&T scramble to meet their expectations. It’s either that, or become a relic of a bygone era.

The Hard Costs

Cable Modem/Router$99
Roku 3$94

The Savings

Before (monthly)After (monthly)
CableTV & Internet$136 - $170$0
Internet$0$56 - $74
Hulu Plus$0$8
Amazon show subscriptions
(4 per year)
$0$9 (average)
Annual Cost$1,740-$2,148$984 - $1,200

Here We Go—Plunging Into a World Without Cable TV

26 Jun

aereo_scales-justice_content-2__largeOh  hell! Before I could even pull out the scissors, The United States Surpreme Court made my life a little harder by ruling Aereo is illegal. Damn, damn, damn!

Sorry about that. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s start with my determination to stick it to the man. And by the man I mean AT&T and Comcast. After a surprisingly high level of introspection I’ve decided to cut the cord and join the legions of people living without cable TV. Like many people I have, for years and years, sent of a monthly payment to one cable company or another, grimacing and asking for the privileged of being raked over the coals for yet another month.

CTCEvery month I grumbled about how much I was paying for the diminishing value I receive. True, the cable companies pump hundreds of channels into the lineup. But the reality is that I was paying for tons of channels I will never use. A few weeks of scrutinizing what I was actually watching made it clear to me that I really only used fewer than a dozen channels. It was an eye-opening exercise. So I was paying for the Lexus and driving a Toyota.

At the same time I certainly knew about alternatives. I own three Roku boxes, going back to the very first generation. When I shipped my daughter off to college a Roku went with her, and quickly became as valuable to her as the in-room Keurig. I subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go and Watch ESPN. Nonetheless I keep sending $144 to AT&T ever month, just telling myself it’s better than the $190 Comcast was squeezing from me.

Well no more.

The aha moment came last week as I was paying the Uverse bill.  In the living room my college-age kid was on her 77th viewing of Grey’s Anatomy via Netflix. Downstairs the teenager was mind-melding with her laptop watching Hulu, YouTube or some other streaming site. The cable box could have easily been modern art for all they used it. The only one watching broadcast TV was me, with either CBS This Morning or NBC Nightly News on the TV in my office.

And that’s when I fell head-first into an existential crisis. I make my living helping companies embrace the tools and services of the digital landscape. What the hell was I doing clinging to a 1970s view of home entertainment? But I am a news junkie. Call it a lingering hangover of a career in daily journalism. (Then again it may have been the reason I was journalism to begin with.)

It was a big transition for me to abandon reading printed newspapers in favor of online versions. I still get the Sunday New York Times, although in truth it often stays in its blue bag while I read the iPad version. But this, could I really kiss off cable and still get what I want from broadcast news and entertainment?

Which brings me back to Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling that Aereo could not capture over-the-air broadcast TV and make it available via the Internet. That was going to be the starting point for my grand experiment. Just three days earlier I signed up for their service, complete with the DVR capability. I was enjoying watching Brian Williams wherever I was on whatever device I wanted, even on my big TV using Aereo’s Roku channel.

But no, the court says that won’t work. So I’m left with lots of research to do and choices to make. But I am determined that by the end of July UVerse will be banished from my home and I will maintain access to everything I currently enjoy.

I have no idea quite how I’m going to make this happen. But I will chronicle my successes, and inevitable missteps, along the way.

Here we go.

Social Gives Brands Balls

27 Mar

BoycottCokeA version of this also appeared on MediaPost.

There’s a new calculus happening in conference rooms across the country as CMOs work with their teams to hone the brand message are asking, “Can we afford to offend portions of the country’s conservatives?”

More and more, the answer is yes. Indeed brands, emboldened by their digital connection with consumers, are committing to not just appeal to consumer’s lifestyle in order to sell products. Instead, they are placing bold bets as an active player in shaping a culture that aligns with their products.

And with that comes risks. The evidence is abundant: Sam Adams pulling its sponsorship of the Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade over LGBT issues; Chevrolet’s inclusion of gay families in several spots, or Coke’s 60-, and then 90-second, “America Is Beautiful” in all its multi-lingual splendor.

“Advertising reflects the mores of society but it does not influence them,” David Ogilvy famously once said. Apparently, that wasn’t the guidance for Coke’s multi-lingual version of “America The Beautiful.”

Within minutes of its airing during Super Bowl XLVII, the backlash was taking shape. “Speak English or go home,” one message said. “Screwed up a beautiful song. No Coke for my family,” said another. A Fox News commentator on Twitter went so far as to say that Coke had become the official soft drink of illegal immigrants.

So what’s behind this shift to bold statements rather than middle-of-the-road positioning?

