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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Inconclusive Ruling on Broadcast TV Profanity and Nudity

Last Thursday, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled against the FCC and its policy regulating curse words and nudity on broadcast television. The decision was 8-0, with the court throwing out fines and sanctions imposed by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) for uncensored curse words and brief nudity on Fox, NBC and ABC, three of the major broadcast networks.

There were several incidents in question:

  • In December of 2002, recording artist Cher used the phrase “F— ’em” during a live broadcast of the Billboard Music Awards show on the Fox television network.
  • In January of 2003, Bono of the band U2 said “f—– brilliant” during NBC’s broadcast of the Golden Globes, another live awards show.
  • In December of 2003, reality TV star Nicole Richie, also on the Billboard Awards on Fox, said, “Have you ever tried to get cow s— out of a Prada purse? It’s not so f——simple.”
  • There was a brief display of nudity on an episode of ABC’s NYPD Blue.

In so ruling against the sanctions brought down for these incidents, though, the high court decided not to rule on the constitutionality of the FCC indecency policy, but instead against the fact that broadcasters could not have known ahead of time the sort of sanctions that the aforementioned incidents would bring down. The FCC is free to adjust its policy in order to give those warnings ahead of time for sanctions in the future.

While some free speech advocates are lauding the decision as a triumph, it is less a ruling about free speech and more about unfair policy. The FCC will still have the right to protect the broadcast airwaves (limited, publicly available) from nudity and profanity; they will just need to have clearer standards in doing so. As such, it is likely that the standards will still be far stricter than with cable TV. The fight for freedom of speech on broadcast networks is basically at the same place it was before the ruling.

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More Than Half of Millennials Consider Wi-Fi Internet a Necessity

A September 2011 survey commissioned by the Wi-Fi Alliance found that 56 percent of millennials, the generation born between 1980 and 2000, consider Wi-Fi access to be a necessity. As more and more work, communication and entertainment time is spent on the internet on desktop and laptop computers, tablets and smartphones, high-speed internet via wireless networking technology is a feature that more and more people are coming to expect from any business or waiting area they enter.

While some states and cities—Austin, TX has more than 500 wireless hot spots—provide wireless in public spaces, restaurants and coffee shops are still benefiting from having adopted wireless internet access early on in the development of the technology. Already places where people would come to gather and read, coffee shops may have benefited the most from this development. Where once one would have to go to an “Internet Café,” now Wi-Fi is an expected part of any coffee shop’s business.

Where once wireless internet access was the domain of small coffee shops and the Starbuck’s chain, now McDonald’s is one of the nation’s largest Wi-Fi access providers, with free internet access available in 11,000 of the chain’s 13,000 United States locations. When McDonald’s adopts something in a vast majority of its locations, you know that technology has gone mainstream. Those consumers who might have gone elsewhere for coffee or lunch once Wi-Fi became available elsewhere are returning to the golden arches and it’s been a good thing for business at Mickey D’s.

Another indication that Wi-Fi is increasingly considered a necessity is a J.D. Power and Associates survey about hotel amenities. Free Wi-Fi is now considered the most important amenity for hotel guests, beyond complimentary breakfast and bedding and pillow choices.

With the prevalence of Wi-Fi in many urban centers and businesses, it seems like only a matter of time before some sort of free wireless internet access, like AM and FM radio bands, might be available to everyone, free of charge.

High-Speed Internet Could Use New Light Beam Technology

In the future, your high-speed internet connection could be up to 85,000 times faster than it is now. Sound crazy? As reported by UPI, a research team of US scientists working at the University of Southern California have developed a system of transmitting as much as 2.56 terabits of data per second, using twisted beams of light. Because broadband cable internet’s standard is about 30 Mbps, that really is 85,000 times more data per second.

