Saturday, February 7, 2015

"$20 a month for ESPN? OMG."

"$20 a month for ESPN? OMG" was the subject line in the email I received yesterday from Sling TV. I signed up for an account as soon as it was first revealed that the service would be made available "soon". I installed it immediately.

We "cut the cord" at our house sometime last year. We got tired of the price gamesmanship from Charter and AT&T U-Verse. That is, we tired of the 12 month teaser prices that jumped by 50% or more when the promotional period is up. Also, having to pay by the TV didn't make sense either. We had to have four set top boxes and additional cables which were ugly and we had the privilege of paying for each one to boot.

Despite what some people told us, and the fact that we live 55+ miles from the tower of the ABC affiliate, we were able to get all the TV we needed with an antenna we purchased from Amazon and installed in our attic. We used the existing cable to distribute the signal to each of our TV's. We immediately saved $110 per month.  Charter, by the way, reacted to our leaving by offering us deals that were better than those offered by their customer retention department to simply stay. By this time, we were more annoyed than tempted.

The only thing we missed was ESPN. I figured that with so many "millenials" going without cable, ESPN would eventually have to offer some direct-to-consumer option similar to what Netflix does. That didn't happen, at least not yet, but they did strike a deal to offer ESPN via an Internet connection over a new service called Sling TV, which is a subsidiary of DISH. You need not be a DISH TV customer to get Sling TV. The service is $20 a month and most importantly, has NO contract. It's month-to-month. The first 7 days are free. Payment is by monthly credit card draft so there's no credit check.

The only reason we signed up was for ESPN, but also included are: ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, ABC Family, CNN, El Rey, and Galavision. Additional channels are available for $5 per month.

As a new service, it's a bit spare. You can only watch on a PC, Mac, iOS device, Android or Roku devices. We can't yet watch on the WatchESPN app, but according to Sling, it's coming soon. Sling also promises to be supported on other devices including Amazon Fire and XBox in the near future. I am using it primarily on my Nexus 10 tablet.

The question that everyone asks is: Can it run on different devices at the same time? At first, I thought the answer was yes as I was able to install and run it on another device at the same time, but after a short time, perhaps when the buffer ran out, it stopped on the first device that was streaming it.

I'm mildly disappointed we can't watch two shows at the same time on diferent devices but I didn't really expect that we would be able to. It's not cable after all. And it's only $20 a month.

This is a gamble for ESPN in that they don't want to risk cannibalizing customers from their cable TV partners. For that reason, it's been said they may limit signups. That may be hype or it may be real. Edit: For now, you can go to to sign up for an invitation... and wait.
An invitation is no longer required.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Radio company Entercom joins other traditional media companies launching digital divisions

As traditional media companies see their sales growth curves flatten, they've watched the digital advertising business explode. Yellow page businesses, newspapers, televisions and radio stations are all jumping in. The latest entry is Entercom. [ETM] as announced in their May 6th press release

Entercom owns radio stations in 20 markets and announced that so far, they have launched SmartReach Digital in six of those markets. They have not, to my knowledge, said which of those markets they have already begun the initiative. By looking at recent online job listings, it appears that those markets are: Greenville (SC), Boston, Memphis, Seattle, Sacramento and Denver.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Cord cutters and Pro Sports Moving in Opposite Directions

Scissors cutting TV cable
We contemplated it for a long time but we only recently did it. We cut the cable TV cord. This involves little sacrifice since OTA (over-the-air) TV is now digital quality and there is so much video entertainment  available via the Internet. Sure there are some good cable-only channels but there there is still more video entertainment than we have time to watch anyway. The savings are substantial: About $120 per month including tax for basic cable to 4 TV's.

There is only one major adjustment to be made as any cord-cuttter knows: Sports. My wife has been a Braves fan for a long time and its been getting progressively harder to get their games and now it's impossible without a cable TV subscripiton. It used to be that virtually all of their games were available on basic cable and then it moved up to less widely distributed channels.

I naively thought we could solve this for a reasonable price by subscribing to MLB TV online. Major League Baseball is ahead of other sports in offering direct-to-the-fan TV. There is no NFL equivalent. What I didn't know is that MLB protects its cable partners by blocking access to games in the sports fans home viewing area, regardless of the game location. I would not have been surprised if they were protecting broadcast games but I didn't expect them to protect Sports South, or whatever channel it is that carries the Braves.
What Forbes calls "sky high local cable deals" have been been great for players and their salaries. Not so great for the baseball fans.

We found it out the hard way after we'd paid the $129 for Premium MLB.TV. We simply couldn't watch the Braves home opener, blacked out despite the fact that it was in Milwaukee. Fortunately, MLB.TV's cancellation policy permits cancellation within 5 days on a first purchase., I found out, rivals the old AOL for difficulty of cancellation. Anyone who remembers AOL remembers the hilarity of trying to cancel after the "free trial" period was over. It was like The Hotel California. You can check in any time you like but you can never leave. MLB seems to be copying their business model. Even after I found the cancellation policy, it was hard to find out how to cancel. I declined to email in my cancellation since I wouldn't have a record of it. The toll free number they provided is a general purpose number, with several menus to misdirect you. None of them offered helpfully to accept my cancellation. The closest choices were "about your MLB TV account" and then "billing". I wanted to stop the billing so that's what I chose. After several busy signals, I finally got through. After holding several minutes, I navigated the menu as best I could and spoke to a very nice lady who helped me through the cancellation during a ten minute call where she put me on hold several times where I was treated to cheesy unfamiliar (probably royalty-free) music. She gave me a confirmation number but at no point said that my money would be refunded. So I offered: "Just to be clear, since I'm cancelling so soon, I'm going to get a full refund, right?"
She paused awkwardly and said: "Well, I'm not sure but you'll receive an email about your cancellation within "five to seven business days". Wow.

