Antenna Power

Tom Butts is the Editor in Chief of TV Technology.

NAB's recent launch of the "Future of TV Coalition," which brings together the various constituencies that rely on broadcast television, is a worthy effort to promote the advantages of free over-the-air television at a time when the future viability of the broadcast industry is under direct assault from regulators and competitors alike. Announcements from Gannett and Fox to carry the new Bounce TV network over DTV subchannels remind us of the potential power of multicasting to expand and enhance viewers' choices.

For individual broadcasters, though, there is an even more direct opportunity they can take to drive home the advantages of broadcast DTV, particularly in these tough economic times. I was reminded of this at the launch of the coalition by Richard Schneider, president of Antennas Direct, a St. Louis-based business that has been recognized as one of the nation's fastest growing companies by INC Magazine.

Schneider didn't set out to start an antenna business. As he relates it, "It started as a hobby. My goal was to sell up to 25 antennas per month with the objective of raising enough money to buy a projector for a home theater system without my wife finding out about it." The "hobby" rapidly accelerated to become a full-time business that now sells a variety of antennas and accessories both online and through retailers.

It doesn't stop there, though. Antennas Direct has been at the forefront of an ongoing campaign to donate thousands of antennas to consumers through special drive-up giveaways sponsored by local TV stations. Over the last year the company has given away more than $1 million of antennas and the company's bus tour recently visited four cities in the tornado-stricken area of Huntsville Ala. helping local broadcasters give away more than 3,000 antennas.

Broadcasters face a double whammy when it comes to their future—the continuing economic downturn and the uncertainty over future spectrum availability. A campaign to educate, promote (and remind) the public of the economic potential of free TV is vital if the industry is to thrive.

Broadcasters have an advantage over their competitors via community relationships, relationships that could be further strengthened by promoting one of the last free services available to virtually anyone with an antenna and TV set. Wireless carriers have become adept at locking in long-term loyalty with the incentive of cheap cellphones to entice new customers. Broadcasters could do them one better by offering a free device that gives viewers access to free content, (with no future commitment!). What could be better this holiday season?