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Comcast drops its bid for Fox

The move clears the way for Disney to acquire 21st Century Fox and its film and television assets

This morning, Comcast announced it will no longer be in the mix to acquire 21st Century Fox and its film and television assets. Instead, the company will f...

YouTube TV adding more channels, expanding to new markets

The price for service goes up $5 starting next month for new subscribers

YouTube TV, Google’s internet TV streaming service, announced that it has added more cable channels to its basic monthly package.

Starting today, members can view programming from Turner networks including TBS, TNT, CNN, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, truTV, and Turner Classic Movies.

However, with the addition of new channels comes a slight increase in price for new customers. The company confirmed that the price of its core monthly package will increase from $35 to $40 a month starting March 13 for new subscribers.

Those who sign up for service before the 13th will be able to keep the old rate of $35 a month.

The company also added that customers can expect even more channels to be added to the lineup “in the coming months.” Sports fans will soon be able to watch programming from NBA TV and MLB Network. NBA All Access and MLB.TV will also be available for an additional monthly fee.

Expanding to new markets

In its announcement, the company also said it would be launching YouTube TV access in many new markets in the U.S.

“While we started out in just five markets and expanded to over 80 from there, we’re thrilled to announce that we are taking YouTube TV to over 85 percent of U.S. households, with the most live local broadcast stations in markets where YouTube TV is available,” YouTube said.

Google’s TV streaming service for cord cutters will be launched in 18 new markets, including Lexington, Dayton, Honolulu, Richmond, Mobile, and Syracuse. To see the full list of locations where YouTube TV is available, click here.

YouTube TV, Google’s internet TV streaming service, announced that it has added more cable channels to its basic monthly package.Starting today, member...

Google adds audiobooks to its Play Store

There’s no subscription required, and Google Assistant integration adds some new functionality

Google has announced that it will sell audiobooks on its Play Store. With Google Assistant integration, consumers can have titles read out to them simply by saying, “Ok Google, read my book.”

The introduction of Audiobooks puts Google in a position to compete with its rival Amazon, whose Audible service offers audiobooks and other spoken-word media.

Google isn’t offering a monthly subscription option for the service. Users simply buy the title they want, similar to the way Apple allows customers to purchase iBooks without a subscription.

No subscription

Although Amazon-owned Audible offers single title purchases, it heavily promotes a monthly subscription option that includes one free download and 30 percent off future purchases.

"On Google Play, you can buy a single audiobook at an affordable price, with no commitments. You can also get a free preview of the book to make sure you're hooked on to the story and enjoy listening to the narrator's voice," Google said in a statement.

Google Assistant integration enables users to do other things while they listen to their audiobook, such as obtain basic information about the book or set a sleep timer for falling asleep at night.

To set a timer for bedtime reading, listeners can say, “Ok Google, stop playing in 20 minutes.” Users can also sync their place across multiple devices, making it possible to pick up where they left off in the car the next morning or continue listening on another device.

Discounts

For now, Google Assistant integration with audiobooks is only available on Android phones, not iPhones. Google says it’s “coming soon to the Assistant on Android Auto in the US.”

Audiobooks are generally priced between $7 and $15, but Google is offering discounts on many audiobook titles at launch of the new service. Additionally, consumers can get 50 percent off their first audiobook purchase.

Audiobooks on Google Play have been rolled out in 45 countries and in nine languages and can be enjoyed on Android, iOS, Chromecast, Android Wear, Android Auto, or on the web.

Google has announced that it will sell audiobooks on its Play Store. With Google Assistant integration, consumers can have titles read out to them simply b...

Consumers increasingly satisfied with pay TV providers

Study finds consumers are a little less willing to 'cut the cord'

Consumers are increasingly satisfied with their pay TV providers, according to a new study by J.D. Power and Associates. The findings run counter to the prevailing wisdom that consumers are abandoning pay TV in favor of so called "over the top" video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.

J.D. Power researchers discovered that consumers are increasing their consumption of both types of video content. Satisfaction with the overall streaming video service experience improved slightly over last year.

At the same time, consumers are spending nearly an hour more per week watching regularly scheduled television programming than they did two years ago.

Peter Cunningham -- Technology, Media, and Telecommunications Practice Lead at J.D. Power -- says the typical household is watching an average of 17.4 hours of regularly scheduled programming in a typical week, up from 16.6 hours in 2015.

Economic issue?

Several years ago the economy was still struggling to recover. Cunningham says "cord cutting" -- the trend of people giving up pay TV for streaming services like Netflix -- was largely an economic issue. Now that the economy is recovering, consumers are less likely to cut the cord and more likely to obtain content from a variety of sources.

"Our study finds the vast majority of people paying for traditional TV services also subscribe to streaming services," Cunningham told ConsumerAffairs. "So when economic times are tougher, they sometimes are willing to give up the more expensive pay TV services."

When consumers can afford both pay TV and video streaming services, they are more likely to use both.

Technology drives satisfaction

AT&T/DIRECTV scored highest in customer satisfaction among pay TV providers. On a regional basis, Verizon was highest in the East; Dish Network leads the South and North Central Regions; and AT&T DIRECTV took top honors in the West.

Cunningham notes that increased satisfaction with pay TV might have as much to do with technology as content. As an example, he cites Comcast's X1 service, which has a voice activated remote and intuitive menu.

"What we see is customers are much less likely to cut the cord if they have a good experience engaging with a provider's technology and the set top box experience," Cunningham said. "What customers care about the most is just making sure the product works. They just want to make sure the network itself is solid."

Satisfaction with streaming services can also often be influenced by consumers' satisfaction with their internet service providers (ISP). In the East, J.D. Power found ISP satisfaction is highest for Verizon. In the North Central region, AT&T/DIRECTV has the most satisfied customers. Cox Communications ranks highest in the West.

Consumers are increasingly satisfied with their pay TV providers, according to a new study by J.D. Power and Associates. The findings run counter to the pr...

Tailgating for the big game? Here are some tips so you can do it like a pro

Regardless of who you root for, there are plenty of ways to ensure a memorable, safe game day

We’re well into football season, and for avid sports fans, that means weeks of going to games and participating in one of the most beloved sports traditions: tailgating.

At its best, tailgating is a way for passionate fans to come together on game day and revel in the team and game that they love. Its main features include great food, fun pre-game activities, and plenty of sports talk as everyone hypes themselves up for the coming contest.

Having a successful tailgating experience isn’t just reserved for the pros, though. Here’s how even the most casual fans can pull off an awesome, memorable, and safe game day.

Get your barbeque on

You might think that getting to the stadium and setting up your tailgate party is a no-brainer, but experienced parking-lot warriors will tell you that there’s more to it.

First, you’ll want to arrive early to beat traffic and find a good parking spot. Most stadiums will allow fans to park several hours before kickoff, and you’ll need every precious second to set up.

You’ll also want to cook fan favorites like burgers, hot dogs, wings, and ribs. And for those, you’re going to need a good grill. You can check out reviews on some of the top brands by looking here.

Play safely

Of course, a successful tailgating experience isn’t just about the food. To get the best experience, you’ll want to create a fun, safe environment. What happens if your tailgate gets dinged while you’re enjoying the camaraderie of your friends and fellow fans?

To avoid any headaches from a potential accident, ensure that your auto policy and warranty is up-to-date. Nothing is more of a buzz kill than not being prepared for accidents. For more information on auto warranties, visit ConsumerAffairs’ site here.

Then continue with some fun games like backyard favorites KanJam and Cornhole. Game on.

Tailgate or Tickets?

While you might be tempted to keep the party going, the biggest fans will want to make their way into the stadium for the actual sporting event. This is when it’s important to have your tickets ready.

While ticket prices vary based on the sporting event, it’s not a bad idea to shop around to make sure that you’re getting the best deal. You always have the option to buy from the team if seats aren’t sold out to season ticket holders. Plus, many online ticket sellers offer great deals.

You can also check out reviews for the best ticket websites by visiting ConsumerAffairs’ Ticket Websites Buyer’s Guide. Whether you scream “Roll tide” or “Go tigers,” you’ll have a ball — pun intended.

We’re well into football season, and for avid sports fans, that means weeks of going to games and participating in o...

For traditional media, the times they are a changin'

Newspapers, radio, and movies face a brave new world

Just a few years ago, you probably pored over the morning paper while you drank your coffee.

You kept up with the latest popular songs on your way to work, tuned in to your favorite local radio station.

On the weekend, you and your significant other might have taken in the latest Hollywood blockbuster at your neighborhood theater.

Now you get your news from Facebook, or have it read to you by a virtual assistant. You get just the music you want from Spotify, Apple Music, or Pandora. And on weekends, you'd much rather "Netflix & chill" instead of go out.

The disruptive internet

The common thread here, of course, is the internet, and how it's disrupting nearly everything -- most notably traditional media.

A recent report from the Pew Research Center noted that last year's jump in newspaper sales, triggered by the presidential election, was largely attributed to digital subscriptions.

Meanwhile, a Pew analysis shows that total weekday circulation for U.S. daily newspapers – both print and digital – fell 8% in 2016, marking the 28th consecutive year of declines. Yes, newspapers have been failing for a long time but the internet has given the industry a shove in the last decade.

Hollywood, meanwhile, is having a horrible summer. ComScore, which tracks box office sales, predicts the summer movie season will close out this weekend with a nearly 16% decline in revenue, worse even than last summer.

Radio challenges

The outlook may be most dire, however, for radio -- one of the oldest of the traditional media. In a report Larry Miller, who heads the Steinhardt Music Business Program at New York University, says radio is hemorrhaging audience.

"Terrestrial radio is facing monumental challenges as streaming continues on its path to becoming the go-to place for current and future generations to enjoy and discover music," Miller said.

But with so many online choices, Miller says radio has lost much of its relevance to the younger generation, which is projected to account for 40% of all consumers in the U.S. by 2020.

He says even listening in cars is eroding as more vehicles are capable of streaming music. By 2020, Miller predicts 75% of new cars are expected to be "connected," breaking radio's monopoly on automotive entertainment.

What's it mean for consumers? Younger consumers may not even notice. But for older consumers, some of the traditional media forms they grew up with may drastically change, or even disappear.

Just a few years ago, you probably pored over the morning paper while you drank your coffee.You kept up with the latest popular songs on your way to wo...

Entertainment landscape shifting to consumers' benefit

More streaming content, cheaper movies the result of ongoing disruption

The disruption that has occurred in the entertainment industry in the last weekend shows no signs of slowing down. Consumers stand to gain.

Last week, Disney announced it was setting up its own streaming services and would pull its content from Netflix. This week, Netflix responded by signing a huge content deal with producer Shonda Rhimes to produce shows for the streaming service.

Daily Variety reports Netflix may also reach an agreement with Disney for rights to Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars” and Marvel Entertainment titles after 2019. At the same time, it says the approximately $200 million it had been paying Disney for content will be plowed back into creating new movies and series for the streaming site.

CNN has added up all the Netflix commitments and estimates the streaming service will spend nearly $16 billion on new content in the coming years, as it fights off an increasing number of competitors.

Netflix model at the movies

Meanwhile, entertainment start-up MoviePass has more or less adopted the Netflix model as a way to help Hollywood's sagging box office numbers.

The company has announced on its website that for a reduced monthly membership fee of $9.95, members can go to as many movies they want, as long as the theater accepts debit cards. The theaters get reimbursed the full price of the ticket.

It works on the same principal as Netflix. Instead of charging a movie-goer for each ticket, the monthly subscription allows them to watch as many movies as they want, limited to one movie per day. Some screens, such as IMAX, are excluded.

Lifeline for theaters?

Still, it may be a hopeful sign for movie theaters, which have seen audiences decline over the summer. Last weekend, ComScore reported the top grossing movie in the U.S. was Annabelle: Creation, which brought in just $35 million, followed by Dunkirk at $11.4 million.

During the same weekend in 2014, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles raked in $65 million and Guardians of the Galaxy followed at $42 million.

Last December, MoviePass co-founder Stacey Spikes said the company's research showed a subscription model for theaters would help small, independent films find an audience faster since consumers were more likely to wait for these films to show up on streaming services if they had to pay for each movie theater ticket.

The disruption that has occurred in the entertainment industry in the last weekend shows no signs of slowing down. Consumers stand to gain.Last week, D...

Facebook wants you to watch Watch, its new video channel

Instead of cat videos, Watch will be professionally produced content

There is apparently a dire shortage of video in the world today, but don't worry -- big companies are rushing to fill the imagined void with, you guessed it, even more video.

The latest light and nimble entrepreneurial venture to wade into video is none other than Facebook. It's starting something called Facebook Watch -- clever, no? 

Watch will be just what you expect -- a video distribution platform that we're told will be chockfull of scintillating, original video. And, of course, like everything else these days, it will be "personalized," meaning you'll be shown videos that Facebook thinks you want to see. Or, to be a bit more precise, videos that Facebook's advertisers want you to see.

Like everything else on Facebook, it will also be driven at least partly by what your friends -- and your "Friends" -- are watching and raving about. We're told you will find it on the Facebook menu bar, replacing the tab that currently says "Video."

"Watch is personalized to help you discover new shows, organized around what your friends and communities are watching," said Daniel Danker, Facebook Director of Product. "For example, you’ll find sections like 'Most Talked About,' which highlights shows that spark conversation, 'What’s Making People Laugh,' which includes shows where many people have used the 'Haha' reaction, and 'What Friends Are Watching,' which helps you connect with friends about shows they too are following."

Professional content

It's important to note that, unlike videos of cute cats and bouncing babies posted by your supposed friends, Watch will be the real thing -- you know, professional content: movies, series, and even sports. Facebook says it will live-streaming one Major League Baseball game each week and has several other attractions up its sleeve.

Not everyone will have Watch right away. It's being rolled out, in usual Facebook fashion, on a staggered basis. So let's just say you'll be seeing it soon -- and, Facebook hopes, watching it ever after.

There is apparently a dire shortage of video in the world today, but don't worry -- big companies are rushing to fill the imagined void with, you guessed i...

Disney reveals two new streaming services in challenge to Netflix

The services will cover sports content from ESPN and original movies and shows from Disney and Pixar

In recent years, cable and TV providers have slowly lost subscribers as consumers have cut cords and turned to online streaming services like Netflix. Faced with the reality of the situation, some companies have tried to expand their online presence, and now it looks like one of the biggest players is making a bid for a larger piece of the online market.

On Tuesday, the Walt Disney Company revealed that it would be creating two of its own streaming services, one based around sports content under its ownership of ESPN and the other based around Disney and Pixar movies and TV shows. The move follows a recent decline in revenue and will undoubtedly put the company in direct competition with Netflix.

“I would characterize this as an extremely important, very, very significant strategic shift for us,” said Disney chief executive Robert A. Iger in a quarterly earnings conference call.

Two new streaming services

The New York Times reports that the two streaming services will be powered by BamTech, a tech company in which Disney owns a 75% share. Iger says that the ESPN streaming service is scheduled to arrive in 2018 and will include programming for baseball, hockey, tennis, and college sports, as well as 10,000 regional and national events.

Users will be able to access this content through an updated version of the ESPN app, which is available to online users and those who pay for ESPN through their cable or satellite provider.

Its second unnamed streaming service will arrive in 2019 and provide exclusive access to new and old Disney films and a wide array of content from the Disney Channel, Disney Junior, and Disney XD. Iger said that the company has not yet decided if it will include films from its Marvel and Lucasfilm labels or if it will continue to let other services pay to use them.

“It’s possible we will continue to license them to a pay service like Netflix, but it’s premature to say,” said Iger. “There has been talk about launching a proprietary Marvel service and ‘Star Wars’ service,” he added, saying that Disney would move cautiously when it came to stand-alone services for film brands since they would require a large amount of content to satisfy subscribers.

A changing landscape

While Iger didn’t address how much these streaming services would cost, he said that Disney’s goal was to make the price low enough to draw subscribers while not upsetting traditional cable and satellite subscriptions. The executive hinted at the possibility that subscribers may eventually pay by how much content they watch.

So, what does all of this mean for other streaming services like Netflix? While Disney’s competitors would lose out on access to original Disney and Pixar movies and ESPN channels, Iger intimated that he had “all the confidence in the world” that Disney would be able to maintain favorable deals with them.

“No one is better positioned to lead the industry into this dynamic new era,” Iger concluded, adding that the company’s base of loyal viewers would drive the streaming services’ success.

In recent years, cable and TV providers have slowly lost subscribers as consumers have cut cords and turned to online streaming services like Netflix. Face...

Spotify tests new 'Driving Mode' feature

Users say activating it enables enlarged buttons, song announcements, and voice commands

Spotify users may soon find it easier to manage their music while they’re driving. According to several consumers on the popular public forum site Reddit, the music streaming service is testing a new feature called “Driving Mode” on the Android platform.

Those who have been given access to Driving Mode say that it comes with enlarged buttons, song announcements, and voice control features, though the last has not yet been enabled. According to the Verge, the feature is activated by clicking on a car emblem in the bottom corner of the "now playing" window.

Users who have access to Driving Mode have given mixed reviews. Original poster Chris54721 said that it was “still a bit buggy, but it’s pretty neat,” while others say that the song announcements come across as annoying or obnoxious.

Of course, there is no indication that Driving Mode will eventually roll out to the general public. Some experts have even questioned whether non-company employees were ever meant to get access to the feature. However, it’s likely that some iteration of the technology will eventually become available given how much users tend to use the service when driving.

After all, improving your app to make it safer to use on roadways can only benefit Spotify in the long-run – and every other driver on the road.

Spotify users may soon find it easier to manage their music while they’re driving. According to several consumers on the popular public forum site Reddit,...

Six companies fined $4.19 million for using bots to buy tickets to New York shows

New York AG Eric Schneiderman vows to continue fighting the 'rigged' ticketing system

There’s nothing quite like a good Broadway show or tickets to a live concert, but consumers have found it difficult to secure online tickets recently because of ticket bots – software used by scalpers and resellers to grab large numbers of available tickets as quickly as possible.

The problem became so bad that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law last November that increased the penalty for knowingly reselling tickets obtained by a ticket bot to a class A misdemeanor. The change guaranteed harsher penalties than the previously mandated civil penalties, something that six companies now know full well.

Yesterday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that Renaissance Ventures LLC (d/b/a Prestige Entertainment), Ebrani Corp. (d/b/a Presidential Tickets), Concert Specials Inc., Fanfetch Inc., BMC Capital Partners, and JAL Enterprises (d/b/a Top Star Tickets) had been fined a total of $4.19 million for using ticket bots to procure and resell tickets in the state.

“Unscrupulous ticket resellers who break the rules and take advantage of ordinary consumers are one of the major reasons why ticketing remains a rigged system,” Schneiderman said.

Snatching up tickets

The Attorney General’s office found that one of the ticket brokers, Prestige Entertainment, had used two different bots and thousands of credit cards and Ticketmaster accounts to buy tickets for many New York shows. The investigators allege that the company used IP proxy services to hide its use of bots from retail ticket marketplaces. In one specific case, the company allegedly used its bots to purchase over 1,000 tickets to a 2014 U2 concert at Madison Square Garden in just one minute.

Because of its pervasive use of ticket bots, Prestige will be paying the highest fine at $3.35 million. Concert Specials will pay $480,000; Presidential Tickets will pay $125,000; BMC Capital will pay $95,000; Top Star Tickets will pay $85,000; and Fanfetch will pay $55,000.

In addition to paying the fines, each company is required under the settlement to maintain proper ticket reseller licenses and abstain from using ticket bots in the future.

“We will continue to fight to make ticketing a more fair and transparent marketplace, so fans have the opportunity to enjoy their favorite shows and events. Anybody who breaks the law will pay a steep price,” said Schneiderman.

There’s nothing quite like a good Broadway show or tickets to a live concert, but consumers have found it difficult to secure online tickets recently becau...

Comcast and Charter Communications explore joint wireless service

Cable TV firms may see their futures in streaming content

Instead of shrinking, consumers' choices when it comes to wireless services may be growing. Two huge cable TV companies, Comcast and Charter Communications, have announced they are working together to set up a nationwide wireless service, offering voice and data.

That would put them head-to-head against the big four – Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile.

Both Comcast and Charter currently offer a wireless service within their market footprints using Verizon, but the two companies apparently have bigger ambitions. By combining their markets, they hope to compete on a nationwide scale.

Exploratory move

The announcement is only that the two companies have agreed to jointly explore the establishment of a separate wireless service. They want to determine whether it is feasible to create common operating platforms and technical standards that would be compatible with emerging wireless technology platforms.

Comcast says it expects the efficiencies created by the collaboration would provide more choice for consumers and new, innovative products.

"At Charter, we have a tremendous opportunity in front of us in the wireless space,” said Tom Rutledge, Chairman and CEO of Charter. “Within our footprint, our network is perfectly suited to provide the data-rich wireless services that customers are increasingly demanding.”

Where things are going

The fact that two cable TV giants are looking for ways to get into a full-scale wireless business may tell you something about where that industry sees things going. Last week research firm MoffettNathanson reported cable TV lost a record 762,000 subscribers in the first quarter of this year, a huge increase over the 141,000 who cut the cord in the first quarter of 2016.

But is it because consumers prefer to watch TV on the internet, and on mobile devices instead of their living room sofas? Or is it because pay TV is increasingly pricing itself out of the market?

Our recent reporting on the subject suggests it could be the latter, with an increasing number of low-cost over-the-top services providing both limited live TV as well as video on demand. Consumers are finding they can create their own bundles, sometimes saving $50 or more per month.

Learn more in our Cable TV Buyers Guide.

Instead of shrinking, consumers' choices when it comes to wireless services may be growing. Two huge cable TV companies, Comcast and Charter Communications...

Officials consider adding an admissions fee for the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The move could alienate tourists and generate public backlash

For many years, lovers of art have been able to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see some of their favorite masterpieces at no cost. However, that may be about to change.

According to a New York Times report, Mayor Bill de Blasio has given his endorsement to allowing the Met to charge admission to visitors who either aren’t native to New York or don't specifically live in New York City. Although this could damage the museum’s reputation as a public institution, the move could shore up a multi-million budget deficit that the museum currently faces.

“I’m a big fan of Russian oligarchs paying more to get into the Met,” de Blasio said.

Alienating tourists and residents

However, critics point out that it isn’t just foreign diplomats who would be hurt by the change in policy. Potentially excluded residents of New York and tourists alike would obviously be taken aback by having to pay to access a public entity that had been free for a century and only now has a “suggested” entrance fee of $25.

Tourism plays a big part in the Met’s annual income, with 63% of its visitors coming from outside New York. Instituting a fee that appears to “gouge” these consumers could generate backlash, something that could negatively affect de Blasio in his coming re-election campaign.

“This risks being a classic case of ‘penny wise and pound foolish.’ Revenue is good, but so is our reputation of being a tourist-welcoming city,” said former New York City public advocate Mark Green.

Mismanagement

Worse yet, some consumers may see the move as a cover-up for financial and governance missteps that have come to light. Unlike other museums in the city, the Met has been classified as a public museum; the building is technically owned by the city, which appropriates $26 million to the institution every year. However, that figure is far below the $332 million annual operating cost that the museum incurs, and the lack of income has led to a $15 million budget deficit.

Met leaders have strove to cut costs wherever they can by reducing the number of annual exhibitions and cutting staff, but it hasn’t been enough to turn the financial tides. Proponents of adding an entrance fee say that it could add tens of millions of dollars to the museum’s annual revenue.

Critics have fired back with concerns that the city might pull some of its funding if the museum starts becoming more self-sufficient. Mayor de Blasio stopped short of saying that any future success wouldn’t jeopardize city support.

“I don’t think we have an assumption about city funding. It’s about them being able to sustain their operations long term and would actually mean they wouldn’t need additional city funding, in theory. But no, the real issue is just to allow them to defray some of their costs in a way that’s fair to city residents,” de Blasio said.

"Just exploring" options

While officials still ultimately have to draft a final admissions fee policy, the groundwork for adding such a fee was laid back in 2013 when Met officials signed an amendment to the museum's lease that would allow it to renegotiate its ticket fee policy.

City Commissioner of Cultural Affairs Tom Finkelpearl said that he had spoken to Met officials about changing its pricing structure and that his department would consider a formal proposal when it was submitted.

Met President and CEO Daniel H. Weiss acknowledged the issue earlier this week and said that the museum would be “looking at everything to bridge our budget deficit, including the pricing structure we have with the city, which is something we have done throughout our history.”

“Whatever we do is going to be collaborative and mutually supportive. . . All we’re doing is exploring,” Weiss said. 

For many years, lovers of art have been able to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see some of their favorite masterpieces at no cost. However, that m...

Court order blocks release of new Prince EP

A lawsuit claims that a music engineer who worked on the unreleased tracks had no right to make them public

It’s been nearly a year since renowned pop artist Prince passed away from an opioid overdose. Fans mourned the music icon’s death by rushing to sites like eBay to buy his CDs, and now, on the one-year anniversary of Prince’s death, buzz had been generating on the debut of a previously unreleased Prince EP called Deliverance.

However, it looks like fans will have to wait for the six-song recording. A Consumerist report indicates that the Prince estate has sued music engineer George Ian Boxill, claiming that he doesn’t have the rights to make the songs public. The suit claims that Boxill, who was employed by Prince and Paisley Park Enterprises and worked on the tracks in 2006 and 2008, was never given ownership of the music that he worked on and that the songs belonged to Prince, who never chose to release them.  

“Any dissemination of the recordings and underlying music compositions, or fixation of the same in any audiovisual work or otherwise, is unauthorized and in violation of the Estate’s rights to the master recordings and musical compositions,” representatives of the estate said.

Court order blocks release

The suit prompted a judge to issue a temporary restraining order against Boxill that bars him from publishing or releasing Deliverance in any form. The order also demands that Boxill forfeit “all of the recordings acquired through his work with Paisley Park Enterprises, including original recordings, analog and digital copies, and any derivative works.

The order is set to expire on May 3, but it could pave the way for a more formal injunction that would stop the release of the EP until the outcome of the lawsuit is decided.

Fans had already had access to the EP’s title track online, but a letter sent by Boxill’s lawyers stated that the song is no longer available. Other music providers, like Apple’s iTunes, have also been directed to cancel any preorders for the disputed tracks.

It’s been nearly a year since renowned pop artist Prince passed away from an opioid overdose. Fans mourned the music icon’s death by rushing to sites like...

New threat to America: TV, movie writers may go on strike

Would despondent Democrats survive without late-night shows mocking Trump?

You could throw most writers into the sea and no one would much care, but what if all the TV writers went on strike? Who would fill the nightly airwaves with crude skits mocking the Trump Administration?

For many despondent Democrats, the nightly comedy shows are the only ray of sunshine in what is otherwise a gloomy landscape. Having them go dark would be a "nuclear option" that puts today's Senate action over Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch to shame.

It could happen though. 

The Writers Guild of America says it will strike beginning May 2 if it is unable to reach a new deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The guild sent a letter to media buyers on Tuesday, according to a report in TheWrap.

“In the event that we are unable to negotiate a new contract ... a work stoppage will begin May 2,” the Guild said in a letter to the AMPTP. “Should this occur, writing for television, feature films and digital series will cease.”

Yes, even SNL

You might not notice any effect from a stoppage on feature films and TV series, since they are shot well in advance of public release. But the Guild warned that "late night shows like ‘Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,’ ‘The Daily Show,’ ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live,’ ‘Saturday Night Live,’ ‘Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert’ and others will go off the air.”

That's right -- off the air. Jimmy Kimmel may be funny, but he's not funny enough to do an entire show without writers and wouldn't be allowed to do so under union rules anyway.

Antidepressant manufacturers might benefit, but it's hard to see any upside for the rest of the economy, as roughly half the country would be expected to become listless, irritable, and prone to sleep disturbance and headaches. 

The writers are looking for raises that would cost the entertainment industry about $178 million annually. It's not an idle threat. The last time the writers struck, back in November 2007, they stayed out for 100 days, shutting down live shows and knocking the 2007 fall season for a loop, since new shows weren't ready to go on time. It could happen again. Stay tuned.

You could throw most writers into the sea and no one would much care, but what if all the TV writers went on strike? Who would fill the nightly airwaves wi...

Classic Beatles album scheduled for re-release

It was 50 years ago today, that Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play...

Here's a wake-up call for aging Baby Boomers who might not be aware of how quickly time is passing. On June 1, it will be a half-century since The Beatles released the landmark album “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

The year was 1967 and it was the dawn of “the summer of love.” The Beatles album, which continued the group's evolution into psychedelia, seemed to set the tone for that summer. Over the last 50 years, Sgt. Pepper has held up as one of the masterpiece works from the rock era.

To mark the milestone, Apple Corps Ltd./Capitol/UMe is rolling out a special remix of the classic album, newly mixed by Giles Martin and Sam Okell in stereo and 5.1 surround audio, a technology not available in 1967. The package will also include early takes from the studio sessions that produced the album, including nearly three dozen previously unreleased recordings.

A little bit of amazement

"It's crazy to think that 50 years later we are looking back on this project with such fondness and a little bit of amazement at how four guys, a great producer and his engineers could make such a lasting piece of art," former Beatle Paul McCartney writes in the introduction for the Sgt. Pepper Anniversary Edition.

The project will be released in pieces, with the first part – a limited edition seven-inch vinyl single of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane – scheduled for release on April 22. On May 26, the companies will release the remixed album package.

It's the first time the classic Beatles album has been remixed and repackaged. The Beatles released a version of “Let It Be” in 2003 that included remixes.

Sourced from original four-track recordings

The Sgt. Pepper remix is the result of work by Martin, whose father George Martin produced the original, and Okell, who worked with a team of specialists at Abbey Road Studios. The remix was sourced directly from the original four-track session tapes.

The basic product is a CD featuring the album's stereo mix. In addition, there will be a Delux set, containing two CDs, including previously unreleased complete takes of the album's 13 songs.

A Delux Vinyl set provides the Delux content on two vinyl LPs and the Super Delux package is a CD box set with 33 additional recordings as well as videos.

Here's a wake-up call for aging Baby Boomers who might not be aware of how quickly time is passing. On June 1, it will be a half-century since The Beatles...

Old and the young increasingly call the shots in Hollywood

Today's young adult seems to prefer to stay in and watch Netflix

Movie box-office numbers have been falling in recent years as theaters have had to compete with expanding entertainment choices.

But the make-up of the audience filling the smaller number of seats has also been shifting. Increasingly, they are children and older adults.

Just look at the most recent box-office numbers. Disney's “Beauty and the Beast,” which shattered records its opening weekend, remained a far-and-away leader in its second week. It was followed by “Saban's Power Rangers,” another kid's movie that placed second on its opening weekend.

“CHIPS,” a comedy aimed at young adults, debuted in seventh place, grossing a disappointing $7.3 million. If you look back to the start of the 2000s, children have had a lot of box-office pull with films like “Shrek 2,” “Toy Story 3,” and the Harry Potter series.

With movie ticket prices climbing higher, not to mention the cost of concessions, young adults struggling economically are more inclined to stay in and watch Netflix. It's young families who are flocking to movie theaters, along with their grandparents.

Growing impact of seniors

AARP has released a study showing more than 30% of all motion picture theater customers are age 50 and up. The report found older audiences are driving drama revenue and providing niches that don't rely on huge budgets and foreign distribution.

These films are also providing steady work for older actors like Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, who star in the new film “Going In Style.” (see trailer below)

But the study found films don't have to have an older cast to be a hit with seniors. It said 51% of consumers who saw “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” “Taken 3,” and “A Walk Amongst The Tombstones” were over 50.

AARP says older consumers were also a significant contributor to the success of some recent blockbusters like “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Do today's young adults not like the current Hollywood fare? It could be more a matter of economics. Many who are single are struggling. 

Young families, meanwhile, may be more inclined to splurge on a treat for the kids. Many seniors have the disposable income to enjoy movies in today's less-crowded theaters.

Movie box-office numbers have been falling in recent years as theaters have had to compete with expanding entertainment choices.But the make-up of the...

NFL proposes changes to improve the pace of games

Changes to commercials, replays, and clock management could keep the action moving

Watching a football game can be very exciting with its punishing tackles and various acrobatics, but that excitement is often punctuated by periods of inactivity and commercial breaks as teams change possession, take timeouts, and officials take extended looks at replays.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is now seeking to address these pace-of-game problems by proposing several changes, according to the Washington Post. The changes could address how video replays are conducted and introduce several clock management tweaks, cutting down on the number of commercial breaks taken and hastening the action.

“I watch a lot of football as a fan and as commissioner. I see when I am watching on TV or at a stadium that there are opportunities to make the game more compelling from a fan standpoint,” said Goodell in a statement to the Associated Press.

Changing the pace of games

Under Goodell’s proposal, video replays would no longer require a referee to examine a replay under the hood on the sidelines. Instead, the head official would have a tablet brought on the field and they would consult with league headquarters to determine a final call.

This is a big change since final determinations have historically been left up to the head official on the field, but under the new rules the final decision would be made by league officials in New York.

The new rules would also place a time clock on PATs, ensure the game clock is properly restarted after a player has gone out of bounds, and standardize the length of halftimes. Offending teams who aren’t ready on time for the third quarter kickoff may even see a 5-yard delay-of-game penalty.

Fewer commercial breaks

Perhaps one of the biggest changes under the proposal would concern the number and length of commercial breaks. Currently, many fans who watch from home are shown commercials after a touchdown and again right after the ensuing kickoff.

Under the rule changes, the number of commercial breaks would be reduced to four per quarter and would last 2 minutes and 20 seconds, up from 1 minute and 50 seconds. Goodell cites league surveys that show fans wouldn’t mind the extra 30 seconds if it meant fewer total commercial breaks. However, the proposal states that “natural breaks” that are part of the game would still be included to build drama.

“In most cases, fans won’t know the breaks are longer,” he said. “I find it unattractive when we see doubling-up on commercials. . . We’re addressing interruptions and just trying to move things along.”

The proposal will need to be approved by 75% of the 32 team owners at next week’s annual meetings for passage of proposals, which will take place in Phoenix. 

Watching a football game can be very exciting with its punishing tackles and various acrobatics, but that excitement is often punctuated by periods of inac...