Likewise, we'll be watching fewer NFL games this year. Monday Night Football moved to ESPN some years ago and then Thursday Night Football went to The NFL Network. Going forward, if it's not on free TV we won't see it.

With more and more people cutting the cord, and so many of those cord cutters being the young people advertisers favor, change could be in the wind in the near future. Maybe the NFL and MLB will offer more direct-to-consumer ala carte subscripitions via cable without protective blackouts.

Some of my friends consider our choice to cut the cord a problem since we will see less sports, but the way I see it, the problem belongs to professional sports franchise owners. They are the ones that decided to make their product less accessible. Maybe the trend will continue and eventually, what is now mainstream sport will become like boxing where it's all only available via pay-per-view event. If so, we'll miss them but we have plenty of ways to spend our time. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Senator Lindsey Graham opens new Greenville campaign office

I'm pretty burned out on politics - must have been all those years working at talk radio stations - but when I got an email invitation from the Graham campaign to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony for his new Greenville campaign headquarters I thought I'd drop by.

The new office, sandwiched between a gas station and a hair salon, is not much to look at. It's a small house converted to office space.

Graham's remarks were brief and unremarkable. He took a perfunctory jab at President Obama for not ever having had a non-government job.

He also pointed out that the key date in his reelection is not November 4th, the date of the election, but June 10th, the date of the primary. He didn't say why but everyone in the room understood the reason: This being a very blue state, if he wins the primary he wins the election. He reminded us that he needs more than half the vote to avoid a runoff and reported that the latest polls show that he has that plus a small cushion.

I haven't followed the race and asked one of the campaign workers what the competitive field is like and he rattled off the names of the challengers in the Republican primary:

  1. Det Bowers, pastor of Christ Church of the Carolinas
  2. Lee Bright, State Senator
  3. Richard Cash, businessman and candidate for South Carolina's 3rd congressional district in 2010
  4. Bill Connor, attorney, Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army Reserve and candidate for Lieutenant Governor in 2010
  5. Senator Nancy Mace, businesswoman and author

The new Graham office is separate from his permanent Greenville office for Senate work. It is separate by law and funded by political contributions.

The Upstate campaign headquarters address is 1405 East Washington Street Greenville, South Carolina.

Graham's Upstate Regional Senate office address is 130 South Main Street, 7th Floor Greenville, SC 29601.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Gmail new photo handling will save users time and aggravation

I was intrigued when I opened my email this morning and saw that Gmail now offers pictures inserted directly into the email. Previously, when we opened a gmail with photos in it, it looked like this:

That's because there is a certain security risk with opening pictures from unknown senders. I always understood it but it was kind of annoying to continually have to click on that "display images below" or "always display images from... " button.

According to Google's Gmail blog, the improvement is because of an improved photo handling process.

So now, when opening email displaying photos, it will look like this.

No more annoyance of having to click to approve the images, and time is saved. Suspicious types will disable the feature because they won't trust Google with their security. I'll take their word for it. Google says images will come through their own proxy servers and get scanned for viruses and malware.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The SS Volturno Disaster - The 100th Anniverary

SS Volturno sets sale from Rotterdam - Oct 2 1913
When I was growing up my mother told me my grandfather, Carl Krivenki, had come to the United States from Russia. The ship caught fire but he was rescued.

It was only as an adult when I looked up information about it online, did I discover this was an important news story. The Titanic sank only 18 months before, but this was front page news on The New York Times, with many subsquent stories.

Last year I asked my mother what her father told her about it. She said she doesn't remember him saying much at all. He just said that the ship caught fire and that he was lucky to live through it.

It happened 100 years ago today. See

Friday, May 3, 2013

Zero taller ants and other eggcorns

I think I have a good vocabulary, and yet I didn't know until yesterday what an eggcorn (or oronym) is. I didn't write any of what follows. I saw it posted in various places and went off on a Google hunting expedition to identify the author. The author is so far unknown. It has been online for at least a year and probably much longer. But I've never seen it so maybe you haven't either.

Think about it the next time someone unintentionally mangles an expression because they misunderstood the word. Don't get to feeling all superior. Just think: Oops. Eggcorn.

I am sorry to be the baron of bad news, but you seem buttered, so allow me to play doubles advocate here for a moment. For all intensive purposes I think you are wrong. In an age where false morals are a diamond dozen, true virtues are a blessing in the skies, and are more than just ice king on the cake. We often put our false morality on a petal stool like a bunch of pre-Madonnas, but you all seem to be taking something very valuable for granite.

So I ask of you to mustard up all the strength you can because it is a doggy dog world out there. Although there is some merit to what you are saying it seems like you have a huge ship on your shoulder. In your argument you seem to throw everything in but the kids Nsync, and even though you are having a feel day with this I am here to bring you back into reality.

I have a sick sense when it comes to these types of things. It is almost spooky, because I cannot turn a blonde eye to these glaring flaws in your rhetoric. I have zero taller ants when it comes to people spouting out hate in the name of moral righteousness. You just need to remember what comes around is all around, and when supply and command fails you will be the first to go.

Make my words, when you get down to brass stacks it doesn't take rocket appliances to get two birds stoned at once. It's clear who makes the pants in this relationship, and sometimes you just have to swallow your prize and accept the fax, instead of making a half-harded effort. You might have to come to this conclusion through denial and error but I swear on my mother's mating name that when you put the petal to the medal you will pass with flying carpets like it's a peach of cake.