Tuesday, September 10, 2013

OTA TV: It's Not Just About Cordcutting

Over-The-Air TV Can be a Great Add-on to Other Services Too

For some bizarre reason, people assume that if you use an antenna to watch TV you’re automatically a “cordcutter”. Truth be told there is actually a growing number of “cord-pinchers” or “cable squeezers” that have kept a foothold on their pay TV service yet added OTA as a secondary source to fit their TV needs.

In fact, this issue has been brought up many times in recent months as there is reason to believe this “unseen population” of Canadian consumers using OTA as a source for television is large enough to bump up the number of people using broadcast TV in urban areas in Canada from 1 in 10 to as much as 1 in 5 households.

The issue at hand is that in surveys done by the CRTC there is no clear identification of secondary sources of TV and usage rates. As soon as you are a pay TV or ITV customer at your address, the assumption by the Canadian government’s telecommunications giant is that your household is “on the grid” and has no use for the over-the-air signal being sent to you for free. As a result, this has led to a perceived small number of people that use broadcast TV services, affecting advertising demand and the way the regulator makes decisions that affect the broadcast industry and Canadian consumers as a whole.

With a bit of research and listening to some testimonials, your Average Joe has come across a whole number of savvy, cost-effective Canadians that have kept some aspect of a pay TV service and still use broadcast OTA TV. Here are some of these stories with the hopes of inspiring some of you out there to hop on the free TV bandwagon before the CRTC decides there is no bandwagon at all:

Secondary TVs
“The cost of adding another receiver for our TV in the kitchen was ridiculous. There was a flat fee to do the install and apparently a new switch or something was required as well and we would have had to drill holes in our walls to pass cable. It just wasn’t worth it for the hour of news I’d watch in the morning during breakfast and the background programming we like to have on when tidying up the dinner dishes.” This TV watcher got around the issue by simply hanging a flat indoor antenna to the wall, just above his wall mounted flatscreen TV. “It’s the perfect fit for our kitchen. We get all our major local stations, the image is crisp and the installation took up no room … no shelf for the receiver, no passing cables in the wall … I did it myself in an afternoon”.

Adding a flat antenna like the Mohu Leaf under a cabinet (above) or on the wall makes having a kitchen TV showing your local channels a space-saving breeze; regardless of the TV service you have in your living room.  Photo courtesy of www.gadgetreview.com

We’ve heard the same thing for countless other applications. “Did the cable company think I would pay over $150 for a HD receiver just to watch Jimmy Kimmel in my bedroom?” said another fellow using his indoor antenna as a secondary source of late night TV.

“I’m not watching Game of Thrones on my dinky TV when I’m on the treadmill … that’s what my home theatre basement setup is for. I just need something to distract me for an hour or so” said another TV viewer who opted for an antenna setup in their home gym. “Even from the basement, it was easy to get a coax going out to a wall-mounted compact antenna about 12 feet off the ground. Why would I pay a monthly rental fee for another receiver just for a few hours of TV a week?”

The pursists
“I couldn’t stand the simsubbing which meant missed plays and cut-off of the announcers” said one purist NFL fan that prides himself on his “dual feed setup” in his man cave on game days. “I catch CBS and NBC out of Buffalo and I’m not watching the hacked and slashed feed via my cable provider. I get the real commentary, the real commercial breaks and I don’t get interrupted when the post-game commentary comes on. Needless to say, our Super Bowl party is always at my house year after year and my friends are envious of my dual cable / antenna setup. I do need my cable feed to watch the weeknight games though so I wouldn’t be able to live without it.”  

Just in case …

Antennas seem to be the “Plan B” of choice for some satellite TV subscribers in case their signal goes down – sometimes due to bad local weather, rain fade, an issue at the uplink or snow accumulation on their dish during the winter. “Service calls take a while and are expensive, and it’s too dangerous to go up there on my own in the winter to clear off the snow and ice build-up. I use my antenna input to get by and usually after the sun gets at it for a few hours the dish is clear again” said one such user.

Don't be left out in the cold with no TV. A backup OTA TV setup can get you through those snowy patches as local OTA broadcasts are not affected in the same way as satellite signals by bad weather.