Social media. The same channel that delivers the torrent of backlash is also providing the proof necessary for brands to take a stand. By keeping a close ear on the comments consumers share prolifically online, brands can see for themselves that the public isn’t nearly as divided as politicians would lead a casual observer to believe.

“My sense of it is that [brands] have genuinely embraced the total market concept,” says Margaret Duffy, head of advertising at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. “They think the publicity will be mostly helpful, and are responding to the increasing heterogeneity of the marketplace – globally and in the U. S.”

Admittedly, this isn’t an overnight development. Ads have been a battleground in the culture wars going back more than 50 years. Civil rights organizations met repeatedly with agencies and marketers in the early 1960s to get African-Americans cast in mainstream ads, and not just in supporting roles.

So in 1963 when Art Linkletter in a sponsored moment on his game show asked a black woman in his audience her opinion of a Lever brand detergent, marketing execs held their breath, hoping it wouldn’t upset white viewers.

‘‘We are not trying to create change,’’ a Lever executive told the trade press, ‘‘we’re trying to reflect it.’’

Coke tried a similar tone after the first airing of its Super Bowl commercial. But then, perhaps embolden by the way social media shouted down comments by critics, the brand doubled-down for the opening ceremonies of The Olympics. Coke released a longer version of the ad, opening on type that said, “E Pluribis Unum,” the line found on our currency that means out of many, one.

Coke is by no means alone; brands are riding the wave of support they get for taking a stand. Whether it is multiracial families rallying to Cheerios when racists savaged its commercial on YouTube, or the vast outpouring of support JCPenney when it rejected threats of a boycott and stood behind spokeswoman Ellen DeGeneres, marketers are seeing a bump when they venture into the debate.

So how does a brand know that it can play in this space? Listen, listen, listen. Brand planners can certainly talk with consumers and pour over research, but there’s no substitute for the fire hose of unfettered data that comes from social media. By exploring what people are saying away from the brand pages, marketers can get a strong sense of how vocal its market is when it comes to causes.

In the end, Mizzou’s Duffy thinks it boils down to marketers embracing their role in a highly connected society. “Bottom line,” she said, “if you’re in advertising, you’re radically in the culture business. And ads will both shape and mirror larger trends.”

Protests? What Protests? This Is NBC, Where Russia = Happy

23 Feb

Is there no end to NBC Sports’ determination to keep a happy face on the Olympics? As the games concluded today, it is abundantly clear that producers are willing to ignore just about anything.

Hotels and facilities not ready for prime time? What are you talking about? Protesters whipped by Cossacks? La la la la.  Russian-backed troops in Kiev killing revolting citizens? Did you say something?

BugThat NBC wanted to treat its evening broadcast as a made-for-TV movie, rather than a real sporting event, was a given. NBC Sports execs said as much before the games started. If you want the messy, unpredictable coverage, they expected you to find real-time feeds on cable channels or online.

When you pay $775 million for the exclusive US right to broadcast the games, some creative license comes with it. But when you are the only broadcast pipeline for 313 million Americans, there is an obvious obligation to put the public’s needs ahead of your profits.

The blinders used by NBC Sports during these games were insulting to viewers. This is not the 1970s, before cable news and long before the Internet. People know much, much more about what’s going on in the world around them. To ignore the intelligence of viewers, whether on air or online, is arrogant. To do so in the face of a network’s journalistic obligation is abusive.

NBC’s willingness to ignore that obligation was evident as the games opened, when the network deleted comments from the International Olympic Committee president critical of Russia’s discriminatory laws towards gays and minorities. In that same broadcast, during a video package prior to the opening ceremonies, NBC referred to Russia’s period of communist rule as “one of modern history’s pivotal experiments.”

Bg2LrETIUAAi_8J.png largeSo it came as little surprise when the broadcasts, on air or online, had no acknowledgement of protests staged by Russian dissident groups, like the band Pussy Riot. On the 19th, social media and news wires were packed with images like this of cossacks whipping members of the band when they tried to stage a performance inside the village.

What, you didn’t see anything about it on that night’s show? You expected some acknowledgement of reality between the ooey, gooey coverage of women’s figure skating? Fat chance.

But nowhere was NBC’s abdication of journalistic integrity more evident than when violence erupted in nearby Ukraine. This wasn’t some random story. The people flooding the streets of Kiev were protesting the Putin-backed president’s corruption and continued political allegiance to Russia.

Ukrainian athletes draped black banners over the balconies of their dorms. They organized a moment of silence with fellow athletes from around the world. One athlete even dropped out of the games to go join her fellow citizens in protests.

