Cutting the cord: life post cable TV

I have been considering cutting paid cable/satellite TV service out of my life for quite a while. With my recent move into a new place with my partner Chris, I decided it was time to kick the habit. People have asked me to share my experiences. My…

I have been considering cutting paid cable/satellite TV service out of my life for quite a while. With my recent move into a new place with my partner Chris, I decided it was time to kick the habit. People have asked me to share my experiences.

My system combines over-the-air digital TV from a rooftop digital UHF antenna together with downloaded or streamed online content, delivered to my beautiful new 50″ HD television. The TV takes content from the digital antenna as well as a first-gen Apple TV (movies, TV episodes, video podcasts, YouTube) and a Playstation 3 (Bluray, Netflix). This full post below the jump provides detail about the core piece – replacing cable/satellite with over-the-air signals for digital broadcast television.

Overall Impressions

I’m thrilled to get 80% of everything I wanted from a paid cable subscription from free over the air digital television in pristine quality. Now I’ve become an advocate for cutting the cord, telling anybody who will listen to seriously consider it. I feel that the investment in professional rooftop installation was worth it for the reliable reception I get for US channels, paying for itself compared to cable in a few short months. It also felt good directing my money to an independent local business as opposed to a oligopoly cable/telco for a change.

Hardcore sports fans may not feel the same way, although that could change in the future with more HD Internet streaming of live events. The main reason I’m not missing anything has to do with the rest of my setup, which relies heavily on Internet downloads and streaming. I’ll write that up another time, if there’s interest.

More details of my setup, some key reference links and the results after the jump…

Continue reading “Cutting the cord: life post cable TV”

A modest proposal for Canadian broadcasters and #CRTC

OTA HD television broadcast signals combined with the pleasure of the iTunes/Apple TV buying experience is a great combination to beat $100+ cable bills common in Canada. Most customers want the content that they want, when they want, in high qual…

5346530-Twitter _ Mark Kuznicki_ .@runmad Broadcasters shou ...

My friend Rune was tweeting about how great OTA (over-the-air) HD picture quality is with a strong signal, as good as Blu-Ray and better than HD on cable:

5346531-Twitter _ Rune Madsen_ The picture quality for ov ...

OTA HD television broadcast signals combined with the pleasure of the iTunes/Apple TV buying experience is a great combination to beat $100+ cable bills common in Canada. Most customers want the content that they want, when they want, in high quality formats and highly usable interfaces. Cable does not deliver this.

Broadcasters resist delivering this experience and have delivered themselves into the hands of cablecos by not supporting web delivery of high quality content on multiple platforms. The also are under utilizing the spectrum they have with spotty digital over-the-air digital signal strength.

The broadcaster vs cableco “save local TV” vs “TV tax” debate masks the true failure of both sides of this industry.

If we are to have a TV tax, a la the UK, I want it to go to a new form of public/nonprofit broadcasting, not to weak media conglomerates with weak business models riding the coattails of US content and cheap generic reality programming.

Open Source Journalism

Journalism and media are undergoing a massive transformation. Many inside are feeling the pain, not the least of which are the CBC’s 800 employees about to get the axe. Clay Shirky recently wrote an important piece about “thinking the unthinkable” in newspapers, highly recommended reading. I took note of this in his concluding paragraph:

For the next few decades, journalism will be made up of overlapping special cases. Many of these models will rely on amateurs as researchers and writers. Many of these models will rely on sponsorship or grants or endowments instead of revenues. Many of these models will rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results. Many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need.

My work with TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin has been fascinating and rewarding in this context of massive change in the media business model and questions about the future of journalism as craft and practice. I think that what is important during this transformation is to unpack, unbundle and reconfigure the elements that we think of when we think about “broadcaster” or “newspaper” and reimagine how they can be reconfigured to deliver more value to more people. Value that people want to pay for.

The Agenda: on the Road project is an interesting experiment along the lines of what Shirky describes above. What began as a way to bring TVO’s flagship current affairs program into local communities has developed into an ongoing experiment in open source journalism and community engagement.

