Monday, May 15, 2023

Junk Fees

One of the most aggravating things about cable TV -- remember having cable? -- is the collection of fees that are tacked on to the end of your bill.

Now, to be sure, cable TV services aren't the only ones to add extra fees to up your bill. Phone services do that. Well, most do. But, to be sure, cable TV services do that as well.

There are local broadcast fees, regional sports fees, and other administrative fees where it looks like they charge you a fee for charging you a fee. Administrative fees are part of the basic service, right? In reality, yes. But many of those services will add that to your bill, simply because they can.

So how much are these fees? Well, if you count all the fees -- not just from cable, but from everything else as well -- it adds up to a lot. According to one study, the average is nearly $600/year:

With the increase in inflation, many households are tracking their expenses more closely and are more aware of the cost of junk fees than ever. According to our survey, junk fees cost the average American an estimated $596 per year, with some consumers paying upwards of $1,000+ per year. On a national level, that would add up to over $190 billion taken out of American wallets annually.

Think about that. Nearly $50/month in junk fees. Being a streamer doesn't eliminate those. In fact, many people will simply replace cable TV with a cable like streaming service, and some services are adding fees just like cable.

I don't subscribe to a cable replacement service. My Streaming Life doesn't need it. But I am aware that I still have some junk fees I need to keep an eye on. You should watch for them as well.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Mothers Day (2023)

My sisters and I lost our mother in 2020. Mothers Day isn't the same without her. I won't spend a lot of time talking about things, but I will mention this. During the last few years of her life, she enjoyed much of the benefits of cord cutting.

She was a fan of technology up to a point. She loved her iPhone but never used it to its fullest extent. However, she used it to do things she had never done before: texting, video chats, Web surfing, and the like. She was fascinated by that, and enjoyed being able to stay in touch with family with greater ease.

She enjoyed her M*A*S*H videos, her Murder She Wrote videos, and the like. I ripped all of her DVDs, both movies and TV shows, to place on a Plex server for her to watch. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I'll explain it like I did to her. Launch this app called Plex, and there are all your movies and TV shows you can watch on any of your TVs, any time you want. She loved that.

Watching her excitement about the things she could do with technology made me understand that I may have inherited that fascination and interest from her. In more ways than the obvious, she made me who I am today.

It's Mothers Day. Enjoy it with your mother if you're able. If not, we can all miss our respective mothers together.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Hulu and Disney+ merger?

While there hasn't been an announcement, the news from Disney indicates that may be coming in the future.

A report in Variety said that Disney is adding Hulu content to the Disney+ app, and that prices for Disney+ will happen later this year.

On Disney's earnings call Wednesday, CEO Bob Iger said the company will soon launch a "one-app experience" in the U.S. that incorporates Hulu content into Disney+. The new combined offering will launch by the end of 2023, available to customers who subscribe to both streaming services, he said.

"While we will continue to offer Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ as standalone options, this is a logical progression of our [direct-to-consumer] offerings that will provide greater opportunities for advertisers while giving bundle subscribers access to more robust and streamlined content, resulting in greater audience engagement and ultimately leading to a more unified streaming experience," Iger said.

This doesn't combine the services into one, but it does mean some Hulu content will be available in the Disney+ app, which is a step in that direction.

A price increase is never a good thing for the consumer, but it does happen a lot. However, with the price of everything going up in the past three years, it's certainly not a surprise.

The good news is that the price increase was only announced for the ad-free tier, which is the original service. The ad-supported service will remain the same price for now.

My Streaming Life includes the ad-supported tier, so I won't be impacted by the upcoming price increase. I'm not sure how I feel about the possible combining of the services though. I may like it. But I might now. If it happens, I'll have a decision to make, as I normally just use Hulu alone.

Friday, May 12, 2023

Dropping streaming services

Another report is out indicating that streamers in the USA have not only cut back on cable (no surprise there) but are also cutting back on streaming services. That may be a surprise to some. Not to me, but that's because I already do things a little differently. But it does indicate that more people are seeing streaming as something more than just a replacement for cable.

The study indicates that prior to 2020, the average US streamer averaged about four streaming services. In the next two years, that number went up to over seven services. Now it's back down to a little over six.

