Smell the Magic

magic

Analogue OTA TV transmitter towers and the Celica Supra last summer in Powassan, Ontario. All three are still operational.

Dear Minister Glover,

There were a series of important TV announcements in London, Ontario this morning.

Of particular note to this here blog was mention of the future status of OTA TV in Canada.

CRTC Chairman Blais can take it from here (the magic items he’s describing to the crowd are OTA TV antennas):

“I have with me today some special items. You could call them magic items. After all, they can make television service bills disappear into thin air.

What’s more, when you install them in your home or on your roof here in downtown London, they can give you access to eight Canadian television signals with a picture quality superior to anything delivered by a satellite or cable provider. Channels that show all the best local and national information, American entertainment and educational programming – for the low monthly rate of zero dollars.

Across Canada, 76% of the population has access to at least five channels thanks to these items, and in some cities that number rises to 15 or more.

What are these ingenious devices?

Digital television antennas such as these bring OTA television signals into our homes at a cost that beats even the best packages offered by the major service providers. But let me say that our decision is not about just affordability. It is about the importance of local and regional news and information programming.

It’s natural in an era of such fundamental change that old-style technologies get left behind. As we increasingly look to new television delivery models, we must be mindful not to forget about the essential public service provided by over-the-air television, the critical connection it forges with audiences. We should also keep in mind that 97% of Canadians live within range of a transmitter.

During our consultations, we had proposed that local stations be allowed to shut down their transmitters. Canadians reacted and told us that the time had not yet come. Ninety-five percent of participants told us that access to OTA stations is of great importance. This is not surprising when you consider that over 40% of viewing between 7 and 11 p.m. in the English-language market and over 50% in the French-language market is to local television stations.

What’s more, news programming aired by local stations boasts a 40% viewing share. And the vast majority of Canadians that responded to our public opinion survey considered local news to be important. While these statistics do not make a distinction between content watched over-the-air or through a cable or satellite company, they show us that Canadians rely on the television stations in their communities.

Holding a licence to operate a local television station comes with certain privileges. For example, cable and satellite companies must include the station in their basic package of channels and stations can request simultaneous substitution. Our decision sends a strong message to anyone thinking of shutting down their transmitters that, in doing so, they would be forfeiting these privileges. Canadians don’t want to start paying for free TV. And we heard you.

One might argue that OTA is a relic. Certainly, it harkens back to the early 1950s when rabbit ears stood atop unwieldy floor-model televisions. Yet much has changed about OTA as a broadcasting medium, including a wholesale transition three years ago to digital service. The next few years could yield renewed interest for OTA broadcasting, especially in urban areas where eye-popping image quality, channel selection and, of course, the absence of cost, could convince more consumers that they need not be enslaved to cable and satellite service providers if they want to enjoy high-quality television programming.

Long term, however, the format must change. The future of television lies more toward viewer-centric, on-demand models than the scheduled broadcasts such as those provided by OTA.”

- London, Ontario
January 29, 2015

Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Check against delivery

(Source: crtc.gc.ca)

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New OTA DTV station available in GTA care of multicasting by Sinclair

Grit_Blueskyresize

Source: Katz Broadcasting

Dear Minister Glover,

Happy New Year. Time to rescan your OTA DTV tuner.

Writing with regards to a new TV station that is available by antenna in the Greater Toronto Area (and elsewhere) care of Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s WUTV Buffalo (Channel 29).

Described as “the first-ever male-centric over-the-air broadcast television network“, Grit is the creation of the same company behind Bounce TV, Katz Broadcasting. Katz launched Grit in August 2014 but only recently expanded to Buffalo (and 46 other US markets) in the last week thanks to a deal with Sinclair.

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Source: Katz Broadcasting

I’m not particularly interested in Grit’s programming. Their promo materials appear to be from an SNL skit/Old Spice ad. What interests me about this new channel is that Sinclair recognizes the value of using multicasting to best monetize its spectrum.  WUTV 29.1 is now offering Grit at 29.3 in addition to TCN (owned by yet another company, ZUUS Country) which has been carried at 29.2 since I first started watching OTA DTV in 2011.

If you live within the footprint of the signal, “Muscle Up Monday” might be to your taste. If not, I advise you still check it out and imagine how Canadian TV broadcasters could offer similar services and, most importantly, why they choose not to.

Best,

Steven

p.s. Thanks to my colleague and fellow OTAer Jesse for reminding me yesterday that Grit is now on-air in the GTA.

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Future Shop is selling a DTV Converter/PVR? Wha!?

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Here’s the HW-150PVR plus my taped-up USB key for recording.

Dear Minister Glover,

You can rest assured that this is not a sponsored post based on how long Future Shop (owned by Best Buy) took to respond to my product questions.  I am glad and appreciative that they finally did.

Writing today about a DTV device that I bought at the store’s Yonge and Dundas location in Toronto.

While the same location did stock a few DTV analogue-to-digital converter boxes for Canada’s 2011-2012 DTV transition, they haven’t really offered much otherwise beyond some small antennas.