Rare Frank Zappa albums to be re-released

A new generation will get a taste of the pioneering rock artist

During his life and career, rock musician Frank Zappa was not exactly a mainstream artist. And that's part of what made him cool.

He leaned heavily on rock, pop, and jazz, but also tossed in intriguing bits of jazz fusion, orchestral, and works that used various eclectic sounds. He and his band, The Mothers of Invention, had an extremely devoted following in the late 1960s.

Now, the Zappa Family Trust and Universal Music Enterprises (UMe) are teaming up to release 24 Zappa albums, some of them rare, later this month. The music will be available on CD, digital downloads, and streaming on March 24.

"For more than two decades, the only place to get exclusive Frank Zappa albums was through our mail order and website," said Ahmet Zappa, son of the late artist and the Trust's executor. "We are thrilled to be able to make these titles available to fans across the globe with the help of our friends at Universal."

According to UMe, nine of the albums in the collection, including Zappa's 100th release, "Dance Me This," and the cult favorite live disc, "Roxy By Proxy," have never been made available for download or for streaming.

The collection also includes a recording from a 1971 performance at Carnegie Hall and a 1974 recording made at KCET-TV studios in Los Angeles, which ended up being used in a number of different Zappa projects.

Zappa died in 1993 after a long battle with cancer. He was 53.

During his life and career, rock musician Frank Zappa was not exactly a mainstream artist. And that's part of what made him cool.He leaned heavily on r...

A non-sports fan's guide to filling out a March Madness bracket

Filling out a good bracket requires a little knowledge and a lot of luck

March Madness has arrived, as the field of NCAA college basketball teams is set for the annual championship tournament.

It's a month-long event -- these days extending into early April -- and is the subject of office pools across America as participants fill out their brackets, predicting which teams will advance during the elimination tournament and which one will ultimately be crowned champion.

Maybe you'd like to participate, but you don't follow sports. Well, that doesn't mean you can't fill out a bracket and maybe even upstage some of the bigger sports fans in your office. Just keep two things in mind -- this tournament is usually both unpredictable and predictable.

Unpredictable early

The unpredictability takes place the first weekend, as the field of 64 is winnowed down to the Sweet 16. This is when upsets occur, with maybe a 15 seed knocking off a two seed. It happened last year when Middle Tennessee upset Michigan State, a team many sports pundits predicted would make it to the Final Four.

This year Middle Tennessee is a 12 seed, taking on Minnesota, and will be taking no one by surprise. None of the 15-2 seed match-ups are all that interesting this year and -- keep this in mind -- in the history of the tournament no 16 seed has ever bumped off a one seed. Probably won't happen this year either.

Going with your heart

Northwestern, out of the Big Ten, has a lot of sentiment behind it as this is the school's first ever NCAA tournament appearance, and famous alumni like Stephen Colbert have come out of the woodwork to cheer on their team.

It plays another school known for academics more than sports, Vanderbilt, in the first round. Should Northwestern win, it would likely face number one seed Gonzaga. A victory would be a huge upset.

Teams that get hot at tournament time are usually safe bets to go deep into the tournament. This year, Michigan and Duke are red hot.

After a mediocre season, Michigan's team had a scary mishap on its way to the Big Ten tournament when its plane skidded off the runway. No one was hurt, but it appears to have galvanized the Wolverines, who upset team after team en route to winning the Big Ten trophy.

Good timing

Duke, a pre-season favorite, suffered injuries and distractions throughout the season but has gotten hot at the right time, winning four games in four days to claim the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) tournament. In fact, the ACC is without a doubt the most competitive conference, and ACC teams this year may be safe choices, when in doubt.

While a small, Cinderella school may knock off a major conference team in the early going, once you get to the Sweet 16, things become a little more predictable. The major basketball powers -- Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky, Villanova, and UCLA -- usually have the advantage.

That said, here's a final observation. The four number one seeds rarely all advance to the Final Four. A couple undoubtedly will but there's usually a two, and maybe even an eight in the final grouping.

So don't be intimidated in filling out a bracket for bragging rights around the office. Winning at March Madness takes just a little knowledge and a whole lot of luck.

You can download the official NCAA bracket here.

March Madness has arrived, as the field of NCAA college basketball teams is set for the annual championship tournament.It's a month-long event -- these...

YouTube announces launch of its own streaming TV service

YouTube TV will offer yet another alternative to traditional cable programming

Consumers are watching more television online than ever before. Companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are currently the big names in online streaming video, but another well-established contender has tossed its hat into the ring.

Yesterday, YouTube announced the launch of YouTube TV, stating that consumers will soon be able to watch shows from over 40 networks for $35 per month. The company states in a blog post that it’s a new kind of watching experience for a new generation of viewers.

“It’s live TV designed for the YouTube generation – those who want to watch what they want, when they want, how they want, without commitments.”

Over 40 networks and unlimited storage

The company boasts that consumers who take advantage of the network will be able to watch programming from many mainstay TV networks, such as CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, ESPN, to name a few. Additionally, subscribers will have access to YouTube Red original series and movies.

Subscribers will be able to watch content on a variety of different devices – including mobile, tablet, and computer – and will be able to stream to a TV by using a Google Chromecast or by having a Chromecast built-in TV.

For consumers who like to record shows, the service also offers a cloud DVR service that comes with no storage limit. The company says that subscribers will be able to record as much content as they want without using data or space on their phones, and each recording will be stored by the company for nine months.

The service comes with no commitments, so those who want to cancel their subscription will be able to do so at any time.

Multiple accounts

One of the biggest draws of the service may be the number of accounts that come with one subscription. YouTube says that a $35 monthly membership includes six accounts that each have their own unique recommendations and unlimited DVR storage space; however, only three concurrent streams can be running at once.

YouTube says that the service will soon be available in the largest U.S. markets and will roll out to more cities across the country over time. To learn more or sign up for the service, consumers can visit this site here.

“With so much great content available on TV, we’re thrilled to build an experience that lets you enjoy it as easily as you watch YouTube. We can’t wait for you tune in,” the company concluded.

Consumers are watching more television online than ever before. Companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are currently the big names in online streaming vi...

Consumers increasing their influence in music industry

Billboard, Pandora link shows the times they are a changin'

For decades, Billboard magazine carefully tracked record sales and which radio stations were playing which songs to compile its weekly list of America's most popular music.

Music consumers influenced the list mostly by making certain radio stations more popular than others. But like everything else, the internet is changing that paradigm.

Because consumers are now less likely to get their music from a radio station and more likely to stream it, Billboard says it continues to make the adjustment. Starting with next week's chart, Pandora streaming data will be included in judgments about music rankings.

Immediate impact

Billboard says the addition is an immediate game-changer, with the Pandora data boosting at least 40 songs on the Hot 100. Nine titles improved their rank on the chart by five or more spots.

For example, Pandora's influence will boost Rihanna's "Sex With Me," Bebe Rexha's "I Got You," Jason Aldean's "Any Ol' Barstool," and "Chill Bill" by Rob $tone featuring J. Davi$ and Spooks.

In fact, "Chill Bill" was one of Pandora's top 10 most-streamed songs of the week, helping it move up 10 spots on Billboard's Hot 100. Pandora also helped two other songs break onto the chart -- Lady Gaga's "Million Reasons" and newcomer Callum Scott's "Dancing On My Own." "Million Reasons" had been on the Hot 100, but Billboard says the streaming data shows it remains popular with consumers.

80 million listeners

John Amato, co-president of The Hollywood Reporter-Billboard Media Group says nearly 80 million consumers listen to Pandora every month, so it makes sense to incorporate that data into Billboard's charts, which so heavily influence the music industry.

"For decades, the charts have acted as a place where both artists measure success and fans discover music," he said.

Pandora isn't the first streaming service to be included in Billboard charts. Billboard also consults Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, and Google radio, among others. Billboard says on-demand streaming services are more heavily weighted and are a valuable source of data since they reflect more active consumer interaction.

For decades, Billboard magazine carefully tracked record sales and which radio stations were playing which songs to compile its weekly list of America's mo...

GOP acts to save the set-top box, nix consumer choice

Republican lawmakers deep-six Obama plan to free cable subscribers from set-top box rental

It looks like you can forget about getting rid of your cable TV set-top box. The Obama Administration had pushed hard for rules that would have broken the set-top box monopoly cable providers now enjoy, and the Federal Communications Commission last year voted to go along with the idea.

“The issue is whether you are forced to rent that box every month after month,” then-FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat, said last February. “The consumers have no choice today." He compared it to the bad old days of the telephone industry when only the telephone company could supply you with a phone.

But a little thing called the presidential election came along before the new rules could be finalized, and now there's a different cast of characters in charge, a group that's not very concerned with the $231 the average consumer spends to rent a set-top box each year or the inconvenience the boxes cause.

Newly named FCC chairman Ajit Pai has long opposed the idea of freeing cable from the box, as well as net neutrality and beefed-up privacy provisions for broadband providers, saying none of them have been shown to be necessary.

A "suggestion" from Congress

And just to make sure Pai doesn't change his mind, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees the FCC, have written to Pai "suggesting" he close the proceeding once and for all.

"The regulatory overhang of the set-top box regulation has cast a shadow over investment and innovation in traditional video programming delivery," the committee members said. "We urge you to close the proceeding and permit the industry to innovate and serve consumers free from the restrictions of a government-chosen platform."

Of course, the box is a "government-chosen platform," a part of cable companies' franchise agreements. It is a moneymaker and a means by which cable companies extract lengthy contracts out of customers who might otherwise choose to go month-to-month, as they can do with streaming services like Netflix. 

The technically outmoded set-top box also requires consumers who want to also watch Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu to juggle different remotes, input sources, and other paraphernalia that are simple for some but completely confusing to others.

If Wheeler's plan had gone through, a consumer could have used a simple Roku box, or something similar, to choose from cable, streaming video, and other programming sources. 

The House members writing to Pai were Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Communications Subcommittee chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Energy and Commerce Committee vice chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.), and every Republican member of the Communications Subcommittee.

It looks like you can forget about getting rid of your cable TV set-top box. The Obama Administration had pushed hard for rules that would have broken the...

Judge refuses to dismiss Comcast lawsuit

Washington State has charged the company's 'protection plan' is deceptive

Comcast has failed to deflect a Washington State lawsuit that accuses it of deceiving its customers through add-on fees that don't deliver what customers are led to expect. A King County judge denied the company's motion to dismiss the lawsuit late last week.

“The court correctly rejected Comcast’s attempt to evade responsibility for deceiving its customers,” Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. “Washington consumers deserve their day in court.” The trial was set to begin on July 31, 2017.

The lawsuit charges that Comcast deceived nearly all of its 1.2 million subscribers in Washington with its "Comcast Guarantee" Its lawsuit alleges the company padded its bottom line by tens of millions of dollars in deceptive charges.

“This case is a classic example of a big corporation deceiving its customers for financial gain,” Ferguson said as he filed the suit last August. “I won’t allow Comcast to continue to put profits above customers — and the law.”

The lawsuit accuses the company of misrepresenting the scope of its Service Protection Plan, charging customers improper service call fees, and using improper credit screening practices.

Could go national

Consumers rate Comcast Cable Service

Although the Washington lawsuit is the only challenge to the company's policy at the moment, Ferguson has noted that the protection plan is a nationwide program and could result in similar charges in other states.

Comcast has defended the plan and said it would "vigorously" contest Ferguson's allegations.

"The Service Protection Plan has given those Washington consumers who chose to purchase it great value by completely covering over 99% of their repair calls," said Jenni Moyer, Senior Director, Comcast Corporate Communications, in an email to ConsumerAffairs last August.

The plan promises that, for $4.99 a month, customers can avoid paying a service charge if a Comcast technician visits their home to fix an issue covered by the plan.

But Ferguson's suit alleges that Comcast did not appropriately disclose that the plan does not cover repairs to any “wall-fished” wiring — wiring inside a wall — which constitutes the vast majority of wiring inside homes.

Comcast has failed to deflect a Washington State lawsuit that accuses it of deceiving its customers through add-on fees that don't deliver what customers a...

Facebook will start labeling disputed news postings

The laissez-faire attitude of social media has been blamed for spreading lies and untruths far and wide

Facebook has come up with a fact-checking scheme to reduce the flood of fake news posted on its site. It is deputizing reputable, third-party fact-checking sites to label posts as "disputed."

A "disputed" warning will appear prominently in the Facebook feed and pop up when someone tries to share the post. The fact-checking organizations include Snopes, FactCheck.org, and Politifact, which are part of the non-profit journalism institute Poynter's International Fact Checking Network.

Facebook, like other social media sites, takes only slight responsibility for what it publishes and prefers to think of itself as providing a platform for consumers and media outlets to self-publish their content.

Real publishers, like newspapers, take responsibility for their content and even produce a large percentage of it themselves. This is, of course, expensive and time-consuming. It's much easier for social media to simply let anyone post whatever they feel like and shift the responsibility to those doing the posting.

It has been noted that newspapers and other traditional outlets would be a lot better off financially if they simply shrugged and did nothing but publish letters to the editor. The Facebooks of the world generally reject this argument and even find it humorous.

Not so cute anymore

Facebook's cute little demurrers have been less effective, however, since the recent Presidential election. Many blamed the surprise Trump win on the streams of fake news, misinformation, rumors, and unchecked urban legends that were spread on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and elsewhere.

Facebook says it plans to label and, in some cases, cut off phony sites masquerading as legitimate news outlets. It suggests that this might help restore programmatic ad revenue to legitimate publishers that have seen marketing dollars siphoned off by bogus sites.

"We believe providing more context can help people decide for themselves what to trust and what to share," Adam Mosseri, Facebook's VP of product for News Feed, said in a blog post. "It will still be possible to share these stories, but you will see a warning that the story has been disputed as you share."

"We believe in giving people a voice and that we cannot become arbiters of truth ourselves, so we’re approaching this problem carefully," Mosseri said. "We’ve focused our efforts on the worst of the worst, on the clear hoaxes spread by spammers for their own gain, and on engaging both our community and third party organizations."

Facebook users will be asked to flag any posts they consider suspicious. The flagged posts will then be studied by the independent fact-checkers to determine if they appear to be bogus or genuine.

"Legitimate's" not always "true"

What critics often miss is that "legitimate" news is not always totally factual. All reporters know that politicians -- just to pick a handy example -- can and do lie when the situation requires it. Such misstatements of fact by public figures are not always discovered, although they may be revealed over time. 

To pick another example, some testimony in a trial may be false. Criminals have been known to lie in an attempt to escape justice. But good journalistic practice calls for reporting the testimony accurately along with any contradictory testimony. Readers have some responsibility for sifting through competing arguments, after all. 

News is less instant history than process, one of its veteran practitioners once said. Like scientists, reporters continually sift through the evidence available to them, trying to filter out the dreck and retain and report the little nuggets of truth that are uncovered in the process. Good journalists operate with a skeptical attitude and do not themselves take sides in public policy debates. 

The bogus news sites currently in the spotlight are illegitimate because they simply make stuff up in hopes of advancing their political agenda or making a buck. Or both. 

Facebook has come up with a fact-checking scheme to reduce the flood of fake news posted on its site. It is deputizing reputable, third-party fact-checking...

Congress to hold hearings on AT&T-Time Warner merger

Company facing skeptical lawmakers and president-elect

A lot is at stake Wednesday as AT&T executives go before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the company's proposed acquisition of content provider Time Warner.

President-elect Trump is already on record opposing the deal and a number of lawmakers have expressed skepticism as well.

The $108.7 billion acquisition would join America's largest pay TV provider with a media and entertainment company that has a massive catalog of movies and TV shows.

From the beginning, AT&T executives have maintained the merger is a “vertical” one that brings together two entities providing different products, and therefore will not decrease competition. But AT&T could face some pointed questions at Wednesday's hearing.

“This proposed massive consolidation of distribution and content raises potentially serious questions about competition, consumer choice, and privacy across the media, cable TV, wireless and broadband industries,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.

'Zero-rate' could be the sticking point

Even though the proposed merger would be “vertical,” critics charge it could give the telecom giant a huge advantage in the marketplace. At issue is something called “zero-rate.” That means the ISP, in this case AT&T, won't count a customer's viewing of AT&T-owned content against his or her data allowance.

Currently, AT&T has such a promotion with DIRECTV. AT&T wireless customers who also subscribe to DIRECTV can watch that content on their mobile devices without it counting against their data allowance.

If you are both an AT&T and DIRECTV customer, that's a great deal. But if you are a small ISP trying to compete against AT&T, you may think the playing field has suddenly become a lot less even.

Small ISPs worried

Jimmy Carr of All Points Broadband in Ashburn, Virginia, who chairs the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) Legislative Committee, says it will hurt the mostly small companies that are bringing broadband to underserved rural areas.

“AT&T has recently begun to zero-rate its DIRECTV content, and it has stated its intention to expand zero-rating to the Time Warner content it would obtain through this proposed merger,” Carr said. “Allowing any ISP to favor certain content has a direct, harmful impact on thousands of small, competitive ISPs that do not own content and lack the ability to negotiate fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory access to content.”

Carr says AT&T’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner raises serious concerns and should be rejected by federal regulators.

So far, AT&T is batting one for two on proposed mega-mergers. Last year it's deal to acquire DIRECTV got a green light from regulators. Before that, its deal to acquire rival T-Mobile did not

A lot is at stake Wednesday as AT&T; executives go before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the company's proposed acquisition of co...

Five dead giveaways that what you're reading is 'fake news'

When you know these stories are designed to manipulate you, they're easier to spot

Entertainer Elton John was compelled to shoot down two reports going viral on the internet over the weekend.

To set the record straight, John said he isn't retiring and he is not performing at Donald Trump's inaugural. But neither report was strictly part of so-called “fake news,” which has gained so much attention since the election.

The Elton John retirement report was simply a rumor reported by a British newspaper. The Trump inaugural story actually came from someone on the Trump transition team who misspoke.

Genuine fake news is something else entirely and has one goal – to get readers to click on links.

"We are seeing a return to how political coverage was in the 1800s – almost all of it was partisan," said Fred Blevens, a communications professor at Florida International University. "Our founding fathers made sure that all political speech was protected – even the erroneous and misleading. In the context of politics, you can say just about anything and you don't have to back it up."

Blevins says there are a few things that news consumers can do to spot fake news making the rounds on the internet. Among them – don't get all your news and information from one source. Take the time to consult different sources.

To help you tell “fake news” from the real journalism that may or may not be accurate, here are five dead giveaways.

The story headline starts with “you won't believe”

When a headline proclaims “you won't believe” or contains words like “shocking,” the writer is throwing out a morsel known as “clickbait.” The hope is the reader will be so intrigued to find out what is so unbelievable or shocking that he or she will open the story.

The story itself does not have to contain much meat. The headline has already done its job. If you click on the link, the site publishing the information gets a little ad revenue.

The story confirms one of your cherished beliefs or fears

Internet tools are pretty sophisticated, and it's not hard to figure out whether someone is a liberal or conservative. To rack up the most clicks, purveyors of “fake news” will tempt liberals with stories about some outrage by Donald Trump and conservatives will see all kinds of stories about Hillary Clinton and President Obama's latest atrocities.

Scary fake news is also effective at getting clicks. So when you see headlines about some individual predicting the end of the world, chances are that its facts are a little shaky.

The subject of the story is a celebrity or high profile politician

That leads us to the third tip off. Many times “fake news” is about a celebrity or politician because the writers know people will click to learn the latest dirt about them.

There have been headlines, purposefully misleading, to suggest a particular celebrity has died, when in fact they are alive and well.

The story does not cite any credible sources

This is perhaps the biggest tip-off of all. A legitimate news story will be based on information provided by a credible source. It should quote someone with some authority stating that something is true and offer something to back it up.

“Fake news” often cites no source and simply states an opinion. And it's usually out there by itself. If no other news outlet is reporting the same thing, it's a safe bet what you're reading has just been made up in order to get you to click.

The story was emailed to you by one of your friends

Who hasn't received an email chain from a friend with a link to a story, breathlessly saying “you've got to read this?” It's one way “fake news” goes viral.

Usually the friend has taken the bait hook, line, and sinker because the story appears to confirm something they already believe.

If you're unsure something you've read is true, Blevins suggests sites like Snopes.com, PolitiFact.com, and Google as fact checkers.

Entertainer Elton John was compelled to shoot down two reports going viral on the internet over the weekend.To set the record straight, John said he is...

New York law creates harsher penalties for users of ticket bots

Lawmakers hope that consumers will no longer have to compete with software when buying tickets

The holiday shopping season officially kicked off this past weekend with Black Friday, and consumers are scrambling to pick up the goods they want. One popular kind of gift this year will be a gift of experience, like tickets to a concert, play, or sporting event.

Unfortunately, demand for tickets far outweighs supply most of the time, so it’s up to consumers to try and grab them as soon as they become available online. However, many buyers often walk away with nothing because the tickets seem to magically disappear within minutes or even seconds.

While slow internet speeds or bad luck can play a factor, one reason for the lack of available tickets has been the existence of ticket bots -- software used by scalpers that manipulates sales systems to buy up as many tickets as possible. Then, after all the available tickets are gone, they sell them at ridiculously inflated prices to desperate consumers.

However, the practice may become less common thanks to a new law signed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Previously, state laws had banned the use of ticket bots and imposed civil penalties on violators, but now the use or control of ticket bots, or reselling tickets knowingly obtained by ticket bots, is a class A misdemeanor.

The classification change means harsher penalties for those who break the law. Violators can now expect exorbitant fines or even jail time if they’re caught using or knowingly benefitting from the software. The definition of a “ticket bot” has also been expanded under the new law to mean any system, whether autonomous or human-controlled, used to quickly buy up tickets before the general public has access to them.

Predatory and wrong

Ticket bots have long-been abhorred by performers in New York. Back in June, Lin-Manuel Miranda – creator and original lead of the Broadway hit Hamilton – railed against users of ticket bots and how the profited from his show; The New York Times reported that scalpers made around $15.5 million from reselling tickets to Miranda’s last 100 shows before stepping down from his role as the titular character.

“My concern is that our show is about the founding of our country and if bots are buying up all the tickets and charging this insane secondary market price, most of the country can’t see it,” he said.

Gov. Cuomo agreed with the sentiment in a recent statement, saying that “these unscrupulous speculators and their underhanded tactics have manipulated the marketplace and often leave New Yorkers and visitors alike with little choice but to buy tickets on the secondary market at an exorbitant mark-up.”

“It’s predatory, it’s wrong and, with this legislation, we are taking an important step towards restoring fairness and equity back to this multi-billion dollar industry.”

The holiday shopping season officially kicked off this past weekend with Black Friday, and consumers are scrambling to pick up the goods they want. One pop...

AT&T to launch new video streaming services

It could make it easier to cut the cord

AT&T is offering three video streaming services, making use of new and existing content tie-ins. On November 30 is will begin marketing DIRECTV NOW.

The telecom provider sees a lucrative market of consumers who have cut the cable TV cord, or who are thinking about it.

“We’re extending our entertainment portfolio for those who value premium content but also want more TV freedom suited for their lifestyle, whether watching at home or on their mobile devices. This is TV your way,” said John Stankey, CEO, AT&T Entertainment Group.

Stankey says the services are built around AT&T's mobile platform. He says once you sign up for either DIRECTV NOW or Fullscreen, you can stream video content using a variety of mobile devices without set-top-boxes, satellite dishes, or annual contracts.

Won't count against data allowance

The services are also designed to promote the company's main product. AT&T Mobility customers will not use their allotted data when watching DIRECTV NOW or FreeVIEW in the App. Neither will Fullscreen users if they stream in the Fullscreen App on the AT&T network.

DIRECTV NOW is a collection of four television packages of current DIRECTV content, including live sports, on demand, cable networks, and premium channels.

The company says the DIRECTV NOW service will be compatible with most mobile devices and platforms, as well as Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick; Chromecast (Android at launch; iOS in 2017); Google Cast-enabled LeEco ecotvs and VIZIO SmartCast Displays; and Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Safari web browsers.

More devices next year

AT&T says it plans to add more devices next year, including Roku streaming players and Roku TV models, Amazon Fire tablets, and Smart TVs.

The Fullscreen video service launched earlier this year at $5.99 a month. It provides more than 1,500 hours of on-demand programming, including original productions.

FreeVIEW is a free, ad-supported video service. It offers programming from AUDIENCE Network, Otter Media properties, and other channels on DIRECTV NOW.

AT&T's new video services will compete with Dish Network's Sling TV and Sony's Playstation Vue, but Business Insider suggests it could raise a controversial Net Neutrality topic. It will have an advantage over its competitors, in that it is also an internet service provider (ISP) that can choose whether or not to make video streaming count against data allowances.

AT&T; is offering three video streaming services, making use of new and existing content tie-ins. On November 30 is will begin marketing DIRECTV NOW.Th...

NFL agrees to stop setting ticket price floors

Settlement with New York ends a practice that had driven up ticket prices

The National Football League has agreed to end a mandatory ticket price floor policy that had driven up ticket prices for fans. The agreement is the result of an investigation by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who has been investigating pricing policies in both sports and entertainment.

“No sports fan should be forced to buy, or sell, a ticket at an artificially inflated price,” said Schneiderman. “Under the NFL’s price floor scheme, fans were forced to pay inflated prices for even the least desirable NFL games. That is a slap to both sports fans and free markets."

The NFL had terminated its price floor policy when Schneiderman's investigation began. The agreement signed this week makes it official and prevents team from reinstating the policy.

Schneiderman said other sports teams and entertainment venues should follow suit.

"My office will continue to fight for the rights of sports fans and concertgoers by ensuring that secondary markets are free and competitive," Schneiderman said. "In the meantime, I encourage every NFL team—and every team in professional sports—to heed the call of all sports fans and remove price floors from every team-authorized secondary ticket market.”

Face value

The NFL's policy had required each of the 32 NFL member teams to impose a price floor on all secondary market ticket sales on the NFL’s Ticket Exchange and related websites officially sanctioned by the league. Under this arrangement, sellers were not permitted to list tickets for resale on the NFL’s officially sanctioned resale sites at a price lower than the face value of the ticket. 

While the agreement applies only to the NFL and not to individual teams, it includes disclosure requirements in cases where an individual team imposes its own price floor, prohibits the NFL from directing or requiring ticketing practices among teams that are designed to preclude fans from using competing exchanges, and prohibits the NFL from interfering with an individual team’s efforts to coordinate anti-fraud measures with competing secondary ticket exchanges.

The National Football League has agreed to end a mandatory ticket price floor policy that had driven up ticket prices for fans. The agreement is the result...

Is the AT&T-Time Warner merger dead on arrival?

Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are lining up against it

In a remarkable change in sentiment, Wall Street has rallied to a record high in the two days since Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 presidential election.

At least one stock, however, has failed to take part. Shares of Time Warner have lagged the rest of the market on growing concerns that its proposed merger with AT&T, announced last month, has just hit a huge iceberg.

There may be good reason for concern. On October 22, campaigning in Pennsylvania, candidate Trump railed against the proposed deal.

"As an example of the power structure I'm fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few," Trump said during a speech.

What can Trump do to stop such a deal? Plenty. For starters, a Trump administration Justice Department could file an antitrust suit to stop the merger.

But the idea of a Republican administration seriously opposing a merger has baffled a number of regulatory experts, since the GOP has generally looked kindly on Wall Street-friendly mergers.

Strange bedfellows

Just how out-of-the-ordinary is the President-elect's position? Let's compare it to Sen. Bernie Sanders, the socialist lawmaker from Vermont.

“This proposed merger is just the latest effort to shrink our media landscape, stifle competition and diversity of content, and provide consumers with less while charging them more,” Sanders wrote in a letter to the head of the Obama administration's Justice Department antitrust division. “This merger represents a gross concentration of power that runs counter to the public good and should be blocked.”

Sanders went on to suggest that consumers have been hurt when companies use their increased scale after thinning out the competition. He notes that AT&T bought DirecTV in 2015, and quickly raised prices for DirecTV services.

As for its part, AT&T is trying to put on a brave face. Company CFO John Stephens told Fortune the firm looks forward to working with the president-elect, hoping to convince him the deal would promote innovation and consumer choice.

Fortune suggests it could be a tough sell, noting “that merger may be dead.”

In a remarkable change in sentiment, Wall Street has rallied to a record high in the two days since Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 presidential electio...

Feds sue DirecTV for Dodgers black-out

LA fans were incensed that they missed Vin Scully's last season

The U.S. Justice Department is suing DirecTV, alleging it unlawfully exchanged confidential information with three competitors in deciding whether to carry the channel owned by the Dodgers baseball team.

Most Los Angeles-area pay-TV distributors have refused to carry the channel, saying the carriage fees are too high, leaving millions of fans with no way to watch the game. Fans were particularly outraged because they missed the last season narrated by legendary play-by-play announcer Vin Scully. 

The government calls DirecTV the "ringleader of a series of unlawful information exchanges" with Cox, Charter, and AT&T; as the companies were negotiating with SportsNetLA, which holds the rights to nearly all Dodgers games in Los Angeles.

AT&T; owns DirecTV and is buying Time Warner in a landmark $85 billion deal that would make it one of the largest media companies on earth.

Consumers rate DIRECTV

The Justice Department suit alleges that the companies colluded secretly about thier negotiatings with SportsLA and also discussed their future plans to carry or not carry the channel.

The complaint says they did so to get bargaining leverage and to reduce the risk that they would lose subscribers if they decided not to carry the channel but a competitor chose to do so -- and that the information exchanged was a "material factor" in the companies' decisions not to carry the Dodgers Channel.

“As the complaint explains, Dodgers fans were denied a fair competitive process when DIRECTV orchestrated a series of information exchanges with direct competitors that ultimately made consumers less likely to be able to watch their hometown team,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Sallet of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.  “Competition, not collusion, best serves consumers and that is especially true when, as with pay-television providers, consumers have only a handful of choices in the marketplace.”

The U.S. Justice Department is suing DirecTV, alleging it unlawfully exchanged confidential information with three competitors in deciding whether to carry...

Proposed AT&T-Time Warner merger likely to face strong opposition

Public interest, political sectors grow increasingly skeptical of these deals

Consolidation continues in the media and communications industries, but the latest proposed deal is getting some strong push-back.

Over the weekend, AT&T confirmed that it wants to buy Time Warner for more than $85 billion. It comes on the heels of Verizon's deal to buy Yahoo and AT&T's own purchase of DirecTV in 2015.

But Yahoo Finance reports the deal may have a tough time getting a green light from government regulators. It quotes analysts as saying both the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice are likely to put the deal under a microscope to determine how it will affect consumers.

Matt Wood, policy director at Free Press, says these kinds of deals are almost always better for the combined businesses than for their customers.

Time to grab your wallet

"Any time you hear media executives talking about synergies, throwing around the business-babble that always accompanies these rumors, you know it’s time to grab your wallet and hang on tight,” Wood said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “Big mergers like this inevitably mean higher prices for real people, to pay down the money borrowed to finance these deals and compensate top executives.”

Wall Street, of course, was quick to celebrate the proposed deal, because reducing competition and combining resources is usually good for the bottom line. But Wood says the evidence is clear that it doesn't help consumers. He says AT&T's acquisition of DirecTV was followed by price hikes.

"It’s a good thing there’s a renewed interest among lawmakers and antitrust enforcers in addressing this merger-mania,” Wood said. “It’s also a good thing we have solid Net Neutrality rules on the books — even though companies like AT&T continue to test those rules in the market, threaten them in Congress, and challenge them in the courts.”

Bipartisan opposition

Opposition to the proposed deal also surfaced on the presidential campaign trail. Speaking in Pennsylvania, GOP Presidential nominee Donald Trump denounced the deal in unusually harsh terms, saying “deals like this destroy democracy.” If elected, Trump said his Justice Department would move to quash the merger.

On the other side of the aisle, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) took to Facebook over the weekend to express his reservations.

“I'm skeptical of huge media mergers because they can lead to higher costs, fewer choices, and even worse service for consumers,” Franken wrote in a post. “And regulators often agree, like when Comcast unsuccessfully tried to buy Time Warner Cable, a deal that I fiercely opposed.”

In the coming days, Franken said he will press for further details about the proposed deal and how consumers would be affected.

Consolidation continues in the media and communications industries, but the latest proposed deal is getting some strong push-back.Over the weekend, AT&...

Media Megadeal: AT&T buying Time Warner for $85 billion

The biggest media consolidation yet redraws the landscape

It started when Comcast bought NBCUniversal for $30 billion. Then Verizon snapped up AOL and Yahoo. Now the consolidation of media content and distribution has perhaps climaxed with AT&T's $85.4 billion deal to buy Time Warner, the corporate parent of HBO, CNN, and other media treasures.

The sweeping roll-ups are basically a hedge against a future in which fast-growing rogue players like Netflex, Amazon, or Facebook might be a consumer's first choice for information and entertainment.  

The immediate effect on consumers isn't likely to be noticeable, but, assuming the deal is approved by antitrust regulators, it should make it easier for consumers to get access to the content they want without having to pay hefty cable television fees.

Of course, the downside of consolidation is that it puts more power in fewer hands, often stifling innovation and raising prices over the long term. Those concerns are certain to be studied by the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Justice Department as they review the anti-trust aspects of the transaction.

Trump says no

Among the announced opponents of the deal is none other than GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, who told a crowd in Gettysburg, Pa., that if he wins the election, his administration will block it, CNBC reported.

While Verizon's purchase of AOL and its still-pending takeover of Yahoo got lukewarm receptions, the Time Warner acquisition is generally seen as a winner for AT&T. The boards of both companies unanimously approved the deal over the weekend and executives at both firms say it is a natural fit. 

"It's the revolution of both of our businesses," Time Warner chief executive Jeff Bewkes told reporters after the deal was announced. "Whether its the movies, television series, or an original show, we want our audiences to access them whereever they are, whenever they want to. We think AT&T gives us tremendous access to do that."

"Time Warner, we believe, is the clear leader in premium content," said Randall L. Stephenson, AT&T's CEO. Besides HBO and CNN, Time Warner's table includes Warner Bros., TNT, TBS, and Turner Sports. It earlier spun off many of the older Time Inc. print titles as well as AOL.

