I would not have guessed that in the year 2017 TV antennas would be making a comeback, yet here we are: according to Nielsen, over 15 million U.S. households now use an antenna to watch TV, up 23 percent from last year. Digital TV antennas have become a popular and affordable holiday present for hundreds of thousands of former cable subscribers rediscovering old-school network TV.
The proportion of households with TV antenna plus broadband, and broadband only have increased as well, mirroring a steady decline in cable subscriptions over the past seven years. Shunning cable TV has essentially become a right of passage for many U.S. households. The rise of alternative content providers like Netflix and Hulu, in combination with shady businesses practices such as random increases in already-overpriced cable packages and data throttling, has begun to chip away at Big Cable’s bottom line. In fact, there are now more Netflix subscribers than cable subscribers (below). It’s no surprise that more people are also turning to YouTube as a free source of music, news, and entertainment.
Ironically, cable companies that also serve as internet service providers (ISPs), like Comcast and Time Warner, have played a key role in cable’s decline by providing the broadband connections that support Netflix, etc. This conflict of interest is at the heart of the net neutrality debate. Naturally, cable companies want the net neutrality regulations set in place in 2015 redacted so they can legally slow down and handicap their competition (i.e., Netflix, Hulu, etc.), while speeding up their own content streams.
Thus, the return of the TV antenna, now digital and resembling something like a pancake griddle, may be viewed, in part, as a reaction to the unrelenting greed of America’s cable monopoly. That and some of us are just nostalgic for the era of free network TV.