I was pleasantly surprised last month to find that they are now stocking an ATSC DTV converter box (made by HomeworX) that also doubles as a PVR. What!? Wow!

I of course bought it. I think it was $80 or so but I would have paid more (shhhh).

The box feels solid state. It’s fairly big and heavy. As you can see above, it’s metal (the main part at least). And black. Good combo.

The tuner’s scan slurped in all my available DTV channels no problem (other than CHCH which would have required I move my antenna 45 degrees). It even grabbed US stations bouncing off of Lake Ontario such as PBS, Bounce and others. I’m also now getting an audio-only station. Sounds like a Shopping Channel without images. This box really wants to pull in signals. Most just wimp out.

The PVR also works well. I only used the record-on-the-fly option but it looks like you can also program it to record. There is no hard-drive but if you slap in a USB key it will dump to that.

My only issue with the PVR is that the playback will sometimes go into chipmunk speed. This might be due to my banged-up USB key though. It’s a handy glitch for blasting through commercials.

I’ve been so pleased with the unit (and the fact that Future Shop is actually stocking it) that I figured I should contact them.

Here is my interview with Future Shop Communications Manager Elliott Chun.

18/12/2014

To: Steven James May

echun

Hey Steven,

Thanks again for your patience. My team and I have worked on the answers for you and here you are:

1) When did you start selling this item? Why did you start? How are sales?

We’ve been selling it for a couple of years now. After conducting market research, including listening to our customers needs, we decided to team up with Homeworx. The partnership has paid off and we’re proving to serve a need.

2) What percentage of your customers buy ATSC DTV (over the air, also known as free TV)  products like TV antennas? Is this demand growing?

Year over year, we saw a significant lift and it continues to grow as customers see their cable bills grow and adopt web-based programming.

3) Why does Future Shop sell any ATSC products at all in an age of Internet TV streaming and TV on cell phones?

There are a few reasons. One being with internet streaming and TV on mobile devices, customers are stuck with their smaller screens and using up large amounts of data can play a factor, so customers are becoming selective with what they stream. Also, customers still enjoy watching live TV and they want to enjoy it from the comfort of their couch, watching the big screen. However, they don’t want to rack up an expensive data or cable bill.

4) Do you plan on selling more ATSC products? Which ones? Why or why not?

The market is certainly growing, so we are always looking into bringing more products as we see fit, driven by customer demand.

5) You sell portable DVD players but not portable  DVD/ATSC DTV combo players. Why not?

We sell based on customer demand and at the moment, this is an area that doesn’t require our customers’ needs.

6) (MORE A COMMENT THAN A QUESTION) In terms of the above-mentioned HW-150PVR, the packaging suggests it is a PVR recorder but no hard drive is included. You should mention this on the box with a sticker.

Although we are not the creators of the packaging, we have mentioned it on our in-store tags and online that there is no hard drive included

Best,

Steven

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Community Manager gets Shaw to (briefly) re-open LTSS

Source: tnrd.ca

Source: tnrd.ca

Dear Minister Glover,

I received a curious blog comment this week from a woman named Sherry.

“(W)hy is Clinton,BC allowed to install LTSS for the next 4 days and no one else is allowed???”, said Sherry.

After noting to Sherry that Shaw stopped accepting new LTSS subscribers (early) back on Aug 31/14 (with permission from the CRTC), I suggested that it must be a scam if some guy had called her saying Canadians can still be signed up to the LTSS (Local Television Satellite Solution).

Sherry insisted it was real. “I dont think its a scam and if I lived in the right district I would be getting it now”, she commented.

Turns out Sherry was right. It wasn’t a scam and if she lived in the right district she may very well be getting the OK from Shaw to sign up to the LTSS after the deadline.

The “right district” is the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD) in British Columbia (see the above-posted map with the Survivor-esque logo) and the guy who had been making the calls is Ron Storie, Manager of Community Services for the TNRD.

As noted on the TNRD website “(r)egional districts are local government authorities unique to British Columbia that exist to meet certain local government service needs that neither municipalities nor the province are well-suited to address”. Since at least the 1970s, one of the services that the TNRD supplied was analogue television rebroadcasts. According to Storie, for anywhere from approximately $30/year to $0/year in taxes, residents of the TNRD received a basic selection of otherwise unavailable over-the-air analogue TV rebroadcasts signals.

With the coming (and going) of Canada’s so-called digital television transition of 2011-2012, the TNRD figured they too would shut down their analogue OTA TV service by 2014-2015  since only 1.5%-3% of the residents, according to Storie, still depended on it.

The only (big) snag was that, just as the TNRD was taking out ads in local papers explaining that their funding of the analogue TV rebroadcasts would end and that viewers could apply to a no-fee basic satellite TV program from Shaw (that John White of the Clinton and District TV Society had recommended to the TNRD after reading about it on this here Dude TV blog), Shaw stopped accepting new LTSS subscriptions prior to the Nov 30/14 deadline.

