Weekly output: online-video churn, Trump vs. social media, online-video UX, Tim Cook’s App Store history, Saudi Twitter spies, online-video ads, online-video lessons, Trump vs. TikTok

My biggest regret about this busy news week: I didn’t get to follow Access Now’s RightsCon digital conference. Having spoken at its real-world predecessor in Toronto two years ago–and knowing that friends were on this year’s panel schedule–I can only hope that I can catch up in my non-existent spare time this week.

7/27/2020: Sling’s ex-chief Warren Schlichting is content with churn, FierceVideo

My occasional trade-publication client signed me up to cover their OTT Blitz Week virtual event. I started that by writing up former Sling TV head Warren Schlichting’s observations about running an over-the-top video service.

7/28/2020: Here’s Trump’s Plan To Regulate Social Media, Forbes

Writing about the Trump administration’s proposal to have the Federal Communications Commission rewrite a law allowed me the unexpected pleasure of approvingly quoting experts at the left-leaning think tank Public Knowledge and the right-leading Charles Koch Institute, both of which said this plan seems nuts.

7/28/2020: There’s no UX without ‘you’, FierceVideo

My second post about OTT Blitz Week covered a panel that saw executives from Discovery, Sling, Pluto TV, Xumo and other online-video firms offering their insights on making their user experience feel comfortable for viewers.

7/29/2020: What Tim Cook Left Out Of His Version Of App Store History, Forbes

Apple’s CEO’s prepared statement for Wednesday’s tech-CEO hearings came close to erasing the history of online software distribution before the 2008 debut of Apple’s iOS App Store, and that bugged me. I wrote a correction of Tim Cook’s testimony, and I was flattered to see this post get a “Highly recommended” shout-out on Apple raconteur John Gruber’s Daring Fireball blog.

7/29/2020: New charges for Saudi moles at Twitter, Al Jazeera

Stories involving Saudi Arabia behaving badly online often result in appearances for me on this Qatar-based news network. In this case, the news peg was a set of new charges against Saudi spies allegedly burrowing into Twitter.

7/29/2020: We’re not Facebook, OTT ad execs emphasize, FierceVideo

The executives on this OTT Blitz Week panel on addressable (read: targeted) advertising on streaming TV emphasized how they don’t want or need behavioral data that gets too close to individual viewers’ tastes.

7/31/2020: There’s no one template for over-the-top video success, FierceVideo

I wrapped up my coverage of Fierce’s virtual event with a recap of this lessons-learned panel, featuring CEOs from the rhymable firms Fubo, Xumo and Philo.

8/1/2020: Trump’s threat to ban TikTok, Al Jazeera

I made a second appearance this week on the Arabic-language news network to discuss President Trump’s possibly-idle threat to ban TikTok. As I wrote last week at Forbes, the fact that the U.S. isn’t China leaves Trump out of options to banish that social app from American screens.

Streaming-TV sites still need some design work

This year’s version of the “what regional sports networks will shut up and take a cord-cutting baseball fan’s money” story was not like the last three. I wrote it much later in the year, it’s at Forbes instead of Yahoo, and it finally brings good news for Washington Nationals fans.

But the process of researching which streaming services carry which baseball RSNs was as annoying as ever, thanks to these companies not fixing the user-interface problems that gummed up last year’s work.

AT&T TV Now: The channel-finder page of the streaming service formerly known as DirecTV Now requires third-party cookies for reasons unexplained, ensuring it will break in Safari and Firefox. You can search by Zip code but then often must choose a county inside that Zip, a detail no other streaming service requests. AT&T also has yet to update this site to include the four sports networks (for the Nats, Orioles, Rockies, and Pirates) that it just added, much less the Seattle RSN it soon will offer.

This site does, however, get one thing very right that its rivals don’t: It inventories the teams featured on its available regional sports networks.

FuboTV: This sports-oriented streaming service has a simple channel-lookup page that you may not know exists, as neither its home page nor its support site seem to point visitors to it. Too bad, because it’s a model of simplicity: Type in a Zip code, and it lists the local channels first, identifying both broadcasters and regional sports networks with a blue “Local” tag. Fubo also lists the RSNs it carries nationwide in a tech-support story that seems to be regularly updated, but neither that nor the channel-finder associate networks with their core teams.

Hulu + Live TV: You can’t miss the channel-lookup interface here, since it’s waiting behind a “View Channels In Your Area” link on this service’s live-TV page. Plug in a Zip code and you get a clean listing of channel icons, with “Live Local Channels” at the top. Unfortunately, they’re all shown only as icons, without any pop-up text to identify the more cluttered graphics among them, and it’s up to you to remember which RSN features which sports franchise.

