Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Cable's Lack Of Interest In HDTV

2007 was the year the government, broadcasters, and equipment manufacturers finally began to get serious about the February, 2009 transition to digital television.

The first step was setting the date of February 17, 2009 in essential stone for the transition, with the Congress fending off a last attempt to delay the date early in the year.

The number of cheap analog-only TV's available for sale has dropped at the retail level, with more digital-ready sets at the ready. And the retail push for HDTV has been generating more interest in large-size screens good for movies and sports programs.

Strangely on the sidelines have been most of America's Cable companies, who have taken the position that they will be the last to the HDTV table in any wholesale sense. Cable has apparently decided it will be more profitable to continue to limit video capacity and wait for the final transition than add capacity, especially to aid broadcasters.

Cable has instead concentrated much of its development in the area of Internet access and telephone service, which require less ongoing investment and no programming negotiations, with cable serving as little more than a bandwidth provider.

Cable's seeming lack of interest in HDTV has opened up a major window for satellite television, which not long ago was teetering on the brink of disaster. Many of cable's most profitable customers have left for the dish, even with its numerous weather and service problems, in order to try and get a broader range of high-definition programming.

Cable's apparent willingness to let these customers go is a strange one, but a likely strategy is becoming apparent in doing so.

In largely ignoring HDTV, Cable can maintain its present amounts of video bandwidth and limit the development of additional channels of programming that are viable enough to either compete for advertising or demand significant rights fees.

As America's cable companies continue to own part or all of dozens of the most popular cable networks, limiting video bandwidth protects cable-owned network audiences from dilution by additional significant program sources.

By not carrying both the HDTV and analog signals of broadcasters, cable also has inhibited the development of local broadcasting's HDTV audience, as well as any additional revenues broadcasters have hoped to develop from using their FCC assigned bandwidth in additional ways, including the provision of Internet access.

This has left broadcasters absorbing many millions of dollars of costs at each station with essentially no growth in revenue from digital television to support it. Which in turn helps local cable compete better for advertising against weaker broadcasters.

Cable also sees an opportunity to drive penetration into the last of America's broadcast-only households, as analog-only sets become dark in February, 2009. After that date they will either require a converter, or a cable box. Cable will be more than happy to supply the latter, and you can expect a major push to do so in 2008.

In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court held in the 5-4 decision in "Turner Broadcasting System vs. FCC" that cable functioned in many respects as a vertically integrated monopoly. I served as the lead expert witness for the winning government and broadcasters in that case, and generated more than 100,000 pages of original research.

In watching Cable handle the transition to digital television, it's becoming apparent that the same thinking present ten years ago is still largely controlling the cable industry today. Cable wants to continue to control programming access to America's homes while expanding its reach into non-video markets.

This behavior portends yet another round of regulatory and judicial fights, which the Cable industry likely thinks it can win in this go-round, as the Court has become even more conservative.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Legendary Latin Jazz Fusion Act Azteca Reunites For L.A. Concert & Video

One of the more unusual reunions of a 1970's music act happened Saturday night at the Hollywood Key Club - legendary Latin Jazz Fusion act Azteca appeared for the first time in more than 30 years.

Created and arranged by documentary producer Daniel E. Mesa, the concert reunited original members Pete Escovedo, vocalists Wendy Haas and Errol Knowles, bassist Paul Jackson, guitarist Bill Courtial, percussionist Victor Pantoja, trombonist Jules Rowell and former Miles Davis and Chick Corea drummer Lenny White.

Azteca Reunion Concert, September 15, 2007 - Photo By Tom Meek

Azteca was a short-lived Latin Jazz Fusion supergroup that did two records for Columbia in the early 1970's. Founded by the late Coke Escovedo and Pete Escovedo after their departure from Latin rock superband Santana, Azteca was the first band to employ a large ensemble of horns, woodwinds, keyboards, latin percussion, and other instruments (up to 25 members in live performance) to create a hybrid of latin, jazz and fusion music featuring high-level accomplished musicians from various musical backgrounds.

Azteca is also where percussion superstar Sheila E(scovedo) got her start as a teenager, filling in on a night when Victor Pantoja was ill. Other notable Azteca members included Santana/Journey guitarist Neal Schon, woodwind player Mel Martin, vocalist (the late) Rico Reyes, and keyboardist Mike Nock.

Of special note was vocalist Wendy Haas, who also appeared on Santana's highly respected 1973 "Welcome" album. Married to actor-comedian-artist Martin Mull, Haas' appearance onstage was her first in decades.

The concert ended with a tribute from Escovedo's daughter Sheila E. and other members of the Escovedo family, who led an all-star Latin percussion and music jam with more than 20 musicians onstage, lasting nearly 15 minutes.

According to guitarist Bill Courtial, it's hoped at least one more show can be arranged and produced in San Francisco, the band's home.

Despite being only a relatively modest 30 years old, producer Mesa has a profound interest in jazz fusion and Latin music of past decades, which he's stated he wants to see both preserved and rediscovered. He had previously completed a retrospective concert and DVD on legendary jazz and fusion guitarist Larry Coryell, and a smilar DVD release is planned for the Azteca Reunion concert.

Chick Corea To Reunite Return To Forever

A rumor quietly circulating through the Los Angeles-area musical community was essentially confirmed Saturday night - Chick Corea's legendary Return To Forever band will reunite for a planned 2008 concert tour.

(L to R) Lenny White, Chick Corea, Al Di Meola, Stanley Clarke

I asked Return To Forever drummer Lenny White, who appeared at the Hollywood Key Club that evening as part of the Azteca Reunion concert, backstage whether the story was true, and before I could finish the question he responded "Yes, I'm flying to Florida tomorrow to see Chick - it's going to happen in 2008" - Corea has a home in the Tampa area.