Why are people cutting back? Cost is one reason, but I think people are becoming more savvy streamers. Luke Bouma at Cord Cutters News calls it a maturity of streaming:

We are also seeing recent price hikes pushing 56% of cord cutters to cut back on the number of streaming services they are paying for. This is not a sign of cord cutting slowing down but instead of the maturity of cord cutting.

Increasingly cord cutters are learning what they really want and need. This idea you have to have everything for most people is just not accurate.

A lot of new streamers will subscribe to a cable replacement service. I never did it that way, mostly because I cut before there were any services such as Sling TV, YouTube TV, or any of those. It was not even an option. I learned early on that replacing cable with the same thing except streaming wasn't necessary.

I think more people are realizing that. I think that many have simply switched from cable to a streaming version of cable, and with price hikes in everything over the last three years, including streaming services, they've come to realize they're paying nearly as much for streaming as they did for cable. Rather than go back to cable and long term contracts and hidden fees, they are finding ways to cut back. In the process, they realize they don't need all those services. They're also discovering that free ad-supported television (FAST) services are a viable option for a lot of content.

My Streaming Life has never included a lot of subscriptions. It wasn't possible when I cut the cord, so I found out it wasn't necessary. More people are realizing it's not necessary as well, and are saving money as a result.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

YouTube fighting ad blockers

Some YouTube users have been getting notices about ad blockers, according to an online report. This appears to be a big deal. I'm a little out of the loop on this for a couple of reasons.

Let's start with the report, then I'll get to why I wasn't aware of this.

A report on 9to5Google says it picked up word that YouTube had begun checking for ad blockers, and was preventing viewership of its content as a result.

A Redditor first spotted earlier this week that, on trying to use, a pop-up appeared saying that ad blockers are not allowed on YouTube. Videos were blocked from streaming unless the user then allowed YouTube ads or signed up for YouTube Premium, the subscription service that allows users to watch content on YouTube without ads.

It's a surprising message to see, given that YouTube hasn't addressed ad blockers for years and years now. The message adds that "ads allow YouTube to stay free for billions of users worldwide."

A YouTube employee has since confirmed to the r/YouTube moderation team that, for now, this is just an “experiment.” For now, YouTube is only testing blocking ad blockers.

I actually watch YouTube a bit, and I've not seen the message. I don't use ad-blockers. Well, I do and I don't. It's complicated. Let me explain.

On my personal browser, I do not employ an ad-blocker. I am okay with Websites using ads to support their content. However, I am not okay with being tracked. I have an anti-tracking solution employed that could impact ads, although blocking ads is not what I'm trying to do.

While I don't run an ad blocker on my browser, I do have a Pi Hole setup on my home network. And while Pi Hole if known for blocking ads, it actually has other functions, including the function I want. I'm not running the standard ad-blocking lists on Pi Hole. Rather, I'm running tracker blocking lists. If there is tracking code embedded on the Website, it gets filtered out.

If a Website has ads, and they aren't tracking, I get the ads. I'm good with that. I only block trackers.

All of that adds up to one reason I wouldn't see the message on YouTube. There is one other reason: I already subscribe to YouTube Premium.

YouTube Premium by itself isn't something to which I'd normally subscribe. However, it does offer a bonus that makes it worthwhile to me. YouTube Music is included with YouTube Premium. I've been subscribing to YouTube Music as part of YouTube Premium, and have been looking to that as an alternative to SirusXM in the car.

The downside of this is that I've not seen if the message is in place for Pi Hole users. I could log out of YouTube Premium and see if I get the message, and I may. But I probably won't.

My Streaming Life contains ads, unless they are tracking ads. If the content were to detect and block content because of Pi Hole, I'd figure out how to deal with it. I've not had to, and I'm good to go for now.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Another nail in the Roku 4 coffin

Back in March, Roku announced that they were discontinuing support for the Roku 4 (model 4400). That came as no surprise to me. In fact, the surprise -- and there was one -- was that they supported the Roku 4 for as long as they did.

From launch, the Roku 4 had all kinds of problems. The idea of the Roku 4 was, in its day, a good idea. The execution of that idea was a huge misstep by Roku.

