A debate is raging in the halls of Congress about the future of TV. And an unholy trinity of the pay-TV industry, the Consumers Electronic Association, and companies obsessed with broadband are fighting to disadvantage broadcast television providers and consumers in the reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, all for their own financial gain.
This united lobby would like for Americans to believe that over-the-air television is dying.
However, it could not be more alive. Broadcast television is experiencing a renaissance as millions of Americans have cut the pay-TV cord and switched to free over-the-air broadcasting. A study last year by Gfk Mediamark Research & Intelligence, LLC found an estimated 59.7 million people now rely exclusively on over-the-air broadcast television, an increase of almost 6 million from the previous year. And these newly liberated consumers aren’t turning back. In fact, a new study from nScreenMedia found that 84 percent of these “cord-cutters” are happy with their decision to forego the monthly pay-TV runaround. Indeed, it is actually the pay-TV industry that is experiencing a death rattle – not over-the-air TV.
As Congress continues to discuss STELA, the way consumers gain access to broadcasting is more important than ever before.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, from my home state of Missouri, recently expressed frustration with her monthly pay-TV bill during a debate over STELA. The senator, having realized she was paying a premium to her cable company for a service that was now standard, called to inquire why she was still paying extra. The response from the provider was that it was her responsibility to call in to request these charges be dropped. Can you say “bait and switch”?
McCaskill is not alone. Americans are growing frustrated with the deceptive billing practices and poor customer service of their pay-TV providers. More people are cutting the cord and enjoying emancipation from their pay-TV bills. They are finding over-the-air television offers a respite from the pay-TV shell game and discovering better picture quality, dozens of new digital channels and a free viewing experience. It is a viable alternative to the gamesmanship of pay-TV, and one that should be protected in the reauthorization of STELA.
I have witnessed this shift of consumer opinion first-hand. Antennas Direct, a TV antenna manufacturer I founded in 2004, has had the best sales quarter in its 10-year history – over 100 percent growth within the last year. And I know from others in the industry that the same is true for them. Demand is so great that some areas of the country have reported shortages.
Furthermore, McCaskill’s experience with pay-TV is symptomatic of the greater unrest felt by American consumers, who are cutting the cord in droves. Congress must protect Americans’ access to over-the-air television in the reauthorization of STELA, rather than give into the demands and untruths promulgated by the pay-TV lobby.
It is clear that the sea change against pay-TV is directly translating to market disruption for Big Cable, and the massive upwelling of support for antennas is evidence of the over-the-air revolution that has been building for years. Cable, satellite and telecom companies have to find a way to be responsive to the consumer. If not, the American people might just put them out of their misery.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.