After many phone calls and the possible involvement of a MP, Ron Storie has managed to get (as of today) 126 TNRD households signed up to Shaw’s LTSS, post-deadline.

While it sounds like Ron Storie is ready to return to his normal duties such as managing the upkeep of local graveyards, I think it’s pretty darn cool that he got Shaw, post-deadline, to provide basic no-fee TV to many of the fixed-income residents whom he serves. Don Cherry owes him a thumbs up this Saturday night.

The question I’m left with is why doesn’t Canada have more Ron Stories? I know from this blog that there are TV viewers like Sherry all across Canada seeking fair access to their television broadcast system in the digital age.

Steven

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Part II: Select LTSSers Required to Buy New Receiver to watch SRC

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Image Source: Shaw Direct

Dear Minister Glover,

Called Shaw Direct again tonight about SRC Ottawa (704) with a great solution c/o of Dad.

Since he can no longer receive 704 due to changes to the ANIK F2 satellite, why doesn’t Shaw just send us SRC Montreal (701) instead? It won’t be as local as Ottawa but it’s closer than CBC Toronto.

Shaw declined to make the change under a LTSS subscription donc, Dad has to go without access to SRC.

Time to complain to the CRTC (again), I guess.

Steven

 

 

 

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Part I: Select LTSSers Required to Buy New Receiver to watch SRC

SRC704

Dear Minister Glover,

I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving.

Writing with regards to a troubling development related to Shaw Direct’s Local Television Satellite Solution (LTSS) program.

My dad mentioned to me recently that he could no longer watch Télé de Radio-Canada (aka SRC) via his no-fee LTSS subscription.  I checked it out and sure enough, when you try to watch the station it rejects your request.

I tried re-flashing the signal and unplugging the receiver but no dice. Nothing would get back SRC Ottawa/Gatineau. I finally decided to call Shaw tonight (waiting until after Saturday night’s HNIC Leafs game via CBC via Rogers which still works just in case tech support’s efforts to restore SRC impacted CBC reception).

At first, I was told that SRC was not included under the LTSS program. I corrected the customer service rep and advised that the station had been part of my dad’s basic channels provided by the LTSS since it was first hooked up. I also mentioned that my understanding is that ANY BDU service in Canada, even the LTSS, must carry at least one CBC TV station and one Radio-Canada TV station.

After trying to remotely re-flash the receiver again and having me get on my hands and knees (no pun intended) to unplug it again, the rep put me on hold. The rep returned with the answer. Apparently (you always have to take anything a Shaw Direct rep tells a LTSSer with a grain of salt), the compression of some of the SRC stations on the ANIK F2 satellite has changed and a new receiver is required in order to receive Ottawa/Gatineau and Vancouver SRC. SRC Montreal and SRC Moncton are currently unaffected, I was told.

I asked why this had happened and the rep said that Shaw doesn’t own the satellite and that the owners made the change.

The receiver that is required to receive SRC Ottawa/Gatineau (704) and SRC Vancouver (702) is the Motorola DSR 600, I was told. As noted in the LTSS application, subscribers are given one receiver with the installation and after that subscribers have to pay for any replacement receivers. The rep said the new receiver normally costs $200 but is on sale by Shaw for $99. I believe you can also rent them from Shaw. While the DSR 600 is an HD receiver, the rep confirmed that the LTSS service will remain SD.

When I mentioned to the rep that the change was disappointing, the rep noted that my dad did have a rather old receiver. I agreed with the rep entirely and noted that the refurbished Star Choice receiver was sent by Shaw as part of the initial LTSS hook-up.

Is this the beginning of the end of Shaw’s LTSS? Who/what will replace the LTSS?

Steven

 

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Unlike Netflix, the CRTC has a duty to serve Canada

blaistonetflix

Chairman Blais becoming cross with Corie Wright’s Netflix at the Let’s Talk TV hearing. Source: CPAC.


We haven’t made any decisions, we are not leaning in any particular direction, but some parties in this proceeding have raised some issues and it’s our duty to examine those. And it’s a fact-based issue and in fact some of the facts we are requesting may actually support Netflix’ argument.  
- CRTC Chairman Blais, September 19, 2014 (Source: CRTC)

Dear Minister Glover,

I know how you like to comment on Netflix regulation so hopefully you will find this post of value.

The results of the CRTC vs. Netflix September Blowout at the Let’s Talk TV hearing a few weeks ago has left the Commission holding the regulatory bag. That sits just fine with me.

As the Chairman noted to Netflix’s Corie Wright on the 19th of September, the CRTC has a duty to ask Netflix the questions it asked and also to request the data sets that the Commission requested. If Netflix chooses not to answer or to provide information, that’s up to them.

I don’t feel that the CRTC did anything wrong in terms of dealing with Netflix at the hearing. They poked at Netflix to see what would ooze out.  That’s the CRTC’s duty.

Steven

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