Local TV Gets New Life with Internet Television

-More OTT/OTA Combinations Pop Up

Rumor has it Apple is looking to include linear local TV channels as part of the Internet TV service it wants to launch. Apple would be following in the footsteps of CBS’ OTT service, All Access and Sony’s Playstation Vue service, both of which offer live streaming of local antenna TV content. These developments highlight the growing importance of free, over-the-air television in the brave new world of Internet TV.

As pay TV package prices continue to rise, there is evidence to suggest cord-cutters and cord nevers are turning to free antenna TV as a complement to the streaming Internet TV services for home entertainment. The number of homes that rely on antenna TV has actually increased slightly over the last few years, after a period of steady decline. There are now around 12.3 million households in the US that have antenna TV according to Nielsen data; and the number of households that have both broadband and OTA antennas has grown too, to reach 6.2 million.



Old-fashioned TV antennae: “Rumors of death have been greatly exaggerated”


Antenna TV is attractive to viewers because the programming is some of the most popular in the country, and viewers can access the content for free, with a digital antenna. Ironically, rising retransmission fees that networks charge pay TV providers are a large driver of the rising pay TV service prices. A viewer can easily supplant a pricey pay TV subscription with network television and one or two OTT SVoD services, and hobble together an entertainment package that isn’t too far from a pay TV package. That’s why net-top box makers and broadband providers are now offering services and features that pair over-the-air antennae


Net-Top Boxes Add OTA to OTT

Net-top boxes that have built-in antennas are quite popular in the UK, thanks to YouView, but haven’t yet taken off in the US. TiVo’s DVRs are the closest thing: they combine DVR’d content from a pay TV service with access to all the major OTT apps. Last year, TiVo launched its Roamio DVRs, which offer antenna TV and are targeted at viewers without a pay TV subscription.

Roku’s net-top boxes do not include antennae, but its smart TV operating system, used in TCL, Hisense and Haier TV sets, is able to integrate OTA content and its vast library of OTT channel apps, provided the smart TV user has hooked up an antenna.

Microsoft broke ground this year in the States by offering digital TV tuners for its TV and OTT EPG, called OneGuide. Microsoft has just begun shipping Hauppauge TV tuners, which allow users to access OTA TV via the Xbox. The tuners also allow users to pause live TV for up to 30 minutes, watch TV while playing video games via Xbox’s Snap feature, and navigate channels using voice controls. With the Smartglass multi-screen app, users can also stream live OTA TV to Smartglass-enabled devices, such as tablets, laptops or smartphones.


Mohu Channels


Finally, antenna-maker Mohu has launched a net-top box with antenna and DVR functions. The device, called Mohu Channels, offers an integrated entertainment guide that combines the major OTT apps, the local OTA TV channels and any and all content sites available via a browser.


Even Pay TV Providers Are Promoting Antenna-Only TV

Pay TV providers, who are also broadband providers, are targeting the cord-cutting crowd with broadband plus antenna TV services.

Cablevision was the first pay TV and broadband provider to launch what it brazenly called a “cord-cutter package”: 50/25 Mbps and a complimentary Mohu Leaf digital antenna, for around $45 per month for the first year. It’s also offering a slightly less expensive package that offers only 5 Mbps and the Mohu Leaf digital antenna for $35 per month. Subscribers can also add an HBO Now subscription for another $15 per month.

“‘Cord cutters’ and ‘cord nevers,’ who prefer to access video through the Internet, can now easily self-select the broadband products they want and receive over-the-air broadcast TV through a digital antenna,” the company said. “Our new ‘cord cutter’ packages take a modern approach to traditional triple-product bundles and provide real alternatives that fit new consumer lifestyles.”

Frontier Communications is the first pay TV and broadband provider to offer TiVo’s OTA/OTT hybrid DVR Roamio. The Roamio DVR combines linear over-the-air television with OTT apps and DVR functions. Frontier will begin offering TiVo Roamio to its broadband subscribers sometime this year. “TiVo’s latest generation OTA platform enables us to launch a game-changing new service with delivery of the best of broadcast television, seamlessly integrated with over-the-top video, bundled with Frontier’s high-speed data service,” the company said. COO Dan McCarthy described the package as “a cost-effective, far-reaching video service of the future.”


Apple Better Off Handing Out Antennae

Apple will have a huge task to complete if it wants to include live streaming OTA content in its Internet TV service. There are between 150 to 250 stations and affiliate stations for each of the four national networks and Apple will need a number of licensing deals to cover each station in each market.

The local broadcasters will be the hardest to get on board. Even the national networks can’t seem to get the local broadcasters onboard: CBS’ All Access Internet TV service offers live streaming in 94 markets, out of a total of 200; Disney spent two years getting …

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