THE TOP SECRET WEST HOUSTON ROOFTOP CABINETS GRABBING HOUSTON TV SIGNALS FOR INTERNET STREAMING Chronicle tech reporter Dwight Silverman tours the rooftop base housing tens of thousands of tiny, dime-size antennas used by a New York-based company whose business model of capturing local TV, storing it on DVR servers, and streaming it to customers, is headed for a Supreme Court showdown: “Aereo’s local operation is located in a data center in west Houston. (I can’t say more than that – not because of Aereo, but because the data center is very security-conscious and keeps the location secret to protect other customers.) The location was picked partly because TV signals for most of Houston’s broadcast stations are strong there.
The antennas are stored in cabinets mounted on a platform on the center’s roof. To get there, you must climb about 20 feet up a vertical ladder (after receiving a detailed safety briefing) and exit through a hatch onto the roof.
The two cabinets each have a locked door that provides access on one side. Open them, and you can see long circuit-board racks, each about 14-16 inches long, that hold the antennas. Below them is equipment that converts the radio frequency signals to MPEG-2 video. The back side of the cabinets have what [Aereo founder and CEO Chet] Kanojia described as ‘RF transparent windows,’ made of a material that lets TV signals penetrate easily.
The converted MPEG-2 video is fed via 10-gigabit fiber-optic cables to a set of servers in the floor below the roof. Aereo has a relatively small space in the data center, but still has plenty of room to add more servers. A rack of transcoders convert the MPEG-2 video into MPEG-4, which is more easily streamed over the Net.
Two racks of hard drives, each with 3 terabytes of storage and spinning at 7,200 RPM, stores the data. Aereo saves each customer’s signal to the drives, even if they’re watching live, which is what allows its users to pause and rewind live TV. The drives also store recorded shows, with the amount varying based on whether a customer has the $8 or $12 Aereo plan.
When someone wants to watch a show, it’s streamed out through the data center’s big fiber-optic connection to the Internet.” [TechBlog; more info ($)]
Photo of Houston West Data Center (probably not the Aereo location) at 5150 Westway Park Blvd.: CyrusOne
The homes depicted in the teevee version of The Astronaut Wives Club may turn out to be a bit more landlocked than the actual Space Age family spreads they’re modeled after. Location scouts for the upcoming ABC mini-series, which will be based on the book by Lily Koppel, appear to be steering clear of the actual Clear Lake-area neighborhoods the original 7 astronaut families lived in — and pushing west instead. Real estate agent Robert Searcy tells Swamplot the location scouts who contacted him were looking for a neighborhood with original-looking mid-fifties-era houses. So he passed info around to owners he knew about, letting them decide if they wanted to open up their homes to teevee crews: “They also contacted Houston Mod,” Searcy says:
“Apparently [the site scouts] are most interested in what they loosely described as ‘mid-range’ homes of the era, not updated. I got them in a few houses in Glenbrook Valley and a couple in Meadowcreek Village, including the Mackie & Kamrath one over there, but I think some of the mods were a bit too grand for what they are looking for. They seem to be most focused on Willowbend right now. So if you live in Willowbend in a non-updated house, don’t be shocked if you get a note on your door!”
WHOSE IS THE UGLIEST YARD OF ALL? The DIY Network is looking for some telegenic eyesores to feature in its groundskeeping soap opera, Desperate Landscapes. Know any? Unfortunately, the call for entries for yards that star contractor Jason Cameron spends 2 frantic days trying to make a bit more presentable doesn’t appear to be a chance for you to get revenge and tattle on your neighbors:To be on the show you’ve got to denigrate — er, nominate your own yard. [Jay TV] Photo of yard on 2000 block of Rainbow Dr.: Allyn West
CRICKET TRAILER TAKES IT OFFLINE How’d the Cricket Trailer do in its national teevee debut last night on Extreme RV, the Travel Channel’s new show? Former furnituremaker-to-the-astronauts Garrett Finney didn’t get top billing in the episode for the second version of his unique 2-wheeler pop-top vehicle, painstakingly crafted in his Woodland Heights workshop — that prize went to Simon Cowell’s behemoth 45-footer motor home. Still, the Cricket website attracted enough attention from the RV early adopter crowd to knock it off its server. From the Cricket’s Facebook page, Finney promises it’ll be back online soon.Update, 1/31: It’s back in business. [Previously on Swamplot]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: GET ME REWRITE! “I’d be surprised if the chamber of commerce didn’t pay for this kind of publicity on a regular basis. . . . it seems like Houston missed an opportunity to get some national visibility via this very popular show. I agree with the concern that there would have been no editorial rights for the city – but then I’d have to ask if you’re so worried about our city looking bad on a TV show, how ’bout improving the city?” [Karen, commenting on Why There’s No Top Chef in Houston]
Wondering why the upcoming season of Bravo’s Top Chef: Texas won’t feature scenes of Houston in any of its 14 episodes — even though state officials gave the production company $400,000 to film the season in Texas? Well, here’s a possible answer: Houston officials refused to fork over an additional $120,000 to the production company, Magical Elves, in return for a single episode to be filmed in Houston. ”They were not going to give us any editorial influence for what was shot,” Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau marketing director Lindsey Brown tells the San Antonio Express News. “We just felt it wasn’t worth what they were asking. They could go out to Beaumont and film oil [derricks] for all we know.”