Besides its vast cellular network, AT&T provides cable service and also operates satellite provider DirecTV. It has announced plans for a streaming version of DirecTV. Time Warner's cable operations were recently taken over by Charter Communications. 

It started when Comcast bought NBCUniversal for $30 billion. Then Verizon snapped up AOL and Yahoo. Now the consolidation of media content and distribution...

FCC fines Comcast $2.3 million for billing errors

The company billed customers for services they had not ordered, an investigation found

Comcast has been fined $2.3 million after the Federal Communications Commission found that it wrongfully charged cable TV customers for services and equipment they had not ordered. Comcast said it was working to fix the problems long before the FCC became involved.

The fine follows an investigation into numerous complaints from consumers who said they were charged for services they did not order and, in some cases, services they had specifically said they did not want.

“It is basic that a cable bill should include charges only for services and equipment ordered by the customer—nothing more and nothing less,” said Travis LeBlanc, Chief of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau. “We expect all cable and phone companies to take responsibility for the accuracy of their bills and to ensure their customers have authorized any charges.”

The FCC said consumers complained that Comcast added charges to their bills for unordered services or products, such as premium channels, set-top boxes, or digital video recorders (DVRs).

Comcast said it is "laser-focused" on improving customer experience and has been working to straighten out the billing issues.

“We acknowledge that, in the past, our customer service should have been better and our bills clearer, and that customers have at times been unnecessarily frustrated or confused.  That’s why we had already put in place many improvements to do better for our customers even before the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau started this investigation almost two years ago," said Comcast's Sena Fitzmaurice in an email to ConsumerAffairs.

"The changes the Bureau asked us to make were in most cases changes we had already committed to make, and many were already well underway or in our work plan to implement in the near future," Fitzmaurice said.

"We do not agree with the Bureau’s legal theory here, and in our view, after two years, it is telling that it found no problematic policy or intentional wrongdoing, but just isolated errors or customer confusion," Fitzmaurice added. "We agree those issues should be fixed and are pleased to put this behind us and proceed with these customer service-enhancing changes.” 

Time and energy

Consumers rate Comcast Cable Service

In some complaints, subscribers claimed that they were billed despite specifically declining service or equipment upgrades offered by Comcast.  In others, customers claimed that they had no knowledge of the unauthorized charges until they received unordered equipment in the mail, obtained notifications of unrequested account changes by email, or conducted a review of their monthly bills.  

Consumers also complained that they had spent significant time and energy trying to have the unauthorized charges removed and to obtain refunds.

Under the terms of today’s settlement, Comcast must create a five-year compliance plan, implementing procedures designed to obtain affirmative informed consent from customers prior to charging them for any new services or equipment.  

Comcast will also send customers an order confirmation separate from any other bill, clearly and conspicuously describing newly added products and their associated charges. Further, Comcast will offer to customers, at no cost, the ability to block the addition of new services or equipment to their accounts.

The settlement also requires Comcast to implement a detailed program for redressing disputed charges in a standardized and expedient fashion, and limits adverse action (such as referring an account to collections or suspending service) while a disputed charge is being investigated.

Comcast has been fined $2.3 million after the Federal Communications Commission found that it wrongfully charged cable TV customers for services and equipm...

Netflix original content up, movie titles down

Catalog down more than 50 percent

There's lots of great original content on Netflix -- "Orange is the New Black," "Transparent," "House of Cards" -- stuff you can't find anywhere else. That's good but it comes at a price -- not as many old movies.

After all, Netflix has been spending truly big bucks to roll out its own original content, so it stands to reason it would have to cut back on how much it spends on other stuff.

But would you believe it has chopped its catalog by more than 50%? That's the estimate of streaming blog Exstreamist, which cites ex-Netflix employees as saying the number of titles has fallen from roughly 11,000 to about 5,300 since 2012. 

In fact, 2012 may have been the high-water mark for Netflix. It hit 11,000 titles but in 2013 started producing its own shows and trimming the number of what we used to call reruns -- old movies and TV series.

A must-buy

While there are no doubt those who are missing some of the deleted titles, there's little question the original shows have made Netflix a must-buy for many consumers who might otherwise not find much of interest in its rundown.

It basically comes down to a quality vs. content argument. If you just want to zone out in front of the screen and binge on old "King of the Hill" episodes, Netflix may not be your friend. But the gamble it's making is that high-quality original content will be more valuable in the long run than retread material. It's the "content is king" argument. 

This progression from dusty old favorites to original shows isn't all that unusual. Look at HBO. When it started back in the dawn of the cable era, HBO (which stands, you may recall, for Home Box Office) showed movies, movies, and movies. It gradually began adding sporting events and original comedies and dramas.

If you're hard up for something to think about, look even farther back to the early days of television. It basically stuck a camera in front of the actors doing radio shows and only gradually began producing original TV programming.

And radio? Well, in the early days announcers read the newspaper on the air. Today, well, sometimes things go in circles. 

There's lots of great original content on Netflix -- "Orange is the New Black," "Transparent," "House of C...

Actors' ages become protected information in California

A new state law requires content providers to take down age information in some circumstances

Maybe you occasionally find yourself wondering how old your favorite actor is. It's pretty easy to find out. A quick visit to IMDb.com will tell you, though maybe not for much longer.

A new California law that takes effect in January will require IMDb and other entertainment industry websites to remove birthdates when a subscriber requests it.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the measure, AB 1687, Saturday. It was backed by the Screen Actors Guild and SAG-AFTRA as a way to combat age discrimination in Hollywood.

“Gov. Jerry Brown today stood with thousands of film and television professionals and concerned Californians who urged him to sign AB 1687, a California law that will help prevent age discrimination in film and television casting and hiring," said SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris in a statement issued after the bill was signed. 

The measure was authored by Majority Leader Ian Calderon (D-Whittier), who said revealing actors' ages online could lock them out of roles before they even had a chance to audition.

“Even though it is against both federal and state law, age discrimination persists in the entertainment industry,” Calderon said. “AB 1687 provides the necessary tools to remove age information from online profiles on employment referral websites to help prevent this type of discrimination.”

Privacy groups unhappy

Privacy groups argued against the measure, saying it was unnecessary and unconstitutional. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which normally takes a pro-privacy stance, said the law infringes on companies' First Amendment right to publish truthful information.  

Among the sites most obviously affected is Amazon's IMDb, a vast database that contains just about everything anyone could want to know about movies, actors, and the producers, directors, and screenwriters who form the core of the entertainment industry.

The measure got its start several years ago when actress Junie Hoang sued Amazon for revealing her true age on IMDb.

Hoang alleged that Amazon violated her privacy by accessing credit card data to learn that she was 40 and then added that information to her professional profile. 

Hoang said she looked younger than 40 but couldn't get as much work after her true age became known.

A jury ruled against Hoang, however, and an appeals court declined to reinstate her suit.

Maybe you occasionally find yourself wondering how old your favorite actor is. It's pretty easy to find out. A quick visit to IMDb.com will tell you, thoug...

FCC prepares to vote on freeing consumers from cable set-top boxes

A free app would substitute for the expensive and bulky boxes

It's been just about a year since the Federal Communications commission (FCC) took up the issue of set-top boxes, and now it looks like the issue may be settled by the end of the month.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler today began circulating his "Unlock the Box" plan, publishing an abridged version as an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times and posting the full version on the FCC's website.

In a nutshell, Wheeler proposes eliminating set-top boxes except for consumers who want to keep them. Everyone else would use a free app to watch pay-TV and streaming video on the device of their choice, such as Roku, Apple TV, Xbox One, PS4, smart TVs, or Windows, iOS, and Android devices. 

Cable companies and the entertainment industry have been lobbying the issue heavily, claiming that eliminating the boxes will open up new avenues for thieves to steal content, depriving content creators of their just desserts.

But Wheeler has held that protecting consumers and encouraging competition take precedence over industry interests. He argues that 99 percent of pay-TV subscribers currently rent set-top boxes because there aren’t meaningful alternatives.

"Few choices and high prices"

"Lack of competition has meant few choices and high prices for consumers – $231 in rental fees annually for the average American household. Altogether, U.S. consumers spend $20 billion a year to lease these devices," when they could be using free apps, Wheeler says in his plan.

"Apps will liberate consumers from set-top boxes: The new rules will require pay-TV providers to offer to consumers a free app, controlled by the pay-TV provider, to access all the programming they pay for on a variety of devices, including tablets, smartphones, gaming systems, streaming devices or smart TVs," Wheeler writes.

Consumers will still have to pay for pay-TV programs, but they'll be freed of paying for the set-top box. Wheeler and others argue that the use of free apps will also create a bigger market for content and innovation in device development.

"Pay-TV providers must provide their apps to widely deployed platforms, such as Roku, Apple iOS, Windows and Android. Doing so will spur competition in the marketplace to develop new competitive products like next-generation streaming devices, smart TVs and tablets," Wheeler contends.

"A win for consumers"

The proposed rule is expected to be voted on by the full commission before the end of September, setting the stage for a final few weeks of fervent lobbying by both sides.

Competition advocate Chip Pickering, CEO of the advocacy group INCOMPAS, called Wheeler's plan "a win for competition, consumers and innovators."

"Competition is the law, and we commend Chairman Wheeler and the FCC for standing up for consumers who want lower prices, more choice, and the freedom to discover new and exciting content streaming online, said Pickering. “The FCC has made the critical key choice for an open, not closed future. By presenting a balanced approach, which takes input from all sides of the debate, the FCC has come down on the side of the consumer, and the innovators of the future.

Although Wheeler's plan is seen as firmly pro-consumer, it is still something of a compromise from his initial vision. The cable industry lobbied for the provision that would allow consumers to keep their set-top boxes if they wanted, but otherwise the plan falls pretty squarely on the consumer side of the issue.

Some commissioners wanted to go a bit further. Republican Ajit Pai wanted to eliinate set-top boxes altogether. But Wheeler said in his op-ed that his plan adequately protects the cable and entertainment industries.

"To ensure that all copyright and licensing agreements will remain intact, the delivery of pay-TV programming will continue to be overseen by pay-TV providers from end-to-end. The proposed rules also maintain important protections regarding emergency alerting, accessibility and privacy," he said.

"This is a golden era for watching television and video. By empowering consumers to access their content on their terms, it’s about to get cheaper—and even better," Wheeler concluded.

It's been just about a year since the Federal Communications commission (FCC) took up the issue of set-top boxes, and now it looks like the issue may be se...

Mozilla supports FCC's open set-top box proposal

Technology companies are lined up against pay-TV and cable interests

The Mozilla Foundation, developer of the Firefox browser, has thrown its support behind the notion that consumers should not have to rent a set-top cable box to watch TV and streaming video.

The Federal Communications Commission is weighing proposed regulations that would allow companies other than cable and satellite providers to develop boxes that can access pay-TV programs, which would make life simpler for viewers and save consumers millions of dollars in the monthly set-top box rentals they now pay to cable and satellite providers.

"We believe the proposed rules will help open a technology environment that today is very closed, with the result of improved competition, greater innovation, and streamlined interoperability, all to the benefit of consumers," Mozilla's public policy head Chris Riley wrote in a letter sent to the Federal Communications Commission this week.

The proposal is generally supported by technology companies and opposed by cable and broadcast interests, including producers who fear their property will become more vulnerable to being stolen (i.e., viewed for free).

Copyright Office stance

The U.S. Copyright Office is backing producers in opposing the proposal, saying it could nterfere with content owners' ability to license programs and to "impose reasonable conditions" on how those programs are used.

Advertisers also oppose the proposal, saying that eliminating the control cable and pay-TV providers now enjoy could make it possible for rogue elements to insert new commercials or even replace existing ones.

In the long run, the proposed rule could destroy the economic underpinnings of the entertainment business, critics say. They point to the widespread failure of daily newspapers and the havoc wrought in the music business by the introduction of technology that broke traditional distribution channels. 

Mozilla takes a dim view of that argument, saying the Copyright Office's views "take us down a dangerous road."

"At worst, the rules conflict with only the most maximalist copyright policy views, those that would stretch statutory interpretation and precedent to allow for indefinite downstream control by rightsholders, impeding the development of new technologies and harming consumers," Riley said, according to a MediaPost article. "Copyright law confers a set number of rights to rightsholders, and is not meant to convey total control.

Consumer groups generally support opening the set-top market to competition, saying that consumers now pay an average cost of $231 per year to rent boxes that basically do the same thing as a Roku or Amazon Fire TV box. 

Cable compromise

The cable industry has offered a compromise proposal, suggesting cable companies supply their subscribers with an app that would receive not only their regular cable packages but also Netflix-style streaming video that is now viewed with a Roku-style box.

The app would use open HTML5 standards, which would enable manufacturers to adopt it quickly without jumping through the hoops tht accompany proprietary technology.

"This approach would provide significant benefits to consumers," the industry officials argued in a regulatory, according to Washington Post report in June.

The Mozilla Foundation, developer of the Firefox browser, has thrown its support behind the notion that consumers should not have to rent a set-top cable b...

Pokémon Go distractions lead to real-life consequences

Research shows that players are more likely to get into an accident by being less aware

If you’ve been living under a rock for the past month or so, you may have missed the explosive popularity of Pokémon Go. Released in July, players of the game are able to catch, train, and battle Pokémon by walking around in the real world. However, many experts say that playing the game can be risky.

The problem, they say, is that players may be so absorbed by what is happening on their phone screens that they inadvertently put themselves in danger by tripping and falling or walking into traffic. One researcher says that the game’s design may be partially to blame.

“The problem with Pokémon Go, in my opinion, is that it leads to a whole new level of not only slowing down, but moving in a particular direction to chase your Pokémon,” said Conrad Earnest, a research scientist at Texas A&M University’s Exercise and Sport Nutrition Lab.

Distracted walking

The problem, Earnest says, is two-fold. First, players are more likely to engage in dangerous walking habits when using the app. His research shows that distracted walkers are more likely to slow down, take more steps, and increase the height of their steps to get over obstacles. This, he says, leads to an increased likelihood of trip-and-fall accidents.

The second problem is that players are not paying as much attention to their surroundings and tend to blindly follow the prompts of the game in order to catch a Pokémon.

“Players are more likely to cross at a time when the crosswalk signs aren’t giving a clear go. They’re more likely to cross in the middle of the street as opposed to a crosswalk. I think Pokémon Go is the potential recipe for more injuries and more pedestrian or traffic accidents,” he said.

Dangerous driving  

The dangers don’t just stop with those who choose to walk and play, though. Against the advice of the app, many players choose to play the game and drive at the same time. These distracted drivers can be extremely dangerous to those around them, something that Earnest knows all too well.

“A friend of mine was riding his unicycle in a low and slow traffic area and was crossing the street in a crosswalk. A woman in a car was chasing a Pokémon, ran a stop sign and hit him,” Earnest said – adding that his friend ended up being OK, albeit a little sore.

“The more distractions you throw in the mix when you’re trying to get from point A to point B, the greater likelihood of you running into a problem,” he concluded.

If you’ve been living under a rock for the past month or so, you may have missed the explosive popularity of Pokémon Go. Released in July, players of the g...

Hulu free video content moving to Yahoo

Company will shift focus to Hulu Premium

Hulu is getting rid of its free video content, focusing solely on its premium service that competes with Netflix and Amazon Prime.

However, consumers who seek out free video content will still find it, since Hulu's free content is migrating to Yahoo View.

Yahoo announced Monday that it is partnering with Hulu to offer thousands of full-length episodes of popular TV shows, as well as movies and TV clips. Just as Hulu was, the viewing will be free and supported by advertising.

“We’ve got everything from Scandal to Empire to One Punch Man to Sungkyunkwan Scandal,” Yahoo View said in its blog.

It said viewers will also be able to go beyond the episode with behind-the-scenes extras, recaps, and photos and edits from the Tumblr fandom community.

Emphasis now placed on Hulu Premium

The move is not unexpected. Hulu has had a premium service for some time now. Discontinuing its free service, which was made up of the most recent episodes of TV shows, is expected to create more demand. Hulu said its free service users will be notified in the next few days of the change.

Industry analysts say the battle should intensify for the low-cost paid video consumer. Netflix and Prime have enjoyed rapid growth, with consumers not at all reluctant to pay a modest fee for on-demand content.

Hulu has recently attempted to beef up its video content with more popular offerings, including movies and original programming. Hulu has some 12 million subscribers in the U.S. but has thus far not been able to get in the black.

Some major media players have a stake in Hulu. Most recently, Time Warner paid a half billion dollars for 10% of the company. Disney, NBC Universal, and 21st Century Fox each hold around 30%.

Hulu Premium has actually grown in popularity as Hulu's free version has lost viewers. Complaints about the free version have centered on the limited selection.

Hulu is getting rid of its free video content, focusing solely on its premium service that competes with Netflix and Amazon Prime. However, consumers wh...

Nintendo to release mini version of classic NES console

The system will come with 30 classic games

Young children and teens of the 80s and 90s may remember spending many a day balled up on the couch playing classic video games. Whether it was with siblings, friends, or even by yourself, the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, was a must-have system.

Now, gamers will have a chance to relive those nostalgic days alongside Mario and Donkey Kong with the release of the NES Classic Edition. This new take on an old system looks like a mini version of the classic console, but it comes prepackaged with 30 classic titles for fans to enjoy.

New and improved

While the new product is based on an old design, some functional updates have been given to the NES Classic Edition to make it more accessible. Consumers will be able to connect the mini-device to their TV’s via an HDMI cable instead of the old power cables.

The controllers for the console have also seen a bit of an update. While they look and function like the classic NES controllers, they can also be connected to a Wii Remote for use with Virtual Console games on the Wii and Wii U.

The system also no longer uses cartridges, so fans will no longer have to relive the memories of blowing into the bottom port to get a stubborn game to work; all 30 of the games come pre-downloaded on the device.

Bring on the nostalgia

Nintendo’s announcement of the system has been met with enthusiasm by the gaming community, who are chomping at the bit to buy one for themselves. They’ll have to wait a little while though – release of the device isn’t scheduled until November 11. It will retail for $59.99, with additional controllers available at $9.99 each.

A complete list of the available games follows:

  • Balloon Fight
  • Bubble Bobble
  • Castlevania
  • Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest
  • Donkey Kong
  • Donkey Kong Jr.
  • Double Dragon II: The Revenge
  • Dr. Mario
  • Excitebike
  • Final Fantasy
  • Galaga
  • Ghosts ’N Goblins
  • Gradius
  • Ice Climber
  • Kid Icarus
  • Kirby’s Adventure
  • Mario Bros.
  • Mega Man 2
  • Metroid
  • Ninja Gaiden
  • Pac-Man
  • Punch-Out! Featuring Mr. Dream
  • StarTropics
  • Super C
  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Super Mario Bros. 2
  • Super Mario Bros. 3
  • Tecmo Bowl
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
Young children and teens of the 80s and 90s may remember spending many a day balled up on the couch playing classic video games. Whether it was with siblin...

Two huge entertainment companies are joining forces

Lionsgate is acquiring Starz for $4.4 billion

Lionsgate and Starz, who together are responsible for much of the video entertainment you watch on cable and internet, are joining forces.

Lionsgate has announced a deal to purchase Starz for $4.4 billion and creating what the companies call a “global content powerhouse” with unlimited growth opportunities.

According to Lionsgate, the combination will greatly increase the combined enterprise's ability to create and distribute movies and TV programs across all consumer platforms – movie theaters, cable and satellite TV providers, mobile and broadband. It means it could make deals with content providers as well as grow the two companies' own over-the-top (OTT) distribution services.

It also demonstrates some new thinking in the executive suite, since Starz famously refused to renew its contract with Netflix in early 2012 over concern Netflix posed a threat to its bigger, and more lucrative cable clients. For its part, Netflix adapted by streaming more TV series and producing original content – two moves that have greatly influenced the evolution of digital entertainment.

800-pound gorilla

Now, the combined Lionsgate-Starz will be the 800-pound gorilla in the room, in a stronger position if and when it wants to cut deals with Netflix and other platforms. Lionsgate points out the combined assets of the two companies include a 16,000-title film and television program library, along with an independent television business that has 87 original series on 42 U.S. networks. The feature film business has generated over $7 billion in global box office in the last four years.

"The combination of Lionsgate and Starz brings significant scale to our portfolio of content and distribution assets and will enable us to compete successfully in today's rapidly evolving global entertainment marketplace," said Dr. Mark H. Rachesky, Lionsgate's chairman.

The industry trade Deadline Hollywood reports Liberty Media's John Malone, Starz's controlling stockholder, was the driving force behind the deal. He reportedly felt the need to get bigger in order to stay competitive with the likes of Netflix and HBO.

The deal is expected to close by the end of the year.

Lionsgate and Starz, who together are responsible for much of the video entertainment you watch on cable and internet, are joining forces.Lionsgate has...

Senators blast cable TV providers over refund policies

Cable TV one issue that unites Senate Republicans and Democrats

Two members of the U.S. Senate – a Republican and a Democrat – are taking cable TV providers to task for failing to provide refunds to consumers who have been overcharged.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) conducted a year-long probe of cable and satellite TV providers. Portman, Chairman of the Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee, says the panel looked at thousands of documents and interviewed a number of witnesses about the consumer practices of Comcast, Charter, Time Warner Cable, Dish Network, and DirecTV.

At a hearing Thursday, the lawmakers focused on the companies' billing and customer-service practices.

“Our joint report outlines troubling findings about the practices of two cable companies that have consistently failed to provide refunds to customers who they know they have overcharged, including thousands of people in my home state of Ohio,” Portman said.

The two offenders, he charged, are Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable, which recently merged. While all the companies have systems in place to track customer overcharges, Portman said not all act on the information.

“During the time period examined by the Subcommittee, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications made no effort to trace equipment overcharges they identified and provide refunds to customers,” Portman charged. “Instead, their practice has been to just pocket the past overcharges.”

Charter responds

In a statement supplied to ConsumerAffairs, Charter Communications said it had invested $7 billion since 2012 in network improvements and added more than 7,000 jobs to improve customer relationships.

“An audit of our set-top boxes charges over the last nine months found them to be over 99% accurate,” the company said. “To move us closer to 100% accuracy and permanently resolve this issue, we have installed new controls to ensure discrepancies are caught and eliminated on a daily basis. Charter customers who were incorrectly charged for set-top boxes are being notified and given a 12-month credit for these fees.”

Portman said the subcommittee asked Time Warner Cable for specific information about overcharges in the lawmakers' home states. He said that during just the first five months of 2016, Time Warner Cable overbilled up to 11,000 customers in Ohio a total of $108,000. He said last year alone, Time Warner estimated it overbilled 40,000 Ohio customers to the tune of $430,000.

“And rather than correct the mistake by refunding the overcharges, the company just kept the money,” Portman said. "In my view, that is a rip-off of Ohio consumers.”

McCaskill's first hand experience

McCaskill knows about the issue first hand. She recently had a testy 26-minute conversation with her cable provider's customer service rep, trying to remove an unauthorized charge from her bill. She's posted a 15 minute excerpt from that conversation on her Senate website.

“Consumers in every corner of the country share common experiences about fending for themselves against customer service and billing practices by TV providers that are at best confusing, and at worst deceptive,” McCaskill said.

The Missouri lawmaker said some companies apply unnecessary fees that can be removed from your bill if you know to call and ask. She said even when directly asked, a customer service representative may not inform you of the lowest price available.

Based on data provided to the Subcommittee, Portman estimates Time Warner Cable will overbill its customers nationwide an estimated $2 million for equipment charges in 2016, and will not offer refunds.

What happens now? Portman says one answer is for consumers to have more options when it comes to television service, so when one provider proves unsatisfactory, it will be easy to go to another.

Two members of the U.S. Senate – a Republican and a Democrat – are taking cable TV providers to task for failing to provide refunds to consumers who have b...

Tribune Media stations, WGN America go dark on Dish

The stations and Dish are fighting over fees, leaving consumers in the dark

Tribune Media and Dish Network have gone to war over fees and, as always in such cases, consumers are the losers. Tribune's 42 local TV stations and its WGN America cable channel have gone dark on Dish.

Five million Dish subscribers in 33 markets have lost access to local Tribune stations and about 7 million can't watch WGN America. In an unusual move, Dish is offering free over-the-air antennas to customers so they can continue to watch their local Tribune stations while the dispute rolls on. 

“Tribune is demanding an unreasonable rate increase for channels that are available for free over the air,” said Warren Schlichting, DISH executive vice president of Programming. “Actions like Tribune’s are what drive price increases and feed customer frustration for our industry. With DISH’s free antenna, customers will continue to receive Tribune channels for free over the air, along with dozens of other broadcast channels not normally available to pay-TV customers.”

Tribune blames the standoff on Dish and says it was Dish that broke off negotiations and pulled the plug on the stations. 

“We want to reach an agreement, just as we have with every one of our other cable, satellite and telco distributors, but Dish refuses to reach an agreement based on fair-market value,” said Gary Weitman, Tribune Media’s senior vice president for corporate relations.  “We want to keep servicing our local communities and we have repeatedly offered Dish a lengthy extension to continue negotiations—unfortunately, Dish rejected these offers.”

"Forced bundling"

Consumers rate DISH Network

Schlichting said that besides fees, Tribune wants Dish to force customers to receive WGN America, a channel that Dish says has been steadily shedding viewers after losing access to Chicago Cubs baseball. 

DISH viewership data reveals that viewership on WGN America is down on average more than 20 percent since the channel’s launch as a cable network. Many of the shows available on WGN America are available on other channels carried by Dish, Schlichting said.

“Consumers shouldn’t have to pay twice for the same programming,” he said.

Tribune Media, no longer affiliated with the Tribune chain of newspapers (now known, oddly enough, as "tronc") has been trying to rebrand WGN, which until recently programmed mostly reruns and Cubs games. Its stated goal is to produce original programming that will make WGN America competitive with channels like FX and AMC.

Tribune Media and Dish Network have gone to war over fees and, as always in such cases, consumers are the losers. Tribune's 42 local TV stations and its WG...

Telecom providers major source of consumer angst

Cable TV companies disliked only slightly less than ISPs

Whether it is a cell phone company or a cable TV provider, if it is in the communications business, chances are consumers have a complaint or two about it.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) measures consumer attitudes about the various products and services they use. The good news for telecommunications companies is their significant slide stopped in 2016.

The bad news is they are still held in low regard.

The latest results for the telecommunications sector, which covers pay television service, internet service providers (ISP), land line telephone service, wireless telephone service, and companies that make the phones, show a 1.9% gain to 70.1 on a 100-point scale. All five categories saw at least some improvement.

Nowhere to go but up

Subscription TV services may have the most work to do. A year ago, Comcast and Time Warner Cable (TWC) experienced the two largest declines in customer satisfaction. This year, the two cable providers got something of a bounce but remain among the weakest companies in the survey.

Overall, pay TV providers climbed 3.2% as a sector, scoring a 65. When Charter Communications completes its acquisition of TWC, ACSI predicts TWC will drag down Charter's satisfaction rating, at least in the short term.

“It’s not too hard for cable companies to improve when their starting point is the cellar,” said ACSI Managing Director David VanAmburg. “But for Charter Communications, its challenge will be to keep satisfaction levels from falling in the wake of a merger because ACSI data show that there tends to be a drop in customer satisfaction as companies combine operations and customer accounts.”

Complaints

What sort of things do consumers not like about their TV providers? A quick look at ConsumerAffairs' reviews provides a few clues.

“Constant runaround, bill wrong, on hold for 20 minutes, get transferred, call gets dropped, started over, same thing... Hold... Hold... Hold,” Peter, a TWC customer from Maine, wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post last week.

In fairness, it should be noted that similar complaints are lodged against just about every TV provider. The providers getting the best ACSI scores are Verizon Fios and AT&T U-verse.

The survey shows ISPs also managed to improve their scores somewhat, but they hold the dubious honor of being the lowest rated sector in the survey. And while consumers can cut the cord and rely on the internet for video programming, they have fewer options if they want to ditch their ISP.

Fewer consumer options

“High-speed Internet access is a must-have in the digital age, making ISPs and wireless companies critical providers for the workplace as well as the home,” said Claes Fornell, founder and chairman of ACSI. “With relatively few options, consumers have limited means for punishing companies for poor service.”

Which may lead to increased consumer frustration when things go wrong. Meanwhile, there appears to be markedly less frustration with both wireless providers and phone manufacturers.

“Now that contracts are becoming a historical relic, wireless companies are doing more to attract and retain customers in an environment where switching from one provider to another has never been easier,” VanAmburg said. “The challenge for wireless carriers is finding a balance between cutting prices to attract new customers and investing in faster, more reliable network infrastructure to keep them.”

In other words, there's nothing like a little competition to make companies work harder to keep consumers happy.

Whether it is a cell phone company or a cable TV provider, if it is in the communications business, chances are consumers have a complaint or two about it....

Charter gets final approval to acquire Time Warner

California's approval was the last hurdle to closing the transaction

Charter's takeover of Time Warner cable is a done deal. The California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) approved the $55 billion deal at a standing-room-only meeting Thursday, the last remaining hurdle after the Federal Communications Commission and state regulators in New York and New Jersey approved it earlier.

“We are pleased to have now obtained all approvals," said Charter CEO Tom Rutledge. "We look forward to closing these transactions next week and to begin delivering the many benefits of these transactions to consumers.” 

No one seems very excited about the transaction, though. In its 466-page final order, the FCC said that it had concluded that "with the adoption of certain conditions designed to address specific harms and confirm certain benefits that would result from the transaction, the license transfers will serve the public interest."

The FCC rather glumly notes that the merged company, to be known as New Charter will have incentives "to impose data caps and usage-based prices in order to make watching online video more expensive, and in particular more expensive than subscribing to a traditional pay-TV bundle."

It then outlines the measures it has imposed to try to avoid that. For the next seven years Charter will not be allowed to impose data caps or charge subscribers based on the amount of data they consume.

It also won't be allowed to charge Netflix and other companies extra fees to "interconnect" directly with Charter's servers. In addition, the company will be unable to impose programming terms that could harm over-the-top online video distributors.

California conditions

Consumers rate Charter Communications

California also imposed a set of conditions, including hiring a "chief diversity officer," expanding minority progamming, upgrading cable systems, and providing low-price broadband to low-income families.

The California stipulations also require New Charter to upgrade to 300 Mbps by 2019 and allow all customers to buy their own modems and set-tops without added cost. 

Charter is also purchasing Bright House Networks, which will increase its broadband footprint to about 30 percent of the country. 

Charter's takeover of Time Warner cable is a done deal. The California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) approved the $55 billion deal at a standing-room-on...

Amazon launches Video Direct to compete with YouTube

Want to be a movie producer? Now's your chance.

Always wanted to be a movie producer? Here's your chance -- Amazon is launching Amazon Video Direct (AVD), a program to compete with Google's YouTube. 

Video Direct will let consumers post videos and earn money from advertising, royalties, and other revenue streams, just as they can do on YouTube, which now claims over a billion viewers.

“It’s an amazing time to be a content creator,” said Jim Freeman, Vice President of Amazon Video. “There are more options for distribution than ever before and with Amazon Video Direct, for the first time, there’s a self-service option for video providers to get their content into a premium streaming subscription service. We’re excited to make it even easier for content creators to find an audience, and for that audience to find great content.”

Amazon vs. YouTube

While Amazon seems to feel compelled to enter every line of business imaginable, its Video Direct may also be at least partly in response to YouTube's announcing that it will be starting a video subscription service similar to Netflix and Amazon's Prime Video.

Amazon says Video Direct is intended for professional filmmakers, but the only requirement it's imposing is that the videos be high definition and have closed-captioning for the hearing-impaired.

Amazon hasn't released exact numbers, but it says it has "tens of millions" of Amazon Prime members who get video streaming along with their free shipping and other goodies.

Amazon also announced today its AVD Stars program, which will split $1 million per month among video creators, based on how many customers watch their titles for how long. It's similar to an Amazon program that lets authors post their e-books for free distribution and pays them based on how many pages are read each month.

Video creators and providers who use AVD to make their titles available in Prime Video will automatically be enrolled. The AVD Stars program launches today and the $1 million monthly fund will make its first bonus distributions based on streaming activity from June 1 to June 30.

Always wanted to be a movie producer? Here's your chance -- Amazon is launching Amazon Video Direct (AVD), a program to compete with Google's YouTube. ...

Why you're probably paying too much to watch TV

Switching providers and dropping channels can help you save

If you pay for cable TV, and have been for a long time, you no doubt have seen your bill climb, even though you haven't added any services. Last September, the average cable TV bill hit $99 a month.

It's led some consumers to “cut the cord,” dropping cable in favor of watching streaming video over the internet. While that will definitely save money, there may be some things you can do to lower costs, short of “cord-cutting.”

First, analyze how you and members of your household use TV. For example, if there are sports fans in the house, it might be hard to do without ESPN.

Fortunately, ESPN, along with TBS and TNT – which both carry sports from time to time – are usually on cable TV's basic tier. These live sports events are also available on some game streaming services, and are likely to be more widely available online in the future.

If you can live without all the news and home shopping channels, maybe you can get by with basic cable; it always includes the local TV stations in your market, so shop around for the best price.

Slowly rising rates

If you are a long-time cable customer, it's probably a safe bet that your provider has slowly raised your rate. Competing services are always running introductory offers to lure you away, so maybe you should check them out.

Here are some examples:

  • Verizon Fios – $65 for the basic package
  • Time Warner cable – This cable provider offers a 20 channel service for $20 a month, but it includes no sports channels. To get ESPN you would need the 70+ package, for $40 a month.

  • DirecTV – This satellite TV service starts its basic package at $30 a month.

With a basic cable package, your needs may be covered. For additional content, you can add Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime for $10 or less per month.

With some of the money you are saving on your current monthly pay TV bills, consider purchasing a smart TV that connects directly to the internet for easy streaming options.

The first step in paying less for TV, however, will probably be dropping your current provider and switching to another service. When considering a switch, carefully weigh any costs that might not be readily apparent, such as equipment charges or hook-up fees, which can quickly erode your savings.

In February the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed rule changes that could save pay TV subscribers even more. It voted to look at ways to open set top boxes to competition so that consumers would not be forced to rent them from their providers.

