Want to watch free TV? This station owner is here to help

As inflation puts pressure on household budgets, consumers are taking a closer look at how much they spend on subscription streaming services.

One way to reduce these costs is to adopt the original TV technology — over-the-air antennas that capture broadcast signals without connecting to a cable box, satellite dish, or the Internet. The monthly price for viewing is the same as it was when RCA Chairman David Sarnoff flipped the switch on the first commercial television network at the 1939 New York World’s Fair – free.

But many Americans who grew up watching cable TV and streaming don’t know that free over-the-air broadcasting exists or don’t understand how it works.

EW Scripps, the Cincinnati-based media company that owns 61 television stations nationwide, wants to change that.

The company is spending $20 million this year on an unusual education and marketing campaign to help consumers understand the uses and benefits of over-the-air antennas at a time when managing their TV -Sources is more complex than ever.

This month, Scripps launched a website – TheFreeTVProject.org – where users can enter their zip code to see what channels they can get for free with an antenna in their area. In Los Angeles, the second largest television market in the USA, antenna users can receive more than 160 free radio channels.

The site also explains how broadcast TV works and provides information on which type of antenna works best based on the user’s geographic location. Not every antenna will work in every area, and one-time costs can range from $20 for an indoor antenna to $149 for outdoor models that need to be installed on a rooftop.

Scripps began airing cheeky 30-second TV spots that run in cities where the company owns stations. It will also place ads on social media sites, outdoor billboards, and connected TV streaming platforms, hoping to reach those cable cutters or cable riveters who don’t use an antenna.

Scripps Chief Executive Adam Symson believes the combination of economic uncertainty and a muddled TV landscape, where prices for streaming services are rising, creates an opportunity to get more consumers to watch over-the-air Adding broadcasting to their vision diet.

“We are at a moment when consumers’ wallets are under more pressure than ever,” Symson said in a recent interview. “We read about ‘plus fatigue’ every day. Consumers are frustrated that they have five video streaming subscriptions and are unsure of the value they are getting from it.”

The liveliest and critically acclaimed scripted shows are now on streaming services, but broadcast is still home to the bulk of NFL football games — the most-watched content on any platform — and other major sporting events, including the Major League World Series Baseball. the NBA Finals, Triple Crown horse racing and the NHL’s Stanley Cup. All on the major broadcast networks that reach almost every home in the US with their signals.

“The only place cable editors and cable nevers will be able to watch live sports for free is going to be on wireless TV,” Symson noted. “Free is an incredibly compelling consumer proposition.”

While major networks are neglected by critics and Emmy nominees, they still offer first-runs of some of television’s most popular series, including NCIS and Ghosts on CBS, ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, and the never-ending Law. and Order franchises on NBC.

A study conducted earlier this year by research firm Screen Engine/ASI found that 68% of all consumers consider the major networks a “must have”. For antenna users, the number rises to 79%.

The use of TV antennas is already on the rise. Consumer Technology Assn. says 32% of US households own a TV antenna, up from 26% in 2019. The CTA expects the number of households using antennas to increase to 50 million by 2025 as more consumers choose to pay – Cut the TV cable.

Many of the new antenna customers are using them to attract channels not served in their markets by multichannel virtual video providers such as YouTubeTV, Hulu Live, Frndly TV or Sling. Some consumers own antennas as a backup in case their cable or satellite company gets into a fee dispute with a television station and removes it from its system.

Amanda Brown, vice president of consumer strategy and insights at Scripps, describes these consumers as “self-bundlers” who use an average of four platforms combined with an antenna to meet their viewing needs.

The promotion of antenna use clearly benefits the television networks Scripps owns, but the campaign also has a community element. TV stations must maintain their role as news sources in their communities, especially at a time when many local newspapers have closed or scaled back operations. If internet or cellphone service goes down during a storm or other disaster, broadcast television stays on the air.

“People are turning to us,” Symson said. “If you can’t reach us, that becomes a problem. We are committed to reaching consumers on all platforms, but especially on broadcast television.”