Instead of Houston restaurants and grub, the series will feature 8 full episodes shot in San Antonio, including a faked farmers market at the La Villita village downtown and the highly anticipated return of Pee-Wee Herman to the Alamobasement. Why the San Antonio focus?
CAN’T SHOWHOUSE YET What can HBJ reporter Jennifer Dawson tell you about the filming she attended over the weekend of 2 Meritage model homes in Fall Creek, for a new HGTV show called Showhouse Showdown? Not a whole lot. Five rooms in each of the 3,000-sq.-ft. houses on Robbie Creek Ln. had been decked out over a period of 3 days by a different interior designer, each wielding a $50,000 budget. The first 150 attendees got to vote on a winner: “I was game for standing outside in the heat, because I was eager to see who won the competition. But, no such luck. HGTV shot the reveal segment twice. Once as if the decorator of House A won. And once as if House B’s designer won. That’s a sure-fire way of making sure the cat doesn’t get out of the bag before the show airs. The producers also didn’t want the designers’ names revealed before the show airs, terms I agreed to. We also weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the houses.” [BizBlog] Photo of “Windrose” model used in competition: Meritage Homes
Oily 3-time Survivor loser Russell Hantz (pictured above in the shark-wrestling competition from Survivor: Samoa) tells Entertainment Weekly he’s come to town “to bring Houston’s economy back on its feet.” How’s he gonna get the market back from its tippy-toes? By flipping houses — then bragging about it on-camera. Apparently, a gig like that pays pretty well.
Hantz’s reputation as a tell-’em-straight kinda guy was sealed in January when the Daily Beast revealed him as the mysterious source of persistent leaks about the reality show’s top-secret storylines. In his contracts, Hantz had agreed to pay “liquidated damages” of $5 million if he revealed which contestants had been eliminated before episode air dates. CBS responded to the breach by suing the message-board commenter who posted the tips — and featuring Hantz in Survivor: Redemption Island, which began airing in February. (The suit against Survivor Sucks website poster Jim Early was dismissed.)
COVERING HOUSTON’S INSIDE STORIES Stick ’Em Up! filmmaker Alex Luster tells the Houston Press’s John Nova Lomax a few of the things he learned from mentor and former KTRK reporter Carlos Aguilar in the mid-1990s, when they both worked at Spanish-language news station Noticiero 48: “‘He said, “Most of your news stories are gonna be in the Inner Loop.” I asked why and he told me it was easier for a TV station to get [those stories], and also the ones in Southwest Houston. Most of the stations didn’t want to waste the gas or time to cover things outside the loop,’ Luster remembers. ‘And he taught me how not to get lost without reading a map or pulling over to get your bearings — to just head for the buildings. He said to learn downtown and then everything else I could figure out from there. That’s another reason I’ve come to love the Inner Loop — the buildings signified home and safety.’” [Houston Press; previously on Swamplot]
Last night’s postponed airing on ABC of the first Extreme Makeover: Home Edition filmed in Houston proper made no mention of the mud-inducing and deadline-destroying downpours, the organizers’ multiple pleas for Gatorade, patio furniture, trim carpenters, siding installers, and plumbers — or the mad (and ultimately futile) rush for an on-time finish that was a major source of drama at the South Union site. But it did feature a brief pre-demolition “roast” of the Johnson family’s dilapidated original home on Goodhope St. by comedians Tommy Davidson, Ralphie May, and Paul Rodriguez, as well as a later appearance by supermodel Brooklyn Decker, (wife of tennis star Andy Roddick), flown in to design the 5 Johnson girls’ elaborate pink closet. Plus: plenty of those fawning building-product-delivery placement shots. On what looked like it could have been the limo ride back from IAH after the family’s Paris vacation, Cedric the Entertainer briefly “joked” to the girls that they wouldn’t get to see their new house right then. But viewers’ only delay was a commercial break.
LOOKING FOR HOUSTON ON LAST NIGHT’S EXTREME MAKEOVER: HOME EDITION? The efforts of all those local volunteers rushing madly to finish a new home for the Johnson family in South Union were supposed to be featured in last night’s season premiere of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. At least that’s what ABC was saying up until the middle of this month. C’mon, you say that to all your markets, don’t you? But — surprise! — a Baltimore build completed just a couple of weeks ago was featured in the 2-hour special instead. The Houston show, featuring construction work coordinated by HHN Homes and featuring a select group of comedians, has been rescheduled for October 10th. Photo: Candace Garcia