If you pay for cable TV, and have been for a long time, you no doubt have seen your bill climb, even though you haven't added any services. Last September,...

Charter takeover of Time Warner gets nod from feds

Charter must agree not to squelch competition among video producers

The Charter takeover of Time Warner Cable is good to go once the ink dries. The merger has been tentatively approved by the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), along with the related adquisition by Charter of Bright House Networks.

The approval requires Charter to adopt a number of policies aimed at making it easier for video producers to distribute their content and broaden the number of homes with high-speed Internet connections.

“Online video distributors offer consumers greater choices for video services,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Renata B. Hesse, head of the Antitrust Division. “Together with our counterparts at the FCC, we have secured comprehensive relief and we will work together to closely monitor compliance to ensure that New Charter will not have the power to choke off this important source of disruptive competition and deny consumers the benefits of innovation and new services.”

Consumer groups however, condemned the deal.

“There’s nothing about this massive merger that serves the public interest. There’s nothing about it that helps make the market for cable TV and Internet services more affordable and competitive for Americans," said Craig Aaron, president of Free Press, a public interest organization. 

"Customers of the newly merged entity will be socked with higher prices as Charter attempts to pay off the nearly $27 billion debt load it took on to finance this deal. The wasted expense of this merger is staggering. For the money Charter spent to make this happen it could have built new competitive broadband options for tens of millions of people," Aaron said. 

Second-largest

The combination of Charter, Time Warner, and Bright House will create the second-largest cable company in the U.S., with more than 17 million video subscribers.

The Justice Department initially challenged the merger, saying that Time Warner has been the most aggressive cable company at preventing content providers from distributing their material through alternative channels, like streaming video.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has approved the $88 billion transaction and the remaining four commissioners are expected to do so shortly.

The deal makes Charter the largest cable company in many of the country's major markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Tampa, and Indianapolis.

The Charter takeover of Time Warner Cable is good to go once the ink dries. The merger has been tentatively approved by the Justice Department and the Fede...

Prince death prompts rush to buy his music

Consumers turn to eBay to find Prince CDs

The sudden death of pop music icon Prince has produced something of a run on compact discs – specifically Prince CDs.

Despite music's recent migration to digital media, Prince carefully kept his music off the Internet -- so if you wanted Prince's music, you pretty much had to buy the CD. As a result, stores that still sell CDs have been doing brisk business since news of the star's death was announced Thursday.

In fact, Prince's fierce independence and defense of his intellectual property set the standard in the industry, influencing other top performers to take a hard line against music streaming services.

A number of Prince CDs are for sale on eBay, and available sales data show fans have been buying them up. For example, “Prince My Best Work Classic Collections” has nearly sold out, with 30 copies selling in one hour.

The Prince Greatest Hits 2-CD Collection” has sold 49 copies on eBay, all 49 sold in the last 24 hours. Copies are selling for $16.77, about what a music CD normally costs.

However, a single copy of the 1984 “Prince and the Revolution Purple Rain” vinyl album is listed at the collector's price of $599. As of this writing, no takers yet. A Purple Rain poster has three people watching, with a “buy it now” price of $249.

The rock superstar's unexpected and untimely death sent shock waves through the music industry and resulted in massive media coverage. Media outlets from CBS News to the Drudge Report to Google adopted a purple motif Thursday and Friday in honor of Prince Rogers Nelson, dead at the age of 57.

The sudden death of pop music icon Prince has produced something of a run on compact discs – specifically Prince CDs.Despite music's recent migration t...

Obama issues executive order that could crack open cable set-top boxes

The clunky, outdated devices restrain competition and cost consumers millions, the White House argues

President Obama wants to free you from the tyranny of the cable set-top box, characterizing it as a clunky, outdated, and expensive device that costs consumers millions of dollars.

Obama is calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to open set-top boxes to competition, allowing consumers to buy their own box and save the $1,000 or more they now spend over four years to lease the cable company's box.

Obama compared it to the days prior to telephone deregulation, when consumers could use only the telephones supplied to them by the telephone company and were not allowed to hook up answering machines, fax machines, or other devices.

Just the beginning ...

In a blog posting, Jason Furman, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Jeffrey Zients, Director of the National Economic Council, said the set-top box initiative is just the beginning.

"In many ways, the set-top box is the mascot for a new initiative we’re launching today. That box is a stand-in for what happens when you don’t have the choice to go elsewhere—for all the parts of our economy where competition could do more," Furman and Zients said. 

"Across our economy, too many consumers are dealing with inferior or overpriced products, too many workers aren’t getting the wage increases they deserve, too many entrepreneurs and small businesses are getting squeezed out unfairly by their bigger competitors, and overall we are not seeing the level of innovative growth we would like to see." 

In his executive order today, Obama called for proposals for executive action to promote competition and better protect consumers.  

Private sector

“Our private sector thrives, and innovation is the hallmark of the United States — that’s our big comparative advantage with other countries — but it starts to become less effective, and reduces both what consumers get and the kind of innovation we generate, if we get closed systems or if people are gaming the system,” Obama said in an interview with Yahoo Finance.

Though not likely to be well-received by the cable industry, Obama's move went over well with device makers and Internet interests. 

“Competition is the key to unlocking the set top box and unleashing innovation," said Chip Pickering, CEO of Incompas, a trade group for Internet companies. "Ending monopoly policy and injecting competition policy is a proven way to create American jobs, new markets and investment. Entrepreneurs are eager and ready to build a better box and apps of the future, and the White House wants to accelerate that process."

“Like the rest of us, President Obama must be tired of having to switch remote controls every time he watches House of Cards or other streaming content. New boxes from new companies will create a competition ecosphere that benefits consumers, innovators and content creators," Pickering said.

"Unlocking the set top box and ending monopoly policy is change consumers and free market conservatives can all believe in.” 

The FCC voted in February to consider opening the set-top box market to competition. Obama's action today is likely to spur quicker action on the proposals currently being considered. 

President Obama wants to free you from the tyranny of the cable set-top box, characterizing it as a clunky, outdated, and expensive device that costs consu...

FCC probes the role cable companies play in keeping TV shows off the Internet

Big cable companies can force program providers to deny real-time Internet access

So why is it that you can't watch Empire, Utopia, or other top-ranked TV or cable shows live on the Internet?

Don't blame Netflix, it's more likely that your cable TV or satellite provider has its thumb on the hose.

To put it simply, big cable companies pay program producers a lot of money to redistribute their product. The value of that product is reduced if the producers make it available on the Internet. To prevent that, the cable companies insert clauses into their contracts that either prohibit distribution on the Internet or reduce the price they're willing to pay for content that winds up on the Web. 

The question of how much influence big cable companies have over distribution of shows on the Internet is being studied by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as it considers the merger of Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable.

Should be considered

The FCC recently invited several big media firms, including Disney and 21st Century Fox, to discuss the contract clauses that big cable companies use to restrict Internet streaming. No one is saying exactly what was said, but a Disney spokesman told the Wall Street Journal that the "FCC should, of course, consider these issues."

The Charter-Time Warner merger would create a colossus nearly as large as Comcast, so it is seen as a prime target for some kind of FCC action to prevent cable companies from using their might to bottle up prime content and prevent consumers from "cutting the cord," dumping cable and getting all their TV programming from the Web. 

Charter has said that any restrictions should be placed on all cable companies, not just a combined Charter-Time Warner. But critics, including five Democratic U.S. senators, have expressed "significant concern" about the merger, suggesting it would create a "broadband duopoly" that would leave the combined company in control of nearly two thirds of the nation's broadband homes.

In a letter to the FCC and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the senators say that cable companies are "essential gatekeepers to what customers watch and how they watch it." Signing the letter were Sens. Edward Markey (D-MA), Al Franken (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

What to do

The FCC commissioners are presidential appointees. If you want more competition in cable and broadband service, let your Congressional representatives know how you feel about it. You can find their addresses at house.gov and senate.gov.

So why is it that you can't watch Empire, Utopia, or other top-ranked TV or cable...

FCC votes to open set-top box market to competition

The move could save consumers money and offer less-clunky video switching

Why should you have to rent your cable set-top box from the cable company? Good question and one the Federal Communications Commission has voted to consider.

As we reported last month, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler wants to open the set-top box market to competition, allowing consumers to buy their own boxes, just as they now buy their own telephones, computers and other communications devices.

“The issue is whether you are forced to rent that box every month after month,” Wheeler, a Democrat, said. “The consumers have no choice today."

The commission voted 3-2 today along party lines to go along with Wheeler's plan to draft new rules that would open the market to competition, potentially saving consumers money and helping speed the development of more advanced devices.

Consumers now pay an average of $231 per year to rent their set-top box, amounting to about $20 billion in revenue for cable companies, according to a survey by Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)

Besides the expense, most of today's boxes are clunky and hard to use. The hope is that opening the market to competition will make it possible for devices like the Roku box to service all of a household's video-sorting needs.

Why should you have to rent your cable set-top box from the cable company? Good question and one the Federal Communications Commission has voted to conside...

Super Bowl 50 ads just not that memorable

This year, the game might have been better than the commercials

For Super Bowl 50, Madison Avenue once again hired plenty of celebrities and cooked up special effects, trying to create ads that were both memorable and buzz-worthy, but also would move product. After all, sponsors were paying around $5 million for 30 seconds of time in front of what was expected to be a record television audience.

There were indeed some memorable moments, both on the field and during commercial breaks. But somehow, the commercials didn't seem to live up to the 50th Super Bowl hype, much less the quality of previous years.

Of course, Super Bowl commercials would not be complete without a few featuring dogs. Subaru featured a golden retriever behind the wheel, driving a puppy in a car seat around in hopes the pup would fall asleep. Honda featured a border collie as a spokesdog, but it was the singing sheep in the spot that stole the show.

Heinz also put canines to work. In the thirty-second “Meet The Ketchups,” a stampeding herd of dachshunds, each wearing a giant hot dog bun, run across a field of clover toward a row of giant ketchup containers, to the accompaniment of Air Supply's “Can't Live (If Living Is Without You).” We're not sure we get it, but it was cute.

Clever for clever's sake

Speaking of not getting it, there seemed to be an abundance of short spots that tried to be clever for the sake of being clever. Apartments.com's two spots featuring Jeff Goldblum's ode to The Jefferson's surely went over the heads of most Millennials.

Kia's “Walken Closet,” featuring Christopher Walken, was in fact pretty clever, but it shifted from choosing socks to shopping for a car so fast it probably gave viewers whiplash.

Unlike previous Super Bowls, there were few beer commercials. Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen teamed up for a politically-themed Bud Light spot that seemed to fall flat.

Real men don't drink craft beer

Budweiser, meanwhile, appeared to be itching for a fight with its “Not Backing Down,” a follow-up to last year's all-out war against craft beers. This sixty-second spot is for a beer that is unapologetically big, industrial, and produced on a massive scale. The brief shot of an older man at the bar using his thumb and index finger to flick away the orange slice on the rim of the beer that has just been set before him says it all – real men don't drink craft beer.

As a promotion, Intuit QuickBooks held a contest for small businesses, with the prize of a 30-second Super Bowl ad. The winner was Death Wish Coffee, a small coffee roaster in upstate New York.

The spot features a Viking ship crashing through a raging sea, apparently making the point that the coffee is loaded with caffeine, rather than it will kill you. If you missed it, you probably won't see it broadcast again, so we've included it below.

The NFL spot featuring “Super Bowl babies” of various ages – those children born exactly nine months later in the city that won the big game, was particularly creative. Meanwhile, CBS used much of its valuable air time to promote its own shows – taking advantage of the massive audience.

But all in all, this is one year where the game might have been better than the commercials. Oh yeah, Denver won, 24-10.

For Super Bowl 50, Madison Avenue once again hired plenty of celebrities and cooked up special effects, trying to create ads that were both memorable and b...

DraftKings takes its games to the UK

Will allow North American players to compete against those in Britain

The NFL plays a couple of games each season in London, so why wouldn't British fans want to get in on the daily fantasy sports (DFS) action?

No doubt that's part of the reason behind DraftKings' announcement that it is launching games in the UK, where soccer and cricket matches may prove to be more popular draws than American football.

“DraftKings will bring a totally new experience for sports fans, offering players the opportunity to test their skill at fantasy contests with the immediacy of daily play,” Jason Robins, co-founder and CEO of DraftKings, said in a statement emailed to ConsumerAffairs. “Alongside our new partners Arsenal, Liverpool and Watford, our ambition is to bring players as close to the action as possible, with all the information they need to assemble the best teams.”

DraftKings says it anticipates the move will open up what it called “healthy competition” between players in North America and the UK. The company says the DraftKings FC site will give players access to all the research, strategy and news they need to assemble their line-up.

The company no doubt hopes UK government authorities are less litigious than in the states. Several state governments – most notably New York – have made moves to limit, license or outright ban the games, declaring them to be illegal gambling.

New York state's suit seeking to bar New Yorkers from from the games is awaiting a hearing by a state appeals court. The games continues to operate under a court-granted stay, meaning New Yorkers will be able play pending the court's ruling.

The NFL plays a couple of games each season in London, so why wouldn't British fans want to get in on the daily fantasy sports (DFS) action?No doubt th...

Former college athlete sues FanDuel and DraftKings

Seeks compensation for himself, other college athletes for use of name and likeness

Daily fantasy sports enterprises FanDuel and DraftKings may start to feel besieged from all sides. Not only are several states questioning the legality of their operations, a former college athlete is attempting to take both companies to court.

Former Northern Illinois University running back Akeem Daniels has filed suit against both FanDuel and DraftKings, claiming the lucrative businesses “knowingly and improperly exploited the accomplishments, and expected future accomplishments” of Daniels and 2,000 college athletes.

The suits claim the companies use the names and likenesses of college athletes to construct fantasy games in which millions of dollars are spent.

“Through a comprehensive advertising campaign and in its daily fantasy college football and basketball contests, Defendant routinely use the names and likenesses of these college players to promote Defendant’s commercial enterprise, amassing millions of dollars in revenues from entry fees, without the athletes’ authorization,” the complaint states.

No consent granted

Akeem's attorney said the athlete, and others in the proposed class, have not given their consent to the use of their names, nor have they given up their rights. The suit seeks unspecified damages.

Neither company has commented on the suit, which is fairly typical in cases of litigation.

The suits may be seen as the latest attempt by college athletes to receive monetary compensation for their service to their colleges. The filing follows on the heels of Northwestern University's football players' unsuccessful attempt to form a labor union.

More importantly, perhaps, it represents just another legal challenge to Daily Fantasy Sports, which is enormously popular with consumers and deeply embedded in sports leagues and media.

The most serious challenge so far is in New York, where Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has charged that the games violate New York's gambling laws. Schneiderman not only seeks to bar players in the state from participating but is seeking the return of the money they have spent, plus civil penalties.

An appeals court will decide the case later this year.

Daily fantasy sports enterprises FanDuel and DraftKings may start to feel besieged from all sides. Not only are several states questioning the legality of ...

New York cracks down on ticket scalpers, resellers

Two unlicensed resellers fined, others warned to clean up their acts

A New York investigation has led to charges against two ticket resellers and a warning to other scalpers and resellers that they face prosecution if they block affordable access to music and sporting events.

"This investigation is just the beginning of our efforts to create a level playing field in the ticket industry,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as he released the results of an investigation that found abuses that prevent New York consumers from accessing tickets at affordable prices – or even accessing them at all.

Schneiderman also announced settlements with two ticket brokers that were illegally operating without a ticket reseller license. MSMSS, LLC and Extra Base Tickets, LLC, have sold thousands of tickets to events in New York even though they were not licensed. The settlements require that the companies and their principals maintain a ticket reseller license and pay penalties for having operated illegally. MSMSS will pay $80,000 in penalties and Extra Base Tickets will pay $65,000.

“Ticketing is a fixed game,” Schneiderman said. “My office will continue to crack down on those who break our laws, prey on ordinary consumers, and deny New Yorkers affordable access to the concerts and sporting events they love."

Never made available

Consumers rate Ticketmaster

For the most popular concerts, the investigation found that many tickets are never made available to the general public in the first place.  Rather, a majority of tickets for major entertainment events are either put on “hold” and reserved for a industry insiders or reserved for “pre-sale” events and made available to non-public groups, such as those who carry particular credit cards.

On average, more than half of all tickets -- 54% – are reserved for insiders, the probe found. Those reserved tickets are split between insider holds (16%) and pre-sales (38%).

In addition, the investigation found that venues and ticket sellers like Ticketmaster regularly tacked on fees that added more than 21% to the face price of tickets, and in some extreme cases, added more than the face-value price of the ticket. 

The investigation further discovered that third-party brokers resell tickets on sites like StubHub and TicketsNow at average margins of 49% above face-value -- sometimes more than 1,000%.

Some of the brokers are using illegal specialty software – called “ticket bots” -- to quickly purchase as many desirable tickets as possible and resell them at a significant markup. The investigation, for instance, found that on December 8, 2014, a single broker used a bot to purchase 1,012 tickets to a June 2015 U2 show at Madison Square Garden within the very first minute of the sale. The investigation confirms that hundreds of thousands of tickets are being acquired using illegal software.

A New York investigation has led to charges against two ticket resellers and a warning to other scalpers and resellers that they face prosecution if they b...

FCC chair wants to open cable to set-top box competition

Currently, 99% of consumers rent their set-top box from the cable company

There was a time when you could only get a telephone from the telephone company. Today, most of us have to get our cable TV set-top box from the cable company. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler thinks it's time to change that.

Wheeler has proposed opening up the market for set-top boxes, paving the way for software, third-party devices, and other solutions to take the place of the set-top boxes that are now used by 99% of American cable subscribers.

The proposal brought a ringing endorsement from the National Hispanic Media Coalition. "This ... would be a tremendous boon for viewers wanting to find the diverse programming that speaks to the needs of their communities and, potentially, allow many content creators a clear path around cable company gatekeepers and into consumers’ homes,” said coalition vice president Michael Scurato.

Consumers spend, on average, $231 in rental fees annually -- totaling about $20 billion a year. Wheeler cites an analysis which found that the cost of cable set-top boxes has risen 185% while the cost of computers, televisions, and mobile phones has dropped by 90%.

An FCC fact sheet says the proposal "is about one thing: consumer choice.  Consumers should have options created by competition. The chairman's proposal will let innovators create and then let consumers choose."

Information streams

Wheeler's proposal identifies three "core information streams" that must be broken loose from the grasp of set-top boxes and made available to the creators of competitive devices or apps:  

  • Service discovery: Information about what programming is available to the consumer, such as the channel listing, video-on-demand lineup, and what is on those channels.  
  • Entitlements: Information about what a device is allowed to do with content, such as recording.   
  • Content delivery: The video programming itself. 

Wheeler's proposal will be voted on by the full FCC on February 18. 

Learn more about cable TV

There was a time when you could only get a telephone from the telephone company. Today, most of us have to get our cable TV set-top box from the cable comp...

New York seeks refunds from DraftKings, FanDuel

If the attorney general gets his way, New York players might get their money back

Usually, when you play a daily fantasy sports (DFS) through DraftKings and FanDuel, you either win or you don't.

But players from New York stand to recover the money they paid to play -- if New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman gets his way, anyway.

Schneiderman has amended his lawsuits against the two enterprises, which he has accused of violating New York state gambling laws, to include a demand for restitution. The suit now asks that FanDuel and DraftKings be required to produce an accounting of monies collected from consumers in New York playing any of its games in violation of the law.

Not only is Schneiderman asking the court to order the two companies to repay all entry fees to New York players, his suit seeks a civil penalty of up to $5,000 for each violation.

The Wall Street Journal reports the sites took in a combined $200 million from 600,000 New York players last year. A judgment could potentially be staggering.

Investigation began in October

Schneiderman opened an investigation into DFS in October following reports of an employee at one of the companies profiting through the use of insider information. Not long afterward, Scheiderman issued a cease and desist order before going to court to have the two companies declared illegal gambling operations.

“DFS is a new business model for online gambling,” the suits allege. “The DFS sites themselves collect wagers (styled as 'fees'), set jackpot amounts, and directly profit from the betting on their platforms. DFS’ rules enable near-instant gratification to players, require no time commitment, and simplify game play, including by eliminating all long-term strategy."

Schneiderman's suit claims New Yorkers have been harmed by the games, especially those who have a gambling addiction.

Usually, when you play a daily fantasy sports (DFS) through DraftKings and FanDuel, you either win or you ...

Cable bills going up ... again

The higher prices may chase away more consumers

Cable TV bills will be going up early next year, just as they do most years. That's likely to drive even more consumers away from cable, which in turn is likely to produce more price increases.

The TV/cable/streaming video business is in a transitional period and it's a little hard to tell what's going to come out the other end, although it's likely to be something that is a combination of Netflix and traditional cable, delivered via the Internet.

Until then, the cable business is stuck with high fixed costs -- all that cable to maintain -- as well as rising programming costs as it produces more new programming to compete with Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming providers.

What that means is higher bills for consumers who have not yet cut the cord. Time Warner, Comcast, Dish, and AT&T are all putting the final touches on the price hikes they'll impose in 2016.

Monthly increases

Here are some of the expected monthly increases, as reported by Bloomberg Business:

  • Time Warner: sports programming goes from $2.25 to $5;
  • Comcast: broadcast channels go from $1.75 to $5, regional sports to $3;
  • Dish: $2 to $8 per month, depending on the bundle;
  • AT&T U-Verse: $2 to $4; and
  • DirecTV: $4 to $8.

Dish subscribers will pay $2 to $8 more per month on TV packages. AT&T’s U-Verse customers will see a monthly increase of between $2 and $4, while satellite-TV provider DirecTV, bought by AT&T this year, will increase its monthly bill between $4 and $8.

Won't this drive away customers? No doubt it will. After all, 71% of cord cutters say they dropped cable partly because of cost, surveys show, but the cable companies say the licensing fees they're paying for programming are rising so fast that they lose money on some customers, which means their bottom line actually improves if those customers get mad and go away.

Time Warner, for example, says the cost it pays to carry local channels has gone up nearly 100% in recent years while the cost of some sports programming has risen 116%.

The higher prices may be a hardship for some consumers but, except for rabid sports fans and news junkies, most cable programming can be found elsewhere -- either on over-the-air channels or on streaming video.

HBO, Showtime, and other premium channels are moving at least some of their programming to the Internet and reruns of popular broadcasts and premium shows are showing up on streaming channels more quickly so those who bail out to save money won't be completely without entertainment options.

Cable TV bills will be going up early next year, just as they do most years. That's likely to drive even more consumers away from cable, which in turn is l...

Netflix socks pause the video when you fall asleep

But you may need to be handy with knitting needles and a soldering iron

Who hasn't stretched out on the couch to binge watch the latest Netflix original series, only to doze off and wake up on Episode 11?

But if you're wearing a pair of Netflix socks, it should never happen again. The socks, the company claims, can detect when you fall asleep. It stops the show so you can easily resume when you wake up.

According to Netflix, an accelerometer detects when you've stopped moving for a prolonged period of time and triggers a signal to your TV that pauses Netflix. When it thinks you've dozed off, an LED light in the cuff of the sock flashes red, warning that the pause signal is about to be sent to your TV. Any motion will stop it from firing.

Sensitive to slight movements

“The accelerometer is very sensitive to little movements, so it's good at detecting when you're just sitting still, raptly watching Netflix, and when you've actually fallen asleep,” Netflix says on its website.

The socks require some assembly and even some knitting. It also helps to be familiar with a soldering iron. Step-by-step instructions are contained the the video below.

To make a pair of program-pausing socks, Netflix says you need a pair of knit socks, an arduino microcontroller, IR LEDs, an LED indicator light, battery, momentary button, accelerometer and a foot square piece of felt.

Maybe it would be easier to drink a cup of coffee or strong tea while watching.

Who hasn't stretched out on the couch to binge watch the latest Netflix original series, only to doze off and wake up on Episode 11?But if you're weari...

Netflix fiddles with software to speed up streaming

The result should be better quality video with less bandwidth

Netflix is trying to get better mileage out of its video streaming operation, the largest on the Web. If it works, the result should be better-looking video for everyone and a reduction in bandwidth usage of 20% or so. That's important, since Netflix uses about one-third of all data on the Internet during peak times. 

Basically, the change will tailor video encoding partly to content instead of to users' reception capabilities.

Netflix, like everyone else, has always encoded several versions of each piece of video -- super high-quality for those with ultra-fast connections, low-res versions for those with super-slow connections, and so forth.

But, as Variety tells it, someone at Netflix came to the realization that it would make more sense to encode videos based on their content.

“You shouldn’t allocate the same amount of bits for ‘My Little Pony’ as for ‘The Avengers,’” explained Netflix video algorithms manager Anne Aaron in the Variety report. That's because animated shows require much less data than complex productions originally meant for the big screen. 

Reviewers and reporters who have seen side-by-side tests of the traditional encoding methods and the new one say it's impossible to tell them apart. If that holds true for everyone, Netflix will have saved itself and its customers a lot of bandwidth. Those with slow-speed and mobile connections should also see improved quality on at least some titles.

Netflix is trying to get better mileage out of its video streaming operation, the largest on the Web. If it works, the result should be better-looking vide...

Star Wars is a marketing force to be reckoned with

Companies spend big to associate themselves with the expected blockbuster

When Disney paid $4 billion for LucasFilm in 2012, Wall Street let out a collective gasp. What were they thinking?

The main LucasFilm property was the Star Wars franchise, which many entertainment analysts said was getting a little moldy around the edges.

No one is second-guessing the move now. After its world premier in Hollywood on Monday night, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is not only expected to break box office records, but the record for breaking records.

With all the buzz surrounding the film – the first in the series premiered in 1977 – businesses have lined up to associate themselves with the latest installment, which reunites Han Solo and Chewbacca.

In fact, it's very possible that sponsorship sales will equal ticket sales. A new report by Nielsen helps explain why.

Connects with consumers

According to Nielsen N-Score, which measures celebrities’ endorsement potential, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill all rate above the average N-Score for a TV/film actor. Ford, who starred in many other movies since the first Star Wars, has the highest N-Score of the three major returning cast members – 100 out of 100 – as 90% of Americans are aware of him and 56% rate him as influential.

The biggest Star Wars fans are more likely to be Gen Xers, but enthusiasm for the franchise appears to span across races and age groups. While fans are predominantly white, minority households are more likely than the average American household to have Star Wars fans -- especially Asian-Americans and Hispanics.

As a result you'll see no shortage of Star Wars-themed products in the next few weeks.

Lunch boxes

Curver, a member of the Keter Group, is plastering Star Wars images on its collection of home and personal storage items. The collection includes lunch boxes, bins, and home storage items for multiple uses.

Lunch boxes are a traditional spot for movie characters, as many Baby Boomers may remember transporting sandwiches to school in some type of Disney-themed container.

Even car companies are getting in on the act. Chrysler has outfitted some of its white Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat and Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat as storm troopers. They also have a Kylo Ren-inspired black Dodge Viper ACR. The resemblance is uncanny.

The cars are prowling the streets of Los Angeles in the days leading up to the December 18 opening.

Pet names

Nationwide Insurance, in an effort to promote its pet insurance policies, issued a press release noting that Star Wars has inspired many pet names. After analyzing its database of more than 550,000 insured pets, Nationwide says these are the top 10 pet names related to the movie franchise:

  1. Luke
  2. Yoda
  3. Chewbacca
  4. Leia
  5. Rebel
  6. Vader
  7. Obi Wan
  8. Han Solo
  9. Jedi
  10. Boba Fett
When Disney paid $4 billion for LucasFilm in 2012, Wall Street let out a collective gasp. What were they thinking?The main LucasFilm property was the S...

Survey finds cable TV landscape relatively undisturbed

Consumers aren't stampeding for the exits

How much do you pay for cable TV? If you said $40, you're just about average. And if you get about 20 channels for that, you're even more average, if such a thing is possible.

A survey by Digitalsmiths, a TiVo company, finds that the average monthly cable packages cost $40.50 per month and consist of about 18 channels.

It found that the ten most desired channels are ABC, Discovery Channel, CBS, NBC, History, A&E, Fox, HBO, National Geographic Channel, and PBS.

Not surprisingly, the survey found that 76% of those surveyed would like the ability to pick and choose channels for their own custom pay TV package. Digitalsmiths notes that this has declined nearly 3% from the same quarter a year ago — and down almost 5% from the first quarter.

Cord-cutting

As for cord-cutting, the survey found that of those who don't have a pay TV provider, 19.3% got rid of cable in the last 12 months. Of that group, 45% use an antenna to pull in basic and digital channels.

In fact, the lowly antenna is becoming a hot item. There was an 11.8% quarter-over-quarter increase in those who use an over-the-air antenna to view TV.

But despite all the stories your read about the demise of cable, 92% of those surveyed did not switch or cancel their pay TV providers in the previous quarter and more than half (53%) say they won't be making any changes in the next six months.

Of the 7% who plan to dump their cable, 5% say they will eliminate pay TV entirely while less than 3% say they will switch to streaming video or a rental service. 

How much do you pay for cable TV? If you said $40, you're just about average. And if you get about 20 channels for that, you're even more average, if such ...

Pandora buys Rdio as music sphere gets more crowded

But don't worry. The "future of music" is secure, Pandora CEO pledges

There are lots of streaming music and on-demand music services out there -- maybe a few too many. Pandora is doing its part to rearrange the clutter, announcing a deal to buy the assets of bankrupt Rdio for $75 million.

“We are defining the next chapter of Pandora’s growth story,” said Brian McAndrews, Pandora's CEO. “Adding live music experiences through Ticketfly was a transformative step. Adding Rdio’s impressive technology and talented people will fast-track new dimensions and enhancements to our service."

"I couldn’t be more optimistic about ... the future of music,” McAndrews added, just in case anyone thought that music would soon be going extinct.

The deal sandwiches Pandora into the on-demand music sphere, competing directly against such major players as Apple Music, Spotify, and well-heeled newcomers such as Google's YouTube Music.

Which is which?

How can you tell one streaming service from another? Good question. The common wisdom is that it's the app that makes the difference, since streaming is increasingly a mobile phenomenon driven by iOS and Android apps.

Pandora, a pioneer in the streaming space, has always billed itself as more of a music service than a technology service. It boasts of having a "team of highly trained musicologists [who] analyze hundreds of attributes for each recording," powering its Music Genome Project which selects music for each listener's perceived tastes.

Seguing into streaming won't be as easy as firing up a few new servers. Pandora will have to negotiate new licensing deals with all the major labels while facing a growing band of competitors.

Consumers can expect cut-rate and even free deals over the next few years as the warring entrants battle it out. But don't put too much time and energy into building a profile in any single service, as the casualty count is likely to be high.

There are lots of streaming music and on-demand music services out there -- maybe a few too many. Pandora is doing its part to rearrange the clutter, annou...

Sour note: music pirate gets three-year prison sentence

RockDizMusic was the second-largest music piracy site, testimony indicated

The song was sweet for awhile there. Rocky Ouprasith was rockin' the web with his site RockDizMusic.com, a music piracy website and cyberlocker that let consumers browse and download pirated music.

But yesterday was the day the music died. Ouprasith was sentenced to 36 months in prison by a federal district court judge in Alexandria, Va. In addition, Ouprasith was sentenced to serve two years of supervised release and was ordered to forfeit $50,851.05 and pay $48,288.62 in restitution. 

Ouprasith, 23, of Charlotte, N.C., had pleaded guilty to one count of criminal copyright infringement in August.

Ouprasith admitted that he obtained digital copies of copyrighted songs and albums – including “pre-release” songs that were not yet commercially available to consumers – from online sources. He encouraged and solicited others, referred to as “affiliates,” to upload digital copies of copyrighted songs and albums to websites, including RockDizFile.com, that were hosted on servers in Russia, France, and the Netherlands, and that hosted hyperlinks to content being offered for download on RockDizMusic.com. 

According to the Recording Industry Association of America, RockDizFile.com was the second-largest music piracy site in the U.S. in 2013. Ouprasith admitted that he either ignored or pretended to take remedial action in response to complaints from copyright holders.

In October 2014, federal law enforcement authorities shut down RockDizMusic.com and RockDizFile.com, and law enforcement authorities in the Netherlands and France seized file-hosting servers utilized by Ouprasith.

According to court documents, the market value of Ouprasith’s illegally-pirated material was more than $6 million.

The song was sweet for awhile there. Rocky Ouprasith was rockin' the web with his site RockDizMusic.com, a music piracy website and cyberlocker that let co...

New York raises the ante against DraftKings and FanDuel

Attorney general seeks preliminary injunction, shutting them down

A day after a New York judge refused a bid by Fanduel and DraftKings to slap a temporary restraining order on New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Schneiderman has gone to court against the two daily fantasy sports (DFS) enterprises.

Schneiderman is seeking a preliminary injunction against the two companies, which already face a cease and desist order the attorney general issued last week.

In the court filing, Schneiderman lays out his case that the two companies constitute illegal gambling under state law.

“Under New York law, a wager constitutes gambling when it depends on either a (1) 'future contingent event not under [the bettor’s] control or influence' or (2) 'contest of chance.' So-called Daily Fantasy Sports (“DFS”) wagers fit squarely in both these definitions,” Schneiderman wrote. “DFS is nothing more than a rebranding of sports betting. It is plainly illegal.”

Disputing the game of skill argument

Schneiderman went on to reject the two companies' argument that their games involve skill, not chance. He says chance plays just as much of a role, if not more, than it does in games like poker and blackjack.

“A few good players in a poker tournament may rise to the top based on their skill; but the game is still gambling,” Schneiderman declared. “So is DFS.”

Schneiderman goes on to charge both FanDuel and DraftKings are winking at the law, maintaining in public that they run games of skill, but privately evoking the profits of gambling to investors.

He says DraftKings has also embedded gambling keywords into the programming code for its website. Some of these keywords include “‘fantasy golf betting,’’ “weekly fantasy basketball betting,” ‘‘weekly fantasy hockey betting,” “weekly fantasy football betting,” “weekly fantasy college football betting,” “weekly fantasy college basketball betting,” “Fantasy College Football Betting,” “daily fantasy basketball betting,” and “Fantasy College Basketball Betting.” This increases the likelihood that search engines, like Google, will send users looking for gambling straight to the DraftKings site.

