The Big Idea: Pay TV Loses Ground to Traditional Antenna-Only Reception


Television antennaA trend has been growing, partially brought about by the popularity of services like Netflix, Hulu, and Roku. Consumers have been (somewhat gleefully, in many cases) “cutting the cord” when it come to their cable connection. Now it is impossible to tell if cable companies have noticed this trend, or if they have cared; but according to a study by market research firm Park Associates, they should. Their independent study shows a steady increase in US customers who are giving up cable and just using broadcast television.

Before you think there’s a sacrifice in quality, HDTV is broadcast over the airwaves as a digital signal. This means you can really get very high quality reception if you have a good antenna.  With high definition no longer being an issue, people are now opting for a throwback to the early days of television. 15% of US households with broadband Internet service now get all of their TV from an antenna. That number has steadily increased over the course of five years as pay TV subscriptions have seen a corresponding drop.

Parks Associates says that the cord-cutters are gaining ground because of a lack of satisfaction with traditional cable service. There’s the old adage of blocking out hours of time for  cable technician to come out to your house in case of an outage. There is also customer service which sometimes feels like more of a disservice. Actually, cable television has just become too expensive, especially in light of how many channels you actually watch in light of how many are offered.  With lots of antenna options out there for cord cutters, and online ala carte services for networks like CW and SyFy, and antennas available at higher quality, the reasons to stay with a cable subscription you don’t like are shrinking.

It all sounds very good, but if you are interested in cutting the cord and just using over the air television, here are a few things you want to think about.

First of all you want to find out where the TV antennas are located. And there is a website called . You simply put in your zip code and it will show you the location of all the TV towers in relation to your house. This is really important as you have to point the antenna in the right direction. If you are lucky, these anntenna are all going to be on the same side of the house.

Second, HD channels all come in at different strengths. As it’s digital, if the signal strength is too low, you get nothing. It just disappears. So in the reception game, for HD, it is either all or nothing.

Next, there are a lot of differences in the antennas. Flat antennas, and you’ll see when you go shopping, are quite good. You can put them in a window, behind a picture, or even behind the TV. You don’t want to go economical and get a $10 one. The more expensive ones tend to be better.

Once you acquire an antenna, you will want to experiment with location, and when I say “location” I am not just referring the outdoors. It turns out objects in the room where your entertainment center is set up may affect signal strength.

Time to pull out paperwork on your flat screen television, or better yet look up your make and model online. You want to know if your television has a “Signal Strength” indicator. It might surprise you how the placement of a potted plant will help or hinder your signal. Play around with the layout of your room for a bit.

If you discover your television has inline amplifiers, you may think “I’ve got this!” but hold on a moment. If you are too close to a station’s signal, an inline amplifier may make reception worse. Towers too close to your television will actually saturate the amplifier. Remember that inline amplifiers are really designed for when you have a super weak signal, not if you have a strong one.

With a little bit of experimentation, you can declare independence from the cable companies, and considering the many, many issues to be dealt with when it comes to getting good service, it’s worth trying. If 15% of the television population out there can get a reasonably good signal, it might be quite freeing to be cable provider free.



shurtz.jpgA research physicist who has become an entrepreneur and educational leader, and an expert on competency-based education, critical thinking in the classroom, curriculum development, and education management, Dr. Richard Shurtz is the president and chief executive officer of Stratford University. He has published over 30 technical publications, holds 15 patents, and is host of the weekly radio show, Tech Talk. A noted expert on competency-based education, Dr. Shurtz has conducted numerous workshops and seminars for educators in Jamaica, Egypt, India, and China, and has established academic partnerships in China, India, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Malaysia, and Canada.