When will this technology come to consumers with internet connections? Probably not for a long time, as the first developments will probably be high-speed satellite communication links and short free-space terrestrial links, but there are plans to adapt the technology for use in the fiber optic cables used by internet service providers. Light works differently from electricity, as it can be manipulated many different ways at very high speeds, enabling for this gigantic leap in data transmission.

How Does it Work?

The USC researches used beam-twisting “phase holograms.” These holograms manipulated eight beams of light into a helix as it traveled, with each twist different and encoded with different data bits, creating eight different streams of data. In their laboratory, they created an area similar to outer space in order to simulate the kinds of communications that might occur between satellites. The work done by the USC scientists, including Alan Wilner, a USC electrical engineering professor, expanded upon research conducted by several universities in Europe.

While the initial uses will probably be for government and high-tech applications, it is likely that if the technology is reliable and replicable, it will eventually have commercial uses. Will high-speed internet ever be high-speed enough to transmit 2.56 terabits per second? Maybe not; but it’s going to get a whole lot faster, and it’s probably going to get faster a lot faster than we think.

Sports Fans: ESPN3 a Boon for High-Speed Internet Customers

A number of cable television and high-speed internet service providers, including Charter Communications serving areas across the Midwest and throughout the United States, provide extra viewing options to subscribers who bundle their cable television with high speed internet. ESPN3, now available at its new home WatchESPN.com, is one of those options only available to cable and internet subscribers, providing extra sports programming for fans who want comprehensive coverage even beyond ESPN’s thorough channel lineup.

ESPN has long called itself the Worldwide Leader in Sports, and since partnering with ABC under the ownership of Disney, it has become just that, defeating other cable sports providers in ratings in just about every category. This has left viewers with fewer options, with many sports not receiving their due simply because ESPN has decided not to cover them. ESPN3, though, brings many additional sports broadcasts for fans of soccer, tennis, NCAA championships in a number of sports, and more. International soccer and all four tennis grand slam tournaments in particular benefit from the extra coverage provided by ESPN3, allowing viewers to watch all of the action live, not just tape-delayed highlights.

ESPN3 is not the only online sports package cable internet customers have access to, but it is the most prominent and the most robust and generally comes free of charge when cable customers bundle television and internet, making it a better deal than some premium services such as MLB EXTRA INNINGS and NHL CENTER ICE. It is a particularly good deal for international sports fans living in America, as top international soccer and cricket receive coverage on ESPN3 that is exclusive in the United States. Other events broadcast on ESPN3 include every ATP World Tour 500, ATP Masters 1000 and every WTA Premier tennis event.

Check your local cable provider to see if ESPN3 is available in your area.

3D Satellite TV Having Trouble Attracting an Audience

DIRECTV has announced that it has reduced the programming hours of n3D, its 3D satellite television channel, due to a lack of available content in 3D. Launched in July 2010, the channel was backed by Panasonic Corp., which said that n3D was the first channel to operate 24 hours a day in 3D. Less than two years after its launch, on June 1 of this year, it has been reduced to a part-time channel due to a dearth of 3D programs, which led to the same shows being run in a constant loop. Instead of that, now, when there is no original programming to air, the channel will simply show the n3D logo and details for upcoming events.

TV in 3D has had trouble attracting mainstream audiences. Last August, DIRECTV competitor AT&T U-Verse, also cut 3D programming from its lineup, getting rid of ESPN 3D since the low demand from consumers did not justify the cost. Even so, sales of 3D TVs are growing, accounting for 11 percent of TV sales over the beginning of 2012, nearly double the rate of sales in 2011.

Though programming will be limited on n3D, the DIRECTV satellite television channel will still air already existing programming, and will broadcast some Olympic events in 3D this summer. The channel is available to all DIRECTV subscribers, who need a 3D ready TV to be able to watch the programming in 3D.