Nevada was first

New York is the second state to find that DFS amounts to gambling. In October, Nevada gaming officials reached the same conclusion.

In a memorandum, Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett said he asked the state attorney general's office and others to examine enterprises like DraftKings and FanDuel to determine if they were gambling operations.

“Based on these analyses, I, along with staff, have concluded that DFS constitutes gambling under Nevada law,” Burnett wrote. “More specifically, DFS meets the definition of a game, or gambling game pursuant to Chapter 463 of the Nevada Revised Statutes.”

Under current law, Burnett says, if you are going to operate such games – as DraftKings and FanDuel do – then you must be licensed.

The Nevada decision isn't nearly the problem for the two companies, however, that New York's action is. That's because a large percentage of players in both companies' games live in New York.

In light of the state attorney general's action, both companies have barred New Yorkers from playing until the matter runs its course in court, resulting in a significant drop in revenue.

A day after a New York judge refused a bid by Fanduel and DraftKings to slap a temporary restraining order on New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, ...

FanDuel, DraftKings strike out in New York court

Attorney general's cease and desist order stands, at least for now

If you were a betting sort, you might have put your money on the daily fantasy sports (DFS) giants FanDuel and DraftKings to roll over New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in court.

But you would have been a loser on that one.

A New York judge Monday rejected the companies' separate pleas for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Schneiderman's cease and desist order last week, when he declared DFS to be illegal gambling and not allowed within the Empire State.

“We also requested an expedited hearing schedule to resolve this matter as quickly as possible,” DraftKings said in a statement as it went to court. “We believe this TRO is necessary and warranted to protect DraftKings’ business while we pursue our legal action to prevent the New York Attorney General from denying New Yorkers the right to continue playing the daily fantasy sports games they love.”

Nothing to restrain

But Schneiderman argued against the TRO, pointing out that his office had not actually taken any action that could be restrained – it simply issued a cease and desist order. The judge agreed, meaning the attorney general's cease and desist order remains in force.

In making their ill-fated arguments, FanDuel and DraftKings warned they would “face irreparable harm” should Schneiderman's order stand. That's because both companies are heavily dependent on hundreds of thousands of DFS players from New York.

Going into the weekend, FanDuel issued a statement, saying the full slate of contests covering all sports would go on, but that not everyone could play.

“However, we will stop allowing new deposits on the site, from New York, as of today,” the company said. “All users in New York can and will be able to continue to withdraw their money as always.”

Back to court

But think of this showdown as a best-of-seven series – not a single contest. FanDuel and DraftKings will get another day in court soon in which to argue their games are not gambling. The judge ordered the two sides back in court Nov. 25. But at this point, Schneiderman leads the series, 1-0.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports the loss of New York revenue last weekend and the prospect of further losses has prompted DraftKings to cut back its aggressive advertising campaign, that rivaled brewers before the start of the NFL season.

The newspaper reports the company has been asking media for adjustments to its fourth quarter advertising commitments. In a statement, DraftKings said it is “always in dialogue” with its media partners.

If you were a betting sort, you might have put your money on the daily fantasy sports (DFS) giants FanDuel and DraftKings to roll over New York Attorney Ge...

Cox loses set-top box class action in Oklahoma

Regulators have been studying rules in order to weaken cable operators' control over consumer choice

The cable TV set-top box is increasingly a target of everyone from streaming video providers to federal regulators, not to mention agrieved consumers. There are about 97 million premium cable subscribers in the U.S., so the list of annoyed clients is potentially quite lengthy.

One group of peeved consumers won a court victory in Oklahoma last week when a federal jury awarded them $6.3 million after finding that Cox Communications had violated federal antitrust laws.

In a class action lawsuit, Richard Healy and other consumers argued that Cox unfairly forced them to rent its set-top box as a condition of getting its premium cable TV service. Without the box, customers couldn't get either Cox's channel guide or its on-demand video, even if they supplied their own box.

Consumers rate Cox Cable

Testimony at the trial indicated that Cox charged $6.99 per month for the box, which it said cost about $200. At that rate, the consumers argued, Cox paid for the box in 28 months, leaving it with more than two and a half years of profit over the expected five-year lifetime of the box.  

A recent congressional study found that consumers are paying more than $230 million a year to rent set-top boxes and there are various proposals being floated that would allow consumers to provide their own box at their own expense.

In its defense, Cox argued that its pricing behavior did not amount to antitrust, noting that DirecTV and Dish are available to consumers who don't want to sign up with Cox. It also noted that TiVO and other companies provide a workable alternative to Cox.

The consumers, however, argued that by it behavior Cox was strangling competition for set-tp boxes -- rather than for premium cable service.

The cable TV set-top box is increasingly a target of everyone from streaming video providers to federal regulators, not to mention agrieved consumers. Ther...

CNN spins out "Great Big Story" for Millennials

It will be totally awesome, like a -- you know -- sugar daddy

If you like Vice and Buzzfeed, CNN has a news network for you. Oops, we're not supposed to call it a news network. Instead, an announcement says it will be “CNN like a sugar daddy on the weekends,” whatever that means.

The idea is that CNN wants more Millennials instead of the Baby Boomers now snoozing in front of the flat screen, so it has come up with this new socially distributed network called “Great Big Story.”

We're told it will present “awesome, untold and inspirational stories about new frontiers, the human condition, planet earth, tastes and flavors.”

It will consist of three to five videos each day, all different lengths and dealing with whatever seems downright amazing at the moment. 

Great Big Story will run on Facebook, YouTube, and Apple News, among other sites. Connected TV platforms -- Apple TV, Roku, Amazon, and Chromecast -- will follow.

Revenue will come from "branded content videos" -- ads, in other words.

If you like Vice and Buzzfeed, CNN has a news network for you. Oops, we're not supposed to call it a news network. Instead, an announcement says it will be...

Netflix raises prices, blames rising cost of content

The price will be going up $1 for most subscribers

There used to be a saying in the media world that content was king. Then for awhile it was technology that was king, but now that technology has broken everything wide open and created lots of new pipes, everyone's starting to realize they need content to put in those pipes.

All of which is a long way of saying that the price of movies, TV shows, and original content is going up as more distributors bid for it, which is why Netflix is raising the price of its most popular subscription option from $9 to $10 a month. Other packages are going up by similar amounts.

A Netflix spokesman says the increase is necessary so it can “continue adding more TV shows and movies including many Netflix original titles.” said Netflix rep Jonathan Friedland.

The new price applies immediately to new subscribers in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America. But it will also eventually kick in for existing customers — some of whom will end up seeing their monthly bill increase by $2 a month.

Here's how Netflix explains it on its site:

Uzo Aduba in "Orange is the New Black" (Netflix photo)There used to be a saying in the media world that content was king. Then for awhile it was tech...

New York investigating DraftKings, FanDuel

Official probe focusing on fairness of one-week fantasy games

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has launched an investigation of the two major one-week fantasy sports enterprises amid charges that employees of the companies are benefiting from inside information.

It was disclosed this week that an employee at DraftKings had access to information about other participants' player selections when he fielded a team at rival FanDuel and won $350,000. That produced an outcry from other participants and critics of the new billion dollar industry.

“It’s something we’re taking a look at,” Schneiderman said.” Fraud is fraud. And, consumers of any product – whether you want to buy a car, participate in fantasy football – our laws are very strong in New York and other states that you can’t commit fraud.”

Fired off letters

Schneiderman said he can't comment on the specifics of the investigation, which presumably has just gotten underway. In a letter to DraftKings CEO Jason Robbins, Schneiderman expressed concern over reports that company employees or agents may have gained an unfair financial advantage in the contests by accessing non-public data.

“These allegations, and your company’s subsequent statement, raise legal questions relating to the fairness, transparency, and security of DraftKings and the reliability of representations your company has made to customers,” Schneiderman wrote.

Schneiderman asked DraftKings to provide the names and titles of employees who:

  • Compile and aggregate athletes’ statistical data;
  • Determine inputs used to set athletes’ prices for daily fantasy contests;
  • Code athlete pricing algorithms (note if and where different from 1b.);
  • Compile and aggregate athletes’ ownership percentages for pending contests;
  • Compile and aggregate historical ownership percentages for past contests; and
  • Compile and aggregate daily fantasy players’ data, including but not limited to win/loss records, types of contests entered, number of entries per contest, and money spent and earned

Schneiderman sent a similar letter to FanDuel CEO Nigel Eccles, requesting a reply by October 15.

Integrity and trust

Both FanDuel and DraftKings have denied any of their employees benefited from inside information. CNBC quotes a FanDuel spokesman as saying the company “has always operated on the basis of integrity and trust.”

But ESPN appears to be pulling back from some of its one-week fantasy sports associations. “Outside The Lines” host Bob Key said the sports network will still air commercials for the daily fantasy sports sites but won't run individual shows sponsored by the companies.

Meanwhile, USA Today columnist Nate Scott opines that the scandal is “the beginning of the end” for one-week fantasy sports enterprises. He calls one-week fantasy sports gambling that is legal only because of a loophole in the law. That loophole, he predicts, is about to be closed.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has launched an investigation of the two major one-week fantasy sports enterprises amid charges that employees ...

TiVo BOLT makes it even easier to skip commercials

Device jumps over entire commercial break with touch of a button

Television has come a long way since the days when you turned on the set, waited nearly a minute for it to “warm up,” adjusted the antenna for better reception, and then decided which of the three channels you would watch.

It's an entirely different experience today, in part because of TiVo, the digital video recorder (DVR) introduced in 1999, making the VCR obsolete. Now viewers can record shows and easily scan through commercial breaks.

Other DVRs followed, but in the industry vernacular, people didn't record programs any more, they “TiVoed” them.

This week TiVo introduced a new product, the TiVo BOLT, a DVR it says will completely change the viewing experience once again.

Commercial avoidance

"The TiVo BOLT arrives at a time of piqued interest in both connected devices and commercial avoidance," said Tom Rogers, TiVo's President and CEO. "The clear demand of consumers is for a TV experience that quickly delivers them exactly what they want the instant they turn on the screen. BOLT is a game changer that will remind people of how they felt the first time they experienced digital recording."

The BOLT will be sold at retail stores starting October 4 but is available online now. The 500 GB version is $300 including the first year of service, then $150 a year after that.

It's fair to say that advertisers and the TV and cable networks they support hate TiVo and other DVRs because these devices allow viewers to watch content and avoid the commercials that pay for it. And TiVo says the BOLT now makes it even easier to do that.

BOLT allows viewers to skip entire commercial breaks in a single bound at the press of a button. It's called the Skip Mode feature. Somehow, the device senses the beginning and end of program content and the start of commercials.

Hurry up and watch

For viewers who don't really have time to watch a lot of TV, there's something called QuickMode. It speeds up the program by 30%, without making the actors sound like chipmunks. The company says it enables the average viewer to potentially recapture a month of time in his or her life each year.

There is also a money-saving feature. TiVo says subscribers can save money by getting out from under the rental charges of boxes the cable operator provides because one Bolt works on all TVs in the house.

"BOLT was designed to meet the requirements of a new generation of TV viewers," said Ira Bahr, TiVo's Chief Marketing and Retail Sales Officer. "Smaller form factor, 4K compatibility, single-screen integration of cable or over-the-air, plus streaming apps, the ability to take your content anywhere -- and for the first time, the ability to precisely jump commercial breaks at the touch of a button."

The real question is how content providers who depend upon advertising are going to respond to this existential threat. The more consumers who are able to avoid commercials, the less viable this long-standing business model is.

The answer will undoubtedly lie in technology. Already, some streaming content containing commercials has a feature making it impossible to skip over the paid insertions. If you want to watch the programs, the commercials must play.

It's a good bet engineers are at work trying to figure out a way to apply this technology to over-the-air and cable programming.

Television has come a long way since the days when you turned on the set, waited nearly a minute for it to “warm up,” adjusted the antenna for better recep...

Cablevision scooped up by European cable empire

Newsday, AMC, Madison Square Garden not included in the sale

As big cable companies go, Cablevision is one of the smaller ones. Its 3.1 million customers are concentrated in the New York metropolitan area, where the company also owns Newsday, News 12 Long Island, and amNew York. 

It's being purchased for about $10 billion by Altice NV, a French company that has been rapidly acquiring assets, including Suddenlink, a U.S. cable operator it purchased in May.

Cablevision was founded in 1973 by Charles F. Dolan and is now managed by his son, James L. Dolan. 

"As a family business we are proud to be entrusted by the Dolan family with the ownership of Cablevision and look forward to continuing the pioneering path they have paved for us," Patrick Drahi, founder and president of Altice, said in a statement, according to Newsday.  

Newsday said the deal with Altice won't affect other companies controlled by the Dolan family, including the sports and entertainment company Madison Square Garden Co. and cable channel company AMC Networks.

While it's the latest in a series of cable and satellite TV deals, the Cablevision transaction is different in that it's not one big U.S. operator acquiring another. AT&T recently closed on its purchase of DirecTV and Charter acquired Time Warner in two of the latest consolidations.

As big cable companies go, Cablevision is one of the smaller ones. Its 3.1 million customers are concentrated in the New York metropolitan area, where the ...

Verizon readies mobile video service

Go90 will stream ad-supported content to Millennials

Verizon Communications is preparing the launch of Go90, a mobile app to stream video content. The service will reportedly be free and supported by advertising.

Verizon has made no formal announcement but selectively leaked details with on-the-record interviews with major business media, including The New York Times, Bloomberg and CNBC. Executives told the business network that the service will at first be offered to a select group of customers, most of whom are expected to be Millennials.

Absent a formal announcement it isn't clear what role, if any, newly-acquired AOL will play in the new product. AOL possesses tools that can deliver targeted mobile ads.

Some live events

Verizon senior VP Brian Angiolet told CNBC that Go90 will deliver about 100 to 200 hours of exclusive video content from current online sources like AwesomenessTV and Machinia. It will offer live events like NFL games and streaming concerts, as well as prime-time TV shows and original web series. There will reportedly be a selection of programs from cable networks like Comedy Central, Food Network, and ESPN.

Besides money from ads, Angiolet says Verizon stands to profit from the increased data usage that occurs when users stream video.

What's the point?

Wired, also not privy to Verizon's selective announcement, wondered in print why anyone would watch Verizon's new video channel when there are already plenty of others, too numerous to name.

“Why does Verizon need its very own service?” askedd Wired writer Julia Greenberg. “And how will it be able to compete—to serve really any purpose at all—with so much competition already out there?”

As the late Marshall McLuhan might have explained, “the medium is the message.” Verizon owns a big piece of how millions of teens and Millennials receive their media. Increasingly, these consumers don't watch TV or even use a PC.

Answering her own question, Greenberg says Go90 is just a way for Verizon to make its “real moneymakers” a little more compelling to the nation's young, who are fast redefining how media is delivered and consumed.

You might say it's like a dentist giving away candy. 

Verizon Communications is preparing the launch of Go90, a mobile app to stream video content. The service will reportedly be free and supported by advertis...

Cities, states look longingly at the digital world, hoping to tax it

There just aren't enough taxes on virtual services to keep the beast fed

You're sitting there watching "Orange is the New Black" on your iPad or maybe your LCD screen that's connected to your Roku box. You're happy. Netflix is happy. OTNB is happy. Your Internet provider is happy. Roku is happy. Everybody's happy, right?

Not quite. Down at City Hall, they're not happy at all. Your state's fine Governor isn't happy either and not because he's going to prison (maybe he is, but that's another story).

No, the problem is that the government isn't getting its cut. If you had rented the DVD of the series or bought it outright, the long arm of the state would have gotten its cut -- 6% or so in most places.

The same is true of the Google Cloud and all those other cloud storage services. You don't pay the government to use them. If, on the other hand, you trudged over to Best Buy and bought a 4-TB hard drive for $179, the state would have snatched its $10 before you even knew it was gone.

This is no joke. The government wants your money. It will tell you it needs it for the fire department, the schools, the roads and so forth. That's true, of course, but that doesn't make it any more pleasant.

High stakes

At stake is the $271 billion states collected in sales taxes last year. Not much of that came from virtual products and governments see that as a growing problem, because as more services move into the cloud, sales tax collections shrink, the Wall Street Journal notes in an article today.

Chicago used to call itself the "City that Works" and what it's working on now is a local sales tax on digital goods. The state of Tennessee -- the Volunteer State -- has a whopping, involuntary 7% sales tax and has just extended it to digital items.

The rationale cited by states, besides simply saying they need the money, is that goods that are legally taxable are escaping taxation because of changing technology.

Take those DVDs, for example. States argue that DVDs are taxable so Netflix should be too. Critics say that, yes, a DVD is a tangible product but it is only a way of delivering a TV series, which is basically intangible. Tennessee didn't tax "Gilligan's Island" when it was broadcast back in the 1960s, did it?

There's a saying that all politics is local and the same is true of sales tax. What flies in one spot may crash and burn in another so taxation of digital services is likely to remain a patchwork, but with lots of new 6% and 7% patches sewed on here and there.

You're sitting there watching "Orange is the New Black" on your iPad or maybe your LCD screen that's connected to your Roku box. You're happy. Netflix is h...

AT&T launches DirecTV bundle

Company promotes wireless and satellite TV services on one bill

Bundles aren't exactly a new thing. Cable TV providers often bundle TV, Internet, and telephone services.

But AT&T;claims to have broken new ground by bundling DirecTV and wireless services starting August 10. It can make that offer by virtue of its purchase of DirecTV, a merger that got regulatory approval only last week.

Consumers who sign up will be able to watch cable TV on their smartphones and tablets, not just at home.

AT&T; says the savings will be substantial. Customers will get HD and DVR service for up to four TV receivers, unlimited talk and text for four wireless lines, and 10GB of shareable wireless data for $200 per month. By AT&T;'s calculations, that's an annual savings of $600 or more in the first 12 months, but as a practical matter, it works out to a $10 a month discount for getting all the services on a single bill.

“We’re going to deliver more TV and entertainment choices to more screens – when and where our customers want it,” said AT&T; VP Brad Bentley. “And we’ll offer incredible value with more flexibility and convenience through our integrated packages that deliver a great experience.”

Immediate wireless access

Hoping to spur new subscriptions, AT&T; is offering new customers immediate access to DirecTV on their wireless devices as soon as they walk out of the store; customers won't even have to wait for the satellite receiver to be installed. That feature will be delivered through the DirecTV app, which can be downloaded and installed during the sales and activation process.

AT&T; said it is now offering DirecTV service in more than 2,000 AT&T; retail stores nationwide, built around different bundling packages. They include:

  • DirecTV Select or U-verse U-Family, $50 per month
  • DirecTV Xtra or U-verse U-200, $70
  • DirecTV Ultimate or U-verse U-300, $75
  • DirecTV Premiere or U-verse U-450, $125

Customers will be able to include AT&T;’s wireless services, with 10GB of shareable data and unlimited talk and text for four phone lines, for $160 per month. Add that to the basic TV plan for $50, with service on up to four TVs, AT&T; says consumers will pay $200 per month for the All-in-One plan after a $10 a month combined bill discount.

Part of the promotion is designed to entice defections from rival companies. AT&T; says DirecTV and U-Verse TV customers who switch to AT&T; wireless service from another wireless provider will get a $300 credit when they buy a smartphone on AT&T; Next and trade in an eligible smartphone.

Adding Internet service

Customers can add AT&T; high-speed Internet services and get price incentives as part of the “All-Included” plans. Introductory 12-month promotional pricing includes the wi-fi gateway with no monthly fees for equipment. Different pricing is available for three speed tiers, including:

  • AT&T; high-speed Internet with speeds up to 6Mbps, $30 per month
  • AT&T; high-speed Internet with speeds up to 24Mbps, $40 per month
  • AT&T; high-speed Internet with speeds up to 45Mbps and 75Mbps, $50

With the completion of the merger and the new bundle offer, AT&T; says it is now the largest pay TV provider in the world, providing service to more than 55 million customers in the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

More importantly, industry analysts say it's another step toward the convergence of old and new media, with consumers expecting to be able to “watch TV” on their wireless devices, and providers taking steps to make that happen.

Bundles aren't exactly a new thing. Cable TV providers often bundle TV, Internet, and telephone services.But AT&T claims to have broken new ground by b...

Justice Department OKs AT&T-DirecTV lash-up

The FCC is expected to do the same, making it a done deal

AT&T's proposed $48 billion acquisition of DirecTV cleared two hurdles yesterday, as the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission gave their blessings.

The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division said it was closing its investigation into the merger and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said ,a final order approving the transaction has been circulated to the Commission.

“After an extensive investigation, we concluded that the combination of AT&T’s land-based internet and video business with DirecTV’s satellite-based video business does not pose a significant risk to competition,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer of the Antitrust Division.,

“Our investigation benefited from the Division’s close and constructive working relationship with the FCC. The commitments that the proposed FCC order includes, if adopted, will provide significant benefits to millions of subscribers.”

"Directly benefit consumers"

Wheeler said the deal contains a "number of conditions that will directly benefit consumers by bringing more competition to the broadband marketplace."

"If the conditions are approved by my colleagues, 12.5 million customer locations will have access to a competitive high-speed fiber connection. This additional build-out is about 10 times the size of AT&T’s current fiber-to-the-premise deployment, increases the entire nation’s residential fiber build by more than 40 percent, and more than triples the number of metropolitan areas AT&T has announced plans to serve," Wheeler said in a prepared statement.

Wheeler said the conditions will also comply with the FCC's Net Neutrality rules.

"AT&T will not be permitted to exclude affiliated video services and content from data caps,on its fixed broadband connections. Second, in order to bring greater transparency to interconnection practices, the company will be required to submit all completed interconnection agreements to the Commission, along with regular reports on network performance," Wheeler said.

The deal would create the country’s largest television distributor with about 26 million subscribers, surpassing Comcast, the current leader.

AT&T's proposed $48 billion acquisition of DirecTV cleared two hurdles yesterday, as the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission gave ...

More public venues to consider selfie-stick bans

Others will follow Disney's lead, expert predicts

The selfie phenomenon, which involves taking a self portrait with your smartphone camera, has spawned a product – the selfie stick.

The monopole allows a camera user to grip the device and hold it a further distance from his or her body, allowing for a more natural photograph. As annoying as some people think selfies are, these people tend to view selfie sticks with even more contempt.

Disney made news recently when it imposed a ban on selfie sticks at all its theme parks, apparently because their use posed risks to users and other guests. Eric Olson, assistant professor of event management at Iowa State University and former Disney employee, said Disney at first planned to only prohibit selfie sticks on specific thrill rides and attractions, but it has since announced a park-wide ban.

Quite a few incidents

“I was recently talking with some of my colleagues at Disney and there have been quite a few incidents where guests were pulling the selfie sticks out on attractions and rides,” Olson said. “I think a lot of families, as well as the cast and employees will be thankful for the decision. I do know attractions were being stopped if a guest pulled one out on a ride or attraction to take a photo. So it really caused an inconvenience for all guests.”

Olson said he and many consumers will be pleased with the ban. Not only that, he predicts that other theme parks and public venues will follow Disney's lead and ban the selfie stick.

But the popularity of the selfie stick suggests that there will be plenty of people who are not happy with the theme park's new policy. Olson says Disney is taking steps to communicate the change through its website, at its hotels, and at park entrances.

It's not a big deal, he says. The ban on selfie sticks is no different than the list of other items, such as coolers and lawn chairs, you can't bring into the park. Olson expects the response to be similar to a decision Disney made during his time there, to only allow smoking in designated areas.

“Initially, there was a little uproar, but I think it was just a matter of communicating the policy change and now it’s not an issue,” Olson said. “Initially, some guests will be upset, but long-term, as with any policy change, guests will accept it.”

Idea catching on

Olson thinks keeping selfie sticks out of public venues is a good idea and one that is catching on. On his recent rip to China he noticed the Shanghai Museum does not allow visitors to use selfie sticks either.

As for why everyone seems to feel the need to visually document their every move, Olson defers to his Iowa State colleague, Zlatan Krizan, an associate professor of psychology.

“The modern culture of self-promotion certainly fuels such use of selfies, with social media sites providing a sort of a competitive race to whose life is more interesting,” Krizan said.

But isn't that just a wee bit nascissistic? Krizan says it might indicate some narcissism, but that the standards for how we self-present have shifted, so that most selfie behavior is now considered normal.

“Taking a selfie, while flexing or wearing underwear, is more debatable,” he said.

Use of selfie sticks may not be as dangerous as using a chain saw, but plenty of users have mishaps. Time magazine reports a family in Massachusetts got pulled into a rip tide and nearly drowned this week while recording a video with a selfie stick.

Time, by the way, listed the selfie stick on its list of “25 Best Inventions of 2014.”

The selfie phenomenon, which involves taking a self portrait with your smartphone camera, has spawned a product – the selfie stick. The monopole allows ...

The 4th came early this year

Americans take an extra day to celebrate their independence

Some years July 4 falls on a weekday, making it hard for working families to take in a night of fireworks and make it to work the next morning. But this year, it's turned into a three-day weekend, thanks to the holiday being officially observed on Friday, July 3.  

But timing aside, the usual considerations apply this year -- fireworks safety, travel congestion, over-eating and perhaps excessive imbibing.

Here are some of the highlights of Independence Day 2015.

Thousands of fireworks injuries expected Fireworks are fun but dangerous and injuries are very common. While most are minor -- singed hair, a burned finger -- each year brings a few severe injuries or worse. Read more.  

Higher than expected gas prices Gas prices usually decline slightly in the summer. But this year, although prices are below last year, there's actually been a slight uptick, so don't trade in that hybrid just yet. Read more.

Pet safety Fireworks and cook-outs can be fun for humans and their pets but there are some special steps we need to take to keep pets safe. Read more.  

The great grill debate You probably have a grill already but if not, or if you're thinking of getting a new one, there's always the question -- which is better, gas or charcoal? Read more.

Dangerous buns Believe it or not, there's a been a recall of hamburger and hot dog buns because a terry cloth oven glove may have broken up in the dough, creating a potential choking hazard. Read more. 

Wherever and whenever you may be celebrating, happy 4th!

 

   

Some years July 4 falls on a weekday, making it hard for working families to take in a night of fireworks and make it work the next morning. But this year,...

Disney bans selfie sticks in its theme parks

All Disney parks to be selfie-stick-free by July 1

Bad news for Disney fans fond of self-portraits: this morning, a company spokesperson announced that Disney will be banning selfie sticks from its theme parks. The ban comes into effect on Tuesday at Florida's Walt Disney World theme park, on June 30 at Disneyland in California, and on July 1 at Disney parks in Paris and Hong Kong.

Disney spokeswoman Kim Prunty said “We strive to provide a great experience for the entire family, and unfortunately selfie sticks have become a growing safety concern for both our guests and cast.”

At the Disney California Adventure Park this week, cast members had to halt a roller coaster after a passenger pulled out a selfie stick in mid-ride. The roller coaster was closed for an hour.

Disney already conducts bag checks for guests entering the park. If selfie-sticks are found during these bag checks, guests will be given the options of surrendering the sticks and retrieving them later, as they leave the park; or returning to their car or hotel room to store them.

The previous policy banned the use of selfie sticks on certain rides, but officials have been debating parkwide bans for some time.

Bad news for Disney fans fond of self-portraits: this morning, a company spokesperson announced that Disney will be banning selfie sticks from its theme pa...

Why you'll see mostly sequels at movie theaters

Studios consider producing something original just too risky

When the movie "Jurassic Park" premiered 22 years ago, it was a wild fantastical tale that packed theaters. If you'll recall it was the story of a rich philanthropist who hired a team of scientists to clone dinosaurs for his private Central American amusement park.

 

It predictably led to disaster when the beasts turned on the humans but made for great science fiction entertainment. The film grossed over $900 million worldwide.

 

Even though the premise of bringing back long-extinct man-eating beasts was proven to be a horrible idea in "Jurassic Park," the scientists didn't learn their lesson because they were at it again in "Jurassic Park: The Lost World" in 1997 and then again in "Jurassic Park III" in 2001, both with similar results.

Third sequel

 

Surely by now every geneticist on the planet knows not to go playing around with dinosaur DNA, but apparently not since next week Hollywood releases "Jurassic World," the third sequel, and the mayhem starts all over again.

 

Insanity is said to be doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result. Maybe the movie's scientists are insane, but what about the people filling the seats? They kinda have to know how all of this is going to turn out.

 

Chris Hansen, independent filmmaker and chair of the film and digital media department in Baylor University’s College of Arts & Sciences, says decisions about which films to make come down to marketing. 

 

Recycling is profitable

 

“One of the biggest considerations in determining which movies get made, from the studio’s perspective, is marketing,” Hansen said. “That process is made much easier if the intellectual property already exists in the minds of the general public. People know who Batman is. People know who The Avengers are. Half or more of the marketing work is done. When the intellectual property is original, the studio’s marketing arm has to spend a lot more time and money acquainting viewers with the concept and generating interest.”

 

And that's why you're going to see even more cinematic retreads in the future. Reboots and sequels to "Ghostbusters," "Point Break" and "Independence Day" are in the works.

 

Disney is even bringing back Harrison Ford as a 70-year old Hans Solo to do yet another sequel to the original "Star Wars," in time for a Christmastime release.

Blaming the marketing

 

When an original movie doesn't do as well as expected at the box office, Hansen says the studios don't blame a bad script or clumsy directing. Rather, they see it as another example of how hard it is to pack theaters when the public is unfamiliar with the story.

 

In that world 1962's "To Kill A Mockingbird" and 1967's "The Graduate" might never have been made. But if they were made today, it's not entirely certain moviegoers would be all that interested in original material.

Economic decision

 

“They say one thing, but they often vote differently with their box office dollars,” Hansen said. “This sometimes comes down to an economic decision for audience members. They have less disposable income than they used to, so they see fewer movies in the theater. And if they’re going to have to choose between several movies to see in an actual theater, they’ll often choose the one that has more spectacle.”

 

Of course, the entertainment world is a very different place than it was in the 1960s. Today, movie theaters have huge competition from cable TV and on-demand streaming, where plenty of quality, original programming is available. Hansen says movie theaters have to play to their strengths and that means showing movies that are long on special effects, even if they're short on story.

 

“There’s a feeling that it’s more ‘worth it’ to see something like that on the big screen, and that smaller movies won’t suffer from being seen on the TV in your living room,” Hansen said.

 

Meanwhile, studio execs are far from insane. They know producing the same thing over and over again usually provides the same result. At least they hope it does.

When the movie "Jurassic Park" premiered 22 years ago, it was a wild fantastical tale that packed theaters. If you'll recall it was the story of a rich phi...

Comcast pulls plug on Time-Warner deal

Too big to sail, the massive merger sinks below sight

They said it couldn't be done. They were right. After months of unremitting pressure from consumer activists and growing scrutiny from regulators, Comcast has abandoned its merger with Time Warner.

Consumers rate Comcast Cable Service

The $45 billion deal would have created a massive monolith touching nearly every American in one way or another. More than fears of reduced price and service competition, it was the fear that program producers would be strangled by having to deal with such a powerful distributor that energized opponents.

Opponents warned the merger would set off a new round of consolidation, as cable channels and networks combined forces to strengthen their bargaining positions.

Of course, all this comes as the cable TV business itself begins to unravel. The rapid movement of video programming to the Internet threatens to leave the Comcasts of the world as mere pipes -- conduits through which Netflix, HBO and other producers and packagers reach consumers.

Some economists will tell you that it's when an industry has passed its peak that consolidation sets in. Witness newspapers, which have always been remarkably skilled in staying two paces behind everyone else.

It is only in the last few years that, having consolidated themselves into an amorphous mass, big newspaper companies have conceded the existence of television. They are now rushing to spin off their newspaper properties in a mad rush to buy up TV stations around the country, having not yet noticed that over-the-air TV is about to go the way of the stagecoach.

Comcast finally threw in the towel after the Federal Communications Commission joined the Federal Trade Commission in saying it wanted to take a much closer look at the effect the merger would have. Until this week, both companies had continued to insist the deal would fly, thinking perhaps that the millions of dollars they had spent on lawyers, lobbyists and log-rollers could not possibly have been in vain.

Spin city

Consumers rate Time Warner

“Today, we move on. Of course, we would have liked to bring our great products to new cities, but we structured this deal so that if the government didn’t agree, we could walk away,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said in a news release Friday.

Analysts were already speculating that it was Roberts who would be moving on once shareholders realized how much money and competitive advantage had been wasted on the failed attempt.

Time Warner Cable CEO Robert D. Marcus also took comfort from his P.R. staff's ability to spin just about anything in a favorable light.

“Throughout this process, we’ve been laser-focused on executing our operating plan and investing in our plant, products and people,” Marcus said.

Left at the dock is Charter Communications, which had been scheduled to play tugboat and shove off with 4 million subscribers that would have been declared excess ballast by Comcast and Time Warner.

They said it couldn't be done. They were right. After months of unremitting pressure from consumer activists and growing scrutiny from regulators, Comcast ...

Satellite, cable providers often strike out when it comes to sports

Channels come and go, often leaving sports fans alone in the bleachers

Satellite and cable TV providers could give Congress a run for its money in the public disdain department. Just about everything they do annoys consumers, putting the TV subscription and Internet service business a slot or two below airlines in the public estimation.  

Consumers rate DISH Network

DISH Network is certainly no exception. Consumers complain about everything from reliability to fees to contract terms to program selection. The signal fails when it rains (and even when it's sunny), they say. Fees are higher than expected and contracts seem to run forever.

And as for the channel line-ups, there've been several near-uprisings over the last year or so, when DISH booted channels from Fox, CNN and others in contract disputes. Some of the channels returned, some didn't.

But while we can all live without news and old movies, baseball is another matter. Fans who signed up for DISH and other providers often think they'll get to see all of their favorite team's schedule but it doesn't always work out that way.

Take Jay of Cartersville, Ga., a Braves fan. He filed this video review:

It's not just the Braves. Joel of Bangor, Pa., thought he'd get all the Pirates games but it didn't turn out that way.

