Over the Air

A few threads connected…

Recently I was at a dinner party with some friends. A young teenager from the East coast was at the dinner and I asked him the question “Do you know anyone who doesn’t have cable TV?” He thought for a few seconds and said “Yes, one friend has satellite.” He didn’t even think to consider that anyone would just get over-the-air TV.

A couple of months ago I helped my parents pick out a digital TV and surround sound system. My parents are “old school” and don’t even want to consider paying every month for television, so we just plugged in the over-the-air antenna to the one on his roof and we were in business with digital television. The picture quality is very high – over the air digital TV broadcasts in higher quality than over cable or satellite because it is uncompressed.

Today they announced that the Cubs playoff games were going to be broadcast on TBS only. If you don’t have cable or satellite, you won’t be able to watch the game. This situation is compounded by the fact that the games start at 9pm central time; if you are older it isn’t reasonable to expect that they’d go out to a bar or restaurant until midnight when the game is done. Of course, lots of them have cable, but probably the majority of the people that DON’T have cable would be older than average. I imagine that WGN TV, which has broadcast the Cubs for years, will be flooded with calls from irate viewers.

The combination of these threads is that over-the-air TV is being marginalized. Per this article, there are about 20 million over-the-air households out of the 110 million or so total – less than 20% of the total US audience. Here is another interesting article with MLB’s opinion on the games… “It’s easy to say the league has an obligation to put these games on [free TV]. But you know, it’s not in the Constitution.”

Over time we have had a massive shift in this country from over-the-air television to cable and satellite TV. From an economic perspective, this is madness. There is a limited number of quality programs available – you could easily fill the available stations with programs that people actually wanted to watch. A parallel industry was built up wiring the cities with cable or launching rockets in the sky for the satellite network. Installers go house to house to set up the gear and operators are standing by to help you run through all the complexity. The cable networks have to pay for content and then pass on these costs, plus profit, to subscribers.

Cable was originally sold on the premise that you pay a monthly fee but are spared having to watch commercials. As anyone knows, that theory is long gone; if anything cable (except for the pay movie channels) is WORSE as far as commercials than over the air television.

In the past cable and satellite TV may have been superior to over-the-air television; but today digital television in major cities like Chicago is up to the task. There are a large number of channels available; and their quality of reception is good once you get out of the inner city where the signal is generally poor (due to interference).

I think that we ought to give free TV a chance; if you never thought of going without paying 35-50 dollars a month for cable or satellite, think about it. However, the fact that major events like the Cubs playoff games may not be broadcast at all over regular TV is going to put the final nail in the coffin for over-the-air TV.

Essentially cable TV and satellite TV are “ganging up” on free TV to put that channel out of business; then they can split the world as an oligopoly and rake in fees indefinitely. Since the broadcast industry is heavily regulated (often badly), here is an idea that they ought to consider; ensure that free TV stations have an opportunity to bid on events like the playoffs and that these events can’t just be taken off over-the-air TV and shown exclusively through pay venues.
But this is very unlikely to happen; broadcast TV, which dawdled for years before moving to digital spectrum, is playing catch up now in the market and with the regulators. And pretty much everyone is going to end up paying for something that could easily be free (since you are sitting through the commercials anyway) while the valuable spectrum sits barely utilized in the sky.

Cross posted at LITGM

10 thoughts on “Over the Air”

  1. “…then they can split the world as an oligopoly and rake in fees indefinitely…”

    Opt out of it.

    My solution: Get rid of your TV entirely.

    Read books, listen to music, cook, sleep, take walks, pray the rosary, play with the kids, or the dog … .

    Don’t give them your money — or your eyeballs for their ads.

  2. Pingback: TV » Over the Air
  3. I agree that watching TV is a big boondoggle.

    I do like sports though and I can’t attend everything.

    Actually there is some interesting stuff out there if you can pick through the debris.

    But, like you, I read all the time, everything I get my hands on.

