TV antennae look quite different today than they did thirty years ago. The old-fashioned “rabbit ears” have been replaced by flat discs that can be easily placed on an entertainment center or concealed on the wall behind the TV set. But the concept remains the same – connect an antenna to your TV set and you can watch broadcast television for free — no cable subscription or streaming service required.

Who watches TV this way in 2017?

Mintel’s Content Consumption: TV and Movies US report found that, overall, only 15% US consumers said they use an antenna to watch free over-the-air (OTA) channels, with Millennial males and young parents the most likely to report doing so. These groups also showed higher use of streaming services and a lower likelihood to subscribe to pay TV. Capturing broadcast TV via an antenna is quickly becoming the “new” way for tech-savvy, cost-conscious cord-cutters to supplement their streaming services with live TV.

Right now, if you want to do more with an antenna than simply watch live OTA channels on your TV, you’re probably doing a decent amount of online research and have substantial tech know-how. This is because a complete entertainment set-up that puts OTA and streaming video content in one place, and allows you to record OTA content, usually involves several pieces of hardware and lots of options. Unsurprisingly, many consumers would consider this a daunting task, but more tech savvy consumers are less likely to feel intimidated by piecing together a video solution that includes OTA.

Why Bother?

If done correctly, the consumer purchasing an antenna, OTA DVR and streaming device at an upfront cost of a few hundred dollars will quickly realize savings over subscribing to pay TV within a year or two.

Plus, and perhaps just as importantly, many consumers are interested in piecing together their own individual content solution, even if it means investing additional time and effort. Consumers like having options to customize the products and solutions they use, as highlighted in Mintel Trend “Make It Mine.” There’s a certain satisfaction in being able to rig up your own system that allows you to get all the content you need very cheaply.

32% of
consumers would be willing to spend more for a pay TV service that only offers the channels they want to watch

When it comes to content, customization is so important to consumers that about a third are willing to pay more for it. Mintel’s US Pay TV and Home Communications Services report found that 32% of consumers said they would be willing to spend more for a pay TV service that only offers the channels they want to watch. So, even if significant cost-savings are not realized, we shouldn’t be too surprised that consumers are investing in products that help them better customize their content.

What’s Next?

The competition to provide the best device to combine streaming, OTA and DVR capabilities without a bunch of extra hardware and costs is already underway. Tivo Roamio makes it a little easier to get different types of content, plus DVR functionality, in one place, but has a substantial cost of entry and ongoing fees for extra features. Dish’s AirTV Player brings OTA and streaming content together, but has yet to incorporate DVR functionality for OTA content. Although these platforms are not perfect yet, options like these help streamline the hardware component, allowing consumers to focus more on customizing their content combinations.

As long as free broadcast TV exists, there will be consumers interested in harnessing it as a cheaper alternative to pay  TV. As the hardware options improve to better incorporate OTA with other types of content, and eliminate the need for complicated DIY set-ups, more consumers may take advantage of OTA content, particularly in areas where an antenna can pick up lots of channels, such as cities.

Emily Groch is Mintel Comperemedia’s Director of Insights, Telecommunications. She provides omni-channel marketing analysis and competitive insights to wireless, TV, internet, over-the-top, and home security service providers across the US and Canada.

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