Sling TV: Sling charges just $30 for the basic service (one good reason why I’m a subscriber) and apparently isn’t too concerned about getting people to buy up to a higher tier to watch pro sports. Seeing what regional sports networks you might get that way requires clicking around a support site that keeps pointing you to a now-useless “Game Finder” page (well, useless unless you had not learned that the coronavirus pandemic has made a mess of every pro sports league’s schedule). The link you actually want, “Finding Your Game On A Regional Sports Network,” clarifies that Sling only carries three such networks, the Comcast RSNs in the Bay Area and Washington, what I like to think of as the Other Bay Area. 

YouTube TV: Google’s streaming service doesn’t make you search hard for a channel lookup–the form is right on its home page and is automatically populated with the Zip code for what Google thinks is your location. Click the big blue “Submit” button or type in a different Zip code before confirming that, and you get an improved version of Hulu’s interface that labels channel logos with their names. But as at everywhere but AT&T TV Now, you still have to look up which RSN carries which teams.

I would like to think that these sites will do better and ease the 2021 version of this work. But in case they don’t, I finally took the time to crate a spreadsheet (the Forbes post features a cleaner, searchable version) that I can update whenever these services add or drop a channel. I hope there’s more of the former happening than the latter, so that when I’m looking at the prospect of a 162-game Nats season next spring I won’t be limited to one service carrying those games.

TV-shopping bookmarks for cord-cutters

I had yet another story about how to watch baseball games online this week, which meant I had yet another round of checking the sites of streaming-TV services to see which regional sports networks they carry in various places.

That should be easy, but some of these “over the top” video providers don’t let you do this right on their home page. They may not even link to the relevant channel-finder page from anyplace obvious, and in one case a channel-finder feature lurks on a tech-support page.

So I had to open last year’s version of this cord-cutting story to find all the links I’d gathered then. To save me from having to do that again, and to spare you from some extra clicking around, here are those local-channel-lookup links:

DirecTV Now

FuboTV

Hulu with Live TV

PlayStation Vue

Sling TV

YouTube TV

You’re welcome. As a bonus, two more links:

• The Streamable put together a chart showing which services carry the regional sports networks of which baseball teams, which would have saved me a ton of time in researching my own post if only I’d known about it at the time.

•  CNet’s David Katzmaier put together an enormous Google spreadsheet showing which services carry which TV networks (the big four of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC plus MyTV and the CW, with PBS stations remaining absent) in more than 200 TV markets. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been updated since August of 2018… but I can’t blame the authors for not diving back into what must have been an exhausting effort.

Weekly output: Michael Chertoff on privacy, TV-streaming rate hikes

I only had four workdays this week, thanks to Monday being spent in the air on my way back from London to D.C. That said, my productivity was not as bad as this scant list would suggest, since I filed three other posts in those four days… and now I can find out how much more work edits on those posts will entail.

7/12/2018: Ex-Homeland Security chief Chertoff wants EU-style data privacy laws, Yahoo Finance

I spent about half an hour on the phone with Michael Chertoff Wednesday afternoon about his views on various privacy and security issues and came away with far more material than I could fit in this post, as well as a renewed appreciation of the time it takes to transcribe quotes from a recording of an interview.

7/15/2018: As cord-cutting prices rise, here’s what you can do to keep costs down, USA Today

No, rate hikes at such live-TV streaming services as DirecTV Now and Sling TV don’t mean that returning to the embrace of cable or satellite TV–both subject to the same inflationary pressures, both also fond of sticking you with monthly fees to return a tuner box–now makes financial sense for a lot more people.

Weekly output: New laptops, IFA gadgets, online-video subscribers, wireless plans, Equifax

Technically speaking, I didn’t wrap up my IFA coverage until Sunday night, when I posted an album of photos from the show. Monday afternoon, I’m off to San Francisco for Mobile World Congress Americas, a successor to the CTIA wireless-industry show that I skipped last year.

9/5/2017: Why you might not want a laptop with a 4K display, Yahoo Finance

I liked most of what I saw in Windows laptops at IFA, but the idea of cramming Ultra High Definition resolution into a 13- or 14-inch screen seems idiotic to me.

9/6/2017: 4 amazing new gadgets you can’t get in the US, Yahoo Finance

Going to a gadget show overseas means you’ll see some hardware that you won’t be able to buy back home in the States.

9/7/2017: Best Cell Phone Plans, The Wirecutter

If I’d filed this on time, I would have had to rewrite the update to factor in Verizon’s downgrade of its most-advertised “unlimited” wireless plan. Instead, I had a hurried few days of revising the text I’d last updated in March to reflect that and many other pivots among wireless services.

9/7/2017: Measuring the OTT Subscriber, FierceCable

This piece–you’ll have to cough up an e-mail address to read it–covers how some online video services try to get a sense of their customer metrics.