With the amount of movies being shown in theaters in 3D, it’s only a matter of time before that type of content makes it to the home television in a majority of homes, but the technology is not there yet to make it as affordable as many consumers would like it to be. For now, 3D is the realm of movie theaters, and one of the few reasons to actually go to the theater to see a movie now that HD TV and Blu-Ray have made theater-quality home viewing not only possible but relatively affordable.

Small Cable TV Channels May Prosper on YouTube

YouTube, the streaming video site now owned by Google, is considering requiring subscriptions for some of its content. As a site that’s been free to use since its inception, this news is rubbing some people the wrong way, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing, if, as reported by MSNBC, some of the subscription services will go towards supporting already existing cables with small but loyal viewership as they make the move from cable TV to existing fully online.

There are a number of cable channels available from providers like Charter Communications and DIRECTV that do not receive the revenue necessary to continue producing the quality content that their small but loyal viewership demand. Salar Kamangar, CEO at YouTube and Google’s Vice President of Video, says that these channels may live on in an online basis in the future, and actually get a better deal from YouTube as they receive very little in affiliate fees from cable distributors.

No existing channels has as of yet publicly expressed a desire to move to YouTube, but the idea of smaller packages or even individual channels being available in some form or another on an a la carte basis is one that is gaining traction from viewers, as many do not want to pay for channel tiers of a hundred or more stations just to get the programming they want from five or six.

In addition to potentially working with existing cable networks, YouTube has struck more than 100 video programming deals with media partners including pop and rap icons like Madonna and Jay-Z. Kamangar also theorizes that sports like Ultimate Fighting Championship, mainly available on a Pay-Per-View basis from cable and satellite providers, would benefit from the online subscription system that may come about on YouTube. Advertisers like Unilever and Toyota are set to advertise on these exclusive content networks.

High Speed Internet Changes In-Room Entertainment at Hotels

Business travelers and families on vacation have long looked to Pay-Per-View movies in their hotel rooms as a way to cap off a long and tiring day. But the latest research from Nielsen and other companies has shown a drop-off in demand for Pay-Per-View and Video On Demand type services both in the home and in hotel rooms, and the hospitality industry is scrambling to come up with ways to make up that lost, easy revenue.

Interactive television (iTV) solutions are now the go-to for many higher-end hotels. For example, according to The Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch, Roomlinx, Inc., a Colorado company focusing on iTV for the hospitality industry, has developed a new system for the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center, a 450-room luxury hotel located in one of the tech field’s most vibrant cities. Rather than delivering through cable or satellite TV, the Roomlinx system uses high speed internet to replace the old-fashioned pay-per-transaction Video On Demand service.

Guests using the new system will have access to thousands of movies and TV shows using Netflix, Hulu, DISHOnline, Xfinity and HBO Go, among other sites online. Because hotel guests were already using laptops, smartphones and tablets to watch programming from these types of sites anyway, the new system brings those capabilities to the television in the room and creates a complete in-room solution. Its features also allow hotel guests to:

  • Watch more than 40 channels in high-definition (HD)
  • Use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
  • Use the music streaming service Pandora
  • Explore local dining and shopping options
  • Edit and print documents
  • Interact with hotel staff, including ordering room service and requesting housekeeping

This type of system is not yet available in many hotels throughout the nation, but it is looking like more and more will these types of systems become the norm. Cable and satellite providers to the hospitality industry should look to developing their own versions of these systems to remain competitive in the hospitality arena.

Soccer Can Be a Big Draw on US Cable TV

While soccer is not one of the four major sports in the United States, it is drawing well over the past couple weeks as the Euro 2012 tournament has aired each afternoon on ESPN, ESPN2, and other channels in the ESPN family. Cable and satellite TV providers bringing ESPN into homes are seeing a marked rise in United States viewership of the tourney, which features the best national teams in Europe playing for the title of the best team in the continent. First round games have been shown to have nearly twice the rating they achieved in relation to the equivalent games for the last Euro soccer tournament, which was held four years ago in 2008.

