The next round of retransmission consent negotiations between television broadcasters and cable companies is just a few months away. And after seeing the fees charged for off-air stations skyrocket the last time around, small cable operators are preparing for the worst. Might one option to simply say "no" and stop carrying off-air stations?
At first, it seems absurd to think of a cable service without the broadcast networks. After all, many cable systems began as "community antenna systems" whose only content was received off-air. Only after the launch of HBO and superstations such as WTBS and WGN in the 1970's were satellite signals added to the mix. But if not during this retransmission consent round, dropping broadcast signals entirely could become a serious option in another three years.
One reason is the fact that more and more off-air stations are being offered on OTT platforms. For example, Sony has negotiated a deal with CBS and its affiliates that means customers in many TV markets, including the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids/Waterloo DMA's, can now see their local CBS affiliate through the Playstation Vue platform. The other major OTT platforms, or vMVPD's (for virtual multichannel video program distributors), including Sling TV, YouTube TV, DIRECTV Now, and others, are also working on securing rights to stream local network affiliates to their customers. By the time we get to this fall and start negotiations with the TV stations, several more platforms and additional markets may have been launched.
Dropping the broadcast networks from your cable system is likely to be too painful to consider for now. But the time has come to reconsider the common practice of carrying duplicate network affiliates. When those signals were free it made sense to have multiple CBS, NBC, ABC, and FOX affiliates on your system. Now is the time to talk to customers about dropping any duplicate affiliates you have. And for those operators in small, rural markets where you might have a choice between stations from two or more DMA's, it's a good idea to find out from customers which stations they want you to keep-and which ones they could live without.
Spencer Municipal Utilities held an open house to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the referendum that authorized the addition of a telecommunications utility.
The referendum was approved by 91% of Spencer voters in May 1997. A local grassroots organization, ACT Now!, campaigned for a yes vote and was outspent about 10-to-1 by then-incumbent cable operator Triax Cablevision.
A year late, after a feasibility study revealed a pricetag of $16-20 million dollars for a hybrid fiber-coax network, SMU and the ACT Now group went back to work to measure community support for moving forward. After a six-week campaign, over 60% of Spencer households returned a "Statement of Support", pledging to switch their services if SMU built a system.
In July 1999, construction began on the system, with the first cable TV and internet customers hooking up in the fall of that year. Telephone service followed in August 2000 with system completion in early 2001.
Twenty years after the vote, SMU's is building again. The final phase of the utility's fiber-to-the-home rebuild is expected to be completed later this year.
At the 2017 IAMU Broadband Conference, one of our general sessions was a panel discussion on how local programming can ad value to a small cable operator's service. The challenge for a system looking to make a move into local programming is the cost of equipment and the human resources needed to do it well. Now, a new solution called "SlingStudio" may be a reasonable answer.
SlingStudio, announced by Dish Network at the NAB show in April, is promoted as a solution for producing high-quality video content for social media platforms. However, it appears from the product's description that it could also be a solution for producing local programming for either live telecast or for delayed playback.
SlingStudio, which has a starting price of $999, allows you to set up a multi-camera video shoot for an event (sporting event, community event, etc.) through the use of a private WiFi network that is included in the system. Professional-grade camcorders are connected to the network through a wireless adapter that streams video to a virtual switcher that resides on an iPad. In addition to regular camcorders, you can also use smartphones and tablets equipped with cameras to stream video to the hub via an app on the device. Once the video is mixed by the iPad it can be stored on a hard drive or even streamed live to various social media platforms.
A use case might be this: your cable system wants to provide live coverage of the local high school graduation. You could use the SlingStudio equipment and a few smartphones (or cameras) to do so and stream the video live to your Facebook page while at the same time recording it for playback on your local channel. The same could be done with sports, although schools might frown on a live broadcast for fear that it would reduce gate receipts.
There's a good article about SlingStudio on Fierce Cable's website. The SlingStudio website also has details and pricing information.
Have you heard of this new technology being developed by AT&T called "AirGig"? I've been hearing and reading about it for the past few months but still haven't gotten my head around whether it's a potential game changer for delivering high-capacity broadband to rural areas or just another idea that sounds great but fails to execute.
On its surface, AirGig is a new version of Broadband Over Power Line (BPL) that has tried (and mostly failed) to be a reliable broadband medium. AT&T says they have solved BPL's limitations by creating a millimeter wave wireless signal that rides along or near the actual conductor rather than a signal that is carried by the conductor.
“We think Project AirGig is unlike anything that’s out there. We’re experimenting with multiple ways to send a modulated radio signal around or near medium-voltage power lines,” the company said.--from article in Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal, October 2016
The graphic at the right illustrates how AirGig would work. AT&T has several patents on the technology and and is implementing field trials, with a goal for having it available for deployment in 2019 or 2020.
In addition to use as a way to provide broadband to end users, the technology is also being touted as an affordable and easily scaleable solution for Smart Grid.
If it works, AirGig could be at least a partial solution to providing better broadband in wireless areas. There's one glaring problem, though...it only works with overhead electric plants. So providers with buried electric facilities would still need a different solution to reach end users. Also, there's no word on how much the new technology will cost versus the "gold standard" for broadband, fiber optics.
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Presented by the Community Broadband Action Network and curated by Curtis Dean.