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.”