In The Mix

Taking Back the Air

With the latest streaming tech, the old-fashioned antenna is new again.

Dan Frankel

Advanced over-the-air (OTA) antennas have been around for several years, giving cord cutters free access to old favorites ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.

These antennas — which are small, compact and look nothing like the "rabbit ears" of yore — have proliferated as the price of broadcast TV has steadily spiked. In fact, local stations charged pay-TV providers $10 billion this past year to include their signals in programming bundles. These increasing costs are being passed down directly to consumers.

With an OTA, which delivers live broadcast feeds directly to a TV's "antenna" input, viewers can bypass the pay-TV prices. To watch the broadcast channels, they toggle the source button on the remote from their OTT device, Blu-ray player or whatever input source they're using.

But there's no program guide, or any other discovery tool, to help users find shows. There's no DVR. And, of course, when watching TV in this old-fashioned way, there's definitely no streaming to a smartphone.

But thanks to new devices and technologies, that's all changing. OTA programming can now be integrated directly into the program guide of your pay-TV service and streamed to your phone.

For example, subscribers to Dish Networks' $25-a-month Sling TV streaming service can purchase a $120 AirTV device, which connects directly to an antenna, unleashing local broadcast signals into their home Wi-Fi network. The channels will appear in the Sling TV program guide and are streamable from OTT and mobile devices anywhere in the home.

Tablo, meanwhile, offers a device that not only puts OTA streams on the Wi-Fi network, it also adds DVR functionality to the mix.

Then there's SiliconDust, which offers a $35-a-month service combining converted OTA streams with a collection of top cable networks (including ESPN, TNT, CNN and AMC) as well as a networked DVR, all in one simple bundle. This combination of old-school technology and disruptive new business models is poised to offer real benefits to consumers.

Now all these upstarts have to do is get the word out. They can always advertise on TV.

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 3, 2019