The lineup offered to me earlier in the week was that usually most beloved by Return To Forever fans - Keyboardist Chick Corea, Guitarist Al Di Meola, Bassist Stanley Clarke, and White. Together they were one of the most popular, respected and biggest selling jazz/fusion acts of the 1970's.

While no official announcement has been made, prospects are that 2008 will see one of the most in-demand tickets for a jazz music act in years worldwide.

(This news was first posted Sunday at the Fusion Forums at, which are edited by the author).

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Best Hour On Television

In a program that's a throwback to "old school" television journalism, MSNBC's "Countdown" features a nightly blast that's a welcome and nearly unique venture in major commercial television. Keith Olbermann, who came to fame as a long-time sports anchor on ESPN, takes no prisoners in a nightly quest for facts and intelligent commentary, rather than any pseudo or proclaimed "fairness" so pathetically trumpeted across so much of today's news airwaves.

Olbermann has no qualms about pointing fingers at right-wing heroes including Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and especially Fox nemesis Bill O'Reilly. His nightly "Worst Person In The World" section is a visual and aural skewering of the most corrupt and hypocritical in recent news.

His lack of love for Fox News seemingly knows no end, as Olbermann readily points to the fact that founder and head Roger Ailes was a former crony of Richard Nixon's, as he alternates between calling it "Fixed News" and "Fox Noise" on a continuous basis.

My favorite Olbermann story of recent months was his reporting of the White House attempt to downplay (on Fox News) President Bush's usage of the phrase "stay the course" when referring to his Iraq war policy, claiming it was a "great story" and had only been used "eight times". Within a few hours Olbermann's staff found no less than 29 occasions where Bush had offered "stay the course".

Olbermann has also called on Bush and Vice-President Cheney to resign, blasted Rudy Guiliani for claiming only a Republican president (namely him) would prevent terrorist casualties, and set out to prove (and did) whether Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice simply lied when she claimed President Clinton "left no strategy to fight Al-Queda".

What is different about Olbermann are his use of key elements in journalism that have been largely left behind in an era where "fairness" means presenting "both sides of an issue" no matter how absurd or factually unsupported, with research into history and a willingness to point to facts as being just that. Facts.

Olbermann also points to the nightly dose of celebrity news he is made to report as being what it is, as almost not worth hearing in the first place, as compared to other networks spending weeks of airtime devoted to such breathtakingly "relevant" subjects as the death and custody "battle" of Anna-Nicole Smith and child.

We can only hope Olbermann's "Countdown" remains on the air as an alternative to the celebrity-filled gossip and milquetoast reporting otherwise consuming so much of our video bandwidth.

Keep up the good work.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

On The Passing Of Art Davis

I had the pleasure of knowing Dr. Art Davis for more than fifteen years, dating back to a meeting at his long-time gig at the Four Seasons in Newport Beach in the late 1980's. While Art wasn't as well known as some of his contemporaries, he had a unique place in jazz history, playing with many of its greatest legends, including John Coltrane and Bill Evans. In more recent years he settled into a quiet life teaching and playing mostly in Orange County, California, including his most recent stint at the Laguna Niguel Ritz-Carlton.

Though Davis wasn't known well in many contemporary jazz circles, he held a place of considerable esteem among his peers. When I mentioned seeing Davis to sought-after Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip on a recent Southern California trip, Haslip immediately asked me to get in contact with him to see if he might be interested in additional studio and other work. He was a major fan, as were many others in the know.

Art Davis was posessed of a wealth of musical knowledge, as well as a willingess to allow others into his life, as he did for me. For that, I will be grateful for having made his acquaintance. If there is an afterlife, I'm sure Art has one of the first bass chairs in the Eternal Orchestra Of Jazz.

Art Davis with Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, Sonny Fortune and Freddie Hubbard - "Blues Minor"

Deborah Holland - A Huge Talent, Still Largely Undiscovered

Her bio reads that she didn't make the cheerleading squad at 14, and subsequently turned to singing and songwriting. And shortly thereafter was accepted at and attended the prestigious Berklee College Of Music in Boston. And shortly thereafter graduated with honors from Rutgers.

Deborah Holland was a virtual unknown in the music world until 1987, when she was plucked from obscurity to front the first post-Police supergroup featuring Stewart Copeland, Andy Summers and jazz virtuoso bassist Stanley Clarke. Its short life as "Rush Hour" was followed by Summers' departure and a subsequent renaming to "Animal Logic" by Miles Copeland, long-time manager of The Police.

Two CD's and a limited amount of commercial success followed before the band spilt at the end of 1991.

What remains are a collection of intelligent and sophisticated songs rarely heard in the Pop-Rock world, composed and sung almost exclusively by Deborah Holland.

Holland has gone on to make four solo CD's and form a new female supergroup called "The Refugees" with Wendy Waldman and Cindy Bullens, all while finishing a Master's, becoming a professor at Cal State Los Angeles, and raising a family with two boys.

Today Holland's lyrics often reach for satire and humor mixed with a direct insight and candor that's been compared to Christine Lavin and Loudon Wainwright. While many comparable voices have begun to wilt over time, Holland's has only become fuller and richer, combined with a learned control, perfect pitch, and subtleties that make a trained ear smile.

If you have the opportunity to hear Deborah Holland live, make the time to do so. You'll likely be amazed at how such an incredible talent has passed under so many radars for such a long time. And you'll smile that you've experienced one of America's best singer-songwriters.

Animal Logic - Rose Colored Glasses

Deborah Holland's Web Site