Monday, June 15, 2009

Free TV: CTV gets it wrong

I shouldn't be, but I am surprised at how badly some journalists cover our own industry. I know some are "edited" by their corporate bosses. On Friday night, CTV got the story of the U-S transition from analog to digital TV all wrong. And in this case, you have to wonder if there's a reason why.

Reporter Tom Walters’ piece left people with the impression that the switch from analog to digital TV broadcasting in the United States means the end of antennas and over-the-air television. He called it the End of an Era.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth – at least in the United States. There, all the major broadcasters have invested in making the switch to digital, and signals are still being beamed to TV sets right across the country, for free. The only difference is they’re digital signals now, which means they’re clearer and sharper signals. All you need is a converter box to receive them (which the U-S government helped people buy, by handing out millions of dollars worth of coupons), or a new TV. And a good antenna really helps.

So, in the United States, you can still get a wide range of TV signals in most places, for free.

In this country, broadcasters are refusing to make the transition, which is due to take place officially in 2011. Only the biggest cities west of New Brunswick can get digital TV over the air. And broadcasters have no plans to change that.

There’s a great story on that gives an overview of the transition in the U-S and the lack of transition in this country. Now, any wonder why CTV, which has already written off the idea of providing free over-the-air digital TV, would air such an incomplete story?

By the way, my union, the Canadian Media Guild, thinks all Canadians should have access to free TV, even after the digital conversion in 2011 and has provided original research about this to the CRTC. It’s been an uphill struggle.

Walters ended his piece with the Canadian broadcasters’ line (read: excuse): that only 10% of Canadians rely on over-the-air signals for their television, while the rest get cable and satellite, so the digital conversion will mean nothing. He didn’t mention that up to 10 million Canadians will be cut off from having the option of getting free TV in Canada after 2011, because of decisions that CTV and other broadcasters are making now. Would have been a better story, don’t you think?


  1. Perhaps the major reason for the switch to digital signals is that as digital signals broadcast TV now is covered under the Draconian copyright provisions of the DMCA. This gives media companies more control over content and possible derivatives. US media giants do not invest billions for the benefit of the audience they invest for their own benefit. While a switch over to digital broadcast would have little effect in Canada at this time with the Conservatives , Liberals and Bloc Bloc Québécois all supporting to one degree or another a Canadian DMCA it may have a big effect on archivist, artists and viewers in the future (of course none of these are the customers of Broadcast TV advertisers are).

  2. I purchased an HD TV almost three years ago, shortly after moving to Toronto. I don't have either satellite or cable. When I tell people that I get my HD for free AND that the signal is technically superior because they don't have to compress the signal, you can see that people really don't get it. They hear the words, but it makes no sense. Then I tell them that I save close to a $100 month and they start to listen.

    That $100 month is, I think, why there is no corporate backing for keeping over the air going.

    I get all the US and Canadian networks except CBS, plus a number of local channels. Movies and series are all available on DVD or the Internet.

    Satellite and cable TV should go the way of the buggy whip. Give me Internet access as a public utility, and over the air TV for local & community coverage.

  3. Beg to differ. OTA TV might be technically available in the US but my friends and relatives down there say the situation is far more drastic than your comment that "a good atenna really helps". For someone living in an apartment -- the majority of urban dwellers -- the switch to digital means that they are forced to sign on for cable TV. The HD signal is elusive and distorted otherwise. Someone close to me is a shut-in and her comments on the switchover would blister your ears.

  4. The best antenna I have used for OTA HD cost me under $5. It's made out of coat hangers.

    It took me about 20 mins total to make and outperforms the two previous $80-$140 antennas I've previously had.

  5. I live in the Orlando, Florida area, and get 38 OTA local HD channels. The problem in the US is that OTA is hyped down as an antiquated way of getting television and satellite and cable is pushed so hard. Its no wonder, so much money is dumped into its advertising because of the amount of money to be had. You can't go in the local discount stores and buy antennas. Radio Shack keeps all the OTA stuff in the back room collecting dust and not on the shelves.

  6. I live in Ottawa in an apartment building now, and I get some HD channels perfectly crisp with my set of old-fashioned bunny ears. Love not having another monthly bill.

  7. Thank you for this informative piece. I must admit it has been a confusing journey to sort out my TV options. My problem was solved last weekend when I invested in a digital tuner and $40.00 indoor antenna and WOW!!! Granted I am on the 14th floor facing the CN Tower, but I have 19 channels or more with a crystal clear reception. It IS better than cable. It is the perfect solution for me as I only want the daily news and PBS programs. I can’t understand why this isn’t more widely known especially for so many folks on limited budgets or suffering from the downturned economy.

    I too found the big name retailers of no help. They don't stock the tuners or antenna and look shocked when you ask, advising you to get cable. Quite possibly they don’t even know what the scoop in on OTA reception. The television manufacturers were also slow to explain the need for a DTV and confused buyers with other choices to make - features like plasma, versus LED and HD ready blah blah blah. I thought for sure my brand new flat screen HD ready Toshiba TV with LED screen manufactured in Nov/07 (it was a special gift to me at Christmas that year) would be all that I needed for the looming conversion and was surprised to find that the cable company would still require me to purchase or rent a box! HD transmission would cost more. It was presented to me as a standard procedure. So I stuck to my analog rabbit ears. It was working fine until the USA channels switched to digital at which point I could only get the Canadian stations. After some research I made my antenna/digital tuner purchase and hopefully will never look back, unless I move to a small town!

    Regarding the refusal to move to analog in the smaller markets, - I think there would be more dissenting voices if there were more articles and stories about the situation. It took me 18 months to finally get through the jargon and misconceptions presented by retailers and the cable company to get to a place where I have the best reception i have ever had anywhere. I am only now ‘getting it’ conceptually. When I was buying the equipment, I could see myself in the faces of the other store customers arrived very conservative and cautious, blossomed with the education from the retailer and his demo’s and left with anticipation and surprise.

    My last thought is that I personally can’t believe that only 10% are Over the Air (OTA) users. I am guessing that this is a scarry number for cable companies and that it will indeed grow – exponentially if twitter has its way, job losses grow, union contracts are re-negotiated etc. It will grow if for no other reason, people can live within their means again. If this did become a trend, perhaps network TV would be born again?

  8. I have been telling my neighbours about the virtues of free TV and have helped a couple of them make the switch. Without my research, they would have had no idea what was possible.

    What's interesting is that one of them didn't use his set to watch live TV at all before I told him where to find rabbit ears. He simply used it to watch DVDs. He's one of those under-35 people who has high-speed internet and does most stuff on line. Cable and satellite have probably lost those people forever. But the local broadcasters could get them back, at least some of the time, if they did a better job of letting people know about how to get their signals for free.

  9. By 2011 no-one will be watching local TV we will get our news like we are now from the internets and hopefully DirectTV we should be allowed to receive it here legally. Although most people set it up with a USA friend/family address and bring the dish home.

    Daniel .. Toronto


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