There are also more and more people also investing in handheld and battery TVs to get through blackouts and other types of emergencies / disasters. “We were without power for almost 3 days after a windstorm last summer. A portable TV antenna combo and a car adapter was our lifeline” said one such family.
New portable digital TVs use antennas to bring you crisp, HD pictures courtesy of your local broadcasters, even when the power or cable is out. Photo courtesy RCA.

Go mobile

“I laughed when I heard Bell Fibe was bragging about offering wireless TV receivers that can go anywhere; even outside” said one antenna aficionado “We’ve been doing that for years. My wife and I found it was such a shame to be stuck inside on a nice summer evening, and PVRing our shows to watch later at night was a no go as we’d fall asleep by then. We would routinely set up a small flatscreen outside and clamp an antenna to our railing for an evening of outdoor TV. I guess you can say we took the concept of having an outdoor living room to another level!” laughed one adventurous outdoor TV watcher. The highlight of his summer in fact was watching the Boston-Chicago Stanley Cup finals on CBC under the stars with some neighbourhood friends and some brewsies on his deck. When asked if the setup was difficult or cumbersome he said, “No, but we just have to find a way to keep the bugs off the darn TV screen!”
Watching TV a few feet from your house is one thing but what do you do when you’re a few miles out? TV antennas are still the TV provider of choice for the RV community, who once again because they have no address (and chances are their owners have cable at home) do not pop up anywhere on the CRTC surveys as OTA users.

Second addresses
There are many people that use antennas at secondary residences such as cottages. One ingenious person I talked to found a way to maximize the use of his pay TV satellite service by using his antenna.

“We have a 3-season cottage, and OTA reception up there is difficult. What we do is we had a satellite service installed at both our primary and secondary residences on the same account, and once we open the cottage we call our provider to swap our service form our city address to the cottage address.” This practice is a very well-kept secret amongst some providers who would rather get you to sign up twice at both addresses, and switching between either the primary or secondary address for satellite service is perfectly legal by the way.
“So this means we use our OTA setup in the city throughout the late spring, summer and early fall when we’re rarely there, but still nets us almost 30 channels. We PVR anything that we don’t have via OTA at the cottage and catch up on our viewing on the weekends when we head up. Then in the summer we’re up there for weeks at a time so we have our full service with us, and we swap back when we close up for winter. Our city OTA setup allows us to maximizes the flexibility in our satellite plan without having to pay a dime more”


“I was pouring money down the drain” said one garage shop owner who was paying a monthly cable bill for essentially one SD channel he had running on one TV in his waiting room. Through a referral from a friend, he paid a one-time setup that gave him almost 20 free digital channels via a roof-mount antenna, and a splitter to a newly purchased 2nd TV in his lunchroom as a bonus for his employees, funded with the money he saved by cancelling cable. “Once I got the facts it was a no-brainer to switch to an antenna. And to top it off, I’m now showing my clients an HD image.”

David vs Goliath
“I couldn’t stand the way (my pay TV provider) treated me.” Said one frustrated pay TV subscriber who also has an antenna in his attic.  “They would do anything to get me to sign on, and once they had me I was chopped liver. So I learnt my lesson, now I constantly shop around and drop my service once I’m not happy”. It seems to be a general consensus that pay TV subscribers everywhere are fed up with rising prices, outrageous add-on fees (why are you charging more for “digital service”?? Do you even support analog signals anyways?) and a Rubik’s cube of programming “packages” that satisfy only the interests of the people collecting the bills, not the customer. “Without an OTA setup I would never be able to pay hardball with these guys. They gave me grief about a credit they had promised me when I signed on, so after almost an hour of arguing I cancelled my service. What did I care, I still had almost 30 channels of free TV to fall back upon. Lo and behold a senior rep called back a week later and I was able to negotiate a better deal than I had before to re-sign. Since then they’re already raised the price on me twice so I’m keeping an eye on them … and because of my OTA setup running in parallel, I’m not afraid to pull the plug again if I see one more unreasonable hike. That’s the only way to send a message to the guys.”

Hopefully the above examples have (as a minimum) inspired some of you out there that it’s worth giving “cord-pinching” a shot by using a secondary TV setup by antenna– if not for convenience, for the health of your wallet and sanity of your finances.

Do you have any cord-pinching or cable-squeezing stories? Are you enjoying a free TV setup? Contact Average Joe today to share your story with us!