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On The Roof, On The Tube

Locals use antennas to get programming

BY CAITLIN MCGARRY

The glory days of rabbit ears and fuzzy music videos on The Box are long gone. Television is now more sophisticated than ever before.

In June 2009, TV stations began broadcasting using digital rather than analog signals. The conversion was preceded by a lengthy public information campaign, but amid concerns over converter box coupons, some consumers may have missed the memo on their current TV options.

In 2008 and 2009, the federal government mailed more than 64 million converter box coupons, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration reported. For people with digital televisions, a converter box was unnecessary. A cable or satellite subscription also negated the need for a converter box. Local Cox Communications spokesman Juergen Barbusca said the company “noticed a bump in our favor after the DTV transition.”

More than a year and a half after the conversion, TV watchers know that television is now broadcast digitally. But few know that free over-the-air, high-definition channels are also available with one extra purchase: an antenna.

According to Cox, approximately 20 percent of Las Vegas residents still watch over-the-air programming, which is higher than the national 5 percent to 10 percent reported by the Consumer Electronics Association. A new antenna installation company, Mr Antenna, plans to educate those over-the-air TV consumers about the 41 high-definition channels that are available without a monthly subscription fee.

Mr Antenna owner Karlo provides an outdoor antenna and installation for homes, condo and apartments.

Consumers can purchase their own antennas and install them, but Consumer Electronics Association public policy director Megan Pollock said professional installation may be preferable depending on skill level.

With an antenna, consumers can watch free high-definition channels, including the basic networks, three sports channels, two movie channels and children’s programming, among others.

Karlo is committed to over-the-air programming, including in his own home.

“There’s really no need to spend $50 or $60 a month for programming when local networks seem to do a pretty good job,” he said.

Karlo declined to say how many customers he has seen since launching Mr Antenna Dec. 1, but said he has received numerous phone calls since he started advertising on KTNV-TV, Channel 13 and KGNG-TV, Channel 47. The most common phrase from prospective customers: “I thought free TV was gone.”

“There is a segment of society that does not know there is free TV out there. They’ve always had cable and satellite; they’ve always had other options,” Karlo said. “It’s like kids growing up with cell phones. ‘What is a landline?’ There is this other alternative out there that kind of gets forgotten.”

Over-the-air television has its flaws: there may be issues with reception, though Karlo said in his testing, he has found a standard antenna that works in areas across the valley. Consumers in rural areas may need larger antennas.

Apartment complex residents or those who live in communities with homeowners associations may want to discuss antenna installation with their complex managers or HOA groups in advance. The Federal Communications Commission has issued rules that pre-empt most restrictions placed on the installation of video antennas, but Karlo suggests that it is more practical to discuss installation beforehand to avoid potential conflicts.

For avid media consumers with high-tech HDTV sets, over-the-air HD channels may not be enough.

“The few channels that you can get over the air in HD are a nice enhancement to the over-the-air offering, but for someone who is a true fan of HD or enjoys HD programming, they’re probably going to be a subscription video customer,” Barbusca said.

Mr Antenna’s customer base consists of families with children, older couples and businesspeople with limited time to watch TV. Karlo said he has seen a handful of “cord-cutters,” consumers who drop subscription television in favor of Internet media offerings.

Cox’s subscriptions have declined in recent months, though Barbusca said he thinks the decline can be attributed to the recession, not cord-cutters.

“We know it’s the economy, but we don’t know what lasting effect the DTV transition has had on our viewership,” Barbusca said. “It’s difficult to judge because there’s too many factors.”

Contact reporter Caitlin McGarry at cmcgarry@lvbusinesspress.com or 702-387-5273.