OTA television, investment opportunities and what is in your market

in AppleOutsider edited January 2014
Being a man of varied and strange interests and of course a true geek, I had to order my coupons for the digital television conversion. I get my television from satellite but didn't want my televisions to be useless if I ever changed my mind about that.

So I get my coupons, and being comparative I have to buy the two boxes from two different locations. I bought the RCA DTA800 from Walmart and the Insignia from Best Buy each has their quirks and strengths. The RCA would be better for someone older due to the remote. The Insignia has a few more features but very small buttons on a remote that is hard to read for anyone with some vision problems.

I disconnect satellite to play with the boxes and grab the rabbit ears that came with the television when purchased. I scan and get around 30 channels! I started looking at them and really was amazed by all the subchannels out there. All the PBS stations take advantage of them best with each having four channels with two of them completely themed, one for children's programming and the other is a channel called Create with a lot of cooking, home improvement, decorating type shows.

The rabbit ears were fine for the preview but in reality they just weren't getting the job done. For one after doing some reading, I discovered that most OTA digital channels are being sent over UHF and while they use the same frequencies they have a different set of problems to overcome than analog channels. I wanted to explore more but really didn't want to lay out much money. I had spent a whole $30 on the two converter boxes and most larger antennas would be a couple hundred dollar outlay by the time I bought mounting hardware, etc.

So after doing some searches I discovered what some are calling the YouTube antenna with a very nice instructional video. Another site describes a similar antenna with reflector. The more exact term for the antenna is a 4 bay bowtie design.

Anyway, the boys and I spent part of Saturday building our version of the antenna with wire hangers, a fence slat, dry wall screws and some washers. I bought a balun at the local radio shack for what seemed like a ridiculous amount, $4.00.

I connected it to the converter box and suddenly all my channels had roughly 15-30% stronger signal and no drop-outs as promised in the video! I rescanned and now had 54 channels. I'm not going to lie and claim that there was a lot of great television out there. In our market around 25% of those channels are foreign language, a few are religious, as stated earlier PBS stations are really taking the lead here.

One station was one I had never seen on the satellite or even heard about and it was called ION. It had four sub-channels including a kid's network called QUBO. The children hear the programming coming from our self-made antenna and we settle down and watched a couple episodes of Jacob Two-Two which were very well done and enjoyable.

As enjoyable as they are though, I still need a little something extra to keep me busy so I start researching some of the specifics of the digital television standard. There are 53 digital channels and unlike the older analog channels, they do not need to skip a channel between each assigned channel to prevent spill over. Additionally each channel can be carry up to six channels via the sub-channels. The amount of bandwidth doesn't change so the more channels, the more compression and problems, but the the stations can allocate and change the amount of bandwidth and channels on the fly. They could grab all the bandwidth for a sporting event, and return it for other programming later.

Some simple math shows that there exists the possibility of over 300 channels just over the air. I start thinking to myself that this is more than a lot of digital cable or satellite companies can offer and it is available for free. Right after that I think to myself, someone has got to be getting ready to make some money off that opportunity.

Right now I look at these channels and to me OTA television feels a lot like AM radio in the late eighties. AM stations used to carry lots of music programming in the late 70's and early 80's but FM had come along with stereo and better sound capability and left most AM stations hurting financially. We now know that from this moribund state came simulcasting of big AM talk personalities and large owners like Clear Channel. I start thinking to myself, what if I could find the company that ends up signing the OTA television version of a Rush Limbaugh (politics aside the man makes money) or buy the stock of a Clear Channel before they become huge.

I did some research and found an article about MGM getting ready to start a channel. Wikipedia had a list of networks. Finally I found the Retro Television Network which doesn't sound to promising to me but I also find the .2 network which does sound promising and looks very much like how I imagine the radio model working with these sub-channels.

Entertainment is a major expense and in these times one easy way to save money is to give up the monthly cable or satellite bill. In most instances this could be another $50-100 a month in the pocket of most families.That is a considerable amount.

What have you seen in your market and what do you think about the possibility of OTA television making any sort of comeback as a market force like talk radio has done for AM? Have you seen any of the networks mentioned, encountered the sub-channels and what are your thoughts on them? Finally just add your two cents if there isn't anything I've covered that you think important to think about and consider.

Thoughts please.


  • Reply 1 of 2
    Six months ago, I got an AppleTV and an antenna and dumped my cable TV. Access to the video podcasts and youtube via AppleTV is extremely cool. It's like free video on demand. I guess I live in a very small market for broadcast TV because I don't get very much. That's fine with me.
  • Reply 2 of 2
    Nick is one of those PBS stations you mention PBS Kids Sprout???


    Cool thread btw thanks for motivating me to get my coupons ready to go.

    I have a huge hunk of metal in the attic here that should pull in stuff from Cali

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