"I switched from DirecTv to DISH Network as part of a package deal from my phone company. I asked and was told that there would be no problem getting Pittsburgh Pirate baseball," Joel said. "I was not able to get the games and was told they were blacked out. However, a neighbor down the road was able to get those games on DirecTv so they were not blacked out."

Joel switched back to DirecTV and now faces a $440 contract termination charge from DISH.

DISH is not alone, of course. All the TV subscription services generate similar complaints. Take Comcast, for example. 

"I have 'basic cable.' I used to get the Red Sox baseball games and the local news on basic cable," said Richard of Groveland, Mass. "Xfinity changed that so all I get with 'basic cable' is a bunch of Spanish channels, two Boston channels, and a bunch of PBS stations. I can no longer get Red Sox baseball or the New England Patriots football."

The only way to avoid situations like this is to read the contract very carefully before signing it, while ignoring whatever the salesperson is telling you. In most cases, cable and satellite companies have the option to add and drop channels as they see fit. And sometimes, upstream changes in licensing leave them no choice. 

Satellite and cable TV providers could give Congress a run for its money in the public disdain department. Just about everything they do annoys consumers,...

Fire destroys man's home; Comcast wouldn't cancel his cable

How many people commit their cable-subscription account numbers to memory, anyway?

If a fire destroys your home and everything in it, at least your Comcast cable connection will come through unscathed — whether you want it to or not.

Jimmy Ware, aged 66, lost his home and possessions in the wind-driven fire that destroyed or damaged three homes and a storage shed in the North End of St. Paul, Minnesota on April 1.

Yet it took a full week plus media attention before Comcast would let Ware cancel his cable account.

The Pioneer Press reports that when Ware's daughter, Jessica Schmidt, initially called Comcast on her father's behalf, the customer service representative asked for her father's account number, which neither Schmidt nor Ware knew because such documentation burned in the fire. Ware himself got on the line and offered the last four digits of his Social Security number, though Comcast said that was not enough.

Schmidt told the Press that “I've said to Comcast, 'Here's your choice, disconnect the service or send someone out to fix the cable, because it's not working.' The [Comcast] guy said, 'That doesn't make sense, because the house burned down.' I said, 'Exactly, shut the service off.'”

A week later, on April 7, a Comcast spokesperson released a prepared statement saying that:

We understand that this is a difficult time for Mr. Ware and apologize for the inconvenience. Comcast has safeguards in place to protect the privacy of our customers, including not allowing unauthorized users to make changes to a customer's account.

We do provide the option for customers to designate others, such as family members, to make authorized account changes and verifying an account can normally be done either over the phone or in person with a driver's license. We will continue to stay in contact with Mr. Ware to make certain the issue has been resolved to his satisfaction.

In all fairness: while reporting on Ware's difficulties with Comcast, the Press noted that Ware's former neighbors Ngae Lay and Ta Pay Pay, who also lost their home in the fire, had no difficulties when they tried canceling their Comcast account. However, they went to a Comcast office in person, rather than make the attempt over the phone.

In other news related to the April 1 fire: online fundraising pages have been set up for both families who lost their homes in it. Ngae Lay and Ta Pay Pay's fundraiser is here and Jimmy Ware's is here.

If a fire destroys your home and everything in it, at least your Comcast cable connection will come through unscathed — whether you want it to or not....

Which baseball team has the most loyal fans?

The win/loss record is important but it's not the only factor

As the cry "play ball" is heard throughout the land, some teams will be opening to packed stadiums while others will come close to playing alone.

Which team has the most loyal fans? The answer comes from the 23rd annual Brand Keys, Inc., Sports Fan Loyalty survey. 

The index was designed to help professional sports team management identify precise fan loyalty rankings in their home and national markets, by providing metrics that correlate very highly with game viewership and purchase of licensed merchandise.

Via interviews with 250 self-declared fans in each team’s local catchment area, the survey provides insights that enable league and team management to identify areas, particularly emotional ones, that need strategic brand coaching.

Without further ado, here at the winners ...

2015 Top 5 Teams2014 Ranking
1. St. Louis Cardinals#1
2. San Francisco Giants#5
3. Los Angeles Dodgers#6
4. Detroit Tigers#6 (tie)
5. Washington Nationals#8

And the teams that could use a little help ...

Cellar Dwellers 20152014 Ranking
30. Houston Astros#30
29. Arizona Diamondbacks#21
28. Colorado Rockies#26
27. New York Mets#22
26. Texas Rangers#19

Not just win/loss

“Everybody loves a winner, but it's important to note that win/loss ratios only govern about 20% of fan loyalty,” said Robert Passikoff, president, Brand Keys. “Losing may have little to recommend it, but as it turns out ultimately there are more leveragable things than the final score – three other emotionally-based things, in fact, have to be taken into account when calculating the loyalty score for a team:

Pure Entertainment
How well a team does. But even more important than a win-loss ratio, how exciting is their play? Think St. Louis Cardinals or the Pittsburgh Pirates (#13, up from #23 last year).

Authenticity
How well they play as a team –offensively or defensively. A new stadium and, often, new managers, can help lift this driver. Look at the Detroit Tigers.

Fan Bonding
Are players respected and admired? Like Buster Posy of the Giants or the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw.

History and Tradition
Is the game and the team part of community rituals, institutions, and beliefs? No matter how you feel personally, the Yankees (#7, down from #6 last year) have the highest rating when it comes to History and Tradition and, for what it’s worth, that’s what keeps the Cubs (#16) going!

"“All teams can benefit from increased fan loyalty levels, but as baseball is traditionally called America's 'National Pastime,' there should be a real emotional connection for the fans,"” added Brand Keys'’ Passikoff.” "And it's worth remembering what Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller said -- '“Every day is a new opportunity.' You can build on yesterday's success or put its failures behind and start over again. That's the way life is, with a new game every day, and that's the way baseball is."” 

 

As the cry "play ball" is heard throughout the land, some teams will be opening to packed stadiums while others will come close to playing alone....

FCC fines TV station $325,000 for sexual images

A Virginia broadcast images from an "adult" site during its 6 p.m. newscast

It's been eight years since the Federal Communications Commission fined a television station for indecency violations, but today it made up for the haitus with the highest fine ever for a single broadcast.

The commission said it intends to fine WDBJ Television,
Roanoke, Va., $325,000 -- the maximum allowed -- for broadcasting graphic and sexually explicit material during the station'’s evening newscast.  

The FCC’ said it had investigated viewer’ complaints that WDBJ aired a news report that included graphic sexual images taken from an adult film website in the report. 

The commission's Enforcement Bureau said WDBJ had aired a news story about a former adult film star who had joined a local volunteer rescue squad.  The investigation found that station staff 
obtained a sexually explicit video clip from an adult film website and broadcast them in the 6 p.m. news report on July 12, 2012. 

"“Our action here sends a clear signal that there are severe consequences for TV stations that air sexually explicit images when children are likely to be watching,”" said Travis LeBlanc, Chief of the FCC’'s Enforcement Bureau.

Long overdue

The action was long overdue, in the view of decency advocates.

“The FCC is the guardian of broadcast decency and it must enforce the law. We praise FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler for initiating this enforcement action and for the message it will send to broadcasters everywhere,” stated Dawn Hawkins, Executive Director of National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCSE). 

It is a violation of federal law to air indecent programming from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., when there is reasonable risk that children may be in the audience. The FCC has defined broadcast indecency as “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.”  

While this was the first action against a TV station in eight years, the commission has fined two radio stations for broadcasting vulgar language in recent years.

Hawkins said both broadcasters and the commission have "ignored the law for years." 

“Indecency on TV sexualizes our children and prepares them to become participants in the pornified world that awaits them," she said.

It's been eight years since the Federal Communications Commission fined a television station for indecency violations, but today it made up for the haitus ...

Circus elephants will soon be but a memory

Ringling Brothers recognizes changing public tastes, issues retirement papers to its elephants

Elephants may harbor some bad memories from their 145 years as circus animals but their days in the ring will soon be over. Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, saying it has detected "somewhat of a mood shift," says it will phase out its elephants by 2018.

“A lot of people aren’t comfortable with us touring with our elephants,” said circus CEO Kenneth Feld.

That's putting it mildly. Animal rights activists have hurled epithets, lawsuits and anything else they could find at the circus for years. The circus was doing pretty well in court, winning a series of cases, often on appeal.

But it wasn't doing too well in the court of public opinion. Cities and counties across the country passed "anti-circus" ordinances that prohibited the use of elephants and other intelligent animals in public performances and protests became commonplace.

The 13 elephants that are now part of the Ringling Bros. shows will be sent to the circus' Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida by 2018, joining over 40 others. 

A startling decision

The decision came as a pleasant surprise to animal rights activists. Wayne Pacelle, CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, called it "startling and tremendously exciting."

“With consumers now so alert to animal welfare issues, no business involved in any overt form of animal exploitation can survive in the long run. Whether it is locking pigs in metal cages on factory farms or chaining elephants for long-distance travel in performing circuses, businesses must adapt to public concerns in order to succeed in today’s humane economy," Pacelle said.

Feld seems to agree.

“Things have changed,” he said. ”How does a business be successful? By adapting.”

Elephants may harbor some bad memories from their 145 years as circus animals but their days in the ring will soon be over. Ringling Brothers and Barnum & ...

Nothing goofy about the new prices at Disneyland

Disney parks hit the $100 a day mark but there are ways to save

Mickey is acting Goofy since he got his raise. Disney theme parks have hit the $100 mark to be able to stay and play with all your Disney friends.

A one-day ticket to the Walt Disney World Resort's flagship theme park, the Magic Kingdom, now costs $105, up from $99. They just had a $4 increase last year. The price of admission applies to anyone 10 years and older entering the Orlando-area theme park. Younger children, aged 3 to 9, pay $99.

Prices also increased for the other Disney World theme parks -- EPCOT, the Animal Kingdom Park and Hollywood Studios -- to $97 for visitors aged 10 and older, compared to $94 last year.

An adult one-day ticket to Disneyland or Disney California Adventure will rise from $96 to $99. A one-day park hopper add-on will increase from $54 to $56.

Tickets for children ages 3 to 9 will climb from $90 to $93. A price for a Premium annual pass with parking and no blackout dates will go up 11 percent, from $699 to $779.

Cutting corners

It's not easy for a family to afford a vacation like this. There are some ways to cut corners though when visiting.

The best route is to avoid single park tickets altogether and buy a "Park Hopper" instead. A "Park Hopper" allows you to hop from one Disney park to another in a single day, and it's only an additional $50 per person

Decide where you are going to stay -- at one of the Disney hotels or off-site.

Disney hotels are crazy expensive and just because you can get a wakeup call from Mickey or Snow White you need to think if that is really worth it. On the other hand having to pay for parking at $15 a shot and lug a stroller around can also be enough to wear you out before you get there.

Food at a theme park is overpriced. Pack a lunch and agree with your kids that they can buy one treat. You can easily save $100 a day by bringing your own food and drinks. You can get lockers if you don’t want to carry around your items -- or swing a backpack over your shoulder and save the extra walking to go back to the locker.

Everyone wants a souvenir but if your kids are young enough that you can get by with it, buy them ahead at Walmart -- they are so much cheaper and what a surprise you can give them when you get back to the room and Donald Duck is in your suitcase.

Buy things on sale at the Disney Store ahead of time and have them sent directly to your hotel. Imagine the surprise when it comes right to your door. Yes this requires planning but you will save money and make your kids happy and what is the goal

There are several free apps that you can download to keep track of the wait times for rides. If you stay at a Disney Hotel you can get into the park an hour early. That hour goes crazy fast (and note there are big lines at the hotel too so don’t leave your room at the last second or you might miss part of your hour.)

Would you like to have this site at your fingertips while you’re at Disneyland? Accessing MouseSavers.com on a smartphone (iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, etc.) makes it convenient to look up tips and tricks, check on dining discounts, see what events are happening during your stay, and lots more.

 

Although this costs nothing remember to have fun.

 

Mickey is acting Goofy since he got his raise. Disney theme parks have hit the $100 mark to be able to stay and play with all your Disney friends....

A Monopoly game with real money? Oui, but only in France

Hasbro is celebrating the game's 80th anniversary with real euros

You may not win Park Place but you could be lucky and win about $23,000. If you live in France.

It's Monopoly's 80th anniversary and to commemorate, Hasbro is issuing a handful of special sets in France with real euros in place of the usual colorful paper money.

There will be 80 special sets; 69 will be complete with five 10-euro notes and five 20-euro notes, another 10 will come with five 20-euro, two 50-euro and one 100-euro bills, and one set will be all cash. That comes out to  20,580 euros -- or about $23,650 in American money.

I know the big question is whether we will see the same limited edition here in the States. Mum is the word on that and Hasbro hasn't pulled a Chance card yet for the U.S.

The 80th anniversary edition is out in the U.S. It has  a vintage-styled board, cards and money, wooden houses and hotels along with classic tokens from across the decades such as the lantern and money bag. No real money though.

Monopoly editions come in a variety of versions from a make-your-own game board, which allows you to customize all the game equipment and rules to your liking, to San Francisco jeweler Sidney Mobell who has the most expensive Monopoly set, a $2 million game with a golden board and diamond-studded dice.

Monopoly can be traced back to the early 20th century. The earliest known version of Monopoly, known as The Landlord's Game, was designed by an American, Elizabeth Magie, and first patented in 1904 but existed as early as 1902.

Some stats on Monopoly from Hasbro:

  • More than 275 million sets have been sold worldwide.
  • Monopoly is available in 111 countries in 43 languages.
  • The longest game on record lasted for 70 days. That was on terra firma; Monopoly has also been played underwater and in a treehouse.
  • There are 32 houses and 12 hotels in a standard Monopoly set.
  • A Monopoly board has 40 spaces, including 28 properties. Yes, that includes the railroads.
  • The lowest rent in Monopoly? Mediterranean Avenue with no houses.  It'll cost you $2 to land on it. The most expensive? Boardwalk with a hotel, worth a cool $2,000. Wouldn't it be nice to be a hotel at that bargain price.
  • In 2008, more than 3,000 people played the game at the same time, a record.

 

You may not win Park Place but you could be lucky and win about $23,000. If you live in France....

Comcast apologizes for changing customers' name to “A**hole”

Offers refund to customer, and fires the a-hole presumed responsible

A Comcast spokesperson publicly apologized to Spokane, Washington resident Ricardo Brown, after he and his wife Lisa received official Comcast bills addressed to “A**hole Brown.” (For the benefit of people reading this at work, we're using the well-known anti-obscenity trick of replacing key letters with asterisks. So, for the duration of this article, anytime you see an asterisk, please replace it with the letter “S.”)

Comcast has given the couple a refund of their past two years' cable bills, and fired the employee presumed responsible for the name change.

Consumers rate Comcast Cable Service

Consumer and travel blogger Christopher Elliott first reported the story yesterday (and Comcast representatives quickly confirmed it): Ricardo and Lisa Brown have been having financial difficulties, so Lisa called Comcast and asked them to cancel the cable portion of their account. Instead, the Comcast representative transferred her to a “retention specialist,” whose job is to “retain” customers who are already inclined to leave. Somehow, this resulted in the name on a certain Comcast account changing from “Ricardo Brown” to “A**hole Brown.”

Even worse, Lisa Brown could not convince anyone at Comcast to change the name back until after she contacted Christopher Elliott.

As Elliott said:

Brown has tried to fix the name herself. She’s visited her local Comcast office and phoned higher-ups in the Washington [state] region. But she wasn’t getting anywhere and needed help.

My first thought was that someone was trying to pull a practical joke on a consumer advocate. So I asked for a copy of the billing statement and the correspondence between her and Comcast.

And no kidding, it looked like someone had changed the name. How impolite!

Next, I contacted Comcast to find out what its records said. It’s fairly easy for any customer to doctor a photo of a bill to shame a large company, so I wanted to make sure Comcast was seeing the same thing.

It was.

However, within a few minutes of Elliott's discovery, he got a call from Comcast VP Steve Kipp, who said that “We have zero tolerance for this type of disrespectful behavior and are conducting a thorough investigation to determine what happened. We are working with our customer to make this right and will take appropriate steps to prevent this from happening again.”

Of course. At noon today another Comcast VP, Charlie Herrin, updated Comcast's corporate blog to talk about “Respecting Our Customers,” and said that

… Each and every customer deserves to be treated with respect, and in a recent situation with a customer in Spokane that clearly didn’t happen.   

We have apologized to our customer for this unacceptable situation and addressed it directly with the employee who will no longer be working on behalf of Comcast.  We're also looking at a number of technical solutions that would prevent it from happening moving forward. …

In addition to whatever high-tech technical solutions Comcast intends to explore, the company might also consider the low-tech option “If a customer calls to complain about the name on her bill, do something about it rather than stonewall until she's frustrated enough to take her complaints to the media.”

A Comcast spokesperson publicly apologized to Spokane, Washington resident Ricardo Brown, after he and his wife Lisa received official Comcast bills addres...

Court finds Dish Network violated telemarketing rules "tens of millions" of times

More charges going to trial later this year; penalties not yet levied

Dish Network has been taking lots of heat lately for its licensing battles with CNN and Fox News but what has left consumers steaming for years are annoying and seemingly endless calls from telemarketers.

The CNN and Fox tussles have been settled but the phone calls may be a bigger problem. A federal court in Illinois has found Dish liable for tens of millions of calls that violated the Federal Trade Commission’s telemarketing rules.

Cindy of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was one of the millions of consumers annoyed by Dish's calls.

"I received numerous phone calls from Dish Network from telemarketers from a 208 area code. The reps were rude and threatening and ran up excessive charges on my cell phone despite blocks that were added," she said in a complaint to ConsumerAffairs. "I incurred a $139 vs. $49 phone 1 month and $89 vs. $49 the 2nd month before they called."

"Today I was at my parents and the phone rang, I answered it and it was a telemarketer trying to sell Dish Network," Patrick of Beaverton, Mich., said in a similar complaint. "I explained I was not interested and hung up. The phone rang every time I had it hung up for over an hour."

The FTC’s complaint alleged that Dish and its agents made telephone calls to phone numbers on the National Do Not Call (DNC) Registry. Other charges are still pending and will be resolved at trial later this year.

Millions and millions

In the current ruling, the court found Dish liable for 4,094,099 calls it or its vendors made to numbers on the Registry and for 2,730,842 calls its retailers made to numbers on the Registry.

The complaint also alleges that Dish made calls to people who had previously said that they did not wish to receive such calls. On this count, the court ruled that Dish is liable for 1,043,595 calls to consumers whose telephone numbers were on Dish’s internal do-not-call list or were marked “DNC” by Dish’s telemarketing vendor.

In addition, the complaint alleges that Dish and its agents abandoned calls, in violation of the “abandoned-call” provision of the FTC's telemarketing rules. On this count the court ruled that Dish is liable for 49,738,073 abandoned calls that Dish and three of its retailers made. The court found that Dish is liable for both its own calls, and for causing these retailers’ abandoned calls.

Dish Network has been taking lots of heat lately for its licensing battles with CNN and Fox News but what has left consumers steaming for years are annoyin...

Fox returns to Dish after three-week hiatus. Was it fair? You decide.

The fight may have looked political but relax, it was just about money

Dish Network may have saved a few dollars in its contract tussle with Fox but it has rebranded itself as Satan in the minds of many loyal Fox fans.

"I called and told them that if they lost Fox News I would leave...They did and I did!!!" said an angry Fox follower named Wayne in one of many angry reviews and emails submitted over the last few weeks. 

"Dish has violated my contract," said a viewer who signed herself Mary Mary. "When I joined Dish you offered Fox News. Since you no longer supply what I signed up for i no longer have to pay you. I will not pay until Fox News is back."

Not to be contrary, but Mary Mary should check her contract, as should anyone else who tried to dump out of their Dish agreement. There are numerous clauses that hold Dish harmless if any of its suppliers (i.e., program producers) can't or won't deliver the goods. 

What Wayne and many others missed was that the dispute was not political -- after all, Dish had a similar falling out with CNN just a few weeks earlier -- but just another in a seemingly endless series of disputes over licensing fees.

After all, while Fox, MSNBC, CNN, et al, may seem like political organizations to their viewers, the truth is that they and their distributors, like Dish, are in it for the bucks and both parties are trying to maximize their return. It's like the coffee bean farmers who sell their produce to Starbucks, although the networks are in a stronger position than your average coffee bean farmer.

News is a lot like coffee, actually. You have to keep brewing up a fresh batch or it gets stale and bitter. 

Consumers rate DISH Network

So despite the turmoil among a healthy number of its 14 million subscribers, Dish Network is now back on track, Fox is back on the satellite and all is right with the world for at least the next three years, which is how long the companies' new contract extends.

Besides Fox News, the new deal covers Fox Business as well.

“We thank the viewers of Fox News and Fox Business and Dish customers for their patience throughout this process,” the companies said in a joint statement.

Gee, thanks guys. Feel free to hold us hostage anytime. 

Dish Network may have saved a few dollars in its contract tussle with Fox but it has rebranded itself as Satan in the minds of many loyal Fox fans....

Have movie theaters gotten too expensive?

Survey finds more than half of consumers find movie tickets too expensive

Eight bucks may not sound like a lot of money but multiply it times two or three and add another $4 or so per person and you have a fairly expensive night (or afternoon) on the town. 

And that, in a nutshell, may be responsible for the 5% slump in domestic box-office revenue at U.S. movie theaters last year. You can blame other factors -- like fear of terrorism and streaming video -- but a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey fiinds that about 25% of American consumers say they saw fewer movies in a theater in 2014 than they did in 2013, primarily due to rising costs.

In third-quarter 2014, the average ticket price was $8.08, up from $7.84 a year earlier, and theater chain AMC Entertainment reported concession revenue rose 10 percent to a record $4.29 a patron, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

"Despite advanced technology, better seating, improved concessions and the return of 3D movies, the negative of higher ticket prices is difficult to counteract," the PWC study found.

Respondents to the survey were supplied with 18 potential reasons for avoiding films in theaters and asked to choose their most relevant three. More than half -- 53% -- named high ticket prices.

 

Eight bucks may not sound like a lot of money but multiply it times two or three and add another $4 or so per person and you have a fairly expensive night ...

Netflix will start recommending the smartest smart TVs

Better performance means more time watching Netflix

If you have a "smart TV" -- one with built-in Internet video streaming -- you may have come to the conclusion that it's not as "smart" as it might be. Netflix wants to change that and today announced its "Netflix Recommended TV" program, an independent smart TV evaluation program to help consumers identify televisions built for a superior Internet TV experience.

"We've created the Netflix Recommended TV program to help consumers identify smart TVs that offer better performance, easier menu navigation and new features that improve the experience for Internet TV services,'' said Neil Hunt, chief product officer at Netflix. "When you see a TV with the Netflix Recommended TV logo, it means that TV will provide an excellent Netflix experience, based on criteria our members tell us matter most.''

What's the big deal? Basically, some TVs don't provide the speed and convenience that consumers have come to expect from their Roku or Amazon Fire boxes and Google Chrome TV sticks.

Many smart sets are slow to start up and some have menus that seem designed to confuse and baffle the user. Some also have a ponderous upgrade process that renders them essentially unconscious for long periods of time.  

This is potentially bad news for Netflix, since frustrated viewers could flip over to cable, DVD or over-the-air programs instead.  

"Great Netflix experience"

So Netflix says that over the last seven years, its engineers have worked with makers of Internet-ready televisions, game consoles, set-top boxes and mobile devices to test their products and "ensure consumers get a great Netflix experience right out of the box," the company said in a news release.

With the Netflix Recommended TV logo, TV manufacturers will be able to highlight products that offer both the best Netflix experience and superior smart TV performance, Netflix said.

This spring, Sony Electronics, LG Electronics, Sharp Electronics, VIZIO and manufacturers of Roku TVs™ are expected to be among the first smart TV set-makers to deliver models designated by Netflix to receive a 'Netflix Recommended TV' logo.

Among other performance criteria also expected to be announced this spring, the program recognizes consumer benefits including turning the TV on instantly, faster app launch and faster resume of video playback. Though initially a US-based program, global television manufacturers will incorporate many of these features in sets sold worldwide.

''As more and more of Sony BRAVIA TV customers choose streaming to watch movies and TV shows, the Netflix Recommended TV program will point them to some of the innovative features we're introducing to make Internet TV just as easy and intuitive as linear TV,'' said Masashi Imamura, president of Sony Visual Products Inc.

Televisions certified under the program will be available at many different price points and screen sizes.

If you have a "smart TV" -- one with built-in Internet video streaming -- you may have come to the conclusion that it's not as "smart" as it might be. Netf...

DirecTV launches streaming Spanish-language service

Yaveo brings U.S., Latin American and Spanish programming to the Internet

While Dish Network is locked in its latest licensing fight -- this time with Fox -- competitor DirecTV is launching Yaveo, a new streaming video service for Hispanic consumers.

It's an Internet-only subscription video service that promises access to thousands of hours of movies, TV shows and sports, all for $7.99 a month. No DirecTV subscription is needed and there is no contract; the service is month-to-month, with the first month free. It's available only in the U.S.

“Yaveo gets DIRECTV into the OTT (over-the-top) business and we’re excited to start with a compelling Spanish-language service targeted to the Hispanic community,” said Paul Guyardo, chief revenue and marketing officer. “We’ll learn a great deal, use the findings to grow and improve the Yaveo platform and expand our OTT offering over time.”

The Yaveo linep includes Univision telenovela “La Malquerida;” “All the Pretty Horses” with Matt Damon and Penélope Cruz; Roberto Rodriguez’s 1995 “Desperado,” starring Antonio Banderas; and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” starring Kevin James.

Program sources include:

beIN Sports en Español
Nick en Español
Canal 22
Pasiones
Canal Once
RCN
Caracol
TMN (The Movie Network)
Cine Sony Television
Tr3s
El Garage
Univision suite of networks
¡Hola!TV
Video Rola
MTV

 

While Dish Network is locked in its latest licensing fight -- this time with Fox -- competitor DirecTV is launching Yaveo, a new streaming video service fo...

Dish dishes up Netflix

It's the first pay-TV service to add the popular streaming channel

Dish has been in the news lately for dropping, then reinstating, CNN and CBS stations in licensing disputes. Now it's adding something -- Netflix, the most popular and widely-watched streaming network.

Netflix will be available on Dish's second-generation Hopper box, rolling out today. That gives customers the ability to instantly stream Netflix movies and TV shows, including "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black," from the same platform used to access their linear television channels.

"This app integration eliminates the need to switch television inputs to access content on varying devices. It gives our customers easy access to their favorite shows and movies, on both DISH and Netflix, without ever having to leave their Hopper," said Vivek Khemka, Dish senior vice president of product management.

Hopper customers will find the same Netflix user interface found on most other platforms. The app is easily accessible from any channel by clicking the blue button on the Dish remote and selecting the Netflix icon, or from the Netflix icon on the Hopper main menu. 

The Netflix app is currently available on all broadband-connected second-generation Hopper set-top boxes. In the coming months, DISH expects the app to rollout to Joey, Super Joey and Wireless Joey clients.

Additionally, in the future, titles available on Netflix could be integrated into the search functionality across live, recorded and Video On Demand programs for both the Hopper as well as DISH's forthcoming OTT service.

 

Dish has been in the news lately for dropping, then reinstating, CNN and CBS stations in licensing disputes. Now it's adding something -- Netflix, the most...

Sony agrees to partial refunds for Play Station Vita buyers

Feds said Sony exaggerated the "game changing" features of the device

Sony has agreed to cough up partial refunds for consumers who bought the PlayStation Vita handheld gaming console during its U.S. launch campaign in late 2011 and early 2012, after the Federal Trade Commission charged that it deceived consumers with false advertising claims about the “game changing” technological features of the handheld gaming console.

Sony will provide consumers who bought a PS Vita gaming console before June 1, 2012, either a $25 cash or credit refund, or a $50 merchandise voucher for select video games and services. Sony will provide notice via email to consumers who are eligible for redress after the settlement is finalized by the Commission.

“As we enter the year’s biggest shopping period, companies need to be reminded that if they make product promises to consumers -- as Sony did with the “game changing” features of its PS Vita -- they must deliver on those pledges,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The FTC will not hesitate to act on behalf of consumers when companies or advertisers make false product claims.”

As part of its launch campaign for the PS Vita, Sony claimed that the pocket-sized console would revolutionize gaming mobility by enabling consumers to play their PlayStation 3 games via “remote play,” and that they could engage in “cross platform” play by starting a game on a PS3 and then continuing it on the go, right where they left off, on a PS Vita. The FTC alleges that each of these claims was misleading.

Misleading claims

In a related action, the Commission charged that Deutsch LA, Sony’s advertising agency for the PS Vita launch, knew or should have known that the advertisements it produced contained misleading claims about the console’s cross platform and 3G capabilities.

The FTC also alleges that Deutsch LA further misled consumers by urging its employees to create awareness and excitement about the PS Vita on Twitter, without instructing employees to disclose their connection to the advertising agency or its then-client Sony. Under a separate settlement order, Deutsch LA is barred from such conduct in the future.

The PS Vita is a handheld gaming console that Sony first sold in the United States in February 2012 for about $250. Unlike the PS3, which allows consumers to play video games on a television, the PS Vita is a portable device that enables gamers to play “on the go,” untethered to a television screen.

The FTC said Sony made false claims about the PS Vita’s “cross platform gaming” or “cross-save” feature. Sony claimed, for example, that PS Vita users could pause any PS3 game at any time and continue to play the game on their PS Vita from where they left off. This feature, however, was only available for a few PS3 games, and the pause-and-save capability described in the ads varied significantly from game to game.

The FTC’s complaint also alleges that Sony’s PS Vita ads falsely implied that consumers who owned the 3G version of the device (which cost an extra $50 plus monthly fees) could engage in live, multi-player gaming through a 3G network. In fact, consumers could not engage in live, multiplayer gaming.

Sony has agreed to cough up partial refunds for consumers who bought the PlayStation Vita handheld gaming console during its U.S. launch campaign in late 2...

Snake-snack stunt draws hisses from animal lovers

Filmmaker plans to feed himself to an anaconda, hopes to be regurgitated

Would you lather yourself up in pig's blood, hoping to persuade an anaconda to swallow you and regurgitate you? I can think of things I would rather do but there is always that one person who wants to be the first.

Of course it's happening on TV. The Discovery Channel's "Eaten Alive" show, which claims it will show a man being eaten alive by an anaconda, will not only torment the snake. It is also getting under PETA's skin.

"Anacondas go days without eating and expend the energy needed to do so selectively. Making this snake use up energy by swallowing this fool and then possibly regurgitating him would have left the poor animal exhausted and deprived of the energy that he or she needs," the animal rights group said in a statement.

Paul Rosolie who is an author, environmentalist and -- you guessed it -- wildlife filmmaker is the planned snake snack. Rosolie will be wearing a tether that can pull him back out should he go too deep, along with a custom-built snake suit. (Custom built because this is just not the type of outfit one can pick up at Target.)

He will lather himself up with pig's blood so he becomes enticing for this huge powerful snake. An adult anaconda can weigh up to 550 pounds and grow to be 29 feet long.

And although Rosolie sent a message on Twitter on Nov. 4 saying he would "never hurt a living thing," he's not very popular with animal lovers right at the moment.

Around 20,000 people have already signed a petition on Change.org saying they will boycott the show and calling on Discovery to cancel its scheduled Dec. 7 airing.

Would you lather yourself up in pig's blood and then let an anaconda swallow you and regurgitate you? I can think of things I would rather do but there is ...

CBS News launches streaming video news channel

The move brings live network-quality news to the Web for the first time

There's no shortage of news on the Internet but, at least recently, there's been no live streaming news feed, no Internet equivalent of CNN or Fox News. CBS News is out to change that, with CBSN, a new streaming channel premiering today.

ABC News launched an anchored Internet newscast in 2003, initially to cover the Iraq war. It ran until about 2012, when it was merged into Fusion, a joint venture with Univision. ABC's current Web offering, ABC News Go, offers a menu of news items viewers can choose from, as well as occasional live feeds of breaking stories.

NBC News has an Internet page that, like ABC, offers a menu of individual stories but no linear Internet newscast. That makes the CBS feed the only current offering from a major network to be "anchored" fulltime.  

Consumers rate Comcast Cable Service
If it seems a little odd that an 87-year-old broadcast network is the only one producing a live Internet newscast, it's perhaps because other networks and cable news channels like CNN are not eager to incur the wrath of their cable partners. CNN is part of Time Warner, which is being purchased by Comcast, pending regulatory approval. NBC News is part of NBCUniversal, also part of Comcast.

It also means that news-addicted consumers will no longer be pawns in licensing battles between program providers and cable channels. Just last month, CNN viewers were irate to learn that Dish Network had dumped CNN and other Turner channels as the companies tried to negotiate a new contract. By contrast, CBSN will be available to anyone with broadband access to the Internet. 

The move gives CBS the opportunity to establish itself as the go-to source of live video news on the Internet and to showcase its premier production and journalistic resources, which are currently confined to a 30-minute nightly newscast, a morning show and to weekly features like "60 Minutes" and "CBS Sunday Morning." 

A new window

Consumers rate DISH Network
“CBSN gives audiences a new window on our original reporting – we’ll make it possible to see CBS News anytime, anywhere,” said David Rhodes, President, CBS News. “We are making an important investment in quality news coverage on any device.”

As luck would have it, CBSN was running a feature about an "adorable sea otter" when we checked in this morning but, in fairness, it was nearing the top of the hour when, presumably, more important stories would be covered. 

CBSN will allow Internet-connected consumers to watch live, anchored news coverage on their connected TV and other devices, incuding desktop and laptop computers, tablets and smartphones. At launch, the network is available 24/7 with live, anchored coverage 15 hours each weekday.

“CBSN is an important example of how CBS is able to leverage the unique strengths, talent and competitive advantages of its businesses to create exciting, highly competitive new services that meet evolving audience preferences for content consumption,” said Leslie Moonves, President and CEO, CBS Corporation. “There’s a tremendous opportunity on these platforms for a true round-the-clock newscast. We’re confident this service will appeal to both traditional news consumers and a whole new set of viewers.”

