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Reviving OTA TV:Richard Schneider of Antennas Direct

ALEXANDRIA, VA.—Most of us are beyond the point of grinning-and-bearing the cost of cable TV. In markets where there is no competition among cable providers, the concept behind setting the monthly cable fees seems to be along the lines of, “Make ‘em pay ‘til it hurts.”

There is a free alternative, as most us in the industry know: over-the-air reception. To many, this alternative is not a choice since it eliminates cable programming and premium channels. For many, however, OTA reception could save their household budget—if they knew about it. That’s the goal of Antenna Direct’s Richard Schneider.

Schneider started making antennas in his basement just over ten years ago. Since then, his hobby has turned into Antennas Direct, one of the fastest growing companies in the country—named seven times to the Inc. 5000 list. The company’s mission is to liberate people from the unhealthy relationship they have with abusive pay-TV providers.

BE Extra talked with Schneider about the role of over-the-air television and antennas.

BE Extra: Do you think the majority of TV watchers realize they can receive HD TV signals for free, over the air? Do you have any data or studies detailing the public’s understanding of this point? Is there a good story or typical reaction you can describe to highlight the public’s awareness of OTA reception?

Schneider: The majority of households, 70 to 80 percent, are completely unaware that over-the-air even exists. The most common reaction that we hear when people understand they have been paying monthly for something free is: What’s the catch? People think it is too good to be true. Cable companies have trained American families to believe that you have to get raked over the coals, but high-definition, over-the-air television is a simple truth. One customer told us that his two antennas saved his marriage. Now he would be able to afford to get surgery on his wife’s Pekingese puppy. It goes to show you: The magical power of antenna technology is endless. They save marriages and puppies for no monthly fee.

BE Extra: Are broadcasters doing enough to educate the public on free OTA reception? What can broadcasters do better?

Schneider: No, they are not. Broadcasters almost never mention they are broadcasting. When we have rolled into town on a bus tour, reporters are sometimes surprised when we point this out. With more families cutting the cord, it would be in broadcasters’ best interest to let viewers know about the advantages of over-the-air: Clear HD, no blackouts, access to the best television for free.

BE Extra: Obviously, OTA reception won’t work for everyone everywhere. What are the reasonable limits and how should broadcasters explain the realities of OTA reception to their viewers?

Schneider: We never promise reliable reception over 70 air miles from a transmit tower. Reliable indoor reception is typically half that: around 35 miles.

BE Extra: Indoor vs. outdoor antennas: What’s a quick guideline?

Schneider: Most consumers prefer an indoor placement of their antenna. Indoor antennas perform well if you are within 30 miles of transmitting tower and you are on favorable terrain. Outdoor reception is always the most reliable and consistent, typically good up to 70 miles. A must if your house has large physical obstacles between it and the transmitting towers (such as mountains or hills). Also, VHF reception is significantly more reliable with an outdoor installation.

BE Extra: If someone lives in a building that prohibits exterior antenna installation and indoor antennas don’t work well, what can they do?

Schneider: Federal law protects viewers when installing an antenna in areas under their exclusive use, like a balcony. We have had customers plant a mast in a flower pot, and set it on the balcony or clamp an antenna to a ficus tree. Our antennas offer a planar form factor, so some apartment dwellers have hung them in window between the blinds and glass.

BE Extra: Is there anything else that our broadcast readers should know about the public’s understanding of OTA reception and how they can best help viewers?

Schneider: There has been significant advancement in antenna technology in the last 10 years. Antennas are more powerful, reliable and consistent that ever before. In addition, they are about 10 percent of the size of the ones on your grandparent’s roof. Many people have a mistaken impression that antennas are cumbersome and require professional installation. In reality, today’s powerful and compact antennas are easy to self-install and have greater reliability and consistency—not to mention better picture quality than pay-TV options. All this for no monthly fee. Our typical antenna customer is adding around $2,000 per year to their disposable income. More and more Americans are realizing this. In April 2014, an Experian Marketing Services report found that 7.6 million U.S. households, or 6.5 percent of all U.S. households, had gotten rid of cable. That was up 44 percent in the past three years.