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Ostroff: There’s value to an over-the-air HD signal

Sinclair is running PSAs to remind viewers that HD is free on OTAs.

In mid-August, Sinclair Broadcast Group announced the availability of a public service message to remind the public that television delivers HDTV over the air for free.

The PSA, which the station group is making available to any broadcaster for no charge, is part of a broader strategy at Sinclair to help the television industry rebuild its over-the-air audience. Concurrently, the broadcast group launched a non-Sinclair-branded Web site ( to educate viewers about the availability of HDTV over the air.

HD Technology Update sought out Nat Ostroff, Sinclair Broadcast Group's vice president new technology, to explain what’s driving the effort to rebuild an over-the-air audience and how that push fits in with the broader HD distribution equation.

HDTU: The FCC has just set a Nov. 5 deadline for the first step in the DTV channel allotment and repacking process. Clearly, the next phase in the analog-to-digital transition has begun. What are your thoughts?

Nat Ostroff: “If we don’t rebuild an over-the-air audience, what is the point of what channel you're on? You have to have an over-the-air audience to care about.

By government fiat, HD is the future of broadcast. We better build an audience who cares about using our over-the-air signal.”

HDTU: Cable and satellite television certainly offers alternatives to broadcast, but is it possible that the public has forgotten that television is actually transmitted?

Ostroff: “There is a generation and a half or more who don’t know television is available over the air. It’s been more than 20 years, maybe 30 years, since people saw the over-the-air signal as the definition of television. To most people, TV now is an F connector plugged into the wall connected to cable or satellite. And they expect to pay for television.

The broadcast television channels are mixed in with the cable offerings. People have lost the concept that those signals are ubiquitously available for free.”

HDTU: Thus, Sinclair Broadcast Group launched its Web site and PSA campaign?

Ostroff: “Sinclair is trying to build public consciousness that there is something called ‘antenna TV’ just like there is cable TV and satellite TV. We have to build in the public mind an awareness of antenna TV.

Viewers ask, 'Why should I bother to look at over-the-air if I’m connected to cable?'

We have to tell then that first, we offer HD, which in many places is not yet available on cable or satellite. Second, we have to remind them that it’s free.”

HDTU: How do you see rebuilding an over-the-air audience for free HD shaping the industry dynamic between broadcasters and cable providers?

Ostroff: “If we can build an audience that relies on an over-the-air signal for the network offerings, that gives us leverage with cable about what the value of our HD signal really is.

“Anybody who is looking at HDTV from a Sinclair station is getting it over the air. There may be some bizarre circumstance where cable is carrying our HD signal, but to the best of my knowledge, at this moment the overwhelming majority have not made a deal with the cable company to carry.

Our signal has value to the cable company. If they want that signal they should recognize the value and compensate the station because the station has spent a great deal of time getting that signal on the air. Cable has an obligation in all fairness to compensate a station for HD signals.

When the cable company uses local HD as a marketing point to sell the digital tier and offers that at an additional cost to consumers, and the principal reason consumers buy the digital tier is they get the local HD offering of the local station, the cable company is recognizing the economic benefit of that signal. And that needs to be shared with the deliverer of the signal to the cable headend.

Sinclair’s position is that the HDTV broadcast signal has value. We need to come to an agreement about the value before we allow cable to carry our HD signal. Hence, the reason to promote the over-the-air audience and its understanding of what antenna TV is.”

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