Michael Grotticelli, Broadcast Engineering Extra /
06.19.2014 09:00 PM
OTA Broadcasting Is Alive, But Needs STELA
NEW YORK—Richard Schneider, founder of a company that manufactures and sells terrestrial DTV antennas to consumers, says he’s just had one of the best sales quarters in his company’s history, despite media reports of dwindling numbers of over-the-air television users and an “unholy trinity” of broadband industry lobbying groups “fighting to disadvantage broadcast television providers and consumers” as congress looks to reform the rules governing the retransmission of local broadcast TV signals by cable operators and satellite TV providers.

Richard Schneider, founder of Antennas Direct, says “A debate is raging in the halls of Congress about the future of TV,” Schneider writes in an opinion piece entitled “The Rising Revolution Against Pay TV,” published on the Roll Call website. The “trinity” he refers to being the pay TV industry, the Consumers Electronic Association, and companies “obsessed” with broadband for their own financial gain.

“This united lobby would like for Americans to believe that over-the-air television is dying,” he wrote. “However, it could not be more alive. Broadcast television is experiencing a renaissance as millions of Americans have cut the pay TV cord and switched to free over-the-air broadcasting.”

He cites a study conducted last year by Gfk Mediamark Research & Intelligence, which found an estimated 59.7 million people now rely exclusively on over-the-air broadcast television, an increase of almost 6 million from the previous year. In addition, a blog on the Antennas Direct website entitled, “A Cord Cutters Guide to the World’s Biggest Sporting Event!“ explains how consumers can watch the World Cup without a pay TV subscription.

“And these newly-liberated consumers aren’t turning back,” Schneider wrote, claiming a more recent study by nScreenMedia finds that 84 percent of these “cord cutters are happy with their decision to forego the monthly pay TV runaround. Indeed, it is actually the pay TV industry that is experiencing a death rattle – not over-the-air TV.”

The government is considering reauthorization of the 2010 Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), which expires this year. STELA mandates that satellite TV providers must retransmit terrestrial broadcast signals. Without it, broadcast channels delivered over the air might be in danger of not being carried.

“Americans are growing frustrated with the deceptive billing practices and poor customer service of their pay TV providers,” Schneider says. “More people are cutting the cord and enjoying emancipation from their pay TV bills. They are finding over-the-air television offers a respite from the pay TV shell game and discovering better picture quality, dozens of new digital channels and a free viewing experience. It is a viable alternative to the gamesmanship of pay TV, and one that should be protected in the reauthorization of STELA.”

Schneider founded his company, Antennas Direct, in 2004 (out of his garage in St. Louis), and last year reported the best sales quarter in its 10-year history (and over 100 percent growth within the last year, he claims). The St. Louis Business Journal said that Antennas Direct sold 1.2 million units in 2012 (which was up from about 600,000 antennas in 2011 and 400,000 in 2010). The company's antennas cost from $50 to $150 and are sold at a variety of retail outlets across the country.

In his Roll Call essay, Schneider says other consumer antenna companies are also experiencing the same windfall, adding, “demand is so great that some areas of the country have reported shortages.”

His main point is that “Congress must protect Americans' access to over-the-air television in the reauthorization of STELA, rather than give in to the demands and untruths promulgated by the pay TV lobby.

“It is clear that the sea change against pay TV is directly translating to market disruption for Big Cable,” Schneider concludes. “And the massive upswelling of support for antennas is evidence of the over-the-air revolution that has been building for years. Cable, satellite and telecom companies have to find a way to be responsive to the consumer. If not, the American people might just put them out of their misery.”

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Posted by: Anonymous
Fri, 06-20-2014 02:12 PM Report Comment
As a broadcast engineer (and a consumer/viewer) I am always puzzled by the inherently duplicitous argument that on one hand broadcasters are doing great OTA, but on the other hand would go out of business if viewers had freedom of choice (i.e. no STELA protections). If broadcasters have the best and most compelling content from primetime to local news what do we have to fear from a viewer that can choose the channels they want to watch? Surely they would always opt for the stations in their neighborhood, right? (P.S. I already know the answer, which is why STELA exists...) Also, I love one of the suggestions for cord cutting the world's biggest sporting event; "Make some new friends or go to the bar". Ha ha! Classic.
Posted by: Anonymous
Fri, 06-20-2014 02:16 PM Report Comment
There are a number of new antennas going up in my neighborhood. I have been asked by a number of neighbors about my antenna. Most believed that you had to have cable or satellite service to watch TV. My nephew (age 21) thought when I installed an antenna at his mom's house, we were stealing cable and would be caught. Our local phone company upgraded their TV offerings last year and made a big push to get new business. The guy that came to my door told me the antenna up on the roof was obsolete and would not work with new digital services. He said that I would not get true HD with it.
Posted by: Anonymous
Sat, 06-21-2014 10:03 AM Report Comment
I can't believe how many people ask me, when they notice my OTA antennas, "Didn't they stop broadcasting over the air when TV went to HDTV?". Our competitors do a great job of putting out misinformation. Crappy antennas don't help much either.

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