In fact, Euro 2012 soccer is performing just about as well as did the NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals. While the NHL is the least-followed of the four major team sports in the United States, it is still strange to see soccer doing as well, if not better, particularly when there are no American participants in this tournament involving national teams from European countries. There are two possible explanations for this:

  1. That soccer is growing in popularity in the United States, much more than would have been expected,
  2. That rather than airing on the fledgling NBC Sports Network, these soccer games are airing on the powerhouse suite of ESPN channels.

It’s probably a little bit of the first option, and a lot more of the second. ESPN has shown it can provide quality soccer coverage when dedicated to doing so, and ESPN does far more to promote sporting events airing on its own channels than it does to cover sports appearing on other broadcast networks or cable TV channels. The way that ESPN covered the Stanley Cup Playoffs was a joke, so it’s no surprise that Euro is doing well with the Worldwide Leader’s push behind it.

Still, it is surprising just how well soccer is doing. Maybe it really will become a sport with a genuinely large American fanbase.

Live Sports are Saving Cable Television

According to a new report done by Bernstein Research, cable television is managing to maintain subscribers even as video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu make inroads towards becoming major content providers. First-run scripted programming is a large part of the advantage cable television providers have, but even that is becoming an area where Netflix and Hulu can compete, often offering network television shows and shows on basic cable networks like FX a week or so after their original air date. So what’s saving cable and satellite TV companies from subscribers “cutting the cord,” as it were? It turns out that live sports broadcasts are really what does it.

While there are avenues to stream live sporting events online, many are through cable subscribers, and the less reputable online streaming avenues (pirated cable and satellite, feeds, for instance) tend not to provide the high-definition picture quality that many sports viewers are looking for. Sites like ESPN3.com, which can be accessed by those with a valid cable subscription, do in fact offer HD feeds.

The major advantage cable companies have is contracts with the major sports leagues and the channels that broadcast them, including the broadcast networks, ESPN, and Fox Sports regional networks. Since sporting events are one of the few programs that must be watched in real-time in order to stay on top of things, Hulu’s and Netflix’s later streaming models will not work for live sports. It’s no use watching a football game the Sunday after it’s aired, a week later. Cable and satellite companies also provide the major sports packages, most crucially NFL Sunday Ticket, currently available exclusively through the satellite provider DIRECTV.

New streaming options for sports will likely become available, as teams and leagues develop their own content channels, but for now, the status quo is holding fast. Live sports are saving cable television, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon.

Cable TV Changes the Political Landscape

With the advent of 24-hour news channels, cable TV made its first major impact upon the political landscape decades ago. One Hawaii politician is now seeking to take that impact a step further, with a step that we may see many major candidates take in the future: she’s started her own cable channel in order to deliver information about her campaign.

That’s right: Former Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle has launched her own cable television channel solely to provide information about her Senate campaign and the issues facing her state. The channel is available to Oceanic Time Warner customers on digital channel 110, and is called LL2012. According to the cable provider, this is the first time a United States political candidate has used a dedicated channel.

Laura Lingle is running for the state’s Senate seat vacated by retiring Senator Daniel Akaka, a Democrat. A republican, Lingle will face the winner of the state’s August 11 democratic primary, either Rep. Mazie Hirono or former Rep. Ed Case.

While the Democratic party leans younger than the Republican party, it has surprisingly been the Republicans who have taken most advantage of new media avenues in order to get their message out. From the popular Fox News Channel, which definitely leans to the right in the political opinions presented, to trendsetting right-wing blogs, the Republicans are quicker to adopt new strategies than their Democratic counterparts and have taken great advantage of shifts in the media landscape. Lingle’s cable channel is just another example of this.

As of now, Lingle is the only Senate candidate with her own dedicated cable channel for campaign purposes. If her campaign is successful, it is highly likely that candidates on both side of the aisle will follow this strategy in the future. Check back often for updates on how cable television is impacting this year’s elections at the TV, Internet and Phone Blog.