And still NBC was silent. You won’t even find any of that on the NBC Olympics website. By contrast, the BBC not only covered Ukraine’s gold medal performance in the biathlon by pointing out the significance against the political backdrop, but then also highlighting the story on their website.

Friday night Costas did break the silence, only slightly, by offering this during prime time: “While Russian citizens have better lives than Soviet citizens of a generation ago, theirs is still a government which imprisons dissidents, is hostile to gay rights, sponsors and supports a vicious regime in Syria, and that’s just a partial list.”

It was too little, too late, and lacking any connection to the broadcasts. NBC has two years to pull its head out of the clouds. The American people deserve better.

About Project TILWO — I watch Sochi 2014 Olympic coverage on TV and online then share the lessons I learn, with occasional help from my friends. Edited by Lynn Hess @ Premier Proofing.

NBCOlympics.com: Intentionally Bad So You’ll Watch TV?

19 Feb

nbc olympics streamingIt all seemed so promising, NBC announcing it would stream every event live online from Sochi, complete with announcers, more than 1,500 hours in all.

But if you’ve been to NBCOlympics.com, you know  that the potential and reality are miles apart. In fact, trying to find any specific event on the site should be an Olympic sport all its own.

BugDaily on Twitter and Facebook, people are asking for links to help them find a specific live stream or highlights. Don’t even think about looking for videos embedded on those or any other site. NBC took a step five years backwards with its videos, preventing users from enjoying them anywhere but on their own site.

So we’re essentially trapped. Geofencing prevents anyone in the US from watching highlights or live streams from any other broadcaster. And NBC’s greed means you have no choice but to navigate their site.

But just how bad is it, really? For an informed answer I asked my JWT colleague and usability expert Adrienne Sangastiano to dig into the site. The fact that she immediately started comparing the site to the hotel room trashed by US bobsledder Johnny Quinn should have been my first hint about her perspective. [Click here to read the rest of this post]

The Shame of Sochi – The Internet Seethes Over NBC’s Zeal for Tears

17 Feb


Click to see the whole interview.

There was no doubt that NBC was going for gut. The camera pushed in tight for the whole interview with Bode Miller on Sunday.

Christin Cooper: I know you wanted to be here with Chelly (his brother who died recently), really experiencing these games. How much does this mean to you to come up with this great performance for him? And was it for him?
Miller: I don’t know if it’s really for him but I wanted to come here and, I dunno, make myself proud, but … (trails off, THE TEAR finally emerging).
Cooper: When you’re looking up in the sky at the start, we see you there and it looks like you’re talking to somebody. What’s going on there?
Miller: (breaks down and cries, Cooper puts an arm on him)

BugYou could practically hear the high-fives back in the control room. Yet another emotional moment squeezed out of an athlete for Olympic gold.

There was nothing spontaneous about the moment. It had happened nine hours earlier and was airing in prime-time. It wasn’t the first. It certainly won’t be the last. But this time viewers weren’t eating it up.

Within minutes of Miller walking away from the camera, posts were pouring in from people complaining about the interview, saying it was far too heavy-handed. The sentiment was 9:1 negative, according to Topsy.

“That reporter just did everything short of kick Bode Miller in the junk to try and get him to cry on TV. ,” @matthew_schott posted.

[Click here to read the rest of this post]

Tweeting Deceit From Sochi

16 Feb

selloutAin’t singin’ for Pepsi/ Ain’t singin’ for Coke/ I don’t sing for nobody/ Makes me look like a joke/ This note’s for you.
This Note’s For You – Neil Young.

Good luck finding integrity like that in Sochi, especially from figure skaters and American darlings Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner. As AP reported, these two (and who know how many others) have handed over to the keys to their Twitter accounts to sponsors.

goldThat means the allegedly spur-of-the-moment tweets you read, thinking you’re getting a personalized glimpse into these athletes’ experiences, could easily have been written by Smuckers, P&G, and Covergirl, among others. So when Gold tweets, “Did you know that I did gymnastics and swimming before I took up skating? #funtimes #smuckers #ad” It’s entirely possible that it was scripted by Smuckers—which wasted no time replying to that tweet and got massive exposure among her 65,200 followers.

Bug“This is the first Olympics where I actually have a social media calendar, where an athlete has to tweet or mention something on a given day,” Gold’s agent, Yuki Saegusa, told AP. “We get a list of tweets or social media things that need to be posted and then we approve them for her.”

Wagner’s agent, David Baden, told the wire service that her contracts stipulate “how many tweets, how many Facebook mentions, and even Instagram” photos they must post. He went on to say that letting the sponsors actually craft the posts was just a matter of convenience.