Continue reading “Open Source Journalism”

CRTC loses the plot on traffic-shaping

The CRTC CAIP-Bell Canada traffic shaping decision is in, and it’s not good. and Michael Geist have been active on the file, letting regular Canadians know what the impacts are to them.

It appears that the CRTC did not accept the anti-competitive argument, mainly because it did not observe a drop in the growth of 3rd party ISP’s business.

Based on the evidence before us, we found that the measures employed by Bell Canada to manage its network were not discriminatory. Bell Canada applied the same traffic-shaping practices to wholesale customers as it did to its own retail customers – Konrad von Finckenstein, Q.C., Chairman of the CRTC

The frame of this judgment is not about the discrimination of content.  This misses the main point of the net neutrality debate: the discrimination of content between individual users on a common carrier network that stems from certain kinds of traffic shaping practices.

This is just the first salvo, and CRTC is preparing itself for more consultations in July 2009 as the issue is not going to go away.

What can you do? Join a citizens movement for the open web! is front and centre on this file. Please send a letter to CRTC, donate to the campaign and volunteer to help organize digital citizens across the country.

You also might want to drop Bell and Rogers and go for a smart, engaged small company like TekSavvy for your internet service needs. They have amazing customer service. You may be confused at first if like most of us you have become accustomed to the maze of call centre hell that is the customer experience of the big boys. Bonus.

Public Media 2.0: TVO’s The Agenda on the Road, pt.1

Wow. Dan and I are still processing the impact and learnings of the first AgendaCamp and TVO’s The Agenda on the Road, which took place in Windsor earlier this week. Overall, it was a huge success and something we’re going to build upon for the next four events and shows in other communities. The best part for me was the end of day reaction of Steve Paikin, host of The Agenda and one of Canada’s most respected journalistic talents.

The format called for 6 simultaneous 1 hour sessions. After 50 minutes, participants were asked to wrap up their discussion and tasked to produce a 2 and a half minute video that summarized their conversation using our inexpensive Flip Video cameras. It proved to be a powerful format and we will tweak it in order to help gather even more and better video content from our amazing participants. You can check out the content on the budding AgendaCamp wiki, YouTube, Flickr and get content updates by following AgendaCamp on Twitter.

We just love our participants’ passion and we felt their desire to come together as a community to make the place they call home a better place. They tackled the big questions of economic renewal in the context of a rapidly declining auto industry, and they planted their seeds of their own future.

The next step is to support this budding community as they continue their work together, providing them with tools to help their collaboration and ongoing conversations. I hope that we can find a way to connect this grassroots energy and enthusiasm to power and influence in a way that can meaningfully effect change, but that really depends on the community.

The thing we’re most interested in seeing evolve is how AgendaCamp participants and content interact with the broadcast. With five events, five shows and five different producers in five communities, we’ll get to see a number of variations on this combination of bottom-up engagement, online interaction and major current affairs broadcast platform. So much fascinating stuff! We’re excited for the next event in Sault Ste. Marie November 16th and 17th.

Hacking democracy, Canadian style

A broad progressive (neo-progressive?) movement is emerging on the web, rallying Canadian netizens to defeat the Harper Conservatives in the October 14th federal election.  Dozens of sites and groups have suddenly emerged in the blogosphere and on Facebook with a single unified goal – to defeat the Harper government.

I’m helping with one of these campaigns,, which is a viral media and strategic voting campaign launched from a Facebook group in less than two weeks.  The idea is to create, distribute and share viral media that will drive anti-Harper forces to take action in the form of strategic voting.  The campaign includes videos produced by community members that are hosted on Vimeo and YouTube and a strategic voting widget hosted at Widgetbox.

The strategic voting widget is a democracy hack response to the current situation that progressive Canadians face. Today, the Conservative party can achieve a majority government and push ahead a neo-conservative agenda with only 38% of the popular vote. This is due to the first-past-the-post electoral system and a splintered centre-left  composed of four parties lined up against a united right wing Conservative party. Other approaches to hack this situation include sites and groups that facilitate strategic vote swapping between progressives living in different ridings supporting different centre-left parties.