9/8/2017: Why Equifax needs to give up some details about how it got hacked, Yahoo Finance

Equifax’s massive data breach–yes, I seem to be included among the victims–made me mad. Then it made me think about other posts I’ve written to denounce the reflexive silence of too many tech companies after they realize a third party has broken in and stolen customer data.

Weekly output: selling online video, online privacy

I’m going to spend most of Monday on airplanes as I make my way from D.C. to Shanghai for CES Asia. I’m helping to emcee the Last Gadget Standing app competition, after which I hope to learn a thing or two about the state of consumer electronics on the other side of the Pacific.

5/30/2017: How To Sell OTT To Cable, Satellite And ‘Cord Never’ Subscribers, FierceCable

The highlight of reporting this feature about how online video services try to pitch themselves to potential viewers: having to lean into my laptop to hear an interview subject when I realized I didn’t have a hands-free kit with me. (I’d already answering the call on my laptop instead of my phone, for reasons lost in the mist now.)

6/1/2017: How Washington is throwing away its shot at protecting your privacy, Yahoo Finance

Sometimes, what people don’t say matters more than what they do say. This piece offers some recent evidence for that, in the form of a new bill from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R.-Tex.) that’s surprisingly favorable towards consumers and has been ignored by some of her usual allies.

Weekly output: Ajit Pai’s agenda, inflight WiFi, Clinton-era telecom policy, cord cutting, electronics ban

This week has me headed to the Bay Area to cover Google’s I/O developer conference. If you have questions about Google’s intentions for its Web services, Android, Chromebooks, or any of its other products, now would be a good time to send them my way.

5/8/2017: Trump’s FCC chief looks to expand broadband internet access, Yahoo Finance

I’ve beaten up on FCC chairman Ajit Pai many times already, but this recap of his speech last Friday at the American Enterprise Institute had me in a somewhat forgiving mood. I don’t like scam robocalls any more than he does, and this talk was nothing like the red-baiting denunciation of net-neutrality regulations I’d watched last month.

5/11/2017: How Gogo will transform your Wi-Fi experience in the sky, Yahoo Finance

Here’s my recap of Tuesday’s Gogo flight that showed how inflight WiFi doesn’t have to be terrible–unless airlines screw up anyway. If you’d like more technical details about Gogo’s souped-up “2KU” satellite-linked system, read my fellow passenger Seth Miller’s writeup.

5/12/2017: The Trump administration gets the history of Internet regulations all wrong, The Washington Post

Six years and 25 days after the Post last featured my byline, I wrote another story for the paper. This was originally going to be an item on the PostEverything blog unpacking Ajit Pai’s inaccurate praise for 1990s telecom regulation. But after a John Oliver rant about net neutrality and multiple rounds of editing, it became a broader take on the history of open-Internet policies and found a spot on the front of today’s Outlook section.

If you read this piece in the first few hours it was up Friday, you probably caught it citing an older FCC statistic about the state of competition among Internet providers. Conservative analyst Richard Bennett tweeted out my failure to include the latest, less-depressing stats (they may have been posted after I started writing this), and I only spotted that after seeing this guy had added me to a Twitter list named “open piracy”–a notification Twitter’s “quality filter” showed while hiding the more-relevant tweet calling out my error. Anyway, I e-mailed my editor about the problem, he fixed it, and I left a comment advising readers of the change.

5/12/2017: Financial Review by Sinclair Noe for 05-12-2017, Financial Review

I talked with host Sinclair Noe about the ups and downs of cord cutting, the subject of a Yahoo Finance post last week.

5/13/2017: How a wider laptop ban could threaten your safety and data, Yahoo Finance

I take this story somewhat personally, since if the Feds do expand the current laptop ban, my trans-Atlantic travel habits will ensure I’m hurt by it. And since it looks like my next trip to Europe will be this year’s edition of the Viva Technology Paris conference, I may get to experience any such ban in one of the EU’s worst places for passenger queues: Terminal 1 of Charles de Gaulle airport.

Weekly output: sketchy pop-ups, DirecTV Now, environmentalism under Trump, iCloud calendar spam

I’m in the middle of what I trust is my final lap of business travel for the year, which started with a conference at MIT’s Media Lab Saturday and will include another in New York Tuesday and Wednesday. The chance to see family and friends in Boston and NYC was not irrelevant to my booking this travel.

usat-icloud-spam-post11/28/2016: Don’t let sketchy pop-up ads scare you, USA Today

This column started with a question posted by a friend on Facebook. Spammy pop-ups on the Web aren’t exactly news (I should confess that I may have just seen one spawned by an ad on this blog), but it doesn’t hurt to remind readers that they’re almost always lies.