“It’s just that with her schedule, if we can make things easier, what’s the difference?”

[Click here to read the rest of this post]

A Cell Phone Wins The Halfpipe

14 Feb

Click to see Kaitlyn's video.

Click to see Kaitlyn’s video.

It’s the kind of story AT&T and Verizon only wish they could sell.

Standing at the start line of an Olympic event has got to be one of the loneliest places in the world. The years of practice and sacrifice all come down to what happens next.

All those who were there for you along the way are thousands of miles away. Unless they aren’t.

BugIn the case of USA halfpipe gold medalist Kaitlyn Farrington, a cell phone pushed into her hands at just the last minute erased the miles, and the fears. Call it the ultimate delivery of courage.

Also in this post:
The information that matters

While NBC viewers were getting a pre-packaged, tape-delayed broadcast of the women’s halfpipe, ESPN was posting an amazing story of Farrington’s friends using technology to close the distance when she needed it most. She was the long shot of the US team, and about to make a run that would decide if she would even compete in the finals.

“Hey Kaitlyn, have you seen this yet?” asked the coach of the US team just moments before her run, according to Alyssa Roenigk. As the woman before her completed competition, Farrington watched a three-and-a-half minute good luck video from her friends and coaches back home.

[Click here to read the rest of this post]

Social Media Is Making Your Sports Anchor’s Head Explode

13 Feb


Click for Dale’s commentary.

We take a brief break from talking about the Olympics to talk football. Well, not really football, but the reaction to Mizzou’s Michael Sam’s attempt to become the NFL’s first openly gay player.

No big deal, right? Ha! All around the country it was a huge deal. The New York Times even sent out a breaking news announcement when the story broke. Think about that for a moment. Sad, right? And yet what did your local sports anchor say about it?

BugYour sportscaster didn’t have anything to say? Then you don’t live in Dallas, where WFAA’s viewers look forward to Dale Hansen’s occasional Unplugged commentary. Hansen, in his typical fashion, disassembled those NFL insiders who say being gay is a distraction teams don’t need.

You beat a woman and drag her down a flight of stairs, pulling her hair out by the roots? You’re the fourth guy taken in the NFL draft. You kill people while driving drunk? That guy’s welcome. Players caught in hotel rooms with illegal drugs and prostitutes? We know they’re welcome….You love another man? Well, now you’ve gone too far!

Typically Hansen’s words would have reverberated around Dallas for a couple days with a few attaboys and not much more. God knows WFAA didn’t do much to help spread the piece. They didn’t even mention it in their Twitter feed. But thousands of viewers did.

According to veteran TV critic Ed Bark, Hansen’s piece was seen by about 340,000 people. But since then the piece has been viewed online more than 1.2 million time on YouTube alone. It’s been shared on Facebook more than 40,000 times and on Twitter it’s still going strong three days later.

Yep, that’s Jimmy Kimmel taking time to give props to a sports guy in Dallas. It was retweeted 400+ times in the first hour after he posted it.

And that is why your sports anchor’s head is exploding right now. Because while their bosses are telling them to show clips and banter with the news team, hundreds of thousands of people are eating up the fact that an old white guy in Dallas is calling out the NFL for narrow-mindedness. They are applauding old-school editorialism in a very 21st Century way.

As budgets are cut and newsrooms shrink all around the country, it’s typically the veterans like Hansen who are getting run off in favor of hipper, cheaper, younger talent. That’s what makes social media’s big embrace of Hansen’s commentary so rewarding. Now, if only general managers and publishers will take note.

Now back to our regular programming.

About Project TILWO — I watch Sochi 2014 Olympic coverage on TV and online then share the lessons I learn, with occasional help from my friends. Edited by Lynn Hess @ Premier Proofing.

The Pink Eye Celebrated Around the World

11 Feb

2014-02-11_14-29-12Good news America, your Olympic experience just got a little less gross. Bob “Mad Eye” Costas benched himself this morning in an effort to cure the nuclear case of conjunctivitis that has been giving viewers the heebejebees since the games began.

“Just what the hell is happening to Bob’s eye?” has been a growing topic of discussion online. For days now, millions of people have been nervously trying not to touch their eyes while watching NBC.

(via Getty Images, @stvnmacias, @dkitendaugh)

(via Getty Images, @stvnmacias, @dkitendaugh)

BugBy the time Bob was downing vodka shots Monday night, he was a top 5 search on Google, more than 200k per hour. And, like with any meaningless topic, the internet denizens wasted no time turning Bob’s eyes into a full-blown meme that no Z-Pak was going to knock down.

[Click here to read the rest of this post]