The network features a 60-minute format delivering live, updated news content from 9:00 AM - midnight ET every weekday at launch, and it takes advantage of the interactivity of digital platforms through a unique video player and on-screen interface. It gives viewers the full flexibility within each hour to control what they watch and when they watch it via DVR-like functionality that allows them to watch previous segments and jump back into live programming seamlessly and across devices, the company said.

CBSN is advertising-supported and free of charge to consumers.  

There's no shortage of news on the Internet but until now, there's been no live streaming news feed, no Internet equivalent of CNN or Fox News. CBS News is...

Walking Dead's longevity on DirecTV in doubt

AMC and the satellite channel are trying to negotiate a new contract

A few days ago, the news was Dish Network dumping CNN. Now it's DirecTV possibly putting a stake through the heart of "The Walking Dead," "Mad Men" and other popular AMC shows.

AMC says its contract with DirecTV has expired and it says the satellite channel “has not engaged in meaningful negotiations with us, which leaves us to doubt whether a timely renewal is possible." 

But DirecTV says not to worry, promising that the risen dead series will live on for the rest of the season, saying that it intends to "renew our AMC partnership at a price that’s fair to our customers."

Translation: Both parties are playing hardball seeking the best deal they can get while preparing to shift the blame to the other party if negotiations fail.

"Great respect"

It's still fairly early in the process so both sides are trying to stay positive. AMC says it has "great respect" for DirecTV, which in turn is assuring its subscribers that it has their best interests in mind.

"You come first," says DirecTVPromise.com, a website where the network puts its spin on contract talks. "DirecTV is committed to bringing you the best TV experience at the most reasonable value."

For its part, AMC has been inserting adroit advisories in its popular shows and using its website to urge fans to contact DirecTV.

"You are at risk of losing AMC and your favorite series, including 'The Walking Dead,' 'Mad Men,' 'Better Call Saul' and much more," the AMC site claims.

But zombie enthusiasts should be able to rest in peace for the next few months. The current contract runs through the end of the calendar year and "Dead" is scheduled to take a mid-season break in Novembrr, resuming in February.

Industry watchers say that DirecTV is trying to avoid unnecessary controversy while the Federal Communications Commission and other regulators consider whether to give the go-ahead to its purchase by AT&T.

A few days ago, the news was Dish Network dumping CNN. Now it's DirecTV possibly putting a stake through the heart of "The Walking Dead" and other AMC show...

Customer says Comcast overcharged him and got him fired; sues in federal court

Comcast admits to bad service and billing errors, but denies role in man's firing

Of all the bad-customer-service stories Comcast customers might have, none is likely to top that of former customer Conal O'Rourke, also a former employee of the accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers (which, incidentally, does a lot of business with Comcast).

Last Thursday, O'Rourke filed suit against Comcast, alleging among other things that the cable giant violated federal privacy law when, presumably in retaliation for O'Rourke's complaints of bad customer service, someone at Comcast contacted O'Rourke's employer and had him fired.

The Consumerist first broke the story of O'Rourke's firing on Oct. 6, after he'd contacted them with his initial complaint: in early 2013, he said, he signed up with Comcast to take advantage of a nine-month promotional offer.

Problems from the start

But he had problems from the start: Comcast charged him for set-up boxes not yet activated, and misspelled his name on mailings so that some of his bills went undelivered. When the promotional period ended Comcast upped his monthly bill by $20, continued charging him for the still-unactivated set-up boxes, and also charged him for modems he never received.

Consumers rate Comcast Cable Service

When O'Rourke tried canceling his Comcast service in Oct. 2013, a Comcast rep talked him out of it by assuring him that his billing issues would be resolved shortly, and offered him free DVR service and a free three-month subscription to The Movie Channel as compensation for his troubles.

He accepted. Then things got worse. Comcast sent him a dozen pieces of equipment – DVRs, modems and things he didn't recognize – and billed him $1,800 for it all. O'Rourke disputed these charges, frequently contacting the company and sending them detailed spreadsheets he'd made showing all the errors in his bills.

It didn't help. Last February, Comcast sent O'Rourke's bill to collections even though it was not yet past due. So on Feb. 6, thoroughly fed up with Comcast's regular customer service, he went over their heads and contacted the office of the company Controller. And here's what happened next, according to the Consumerist:

He spoke to someone in that office who promised Conal would receive a call back to address the issues.

He describes that callback as “bizarre,” with the rep not identifying which company she was calling from, just starting out with “How can I help you?” Then she kept insisting that a technician had shown up for an appointment, but wouldn’t specify which appointment. The rep then began asking him for the color of his house.

So he tried the Controller’s office again, to let them know that the rep they’d sent his way had failed miserably at her job.

During this call, he says that he mentioned that Comcast’s billing and accounting issues should probably be investigated by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), a private-sector oversight operation. This ultimately led to two service calls where no one ever showed up and no explanations were given.

As a professional accountant who at the time worked for PriceWaterhouseCoopers, of course O'Rourke knew about the PCAOB, whereas your average non-accountant Comcast customer probably would not.

Ethics investigation

Some time after that call, somebody at Comcast contacted PriceWaterhouseCoopers to complain about O'Rourke, who was soon fired after an “ethics” investigation even though he'd previously received excellent reviews at his job.

In a prepared statement, PwC said: "Mr. O’Rourke was employed in one of our internal firm services offices. The firm terminated his employment after an internal investigation concluded that Mr. O’Rourke violated PwC’s ethical standards and practices, applicable to all of our people. The firm has explicit policies regarding employee conduct, we train our people in those policies, and we enforce them. Mr. O’Rourke’s violation of these policies was the sole reason for his termination." 

Comcast and O'Rourke tell slightly different versions of what happened when O'Rourke called the Controller's office; Comcast says he name-dropped his employer, whereas O'Rourke maintains he never said who he worked for, but figured that after the call, someone at Comcast looked him up online and figured out who he worked for.

Comcast has not yet released the recordings of the disputed phone call.

That was the story as of Oct. 6. Two days later, Comcast executive Charlie Herrin, whose full title is given as “Senior Vice President, Customer Experience, Comcast Cable in Customer Experience” on the Comcast corporate blog, posted “A Public Apology To Conal O'Rourke,” in which he apologized for the poor customer service and billing errors O'Rourke suffered, but denied any role in O'Rourke's loss of employment:

What happened with Mr. O’Rourke's service is completely unacceptable. Despite our attempts to address Mr. O’Rourke’s issues, we simply dropped the ball and did not make things right. Mr. O’Rourke deserves another apology from us and we’re making this one publicly. We also want to clarify that nobody at Comcast asked for him to be fired.

Then, last Thursday, O'Rourke's lawyers filed suit (available here in .pdf form) against Comcast the corporation, Lawrence Salva the individual (who also works as Comcast Controller), and unnamed “Does [as in John and Jane] 1-20,” certain Comcast employees whose names and identities O'Rourke and his attorneys do not yet know.

$30 million a year

Remember when O'Rourke called the Controller's office and suggested that the company deserved to be investigated by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board? The lawsuit says that this is what happened next:

Within an hour after this second call, Mr. Salva personally called Joe Atkinson, a principal at Mr. O'Rourke's employer, PWC. Because Comcast pays more than $30 million a year to PWC for consulting services, Mr. Atkinson took the call. Salva demanded that Mr. O'Rourke be fired from PWC, falsely claiming that Mr. O'Rourke had violated accounting ethics standards by using PWC's name as 'leverage' in his 'negotiations' with Comcast.

The lawsuit also describes what happened the day O'Rourke got fired:

"Less than an hour after Mr. O'Rourke's second call with Comcast's Controller's office, Mr. O'Rourke received a call from Mr. Atkinson. Mr. O'Rourke was shocked to receive the call -- he had never before had occasion to deal with Mr. Atkinson. An angry Atkinson informed Mr. O'Rourke that he had received a call from Comcast's Controller about Mr. O'Rourke. Mr. Atkinson told Mr. O'Rourke that the client was very angry, very valuable, was in fact the Philadelphia office's largest client with billings exceeding $30 million per year, and that Mr. O'Rourke was not to speak with anyone from Comcast."

The suit charges Comcast and the other defendants of defamation, breach of contract, infliction of emotional distress, unfair business practice, and violation of the Cable Communications Policy Act for disclosing information about him to his employer without his permission.

The Communications Act is very strict regarding ISPs and cable companies, who by the nature of their business know a lot about you (including your TV-viewing and web-surfing habits), and so the confidentiality of the information they have is protected by federal law. It would be illegal for Comcast even to reveal the seemingly harmless information that he was a Comcast customer with complaints about his service without O'Rourke's prior consent, let alone call his employer to either reveal specifics or make false claims about anything O'Rourke the Comcast customer might have said during a Comcast customer service call.

O'Rourke has, though his lawyers, repeatedly asked Comcast and PriceWaterhouseCoopers to release their recordings of the disputed phone calls and conversations. So far, neither company has done so.

Of all the bad-customer-service stories Comcast customers might have, none are likely to top that of former customer Conal O'Rourke, also a former employee...

CBS jumps into video streaming

"CBS All Access" includes current and classic program; no football though

Years ago, we fidgeted through a speech by a network news executive who was appalled by the "river of video" that had been loosed on the world. He was referring only to closed-circuit feeds of video from newly-independent news producers. 

Think how he must be feeling today as one network after another puts its precious programming out on the Internet, making it available to anyone -- even those without a cable subscription.

Just yesterday, it was HBO that announced it would go "over the top," as they say in the business. Loosely translated, that means going around (or over) cable and broadcast stations to distribute programming directly to consumers.

If HBO's decision was an unkind cut at cable systems, the CBS move announced today is a club on the head for both local television affiliates and cable systems. 

$5.99 a month

"CBS All Access," as it's been dubbed, is available for $5.99 per month beginning today at CBS.com and on mobile devices through the CBS App for iOS and Android. 

“CBS All Access is another key step in the Company’s long-standing strategy of monetizing our local and national content in the ways that viewers want it,” said Leslie Moonves, President and CEO, CBS Corporation.

All Access offers current seasons of 15 primetime shows with episodes available the day after they air, live streams of local CBS stations in 14 of the largest markets and past seasons of many popular series.

What it doesn't include, at least for now, is NFL Football, although Moonves said that may change.

CBS is also said to be developing a live streaming news feed that may begin to air as early as Oct. 28, according to industry sources -- potentially dealing a major blow to CNN and other cable news channels that are already struggling with moribund ratings and aging audiences. 

To sign up for CBS All Access, visit: http://www.cbs.com/allaccess

Years ago, we fidgeted through a speech by a network news executive who was appalled by the "river of video" that had been loosed on the world. He was refe...

FCC blacks out Sports Blackout Rule for good

The rule made "no sense at all," FCC chair said

The Federal Communications Commission today voted unanimously to end its 40-year-old Sports Blackout Rule, a vestige of the days when many pro teams were struggling to fill stadiums and television signals were still a rare commodity.

Under the rule, whenever a sports league ordered a local broadcaster not to televise a game due to unsold tickets, the local cable, satellite, and other video distributors could not televise the game either. The National Football League, along with the National Association of Broadcasters and the NFL Players Association, strongly opposed efforts to end the rule,  arguing that to do so would jeopardize pro football on "free" TV, meaning over-the-air broadcasts.

“This is a historic day for sports fans,” said David Goodfriend, Chairman of Sports Fans Coalition. “Since 1975, the federal government has propped up the NFL’s obnoxious practice of blacking out a game from local TV if the stadium did not sell out. Today’s FCC action makes clear: if leagues want to mistreat fans, they will have to do so without Uncle Sam’s help.”

“Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on much these days, but when it comes to getting government out of the business of mistreating sports fans, we are in total agreement,” said Brad Blakeman, Sports Fans Coalition Board Member. “The era of government writing a blank check to sports leagues is over.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had made no secret of his stance. “Clearly, the NFL no longer needs the government’s help to remain viable,” he said earlier this month.

“To hear the NFL describe it, you would think that putting a game on CBS, NBC or Fox was a money-losing proposition instead of a highly profitable multibillion-dollar business,” he wrote in an op-ed in USA Today. “If the league truly has the best interest of millions of American fans at heart, they could simply commit to staying on network television in perpetuity.”

"With the NFL’s incredible popularity, it’s not surprising that last year the League made $10 billion in revenue and only two games were blacked-out," he added.

“The FCC did the right thing today by removing this antiquated rule, which is no longer justified by facts or simple logic," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a longtime critic of the rule. "Even as the NFL made millions upon millions of dollars off of broadcasting rights, they continued as recently as this season to threaten fans with unnecessary blackout restrictions. Today the FCC officially threw a flag on the NFL’s anti-fan blackout policy.”

Blumenthal, along with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) has introduced the Furthering Access and Networks for Sports (FANS) Act of 2013 – complementary legislation that would remove the NFL’s antitrust exemptions, unless the league ends its practice of requiring broadcasters to blackout games that don’t sell out.  

More to come 

The Sports Fans Coalition said it intends to keep the momentum going after today’s FCC action, specifically by pursuing the following initiatives:

1. Eliminating sports leagues’ anti-trust exemption for imposing local blackouts;

2. Enacting the FANS Act; 

3. Conditioning taxpayer funding of professional sports arenas on direct benefits for fans, including free tickets for certain categories of veterans and school children, or in the alternative eliminating such public funding altogether; and

4. Working with domestic violence prevention professionals to help make professional sports something parents can once again proudly share with their children.

“American sports fans love their home teams, love the games, and will fight to make sure that government policies uphold the best that sports have to offer,” said Goodfriend.

The Federal Communications Commission today voted unanimously to end its 40-year-old Sports Blackout Rule, a vestige of the days when many pro teams were s...

AT&T/DirecTV merger gets go-ahead from DirecTV shareholders

The deal still faces anti-trust security and consumer opposition, however

Who wouldn't want to be taken over by AT&T for $48.5 billion? Not the shareholders of DirecTV, 99% of whom have voted to approve the takeover, which would strengthen AT&T's hand by giving it a nationwide TV service to add to its bundle.

What it does for consumers isn't quite as clear but AT&T has been promoting it as particularly beneficial for rural dwellers. An AT&T executive said recently that it would use DirecTV's satellite to deliver broadband speeds of 15 megabits per second or better in rural areas. 

AT&T has technology “ready to go” by late 2015 to deliver high-speed wireless Internet service that’s faster than LTE, because it is delivered via a dedicated swath of spectrum, said Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T's mobility division, at a conference earlier this month.

Although AT&T's Uverse delivers cable and broadband service, it's only available in some markets. By combining its wireless, landline and satellite capacity post-merger, the telecom giant could offer a complete package of broadband, wireless and TV service nationwide. 

Hurdles remain

The deal still requires approval by the Federal Communications Commission, the Justice Department and possibly other agencies and, although opposition has not been as strident as in the proposed Comcast-Time Warner merger, it is far from a certainty.

Consumers rate AT&T Uverse

A group of state attorneys general was formed recently to look into the deal as well. The top state legal officers said they were also investigating the Comcast/Time Warner deal. 

Consumer groups tend to hate both deals, saying they amount to nothing more than consolidation that will limit consumer choice and drive up prices. 

“For the amount of money and debt AT&T and Comcast are collectively shelling out for their respective mega-deals, they could deploy super-fast, gigabit-fiber broadband service to every single home in America,” Free Press president Craig Aaron said recently. 

“But these companies don’t care about providing better services or even connecting more Americans. It’s about eliminating the last shred of competition in a communications sector that’s already dominated by too few players,” Aaron said.

Who wouldn't want to be taken over by AT&T for $48.5 billion? Not the shareholders of DirecTV, 99% of whom have voted to approve the takeover, which would ...

Verizon's customizable TV service could really shake things up

But could there be some industry push-back?

Consumers are probably cheering the news last week that Verizon, rather than trying to stop the revolution, is actually trying to lead it.

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam revealed his company is preparing a 2015 roll-out of a customizable TV service delivered to digital devices. As McAdam pointed out, the channels would have to be offered a la carte because who, he asked rhetorically, wants 300 channels on their smartphone?

Who indeed? But what McAdam sees as logical – and many consumers would heartily agree – is in fact revolutionary, because that is definitely not how cable TV is packaged and sold. It would appear to open the door to changing the way television services are marketed.

If a consumer can customize their TV service on their phone, they are soon going to ask why can't they customize it in their living room.

Music industry lesson

The music industry has already been down this road. For decades artists released albums of perhaps 12 songs. Consumers might purchase the album because they liked 2 or 3 of them. To get those songs, however, they had to purchase the complete album.

Digital music services like iTunes changed all that. Individual songs can be downloaded for 99 cents. That's great for consumers but has not been so great for artists or music companies.

Just since the introduction of iTunes in 2003, music sales in the U.S. have dropped sharply. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, inflation-adjusted sales revenue fell more than $4.5 billion over a 10 year period.

At the same time, more people were buying music. They just weren't buying as much of it, for as much money. If the music industry had it to do over, it would probably try a different approach to digital.

Protecting the status quo

Content providers can be expected to be leery of any changes to the status quo, especially if these changes may systematically alter revenue models. Netflix learned this the hard way a few years ago.

In 2011 Starz Entertainment, a major supplier of feature film content, abruptly broke off contract renewal talks with Netflix, announcing it would no longer provide movies to Netflix.

The reason was not completely financial. Netflix was reportedly agreeable to terms and willing to pay a reported $300 million to continue its access to Starz's content. The loss had more to do with Netflix's business model.

“This decision is a result of our strategy to protect the premium nature of our brand by preserving the appropriate pricing and packaging of our exclusive and highly valuable content,” Starz CEO Chris Albrecht said at the time. “With our current studio rights and growing original programming presence, the network is in an excellent position to evaluate new opportunities and expand its overall business."

In other words, Starz was concerned that Netflix's $8 a month price to consumers was too cheap, threatening its other customers – cable TV networks that charge a lot more.

Netflix has been able to adapt nicely, producing original content and loading up on TV series that have fundamentally altered viewing habits, with consumers now “binge watching” an entire season of shows over a short period of time. It didn't hurt Netflix that a lot of TV series are of higher quality than the movies Hollywood turns out.

The lesson may be that it's hard to stop a revolution. The landscape has changed significantly since 2011 and content providers may now be more willing to adapt to, rather than fight, radical changes.

Verizon's new customizable TV service, which McAdam says could be rolled out in mid 2015, may be the next test.

Consumers are probably cheering the news last week that Verizon, rather than trying to stop the revolution, is actually trying to lead it....

FCC may end sports blackout rule

The rule "makes no sense at all," says FCC chair Tom Wheeler

Tom Wheeler thinks it’s time to sack the National Football League blackout rule. And as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, he may be just the guy who can do it.

Wheeler has scheduled a vote for Sept. 30 on a proposal to end the nearly 40-year-old rules, which were enacted back in 1975, prohibiting cable providers from airing a game that has been blacked out on the local television station because it was not sold out.

That's a situation that Wheeler says belongs in the era of fender skirts and buggy whips, when barely 40% of games sold out and gate receipts were the league's primary source of revenue.

"Last weekend, every single game was sold out. More significantly, pro football is now the most popular content on television," Wheeler said yesterday on his blog. "NFL games dominated last week’s ratings, and the Super Bowl has effectively become a national holiday. With the NFL’s incredible popularity, it’s not surprising that last year the League made $10 billion in revenue and only two games were blacked-out."

The NFL and major broadcasters are opposing Wheeler's proposal, arguing that it would jeopardize pro football on "free" TV, meaning over-the-air broadcasts. They say eliminating the rule would endanger stadium attendance and threaten local businesses. 

Wheeler's not buying that argument. 

“Clearly, the NFL no longer needs the government’s help to remain viable,” he said.

“To hear the NFL describe it, you would think that putting a game on CBS, NBC or Fox was a money-losing proposition instead of a highly profitable multibillion-dollar business,” he wrote in an op-ed in USA Today. “If the league truly has the best interest of millions of American fans at heart, they could simply commit to staying on network television in perpetuity.”

Tom Wheeler thinks it’s time to sack the National Football League blackout rule. And as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, he may be just t...

Free apps prove to be a disruptive force for satellite radio

Many consumers find they can get plenty of stations for free

Satellite radio was a novel concept when it debuted in 1990. You could get hundreds of stations, reflecting all types of programming, and no matter how far you drove, you would never go out of range.

Even so, as a business model satellite radio has struggled. In the U.S. the two competing providers, Sirius and XM, merged into one company in 2007. Selling subscriptions starting at around $8 a month, the company has faced continued strong competition from terrestrial radio stations, which are free.

Now technology has served up even more competition – smartphone apps.

Bluetooth is a game-changer

Most new cars now provide Bluetooth connectivity between mobile devices and the vehicle's entertainment system. The primary purpose is safety – when a call comes in on a connected smartphone, it plays through the entertainment system speakers, providing hands free capability.

But that same connectivity provides some entertainment options. Free smartphone apps like I Heart Radio and TuneIn allow users to play hundreds of radio stations on their phones.

If the programming can be played on a phone, it can also be played through the vehicle's entertainment system. Someone driving on I-95 in North Carolina can listen to their favorite jazz station in Los Angeles if they want.

Abundant programming

Besides the hundreds of terrestrial radio stations available through both apps, both offer access to Internet radio stations that have few, or no commercials, just like many of the satellite stations. They may not have Howard Stern, the big draw for Sirius, but these apps have hundreds of podcasts from up and coming comedians or an archive of public radio programming, like This American Life.

Unlike satellite radio, access to this content costs nothing, except for the data you consume through your wireless plan. If you have T-Mobile as a carrier, that's not even an issue since T-Mobile now has a policy that the music you stream doesn't count against your monthly data allowance.

Satellite radio does provide traffic reports for major markets, which is fine if you happen to be driving in one of those cities. But more than likely you're on an Interstate highway when you need to know if there is an accident a few miles ahead.

Waze

Fortunately, there's an app for that. Waze is a community-based traffic and navigation smartphone app. Its content – information about road conditions – comes from other users who happen to be on the same road at the same time.

After typing in their destination address, users just drive with the app open on their phone to passively contribute traffic and other road data, but they can also take a more active role by sharing road reports on accidents, police traps, or any other hazards along the way, helping to give other users in the area a 'heads-up' about what's to come.

This doesn't help solo drivers, because as we all know drivers should not be looking at their phones while behind the wheel. But a passenger looking at the Waze screen can track the movement of the vehicle on the road and be aware of upcoming hazards, like accidents or broken down vehicles on the shoulder.

The map also shows rest stops and other travel landmarks as they approach on your route. The interface tells you how many other users – they're called Wazers – are in the vicinity. A chat feature lets you communicate directly with them or ask a question.

Waze even offers advice on where to fill up. Users can post the location of the cheapest gas they've encountered.

Satellite radio was a novel concept when it debuted in 1990. You could get hundreds of stations, reflecting all types of programming, and no matter how far...

Lightning on the beach! It's not that unusual

Safety tips for surviving lightning strikes

The weekend lightning strike that killed one person and injured several others on Venice Beach got a lot of attention but the only thing unusual about it was that it happened in Los Angeles, which doesn't get many thunderstorms.

In much of the country, however, thunderstorms are common and lightning strikes routinely kill and injure hundreds of people each year. The Los Angeles death was the 15th in the U.S. this year. 

Beaches, athletic fields and other flat, open spaces are particularly dangerous.

So what's the safest place to be if you're outdoors? The simplest answer, according to the National Weather Service, is that there is no completely safe place outside during a thunderstorm -- the best place to be is inside a building.

If you can't get inside, a car or truck with windows and doors closed offers the best protection from a lightning strike, since the tires offer insulation that keeps the electrical current from penetrating the car. A fully-enclosed structure, such as an outdoor restroom facility at a park or beach, also offers good protection.

Open structures such as picnic shelters and sports dug-outs are not safe and should be avoided, NWS says.

Safety inside

Inside a home or office, avoid corded phones and electronic equipment that is plugged into electrical power or your computer network. It's also a good idea to avoid plumbing fixtures, which can provide a route for the current from a lightning strike to enter a building. 

Your valuable appliances and home electronics -- computer, TV, etc. -- are vulnerable to damage from lightning and, unfortunately, there's not much you can do to protect them. Once a storm has started, it's too late to run around pulling plugs, and surge protectors aren't generally able to withstand a direct lightning strike. They're designed to protect against surges caused by nearby storms or equipment malfunctions, not direct lightning strikes.

Risk management analysts refer to lightning strikes as "low probability/high consequences calamities." In other words, they don't happen often but when they do, they cause a lot of damage. If you're unfortunate enough to suffer a direct strike to your home, the damage can be both extensive and expensive. While it should be covered by most homeowners insurance policies, you'll likely end up paying a hefty percentage out of pocket.

Just ask Dan of Muskegon, Mich., whose house was hit by lightning. 

Had Frankenmuth Insurance with 3 cars and 2 homes for about 11 years. Filed one petty claim all those years,

"Lightning damage, blown holes in my walls, blown switches out of the walls, wiring, etc.," Dan said in a June 2014 ConsumerAffairs review of Frankenmuth Insurance. "Burned up my television, computer, phone, all my cable equipment, etc."

Dan said the damage came to $3,700 but after a $500 deductible and depreciation, he received only $1,799. 

 

The weekend lightning strike that killed one person and injured several others on Venice Beach got a lot of attention but the only thing unusual about it w...

10% of U.S. beaches fail safety test

"Urban slobber" contributes to high bacteria count that can cause disease

Beach bums take note: 10% of water samples from U.S. beaches contained bacteria levels that failed to meet federal benchmarks for swimmer safety, according to the 24th annual beach report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Sewage and contaminated runoff in the water should never ruin a family beach trip,” said NRDC senior attorney Jon Devine. “But no matter where you live, urban slobber and other pollution can seriously compromise the water quality at your favorite beach and make your family sick."

Each year, the NRDC collects and analyzes water testing results from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state beach coordinators at nearly 3,500 beach testing locations nationwide.

This year, the report found 35 popular “superstar” beaches with excellent water quality, and flagged 17 “repeat offenders” that exhibited chronic water pollution problems. The full report, including a Zip Code-searchable map can be found here.

Superstar beaches      

NRDC designated 35 popular beaches across 14 states as “superstars” – popular beaches for consistently meeting water quality safety thresholds. Each of these beaches met national water quality benchmarks 98% of the time over the past five years:

  • Alabama: Gulf Shores Public Beach in Baldwin County
  • Alabama: Gulf State Park Pavilion in Baldwin County
  • Alabama:  Dauphin Island Public Beach
  • California: Newport Beach in Orange County (1 of 3 monitored sections)
    • Newport Beach - 38th Street
  • Delaware: Dewey Beach-Swedes in Sussex County
  • Florida: Bowman’s Beach in Lee County
  • Florida: Coquina Beach South in Manatee County
  • Florida: Fort Desoto North Beach in Pinellas County
  • Georgia: Tybee Island North in Chatham County
  • Hawaii: Hapuna Beach St. Rec. Area in Big Island       
  • Hawaii: Po’ipu Beach Park in Kauai
  • Hawaii: Wailea Beach Park in Maui
  • Massachusetts: Singing Beach in Essex County
  • Maryland: Point Lookout State Park in St Mary's County
  • Maryland: Assateague State Park in Worcester County
  • North Carolina: Ocean Pier at Main St. and Sunset Blvd. in Brunswick County
  • North Carolina: Beach at Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Dare County
  • North Carolina: Ocean Pier at Salisbury Street in Wrightsville Beach in New Hanover  
  • North Carolina: Ocean Pier at Ocean Blvd. and Crews Ave. in Topsail Beach in Pender County           
  • New Hampshire: Hampton Beach State Park in Rockingham County
  • New Hampshire: Wallis Sands Beach at Wallis Rd. in Rockingham County
  • New Hampshire: Wallis Sands State Park in Rockingham County
  • New Jersey: Washington (Margate) in Atlantic County
  • New Jersey: 40th St. (Avalon) in Cape May County
  • New Jersey: 40th St. (Sea Isle City) in Cape May County
  • New Jersey: Stone Harbor at 96th St. in Cape May County
  • New Jersey: Upper Township at Webster Rd. in Cape May County
  • New Jersey: Wildwood Crest at Orchid in Cape May County
  • New Jersey: Broadway (Pt. Pleasant Beach) in Ocean County
  • New York: Long Beach City in Nassau County
  • Virginia: Virginia Beach at 28th St. in Virginia Beach County    
  • Virginia: Virginia Beach at 45th St in Virginia Beach County
  • Virginia: Back Bay Beach in Virginia Beach County
  • Virginia: Virginia Beach - Little Island Beach North in Virginia Beach County
  • Washington: Westhaven State Park, South Jetty in Grays Harbor          

Repeat offenders

Over the last five years of the NRDC report, sections of 17 U.S. beaches have stood out as having persistent contamination problems, with water samples failing to meet public health benchmarks more than 25% of the time each year from 2009 to 2013:

  • California: Malibu Pier, 50 yards east of the pier, in Los Angeles County
  • Indiana: Jeorse Park Beach in Lake County (both monitored sections):
    • Lake Jeorse Park Beach I 
    • Lake Jeorse Park Beach II
  • Massachusetts: Cockle Cove Creek in Barnstable County
  • Maine: Goodies Beach in Knox County
  • New Jersey: Beachwood Beach in Ocean County
  • New York: Main Street Beach in Chautauqua County
  • New York: Wright Park – East in Chautauqua County
  • New York: Ontario Beach in Monroe County
  • Ohio: Lakeshore Park in Ashtabula County
  • Ohio: Arcadia Beach in Cuyahoga County
  • Ohio: Euclid State Park in Cuyahoga County
  • Ohio: Noble Beach in Cuyahoga County
  • Ohio: Sims Beach in Cuyahoga County
  • Ohio: Villa Angela State Park in Cuyahoga County
  • Ohio: Edson Creek in Erie County
  • Wisconsin: South Shore Beach in Milwaukee County

Based on EPA’s BAV safety threshold, the Great Lakes region had the highest failure rate of beach water quality samples, with 13% of samples failing to pass the safety test in 2013. The Delmarva region had the lowest failure rate, with 4% of samples failing the safety test. In between were the Gulf Coast (12%), New England (11%), the Western Coast (9%), the New York and New Jersey coasts (7%), and the Southeast (7%).

Individual states with the highest failure rates of reported water samples in 2013 were Ohio (35%), Alaska (24%) and Mississippi (21%). Those with the lowest failure rates last year were Delaware (3%), New Hampshire (3%) and New Jersey (3%).

The EPA estimates that up to 3.5 million people become ill from contact with raw sewage from sanitary overflows each year. Beach water pollution nationwide causes a range of waterborne illnesses in swimmers including stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, ear, nose and throat problems, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments, neurological disorders, and other serious health problems. For senior citizens, small children and people with weak immune systems, the results can even be fatal.

Beach bums take note: 10% of water samples from U.S. beaches contained bacteria levels that failed to meet federal benchmarks for swimmer safety, according...

Patent Office cancels Washington Redskins trademarks

The team has turned aside complaints its name is racist and demeaning to Native Americans

Back in the day, consumers organized boycotts on behalf of embattled minorities, environmental issues and so forth.

The boycott of the Montgomery, Ala., city bus system helped get the civil rights movement rolling, and the grape boycott gave farm workers a leg up.

But consumer boycotts have lost a lot of steam since then. Take the Washington Redskins. For years, fans, non-fans and assorted do-gooders have earnestly and, later, angrily called on the National Football League team to change its name. Attempts to organize boycotts haven't made it out of the end zone. 

Just a few weeks ago, the United Church of Christ's Mid-Atlantic Conference announced a boycott of the team and called on other churches in the D.C. area to do the same. The answer, so far, has been a resounding silence.

Billionaire team owner Dan Snyder has angrily refused, saying he would "never" change the name and claiming that Native Americans don't find the term "redskins" offensive.

The term, of course, refers to the body parts of Native Americans that were collected by federal troops during the Indian Wars that raged for more than a century during the settlement of the American West.

Native Americans may have had a derogatory term for the scalps they sometimes collected from white people but, if so, it's not in common usage and certainly isn't used in interstate commerce. 

The PTO speaks

Amidst all the back-and-forth, five Native Americans filed a petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office asking that the team's trademarks be vacated on the grounds that they are "disparaging."

The PTO agreed and has canceled the team's 6 trademarks.

"We decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered, in violation of Section 2(a)  of the Trademark Act of 1946, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a)."

Most likely, we haven't heard the last of this. The PTO issued a similar ruling back in 1992 and it was reversed after the Redskins' lawyers appealed.

Some Redskins fans took to social media claiming the PTO ruling infringed Snyder's free speech rights. However, the ruling means only that the federal government no longer grants ownership of the term "Redskins" to the team.

Theoretically, the team could continue to use the name without trademark protection but it would then be unable to claim royalties from the sale of sweatshirts, caps, beer mugs and other spoils of war.

Source: WikipediaBack in the day, consumers organized boycotts on behalf of embattled minorities, environmental issues and so forth.The boycott of th...

AT&T agrees to $49 billion purchase of DirecTV

Initial effect on consumers is expected to be minimal

If you're a DirecTV subscriber, you may soon be an AT&T customer. And if you're an AT&T U-verse customer, you could soon be getting your TV channels via satellite.

It's all because AT&T has agreed to buy DirecTV for $49 billion, potentially giving it 26 million cable TV subscribers, second only to Comcast and Time Warner, which would have about 30 million in their proposed merger goes through.

Both deals are contingent on regulatory approval. The AT&T transaction was approved by both the AT&T and DirecTV boards in special Sunday meetings.

Consumers rate AT&T Uverse

Consumers were not exactly gleeful about the announcement. 

"Have had a Uverse account for about three years now. The service is continuously interrupted," said Theresa of Buena Park, Calif., in a review submitted to ConsumerAffairs. "I have a pixelated TV almost every week I need to reboot one or more of my 5 boxes. ... ATT is just too big and busy to care that my reception sucks. They will however call write and text me to tell me my bill is ready."

For Christina of Carlsbad, Calif., U-verse interruptions are more than just an inconvenience. She said she had been without cable for two days.

"My box died and when I call Customer Service they said they will mail me one, the need didn't justified a service call. So in the middle of getting ready to evacuate because of the Poinsettia Fire, I couldn't watch the news."