Meanwhile our friends at Fair Vote Canada are creating a home for Ophan Voters – voters whose votes do not help elect anyone in a first-past-the-post system. They hope to raise awareness of the need for electoral reform, but they are challenged in building the momentum they need when the beneficiaries of the current system control the path to reform. It appears that fundamental reform is not gaining sufficient traction, certainly not in the short term.

Why now?  I think this activity can be seen as the result of some underlying forces:

  1. The social web and the technologies of so-called Web 2.0
  2. The experience of and the Obama campaign in the U.S. election
  3. A frustrated and digitally enabled electorate, looking for change but lacking a galvanizing leader (like an Obama) to rally behind

Can regular Canadians, using the tools of the web, work around the limitations of first-past-the-post electoral system to snatch a progressive outcome from a system otherwise gamed in the favour of the incumbent Conservative party?

This emerging movement is going to try. It remains to be seen what it can do in the short three weeks remaining in this electoral cycle. Fundraising Campaign Launched in Toronto

Yesterday in Toronto, I co-hosted and facilitated an open forum on the future of Canada’s open internet with Matt Thompson of and Steve Anderson of The intent of the gathering was to engage Toronto’s tech/web/media community around the issue of network neutrality and to launch a coalition and campaign to preserve and enhance Canada’s digital future.

In March, the net neutrality issue finally made the front pages and broadcast media in Canada, triggered by news of Bell Canada’s throttling of third-party Internet Service Providers’ peer-to-peer traffic. The unilateral action was seen by advocates of a neutral and open Internet as anti-competitive and a dangerous precedent, and it triggered a backlash against Bell Canada. Bell confirmed advocates worst fears in May, when it launched its own online video store after having throttled P2P traffic, much of which is dedicated to video – both legal and otherwise.

Thompson provided some excellent background on the issue drawing from his experience on the U.S. campaign around network neutrality, which is well advanced compared to the debate in Canada. Matt shared the U.S. focused viral video, Save the Internet!, which won a 2007 Webby People’s Voice Award:

Thompson presented a clear description of the principles underlying the neutral and open web and its importance to Canada’s future as an innovative economy and a free society. He also articulated a nuanced understanding that the last-mile monopoly providers (principally Bell and Rogers in Canada) aren’t evil, they are merely doing their job and lobbying for rules that are in their shareholders’ interests. He described that what is really missing in Canada is everybody else – all the many stakeholders that are damaged by a set of norms that currently allows for discrimination of content on the web by these monopoly providers.

Canada needs a plan. Thompson made a passionate plea that the real underlying issue is that the government of Canada’s laissez faire approach (“we don’t regulate the Internet”) shows that Canada has no plan for its digital future. It has no vision about the infrastructure for everything else, and how we’re going to compete in a global digital future when other countries have long passed us by in terms of broadband policy, infrastructure speed, access and costs. Compare this situation against Barack Obama’s Technology policies. and it’s clear that there is a political opportunity to show leadership on the technology file. promises to be a vehicle for everybody else. is intended to act as a broad, inclusive coalition of strange bedfellows: freedom of speech activists and technology entrepreneurs; unions and third-party ISPs; large technology companies and broadcasters. needs our community’s help. Effective awareness campaigns like the Save the Internet video, coalition building, media relations, community engagement, participation in CRTC hearings and direct lobbying of elected officials requires dedicated resources – volunteers alone won’t do it. Big players are being lined up to support the effort, including major public sector unions and companies like Google Canada and Teksavvy.

But the campaign needs a vote of confidence from Canada’s web/tech/media and other communities of interest to trigger the pooling of additional resources from larger organizations and foundations. In fundraising terms, is looking for Angels.

What You Can Do:

  1. Sign onto the coalition at, either as an individual supporter or as an organizational supporter.
  2. PLEASE DONATE what you can to the seed fund for, and then blog about it, share it on Facebook, send to your networks and communities, talk about it.
  3. Contact your MP’s office and arrange for a sit-down chat about the issue during their summer hiatus from Parliament. Just booking the appointment will force your MP to get briefed on the issue, which is the first step in educating our elected officials and raising it on the political agenda come the fall.