Weekly output: Coffee with a Journalist, free PBS streaming, Microsoft report on election meddling, Oracle buying TikTok

After returning to the skies Friday, Sunday saw me return to a part of a bike trail I’d neglected for shamefully long–the Washington & Old Dominion trail west of Arlington. I’m so glad I decided to bike for longer than usual today.

9/8/2020: Coffee with a Journalist: Rob Pegoraro, Fast Company, OnePitch

I recorded my conversation with host Beck Bamberger in mid-August for this PR-service firm’s podcast. Listen in and you’ll learn a few things about how I work, where ideas come from and what sort of PR pitches I find of interest, or at least not annoying.

9/8/2020: You Can Now (Probably) Stream Your Local PBS Station For Free, Forbes

I came to this story a few days late, but so did everybody else, thanks to the apparent absence of any PR effort by PBS on behalf of its introduction of free live streaming of its affiliates in almost 90 markets. I updated the post after publication to note PBS’s quick addition of support for Apple TV as well as its iOS, Android and Kindle Fire apps and to correct one error in the original writeup.

9/11/2020: Microsoft: Hackers from Russia, China and Iran targeted the presidential elections, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news network asked if I could comment on Thursday’s report from Microsoft finding continued attempts by Russia, China and Iran to meddle with the election. As you may be able to tell from the background, I recorded this in an airport–Columbus, the midpoint of Friday’s 9/11 observance. Without a tripod handy, I realized I could use the outside pocket on the old United Airlines amenity kit I use to stash cables and chargers to hold my phone steady.

9/13/2020: Oracle buying TikTok, Al Jazeera

AJ’s English-language news network had me on live Sunday night to talk about the unexpected outcome of the Trump administration’s campaign to force a sale of TikTok’s U.S. operations: Oracle will make that purchase, despite its lack of experience running consumer apps, much less a social network. I don’t see how that can rate as good news for any TikTok user.

Updated 9/16/2020 to add my Coffee with a Journalist appearance, which I’d forgotten to add mainly because it had been that long since I recorded my spot. 

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.

Weekly output: Collision recap, YouTube TV rate hike, coronavirus antibody testing, data caps returning

I had an exceptionally low-key Fourth of July: My wife and I watched the flyover from our sidewalk, I cooked dinner on the grill, and after dining we watched the fireworks from a nearby street.

In addition to the stories below, Patreon readers got a post from me about that site’s confusing and vague presentation of possible sales taxes on membership fees.

6/30/2020: Collision from Home 2020 at a glance, IT World Canada

Lynn Grenier wrote a recap of panels at last week’s virtual conference that mentioned one of mine, making this the first and probably the last time I’m in the same story as Justin Trudeau.

6/30/2020: YouTube TV Now Costs Almost Twice What It Did Three Years Ago, Forbes

The headline wrote itself. I revised it a day later to note a smaller price hike at a competing service, FuboTV, and add a reminder to readers that they can watch PBS over the air for free.

7/1/2020: Here’s what it’s like to get a coronavirus antibody test, Fast Company

On this piece, the lede wrote itself.

7/1/2020: Data caps still alive as pledges from internet service providers expire, USA Today

Between the inability of the nation’s largest Internet provider to make up its mind, my own inattention, and USAT’s status as an online and print publication, this column has had a few iterations. First we updated it later Wednesday to add Comcast’s decision to reinstate and raise its data cap–a move made after that cable operator left its customers guessing after its previous pledge to suspend enforcement of that limit had expired. Then we revised the piece again to correct my own misspelling of somebody’s last name (yes, I managed to get “Smith” wrong because I typed in Cox spokesperson’s Todd Smith’s name and got a different Todd’s surname lodged between my brain and fingers at the time). Finally, the column as revised and extended ran in the July 2 print edition of USAT.

Weekly output: Streaming video vs. ISPs, streaming-TV advice, Twitter takedowns

In an alternate universe, this week would have seen two opening days: the Nationals home game and the year’s first mowing of the lawn. Opening Day has yet to happen, but at least our yard looks a lot nicer, especially after some obsessive weeding this weekend.

Patreon members got an extra this week: my calculations about finally replacing my aging iMac with a now-slightly-less-expensive Mac mini.

3/30/2020: Relax: Netflix binging won’t kill broadband during the COVID-19 crisis, Fast Company

Beyond talking to the usual bandwidth experts about the odds of our connectivity crumpling under all the new work-from-home traffic, I also quizzed people at three small Internet providers that don’t have the resources of a Comcast to deal with a flood of traffic.

4/1/2020: Streaming Services: A U.S. News Guide, U.S. News & World Report

U.S. News contributor Rudi Greenberg interviewed me for this cheat sheet about TV cord cutting.

4/2/2020: Twitter takedowns, Al Jazeera

I appeared via Skype on the Arabic-language news channel to talk about Twitter’s latest takedowns of networks of state-run sockpuppet accounts. I hope my key point came across in overdubbed Arabic: Twitter’s problem is what while it’s learned to catch these influence operations, it can’t catch them as fast as its trending-topics algorithm can boost some of their output.

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.