The fan (yes, it had a fan) was noisy at times, and all kinds of glitches happened. I was watching reports from owners carefully at the time, since I was thinking of getting one. I had always owned at least one of the top of the line Roku devices. I owned a Roku 3, and when the Roku 4 came out, I considered getting one.

The only draw was 4K, but as I didn't own a 4K TV at the time, I decided to wait and see what else it offered to determine if upgrading was the way for me to go. All the reports of issues with the device convinced me to not get one. It was the first top-of-the-line Roku that I didn't purchase.

Roku discontinued the Roku 4 within a year, replacing it with the Ultra (finally discontinuing the Roku 3 at the same time). I waited on the Ultra as well, after the Roku 4 debacle. After a year, I finally bought an Ultra, but continued to use the Roku 3 until just a couple of years ago.

Back to Roku's announcement from March. The Roku 4 isn't getting the new Roku OS 12 software update, as it's no longer a supported device. And now another blow to Roku 4 owners. Disney+ is dropping Roku 4 support:

According to a message posted on Roku 4 on May 30th, 2023, Disney+ will be ending support for older Roku players, including the Roku 4. This means if you want to keep watching Disney+ and you own a Roku 4, you will need to upgrade to a newer Roku player.

This news comes as Roku has announced that it is ending support for the Roku 4, which was Roku’s first 4K streaming player it ever made. The Roku 4 was later replaced by the Roku Ultra, which is now the top-of-the-line Roku Player.

A lot of people who bought a Roku 4 will be very unhappy. However, I suspect many of them have not been as happy as owners of the Roku Ultra, which was the Roku 4 done right. My Streaming Life never had to endure a Roku 4, but for those that did, this is not good news, and may be the reason they were needing to get a better Roku device.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Local news

I read an article several days ago that mentioned that Fox had launched a new streaming service for local news. The app is Fox Local, and is rolling out nationwide.

"Nationwide" doesn't mean everywhere, at least not just yet:

At launch, only Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St.Paul, Milwaukee, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa, and Washington DC are live on the service, but more locals will reportedly be added soon.

"FOX Local is the crucial next step in our overall streaming strategy, which is focused on providing viewers the easiest and fastest ways to watch their most trusted local news and programming," said Jeff Zellmer, Senior Vice President of Digital Operations for Fox Television Stations.

While this sounds like a good idea, it doesn't help a lot of people. You see, there are a lot of people outside of those listed cities. I'm in southeast Georgia, and a local Atlanta station does nothing for me. It might as well be in another state. In fact, news out of Jacksonville, Florida would be more local than Atlanta.

It's not available for Roku, which is a huge hole in its footprint as well. I get the Fox Local app via one of the other platforms. I've only used it on Google TV, and there are only three cities available there: Atlanta, Detroit, and Washington, DC. The others listed in the article are all marked "Coming Soon."

I get local news via an antenna. It gets me the stations from Savannah, my actual local TV news. Maybe one day, the Fox Local app will expand to Savannah, but I'm not holding my breath. My Streaming Life would be improved with Fox Local carrying my local stations, but my trusty antenna gets me by for now.

Monday, May 8, 2023

Sling TV's Freestream

For a long time, I've used Sling TV's free service. A lot of people didn't know that you could watch free content on Sling TV, but it's been a thing for a while. The number of offerings has grown over the years, from a handful to over 300.

Back in February, Sling TV rebranded their free offering. Actually, they branded it, since it really wasn't promoted or given a proper name. I called it Sling TV free because I didn't know what else to call it.

Freestream is the name, and now the service has over 335 channels, according to a recent news release:

Sling Freestream now offers more than 35 sports, 100 entertainment and 45 news channels with no payment or credit card required. SLING plans to continue its FAST growth by introducing more domestic sports, entertainment and news channels, plus dozens of foreign language international channels and On Demand content throughout 2023.

Adding to its complete entertainment experience, Sling Freestream users have the ability to effortlessly subscribe to more than 50 standalone streaming services (AMC+, discovery+, MGM+, SHOWTIME, etc.) and/or add a SLING Orange and/or SLING Blue base service.