11/29/2016: AT&T’s DirecTV Now challenges Sling TV, PlayStation Vue…and DirecTV, Yahoo Finance

My unpacking of AT&T’s new over-the-top video service was held up slightly when the company spent 45 minutes touting the service without saying which channels would be available on which price plans. That PR foolishness and DirecTV Now’s initial glitches aside, I still think it’s a big deal for one wired subscription-TV provider to start selling video service into the markets of others–witness how then-Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt completely dodged my question about that possibility in 2011.

12/2/2016: Why Trump’s election hasn’t crushed the hopes of environmentalists, Yahoo Finance

A visit to New York three weeks ago for yet another conference got me thinking about how environmentalists might do well to shift their attention after Jan. 20 from the White House to large companies that, whatever their other faults, accept the scientific consensus around climate change instead of saying it’s a hoax cooked up by the Chinese government.

12/4/2016: How to squelch iCloud calendar spam, USA Today

My contribution to the growing genre of stories about this problem, most quoting the exact same statement by Apple PR, advised readers that Apple has known about this issue since at least July. I also reminded them that while iCloud’s site will normally brush off mobile browsers, iOS and Android let you work around that restriction to change the setting allowing spam invitations to pollute your iCloud schedules.

Weekly output: saved WiFi networks, cord cutting, smartphones in snowstorms

TEL AVIV–Instead of typing this post in a snowbound home, I’m writing it from almost 6,000 miles east. I came here not to flee the snow drifts, but for an introduction to Israel’s cybersecurity sector–meetings with a variety of people in industry and government, plus a security conference here Tuesday and Wednesday–arranged for a group of U.S. journalists and analysts by the America-Israel Friendship League, a non-profit based in New York and here.

Like other sponsored trips I’ve taken, this is not the sort of thing I could have done at the Post. Like them, it provides an opportunity to learn outside the usual scope of my work about a topic I would like to know better. Look for a post or two about this at Yahoo Tech… with a disclosure of who covered most of my travel costs.

1/20/2016: How to ‘Forget’ Old Saved Wi-Fi Networks, Yahoo Tech

This week’s tip at Yahoo was inspired by the many time at CES that my phone tried to connect to old saved networks with Web logins that it couldn’t automatically handle as it would a standard WiFi password.

Yahoo Tech 2016 cord-cutting post1/20/2016: The Time to Cut the Cord and Switch to Streaming TV is Now, Yahoo Tech

The text of this column isn’t as gung-ho about dumping cable or satellite TV as this headline suggests–remember, a third of it covers the continued unavailability online of local stations and home-team sports. But that hed seems to have worked at some level, because the link I shared on my Facebook page was seen by more than 51,000 people. Thanks, undocumented and unaccountable News Feed algorithm!

1/23/2016: How to prolong your phone’s life in a power outage, USA Today

You may remember reading something like this at CEA’s blog in 2012; that post, however, went down the bit bucket a long time ago. Meanwhile, smartphones have changed quite a bit, meaning I could write a cheat sheet about phone battery life that could include some details many readers wouldn’t already know.

Weekly output: Comcast Stream, Amazon’s policy footprint, Flash’s fate

I spent two days this week working in large buildings in D.C., as if I had a full-time job or something. The reasons: Access’s Crypto Summit and the D.C. chapter of the Internet Society’s Internet Governance Forum USA. Neither conference gave me anything I had to write about on the spot, but things I learned at each wonkfest will almost certainly wind up in my coverage later on.

7/13/2015: What You Need to Know about Comcast Stream: Cord-Cutting, Kinda, Yahoo Tech

Comcast’s announcement over the weekend of this streaming-only TV service left some key questions unanswered–like, would you save money on this and a standalone Comcast Internet subscription compared to Comcast’s current bundle of broadband, local channels and streaming HBO?–so I tried to address those concerns in this extra post.

Yahoo Tech Amazon policy post7/14/2015: 5 Ways Amazon Has Changed the Web — for Good and Bad, Yahoo Tech

Amazon turned 20 years old on Tuesday, and I marked the occasion by using my regular column spot to assess its footprint on tech policy over those two decades. The verdict, based on conversations with people across the political spectrum: It’s been more of a follower than a leader, and in some cases it’s been part of the problem. Do the 100-plus comments mean my verdict set off an extended debate? No, they mean a lot of people wanted to complain about Amazon’s delivery times.

7/19/2015: How to bid farewell to Flash, USA Today

Two and a half years after I told USAT readers that Flash wasn’t going away as quickly as I’d hoped, I revisited the issue of Adobe’s multimedia plug-in with a different judgment: Yes, you really can live without it. Writing this column also allowed me to revisit the post I did in 2010 questioning Steve Jobs’ views on Flash; I can’t say that post has held up too well.