Creating your own TV package might seem like more effort than it’s worth, but the cost savings speak otherwise. Screen Engine/ASI found that consumers who have over-the-air antennas as part of their TV mix spend an average of $72.60 per month on pay-TV services and video-on-demand platforms like Netflix . The average monthly cost for cable and satellite subscribers without antennas is $148.70.

The majority of antenna users are older, having grown up watching TV that caught signals with rabbit ears on a device or antenna antenna on a rooftop. For younger consumers — many of whom have cut cable, never signed up for cable, or don’t even own a TV — over-the-air broadcasting can be a mystery.

“We’ve done a lot of research on this, and there’s even a certain segment of the American audience that mistakenly believes that plugging in a digital antenna is piracy,” Symson said.

Screen Engine/ASI found that viewers underestimated the number of channels they could receive with an antenna, many remembering the analogue television era when far fewer channels were available.

“They just don’t know this option exists, so they don’t even understand the benefits that come with it,” Brown said. “Even the terminology surrounding over-the-air needs explaining to some consumers who are completely new to the concept.”

The switch from analog to digital signals in 2009 allowed the creation of more over-the-air channels (called sub-channels). However, a 2021 study by Horowitz Research found that only 20% of users without an antenna believed they could receive more than 20 channels.

Karlo Maalouf, owner of Mr. Antenna, a Las Vegas company that specializes in installing radio antennas, applauds the reconnaissance efforts.

“It’s a confusing environment right now,” said Maalouf, who noted he rarely gets clients under the age of 40.

Outside of Scripps, media conglomerates that own television channels have shown little interest in educating consumers about how to get their programming for free, as they still depend on the retransmission fees they receive from cable and satellite providers.

Station owner groups with network partners who broadcast NFL football have tremendous leverage in negotiating those fees, and there has been little incentive to rock the boat.

“Many companies worry about talking too much about broadcast because they fear it will negatively impact the pay-TV ecosystem,” Symson said. “But I believe the consumer is in control at this point and we need to ensure the relevance of our product and our reach going forward.”

Some companies even advise against using antennas. Last year, Maalouf filed a complaint with the FCC against a Meredith Corporation station for refusing to sell advertising time to his company, Mr. Antenna, saying it encouraged cable cutting.

Scripps also receives transmission fees for its television stations, and Symson said his company’s initiative is not intended to hurt the pay-TV business.

But the company has a strong business incentive to see broadcast television grow. It invests heavily in so-called Diginets – national television networks that broadcast over digital sub-channels. While some are transmitted via cable and satellite systems and free TV streaming services like Tubi and Pluto TV, all can be received with an antenna.

Open FreeTVProject.org on a laptop

Scripps started FreeTVProject.org to encourage the use of over-the-air TV antennas.


Last year, Scripps relaunched its 24-hour news cable channel, Newsy, as Diginet. The company also revived Court TV — one of the early mainstays of cable TV — as an over-the-air service. The station, which airs on Channel 5.3 in Los Angeles, recently garnered its biggest audience ever with its extensive coverage of the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial.

Every major TV station has Diginets, most of which broadcast old movies and TV shows. Audiences for Diginets grew 69% from 2016 to 2021, according to Nielsen data, making them a rare segment of the growing TV business.

There is also greater potential for over-the-air broadcasting if a new technical standard for digital television — known as ATSC 3.0, or NextGen TV — reaches critical mass. Stations began migrating to the standard this year, with KTTV, the Los Angeles affiliate of Fox Television Stations, broadcasting in the format beginning August 24.

The system improves the quality of video and audio, giving broadcasters the ability to provide interactive services and deliver their signals to mobile devices. Broadcasters can also offer their programs on-demand, which puts them on an equal footing with streaming services at no cost to the consumer.

Maalouf believes the new standard will be a boon to the antenna business.

“It’s kind of like a glorified DVR,” Maalouf said. “I think that will be the key to the success of ATSC 3.0.”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/business/story/2022-08-08/streaming-tv-antennas-free-tv-scripps-tv-stations Want to watch free TV? This station owner is here to help

Sarah Ridley

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