Tom of Minneapolis said he has been a DirecTV customer for more than a decade but had to cancel his service when he moved to a building that doesn't allow satellite dishes.

"I'd rather keep their service, but that sentiment went away when I heard I would be charged $20 for each of the 6 months left on my contract. I would have switched back as soon as I could, but won't go back now. I will no longer be someone who recommends their services either, but will turn on them to become a detractor."

Urge to merge

Why this sudden urge to merge? It's mostly because the TV business is changing faster than anyone expected -- sort of like climate change. Streaming video is becoming a threat to cable -- but only if it can acquire the first-run, top-tier programming that for the last few decades has been tied up by cable channels like HBO.

To acquire the best content, and to have the wherewithal to produce their own first-rate content, distribution companies need to bulk up, so that they can wrestle the best deals out of content producers and produce the revenue they need to brew their own.

This is not a new problem. Ben Franklin dealt with it back in the 1700s. He started with a print shop, then began publishing a newspaper, then a magazine and, finally, got himself appointed Postmaster of Philadelphia, enabling him to give his competitors the dead letter treatment and basically creating America's first vertically integrated media empire. 

It was, says Franklin biographer Walter Isaacson, "an early example of the tension that often still exists between those who create content and those who control distribution." ("Benjamin Franklin: An American Life," Simon & Schuster).

AT&T may be reading from Franklin's primer but the scale is quite a bit bigger. The acquisition would give AT&T a nationwide wireless network, a nationwide satellite video distribution system and 70 million household broadband subscribers. 

Not bad for a company that was broken up into little pieces 32 years ago because it had gotten too big. 

Effect on consumers?

Consumers rate DirecTV

What it means for consumers, at least initially, is that you can expect AT&T to begin offering service bundles that include satellite TV. That could mean existing Uverse customers would get their TV shows by satellite while enjoying faster broadband service if cable programming is removed from Uverse.

Nothing much more significant than that is in the cards in the short-term, most observers think. AT&T, of course, spins it as a dream-come-true for consumers.

"DIRECTV is a great fit with AT&T and together we’ll be able to enhance innovation and provide customers new competitive choices for what they want in mobile, video and broadband services," said Randall Stephenson, AT&T Chairman and CEO. "This is a unique opportunity that will redefine the video entertainment industry and create a company able to offer new bundles and deliver content to consumers across multiple screens – mobile devices, TVs, laptops, cars and even airplanes."

AT&T said it would commit to abide by net-neutrality rules, invest in rural broadband and spend at least $9 billion in an upcoming government auction of wireless airwaves.

If you're a DirecTV subscriber, you may soon be an AT&T customer. And if you're an AT&T Uverse customer, you could soon be getting your TV channels...

Study: Americans have maxed out their TV-viewing time

So many channels, so little time

It had to happen eventually. What with sleeping, eating, working, commuting and just generally staying alive, folks can't squeeze in any more TV viewing time.

This is the discovery of Nielsen, the ratings service that has for decades measured audiences for broadcast television. Now, with video streaming out of laptops, phones, tablets and every other nook and cranny, Nielsen says we've essentially maxed out our viewing time.

In a new report, Nielsen says the number of channels viewed by the average household has stabilized at about 17.5 since 2008, even as the number of available channels has grown by 60 since then.

Nielsen, which will start measuring Internet and mobile Web viewing later this year, admits it is still trying to figure out how to define the concept of "channels" as new video sources like Netflix, Amazon and YouTube turn the distribution system on its head.

Since the primary purpose of ratings is to set advertising rates, this is not just an academic exercise -- there are big bucks at stake.

So maybe that means that serious minds will take it seriously and do something to expand the time available for viewing. Could this be where Google's driverless car comes in? After all, with an average commute of 30 minutes or so each way, that could open up another hour of video- and commercial-viewing time.

It had to happen eventually. What with sleeping, eating, working, commuting and just generally staying alive, folks can't squeeze in any more TV viewing ti...

Today's USA, as seen via Facebook

"Facebook Newswire" may not be polished but there's a lot of it

A few days ago, Facebook announced with much bravado the inauguration of "Facebook Newswire," something it billed as a tool for journalists. Considerable scoffing ensued, with many journalists saying they would rather take tips from psychics than rely on Facebook.

But you know what? Facebook Newswire may be rough, but it's proving itself ready, if not for prime time then at least for the lead-in to prime time, as they say in the TV biz. 

The idea is simple: consumers -- you know, regular folk -- see something, they shoot it with their smartphone and upload it. Human editors find the most newsworthy and compelling material and post it to FB News.

You might call it first-responder journalism -- the first, fragmentary reports from the scene of a disaster, riot or particularly cute story involving pets.  

Take today's train derailment in downtown Lynchburg, Va. One of the first reports came form Adam Miller, who saw the smoke that billowed from the wreckage of the train, which later reports said had been carrying crude oil.

While heavy black smoke was billowing from that derailed train in Virginia, lighter but still dense smoke was coming from a wildfire in California, as shown in this photo from KTLA5 News.

Smoke would have been a welcome site in much of the Southeast and Midwest, where torrential rains and tornadoes inflicted heavy property damage and many deaths.

OK, it's not Pulitzer Prize material but you can't say it's not breaking news. It's also a platform that, while still just a few days old, could grow into something pretty powerful. 

It's not hard to image behind-the-lines documentaries exposing outrages and injustice in totalitarian countries or in prisons, nursing homes or other places where the powerless are too often voiceless.

The postings are curated and verified by professional editors at Storyful, which calls itself a social news-verification company, so it's not a totally wild-and-crazy gathering spot.

“Our goal is that the Newswire will be an invaluable tool for journalists, helping them to tell richer, more engaging stories using public content from Facebook,” said Andy Mitchell, Facebook’s director of news and global media partnerships, the Wall Street Journal reported.

While it's aimed at journalists, anyone can visit https://www.facebook.com/FBNewswire. Take a look. It's what they used to call "news as it happens." 

// Post by Rob Wooters.A few days ago, Facebook announced with much bravado the inauguration of "Facebook Newswire," something it billed as a tool ...

Dish planning a summer launch for its Internet-TV service

The service would be a cable-like subscription plan delivered over the Web

A long time ago, satellite communications was a new idea. Today it's pretty ho-hum so Dish Network, which runs what amounts to a cable service delivered via satellite, is trying to get with the times.

Consumers rate DISH Network

The company is putting together an Internet-based service that would sort of duplicate cable -- offering subscribers packages from a number of program providers.

Dish has reportedly signed with the Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC and several other channels, and is pursuing deals with A&E, Turner Broadcasting, CBS and others, Bloomberg News reports.

Dish is reportedly targeting the 18-34 crowd that only wants to pay $20 or $30 a month to watch TV on their smartphones and tablets instead of on a traditional TV.

Of course, you still need Internet access, which may turn out to be a stumbling block.

Not unique

This is not exactly a new idea. Several other firms are planning similar roll-outs. Perhaps more significantly, Amazon today announced it will be offering HBO programming to its Prime Instant Video members, in addition to the thousands of movies and TV series already in its catalog.

Amazon's new Fire TV box will also provide access to HBO GO, the companies said.

It's not too hard to imagine Amazon and its primary competitor, Netflix, continuing to pile up deals with program producers at a fast clip. They have the advantage of a huge base of subscribers, while Dish and others new to the streaming video field are essentially starting from scratch.

Plenty of others are trying to get their toe in the water before the pool closes to new entrants. AT&T said yesterday that it is planning a streaming-video venture called Over the Top.

Verizon bought a failed Intel Corp. venture and is said to be developing a new venture, while Sony has reportedly signed an agreement to stream Viacom programming.

A long time ago, satellite communications was a new idea. Today it's pretty ho-hum so Dish Network, which runs what amounts to a cable service delivered vi...

HBO series coming to Amazon Prime

Also, HBO GO being added to Amazon's Fire TV

One thing that keeps many consumers from dumping their expensive cable TV service is HBO. Sure, you could do without ever seeing "Extreme Cheapskates" on TLC again but HBO is another story.

Amazon has just solved that problem. Amazon and HBO today announced that Amazon's Prime Instant Video will be the exclusive online source of much of HBO's catalog, including award-winning shows such as "The Sopranos," "Six Feet Under," "The Wire," "Big Love," "Deadwood," "Treme," early seasons of "Boardwalk Empire" and "True Blood."

Currently running series will be added to the online catalog over the course of the agreement.

The first wave of content will arrive on Prime Instant Video May 21. This is the first time that HBO programming has been licensed to an online-only subscription streaming service.

In addition, HBO GO will become available on Fire TV, targeting a launch by year-end. HBO GO is HBO’s authenticated streaming service offering subscribers instant access to over 1,700 titles online including every episode of new and classic HBO series, as well as HBO original films, miniseries, sports, documentaries, specials and a wide selection of blockbuster movies.

“HBO has produced some of the most groundbreaking, beloved and award-winning shows in television history, with more than 115 Emmys amongst the assortment of shows coming to Prime members next month,” said Brad Beale, Director of Content Acquisition for Amazon. “HBO original content is some of the most-popular across Amazon Instant Video — our customers love watching these shows. Now Prime members can enjoy a collection of great HBO shows on an unlimited basis, at no additional cost to their Prime membership.”

Amazon announced in March that it was raising the annual fee for Prime membership from $79 to $99. Prime also includes free two-day shipping of most products and access to thousands of streaming video titles, including a growing number of original content produced by Amazon.  

“Amazon has built a wonderful service—we are excited to have our programming made available to their vast customer base and believe the exposure will create new HBO subscribers,” said Charles Schreger, President of Programming Sales for HBO.

Details

Beginning May 21, Amazon Prime members will have unlimited streaming access to:

  • All seasons of classics such as "The Sopranos,""The Wire,""Deadwood,""Rome" and "Six Feet Under," and of recent favorites such as "Eastbound & Down,""Enlightened" and "Flight of the Conchords;"
  • Miniseries, including "Angels in America,""Band of Brothers,""John Adams,""The Pacific" and "Parade’s End;"
  • Select seasons of current series such as "Boardwalk Empire,""Treme" and "True Blood"
  • Hit original movies like "Game Change,""Too Big To Fail" and "You Don’t Know Jack;"
  • Documentaries including the "Autopsy" and "Iceman" series, "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" and "When the Levees Broke;" and
  • Original comedy specials from Lewis Black, Ellen DeGeneres, Louis CK and Bill Maher. 

The multi-year deal will bring additional seasons of the current series named above, along with early seasons of other series like Girls, The Newsroom and Veep to Prime members over the life of the deal.

One thing that keeps many consumers from dumping their expensive cable TV service is HBO. Sure, you could do without ever seeing "Extreme Cheapskates" on T...

AT&T plans "over the top" video services venture

Meanwhile, Netflix says AT&T's streaming speeds are pathetic

AT&T, perhaps noticing that it is once again falling behind the game, says that it and The Chernin Group plan to invest $500 million to create a new venture that will acquire, invest in and launch a new video services venture, which at least for now is going by the sobriquet of OTT -- or, Over the Top video.

The companies said the goal of the venture will be to invest in both ad-supported and subscription-based video on demand channels as well as streaming services. The idea is to launch new Internet-video services, rather than deliver a “virtual pay-TV” service that would be designed to compete with traditional cable or satellite TV, an AT&T rep was reported to have said.

AT&T did not bother to post information about the venture in its media relations section, where the last posting at 3 p.m. ET today was dated March 5, not exactly over-the-top public relations hustling.

Not much else is known about the venture, except that it will include Chernin's majority stake in Crunchyroll, a subscription VOD service focused on anime content.

Subpar streaming

The timing was ironic in that it came on the same day that Netflix called out AT&T for offering subpar video streaming, even slower in some cases than the outmoded DSL service still offered in some parts of the country.

Netflix said AT&T provided an average speed in March of 1.73 megabits a second for Netflix’s service on fiber-based connections, trailing CenturyLink Inc. and Windstream Holdings Inc., which use older DSL lines, Netflix said. 

If AT&T wanted to serve its customers better, it could do so with a free direct hook-up to Netflix, the company said.

“AT&T customers expect a good quality Netflix experience given how much they pay AT&T for their Internet service,” Netflix said in its earnings report.

AT&T, perhaps noticing that it is once again falling behind the game, says that it and The Chernin Group plan to invest $500 million to create a new ve...

DISH agrees to $2 million in refunds to Washington state consumers

The satellite TV company began charging an illegal line-item surcharge in 2012

DISH Network has agreed to refund about $2 million to customers in Washington state, following complaints that the company collected an unlawful monthly line-item surcharge beginning in May 2012.

In an agreement with Attorney General Bob Ferguson, DISH agreed to:

• Refund approximately $2 million to Washington state consumers;

• Provide additional benefits to consumers that could total up to $3 million; and
• Pay the state $569,500 for costs and fees.

Ferguson said that hundreds of thousands of Washington consumers were illegally charged a dollar per month for up to eight months. From May through December of 2012, DISH charged consumers a “WA State Surcharge” or “WA Surcharge” ranging from $1.00 to $1.09 — stopping only after Ferguson's office began an investigation.

“DISH’s actions cost hard-working Washingtonians millions of dollars, one buck at a time,” said Ferguson. “The Attorney General’s Office will prosecute any company that tries to make a buck through deceptive billing.”

Consumers to receive a full refund

Consumers rate DISH Network

Consumers will get a full refund of the surcharge they paid, regardless of whether they are still DISH customers.

Consumers do not need to do anything to get their refund — it will be issued as a bill credit for current customers or a check to former customers who paid the surcharge. DISH will contact all eligible consumers via mail or email.

In addition, residential subscribers who paid the surcharge, and who are still DISH customers, will get to choose one of the following benefits:

1. A ten dollar credit applied to their monthly bill;
2. Two free pay-per-view movies; or
3. Two months of free access to Epix movie channel (if they are not already subscribed to Epix).

Commercial subscribers, such as bars or restaurants, who paid the surcharge and are still DISH customers and who file a claim will receive a $10 bill credit.

Depending on the number of consumers who file a claim, DISH could provide about $3 million in additional benefits to Washington consumers.

The settlement applies only to consumers in Washington state.

What to do

While no action is needed to receive the refund, affected consumers must submit a claim form to choose and receive their additional benefit.

DISH is developing a web page — www.WaDISHsettlement.com — where consumers will be able to submit claims forms. The web page goes live on April 25, 2014.

Consumers wishing to claim their benefits under this settlement must submit a claim form and choose their benefit by Aug. 17, 2014.

DISH Network has agreed to refund about $2 million to customers in Washington state, following complaints that the company collected an unlawful monthly li...

Study: better weather leads to better restaurant reviews

Your environment affects your taste more than you think

If you're a restaurant owner wondering why your delicious offerings always generate such negative commentary on review sites like Foursquare, Citysearch and others, well – maybe the problem is that your restaurant isn't as great as you think it is, sure.

But maybe the problem boils down to bad location, or even bad weather—say, if your restaurant's a failure in a rainy city like Seattle, maybe you'd do better in the Sun Belt. Or at least figure out a way to only operate on warm sunny days, when your customers are most likely to be happy.

A doctoral student at Georgia Tech (working with researchers from Yahoo Labs) inspected restaurant reviews from all over the country at all times of the year, and found a distinct correlation between the quality of restaurant reviews and how nice the weather is.

Foodies are also weather people

The published study, titled “Demographics, Weather and Online Reviews: A Study of Restaurant Recommendations,” basically concluded that restaurant reviews written when it's rainy or snowy, “too cold” or “too hot” tend to be overwhelmingly more negative than reviews written on nice days, even when other variables are taken into account.

The study's lead author, doctoral candidate Saeideh Bakhshi, said: “People love to describe themselves as foodies. But in the end, it looks like we’re all weather people, whether we realize it or not …. The best reviews are written on sunny days between 70 and 100 degrees. Science has shown that weather impacts our mood, so a nice day can lead to a nice review. A rainy day can mean a miserable one.”

Of course, restaurant and food reviews are inherently subjective anyway—even if two people agree “food ought to taste good,” there's still disagreement regarding just what “tastes good” actually means. But if Bakhshi's findings are any indication, the weather shapes your food preferences more than you even realize.

If you're a restaurant owner wondering why your delicious offerings always generate such negative commentary on review sites like Foursquare, Citysearch an...

"House of Cards" comes to Comcast

More Sony titles headed for Comcast's Xfinity Store

Syndication has always been a big deal in the TV business. Once aired on their primary network, shows go on to live forever in syndication, and the advent of streaming video is doing nothing to change that.

The difference this time around is that "House of Cards" is going from Netflix streaming video to Comcast's Xfinity Store, skipping the over-the-air TV route entirely.

Netflix is retaining exclusive streaming rights to the series but Comcast will be selling episodes from the first season, as Amazon and Walmart’s Vudu are already doing. Individual episodes are priced at $1.99, which could be a tough gtsell, considering you can subscribe to all of Netflix for $7.99 a month.

Comcast is adding other titles to its Xfinity Store, including ”American Hustle,” to be available for rent or purchase starting tomorrow (Tuesday). 

In May, anther popular Netflix drama original, “Orange Is the New Black,” will be hitting the Comcast Xfinity Store on May 13.

The Xfinity Store titles come out before traditional video-on-demand and don't require the use of a laptop or smartphone to order. They can be called up right from the TV set-top box. 

It's similar to Verizon’s FiOS Flex View, which has offered movies for purchase and viewable on multiple devices since late 2010.

Syndication has always been a big deal in the TV business. Once aired on their primary network, shows go on to live forever in syndication, and the advent ...

Judge orders Aereo to shut down in Denver, Salt Lake City

It's the first win for broadcasters in their battle with Aereo

Television broadcasters have finally managed to eke out a small victory against Aereo, the rogue cable-like service that has been sucking money out of their cash drawers.

A federal appeals court judge in Denver said Aereo was violating broadcasters' copyrights. Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Dale Kimball ordered the service shut down in Denver and Salt Lake City and blocked it from starting in Idaho, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming.

The victory may be short-lived, however. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in the case, which pits the fast-growing start-up against broadcast giants including ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.

The case revolves around the royalty payments that cable systems pay to broadcasters for redistributing their programming. Aereo claims it is not a cable system; it says it simply operates a bank of miniature antennas in each city it serves -- one antenna per customer.

Aereo thus argues that it is not redistributing the broadcasters' programs for profit but is merely acting as a remote antenna for each of its customers.

Objections dismissed

Federal district and appellate judges elsewhere have dismissed the broadcasters' objections, leaving the broadcasters in a state approaching hysteria.

Some network executives have gone so far as to argue that they will pull the plug on themselves and take their stations off the air if Aereo is victorious in court. The stations would then be available only on cable.

Of course, this would shut off service to millions of consumers who have their own antennas but consumers have been an afterthought in this as in so many other debates that pitch supposed Davids and Goliaths against each other.

While the seemingly noble warriors grunt, strut and smack each other, playing to the cheering crowds in the stands, it's worth remembering that the prize they're fighting for is not peace, love and freedom. Instead, it's the lowly consumer, who will be taken out back and stripped of his worldly goods as soon as the main event is over.

 

Television broadcasters have finally managed to eke out a small victory against Aereo, the rogue cable-like service that has been sucking money out of thei...

Feb. 9, 1964: the day Beatlemania arrived in America

It was 50 years ago today, Ed Sullivan told the band to play...





Today, 50 years later, young people probably wonder what all the fuss was about. But on February 9, 1964, the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and entertainment, popular culture, perhaps even the world was never the same.

“Now yesterday and today our theater has been jammed with newspapermen and photographers from all over the nation and these veterans agree with me that the city has never witnessed the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool,” Sullivan said as he introduced John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr to a massive U.S. audience.

Polished image

But America was a bit late to Beatlemania, which had been in full bloom for months in the group's native England. After playing small clubs in and around Liverpool, the group hired Brian Epstein as its manager. Epstein quickly and cleverly gave the Beatles a polished, professional image. Their music did the rest.

Teenagers, young women especially, screamed their approval at appearances and mobbed the four musicians if they happened to see them in public. Sullivan is said to have been at Heathrow Airport in London in the fall of 1963, where he witnessed throngs of screaming girls as the Beatles disembarked from a plane.

There is an alternate version of how the group came to Sullivan's attention. The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite aired a lengthy feature story about Beatlemania in late 1963, which can be seen below.

Overnight sensation

Following the Ed Sullivan appearance the Beatles, almost overnight, became the most popular pop music group in America. Capital Records released one Beatles hit after another.

“I Want To Hold Your Hand” shot to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 immediately. By the time the group quit performing in 1970 it had held the number one spot on that chart for a total of 59 weeks while topping the LP charts for 116 weeks.

Perhaps more significantly, something about the Beatles captured the imagination of young people, not just in the U.S. but around the world. The group seemed to possess an authenticity that helped launch a social revolution. Some commentators mark the start of the decade of the 1960s on that cold Sunday night in February 1964.

Huge consumer product

Before they were finished as a group the Beatles had become a huge consumer product as well. In addition to their records there were books, movies and cartoon shows and their likeness appeared on hundreds of products, including lunchboxes and bed sheets.

Today these products are collectors' items. On eBay, a Beatles lunchbox has a price tag of $349. A set of Beatles bobble-head dolls has a "buy it now" price of $500.

Debra Hess Norris, a University of Delaware professor and expert on photographic preservation, says she still has a few treasured artifacts from her days as a Beatles fan which she carefully preserves. For those buying aging memorabilia, she urges careful treatment.

"Protect these materials from high and fluctuating temperatures and humidity," she said. "Do not store memorabilia in attics or basements. House them in a stable, low-humidity environment, such as an interior closet." 

Lasting legacy

After the Beatles broke up the four individual members continued solo musical careers. Today only two members of the group survive and one, Paul McCartney, has been knighted by the Queen of England.

Every few years their music is remastered and released, not just for nostalgic former teenagers with gray hair but also a new generation of fans, who find something to relate to in their music.

Today, 50 years later, young people probably wonder what all the fuss was about. But on February 9, 1964, the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show and ...

Could reality TV be a force for good?

Researchers think two shows may have helped reduce teen pregnancy

There's general agreement that unmarried teen-age girls should not be encouraged to have babies. So when MTV came up with reality TV shows like “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom,” social critics went ballistic.

They warned that the shows glamorized teen motherhood and thousands of young girls would think they, too could land a reality show if they just got pregnant. While the concern is understandable, there is some evidence to suggest the shows had just the opposite effect.

Research by Wellesley College economist Phillip B. Levine and University of Maryland economist Melissa Schettini Kearney finds that since the shows began, there has been a 5.7% drop in births to teen-age mothers.

Could there be a link?

Whether there is any direct link has yet to be proven. After all, the teen birth rate was already in decline. But the economists say the introduction of the series does in fact coincide with a significant drop in the pregnancy rate. They say the critics may have been right that the media holds enormous influence over young viewers. They may have just been wrong about what the young female viewers would take away from the programs.

"In some circles, the idea that teenagers respond to media content is a foregone conclusion, but determining whether the media images themselves cause the behavior is a very difficult empirical task," Kearney said.

Negative reinforcement

And maybe the images of being up all night with a crying baby and not being able to go out with friends send a sobering message. The researchers believe there may be something to this and theorize that the timing of the shows and the rather significant drop in pregnancies do in fact have a link.

Kearney and Levine reached that conclusion after conducting an in-depth empirical study, analyzing Nielsen ratings data and metrics from Google and Twitter. The researchers then examined the impact on teen birth rates using Vital Statistics Natality microdata.

"Our use of data from Google Trends and Twitter enable us to provide some gauge of what viewers are thinking about when they watch the show,” Levine said. “We conclude that exposure to '16 and Pregnant' and 'Teen Mom' was high and that it had an influence on teens' thinking regarding birth control and abortion."

Abortions down too

While teen births were down, so were teen abortions, leading Kearney and Levine to conclude the drop in the teen birth rate is attributable to a reduction in pregnancies, not in an increase in abortion.

They further suggest that "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom" drew in female viewers who were most at risk of an early pregnancy. What they saw as the programs unfolded was akin to the drivers education films of yester-year, which showed graphic footage from real auto accidents. In other words, after seeing what it was like to be a mother, not that many teens were all that keen on trying it.

Kearney and Levine have advanced the contrarian notion that not all reality TV is worthless trash. Some may, in fact, have redeeming social value. The researchers, in fact, would like to see more.

"This approach has the potential to yield large results with important social consequences," they conclude. "Typically, the public concern addresses potential negative influences of media exposure, but this study finds it may have positive influences as well."

There's general agreement that unmarried teen-age girls should not be encouraged to have babies. So when MTV came up with reality TV shows like “16 a...

DirecTV gives the Weather Channel the boot

It's the latest fee dispute among the giants of the TV world

If you like to sit around and watch The Weather Channel, you'll have to do it somewhere other than on DirecTV, which has ousted the Weather Channel from its line-up, replacing it with a start-up called WeatherNation.

Both sides, as usual, accuse the other of being greedy and unreasonable, though in slightly more polite language.

“This is unprecedented for The Weather Channel. In our 32 years, we have never had a significant disruption due to a failure to reach a carriage agreement. We offered DirecTV the best rate for our programming, and I am shocked they have put corporate profits ahead of keeping a trusted channel that subscribers rely on every day," said David Kenny, chairman and CEO of The Weather Company.

"We are not looking for a large fee increase. We are simply looking for a fair deal that allows our company to continue to invest in the science and technology that enables us to keep people safe, deliver the world’s best weather, and tell weather stories to help people be prepared and informed," Kenny insisted.

"Cheap start-up"

Consumers rate DirecTV

Kenny accused DirecTV of putting finances before safety, claiming that WeatherNation is a “cheap start-up that does weather forecasting on a three-hour taped loop, has no field coverage, no weather experts.”

Not content to just gaze out the window, WeatherNation is beefing up its operations. It announced yesterday the deployment of sophisticated weather visualization tools from Baron Services, Inc., that will include tools for real-time weather forecasting software and 3D mapping.

"We're pleased to bring aboard additional services from a premier weather technology company like Baron Services," said Michael Norton, President of WeatherNation. "With the addition of Omni Weather Systems, our WeatherNation meteorologists can provide viewers with a more accurate and realistic illustration of what the weather will be."

DirecTV has not been too forthcoming about the dispute but told CNN that TV viewers have plenty of other options for weather information nowadays. “When information is readily available everywhere, it’s no longer necessary for people to have to pay a premium.” 

DirecTV's chief content officer, Dan York, also said he's hopeful the dispute will be worked out. 

If you like to sit around and watch The Weather Channel, you'll have to do it somewhere other than on DirecTV, which has ousted the Weather Channel from it...

New Dish system can record eight TV shows at once

Dish says the system reduces "channel conflict" but who has time to watch all this?

For most people, the trick isn't remembering to record TV shows and movies, it's finding the time to watch all of them.

Dish Network isn't going much to help. At the Consumer Electronics Show today, Dish unveiled a new digital recorder system that can record eight TV shows at once. It uses Dish's Hopper DVR and a new Super Joey add-on box for separate rooms.

There is one catch -- four of the recorded shows have to be from the broadcast networks ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox. 

Dish also unveiled partnerships with LG Corp. and Sony Corp. so that Hopper users can watch recorded shows in a second room without needing a Joey. Instead, the system uses an app on a smart TV or PlayStation game console.

"The Hopper continues to break new barriers in terms of accessibility, affordability and mobility," said Joseph P. Clayton, DISH CEO and president. "You see that in the way in which DISH delivers more content and virtually ends channel conflict with SuperJoey. Our new Wireless Joeys and software-based Virtual Joeys make in-home installation options almost limitless."

The system gives DISH customers the ability to record, pause, and play back shows from any room in the home and on the go. 

Less channel conflict

Customers can record up to eight shows simultaneously with Hopper by pairing it with DISH's new "SuperJoey," a client that adds two network tuners to the Hopper's native three tuners.

"With so much to watch on the Hopper, customers have asked for even more recording capability," said Vivek Khemka, DISH senior vice president of Product Management. "This upgraded ability, combined with the Hopper's capacity to store 2,000 hours of content, will anchor its place as simply the best DVR available."

While extending the capabilities of a Hopper to any television in a household, SuperJoey gives users the ability to record up to eight shows simultaneously -- any four shows plus the four major broadcast networks. Alternatively, the five network tuners give users the ability to watch and record any five shows from any network.

SuperJoeys are backwards compatible for all models of the Hopper.

BusinessWire photoFor most people, the trick isn't remembering to record TV shows and movies, it's finding the time to watch all of them.Dish Network...

More cable subscribers are cutting, or at least thinning, the cord

Consumers are starting to add up their monthly entertainment bills

It's pretty eye-opening to look at what consumers are paying each month for cable TV, Internet access, telephone service, wireless and other information products like satellite radio, streaming music and video, just to name a few.

It's not surprising that consumers are not only becoming price-conscious but are starting to look for ways to cut back on their information and entertainment spending, as a new survey from Digitalsmiths finds.

The cable bill -- the highest monthly entertainment bill in most households -- is where most customers are starting to whittle away at their expenditures, with Digitalsmith finding that pay-TV "cord-cutting" and "cord-thinning" both climbed a bit in the third quarter.  

Among pay TV customers -- representing some 90% of U.S. TV homes -- 17% either trimmed pay TV networks and services or removed them completely in the third quarter -- up from 14% in the second quarter and 13.4% in the first quarter.

And the trend shows no signs of stopping. The study found that 34% of respondents answered “maybe” when asked if they were considering changing their pay-TV packages. Nearly 7% are planning to change their cable, satellite and telco company while nearly 3% are planning to cut service altogether.

Fully 43.6% of respondents said they are paying more for TV service versus a year ago; 39.3% are paying the same, and only 17.1% are paying less. Over 21% of TV consumers are paying $151 or more per month for all TV, Internet and phone services; 16.9% are at $126 to $150; 19.4% are at $101 to $125; 19.3% are at $76 to $100; and 15.5% are at $51 to $75.

The survey results came from 3,177 consumers in the U.S. and Canada, 18 years and older.

It's pretty eye-opening to look at what consumers are paying each month for cable TV, Internet access, telephone service, wireless and other information pr...

AOL, Roku launch news channel

More than 1,000 publishers will be contributing content

Being a pipe is one thing but being a publisher adds a lot of value to a brand. That's why you see Netflix and Amazon producing their own movies and series. HBO and other premium channels did the same thing back in the early days of cable, establishing themselves as something more than just a distribution system.

Now Roku -- one of the early players in the streaming-video business -- is teaming up with AOL to produce a news channel that will be distributed through Roku's set-top boxes.

The companies said the news channel will include news videos from eight categories, including business, entertainment and technology. More than 1,000 premium publishers will also be contributing content, including the Wall Street Journal, BBCNews, HuffPost Live, The Associated Press and Reuters.

The integrated news service will be available free of charge in the U.S. on the new Roku LT, Roku 1 and Roku 2 players. It is slated to automatically roll out as a free software update in the coming weeks to all current-generation Roku devices.

"News is among the fastest growing categories on the Roku platform and this parntership pwith AOL makes it even easier for customers to find and starat watching a variety of news videos," said Steve Shannon, general manager of content for Roku. "This is the first ingrated news service on a TV streaming platform."

 

Being a pipe is one thing but being a publisher adds a lot of value to a brand. That's why you see Netflix and Amazon producing their own movies and s...

Blockbuster continues its disappearing act

Most remaining Blockbuster stores will close, ending the neighborhood video-rental store era

Blockbuster was the chain Americans loved to hate. Sure, it had stores everywhere, more than 5,000 of them at its peak, and offered a huge treasure trove of movies on DVD and VHS but it also seemed to have a knack for finding ways to scalp customers with late fees and other penalties that made an evening's home viewing more expensive than a ticket to a Broadway show.

It got its comeuppance as the rise of Netflix, Amazon and other streaming video services made movie watching easier and cheaper, and eliminated the late fee problem.

Battered on all sides, Blockbuster sank into bankruptcy a few years ago and was purchased by Dish Network, the satellite TV company, for reasons no one ever quite understood. Dish quickly closed many of the remaining stores and now says it will close the remaining 300 by early January, at a cost of about 2,800 jobs.

About 50 stores that are operated by franchisees will remain open.

Consumers rate Blockbuster

Dish paid $234 million for the chain, saying it would bring it up to speed as a digital retailer. Not much panned out, though, and its efforts amounted mostly to changing signs, rearranging stores and trying to attract more Hispanic customers in inner-city neighborhoods.

Blockbuster tried to emulate Netflix' DVD-by-mail effort, with about as much success as it displayed in its other efforts.

"This is ridiculous. I have not received any new releases in months now," said Jack of Brooklyn, NY, in a complaint to ConsumerAffairs a few months ago. "I have been with them for several years and this started happening about seven months ago. Not one movie at all."

Dish CEO Joe Clayton said this week that, although it was closing the stores, Dish continues to "see value in the Blockbuster brand, and we expect to leverage that brand as we continue to expand our digital offerings."

 

The Blockbuster store, a fixture of many American neighborhoods for 25 years, will all but disappear in coming months, the chain's owner, Dish Network...

NBA reaches agreement to stream local games

It's the first major league to reach a a deal for local streaming

Live video streaming is coming to the courts -- the basketball courts, that is. The NBA is reportedly close to signing deals with several cable outlets to let fans watch their local teams live online, a first for a major sports league in the U.S.

Sports Business Journal says the games will be streamed under the TV Everywhere banner and reports that deals have already been inked with Fox and NBC Sports, the country's two biggest owoners of regional sports networks.

National sports contests have been streamed before, but the NBA will become the first major national league to allow live streaming of local games. They're previously been blacked out in local markets to encourage attendance.  

You'll still have to be a cable TV customer but there will be no extra charge for the live streaming, at least initially. The deal reportedly runs through 2016. 

“It is not going to roll out at one time for everyone,” said Bill Koenig, executive vice president of business affairs and general counsel for the NBA, according to Sports Business Daily. “My sense is that Fox, from a technical standpoint, is further along. The good news is that I think it will happen in a significant way this year.”

Live video streaming is coming to the courts -- the basketball courts, that is. The NBA is reportedly close to signing deals with several cable outlets to ...