The service is a good free ad-supported television (FAST) service. There are many from which to choose, but the nice thing is that since it and other FAST services are free, you can have all you want and it won't cost you anything. My Streaming Life is better for Freestream, and the other services.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Google TV app management

It appears Google is taking a lesson from Roku. Not exactly, but they are making an improvement that puts them second to Roku in one regard.

One of the biggest problems with all the streaming devices, except Roku, is storage space. Most of them have small storage on the device, except for Apple TV. Even Roku has small on-board storage. But Roku handles it well.

How? Well, it seems that Roku will manage storage space by removing apps from your device if you run out of space, and get them back when you need it.

Here's an example: Say you have 20 apps on your streaming device. Let's suppose those 20 apps take up all the storage on your streaming device. Now suppose you want to add another app. What happens?

Well, if it's Google TV, Apple TV, or Fire TV, you get a message that you're out of space and need to remove something. And it won't let you add the new app until you do.

Roku does it differently. If your Roku is full, and you try to download a new app, Roku will look at which app has gone the longest without being used and remove it. They'll leave a shortcut or placeholder for it, but remove the bulk of the app. It's still listed as an installed app, but it technically isn't on the Roku device any more. Then the Roku tries to download the new app. If there still isn't enough room, Roku will find the next app that's been the longest since you used it, and repeat the process until it has enough space for the new app.

Just because it removes the app from the device doesn't mean you don't see the app. It still shows on your menu. And when you try to launch it, it downloads it again. And if there isn't enough room, it repeats the process of removing the oldest-used apps until it gets enough space. You never run out of space, and you still keep all your apps, or at least the menu item.

The recent to change to Google TV doesn't do it that way, but it does change the way it does things and makes it less likely to run out of space. What Google TV now will do is remove any app you haven't used in 30 days. Like Roku, it still keeps the app listed on your device, and downloads it again when you launch it.

App Hibernation is a new feature that will automatically force apps to hibernate when not used for over 30 days (on Android S and above devices). We also leveraged Android App Bundles for Google TV reducing the size of the apps by roughly 25%. This frees up space on your device to download even more apps and to watch your preferred programs without worry.

I still like the way Roku does better, but it is an improvement over the old way. My Streaming Life is made better by Roku's method of swapping out apps. And the Google TV portion will be improved by their new process as well,

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Streaming the Kentucky Derby (2023)

The Kentucky Derby is this afternoon. And yeah, it's kind of a big deal. It's been a big deal for a while now.

I do have a passing interest in the race, and if I'm able, there's a better than even chance I'll watch it. And I realize I'm not sounding like I'm drumming up excitement about the race. That's because I'm not. Some people are interested in it a lot, some a little, and some not at all.

If you are interested, and if you are a streamer, you will probably want to know how you can watch it. Or even if you can watch it if  you're a streamer. Well, you can.

NBC is, again, carrying the race. While USA carried the Kentucky Oaks yesterday, the Derby is on NBC and Peacock. Coverage begins at 2:30 pm, with the actual race a few minutes before 7:00 pm.

The fastest time in the Kentucky Derby was set by Secretariat in 1973, at 1:59.4. The second fasted time in the Derby was Sham, at an estimated 1:59.8. Why was Sham's time an estimate? Because they don't normally keep as accurate records on second-place horses. Sham set his time in 1973, when he lost to Secretariat. Had Sham run that time, and Secretariat not run in the race, Sham would be the record holder. That was quite a race.

Will any records be set today? Find out. Watch the Kentucky Derby on NBC or on Peacock TV and see for yourself.

Here's how to watch:

Peacock TV

  • Subscription is $5/month for the Premium service. It's $10/month for ad-free. But ad-free doesn't include not having ads in live TV. The ad-free applies to on-demand only.


  • Antenna (free) over the air.
  • Sling TV ($40 Orange) ($40/Blue) ($55 Orange + Blue)
  • DirecTV Stream ($65/month)
  • Hulu+Live TV ($70/month)
  • YouTube TV ($73/month)
  • Fubo (Pro) ($75/month)

If watching the first jewel of the Triple Crown is on your agenda for the day, you can enjoy streaming it on one of those services. My Streaming Life will include today's Kentucky Derby, probably on Peacock. But there are plenty of options.