  4. Really? I think cable TV and satellite TV are dead technologies walking. It’s just a matter of time until the infrastructure able to support residential streaming TV and HD reaches critical mass, and then hardly anybody will be willing to put up with the temporal tyranny of broadcast. Cable operators and content providers will scramble to find new business models, but satellite is essentially a broadcast platform. I think they’re probably screwed.

    But free broadcast could linger on, as it has with radio. I have an over-air household now, too, except I only get about four half-stations. I had a bad experience when I tried DirecTV a couple years ago, and so far it seems I can’t be bothered to lift a finger to change the situation.

  5. I have considered going over the air for a long time but can’t go without my football and fights. Take those two things out of the loop and I am off of cable.

    I agree partially with Art Dodger when he says that cable is a dead man walking. Already you can stream many football games for a price, and p2p networks are streaming a lot of sporting events as well. The other day I watched a martial arts tournament from China via p2p. It worked well. P2P has a long way to go however as the feed quality varies from event to event.

    Youtube and private websites are catching up too. I watch a lot of Muay Thai fights via a private site. The guy just digitally records pay per view events, rips the fights, and puts them up on his own website (don’t ask me how he does this). He uses the DivX format and it is like watching the fight on a regular TV – the sound is extremely good as well.

    These are small examples, but show how the armor can be chipped away.

    Eventually all major sports programming will be pay per view anyway, and I probably will just start listening to the games on the radio (probably via a stream) at that point as I have to have a line in the sand somewhere. With over the air radio, it will be back to the future, as they say.

  6. Gee, I didn’t notice that broadcast television was posting loses. I always got a kick out of listen to the ‘news’ cry about ‘win fall profits’ of oil companies in years their parent television corporations were even greater. Oil men, miners, and lumber companies all pay royalties to operate on public land, never seen royalties derived from ‘open broadcast’. It’s not like it’s a burgeoning technology needing protection. Their issues are they’re own making.

    Would open broadcast TV be in this situation if it didn’t commit organizational suicide by alienating the viewership?

    Who moved their news departments to an entertainment and opinion operation? And desperately padded the news with personalities rather than people who knew their subject matter and hordes of ‘interest’ and ‘crisis’ stories.

    Who allowed their focus to be on ‘marketing groups’ rather than those who have departed in droves? Maybe if you asked those who left rather than stayed, your programming might have taken a different path.

    Who had the brilliant idea to pack your programming for the over 60 market for more than 20 years without understanding ‘die off’?

    Who in management and programming believe that once you find a property that finally does have traction, you run spin offs nearly every night of the week?

    Why is it, after decades of watching, I can watch the first and last five minutes of a program and generally know all that happened [padded] in between? See previous comment about repetition.

    Let the marketplace allow those who evolved dysfunctional behaviors to keep their ever decreasing demographics. And as far as regulations go, I’m not encouraged by the results of airline deregulation that you’re going to get ‘better’ quality. The broadcast spectrum is the property of the people of the United States [within their borders]. The open broadcasters can work within the regulations just like anyone else seeking profit from government property be it wood, minerals, or oil. No clear cutting or strip mining here.

    I’ve joined my younger brethren. Most of the time before the ‘tube’ in on a game console, where I have a hand in the script, in directing the actors, and determining when the show will play. Or as the Doc asked the other day. :”So, you grew up, worked, and retired so you could be a teenager again?”. Yep.

  7. I’ve been tempted to get cable/satellite during the last couple decades; but, every time I’ve been at a friend’s place or at a motel and watched cable I’ve been so disappointed with the fare and so never could justify the 30-50 beans it costs each month to get it. So many channels so little of interest.

    Our local library has recently invested in a greater DVD collection and nowadays I have access to many of the programs that I may have missed over the years. That’s pretty gratifying.

  8. major events like the Cubs playoff games…

    LOL! A 3-game sweep of the Cubs happens at least 10 times a summer. Hardly a major event.

Comments are closed.