Americans are slowly cutting their cable and satellite TV cords.
This year, about 700,000 pay-TV customers, about 0.7 percent of the U.S. market, will do so. Cord cutting is expected to grow about 1 percent per year through 2020.
Canceling cable or satellite service isn’t usually easy or quick. There are service reps to deal with and equipment to return. But cord cutters and cord nevers — people who have never used cable or satellite service — have discovered digital over-the-air channels available for free using an antenna.
That’s the area in which Mike Ness of Ness Electronics in Burnsville specializes. His company supplies indoor and outdoor TV antennas and accessories to TV sales and service companies, installers and consumers in the Midwest. His sales are up 29 percent from 2014 to 2016 and up another 18 percent year to date. In July, he plans to release his own line of high-end outdoor antennas called Sky Blue Antennas.
Q: People can get 40 to 60 free digital channels over the air with just an antenna. Sounds simple, but many antenna users have had reception issues. Before they give up cable or satellite, what do they need to know?
A: The biggest issue is getting the content that keeps them happy. An off-air antenna may not be able to get all those channels based on the strength of the signal coming to their house. There can be a big difference between what a neighbor picks up and what you pick up. It’s all based on line of sight to the towers in Shoreview. Trees, tall buildings or a water tower can affect it. Some channels like ESPN and HGTV are not available free over the air, so you have to use streaming services that run $5 to $40 a month each. Some people buy multiple streaming services.
Q: Can an installer help if the consumer has no luck getting a good signal?
A: An expert can be a great route to go — someone who’s put up antennas in that neighborhood and knows the nuances such as how high to go.
Q: What are some good antennas that consumers may want to consider?
A: Winegard HD-7694P (about $55) and Channel Master CM2016 (about $43) are both good outdoor antennas for the metro. The Monster Mava5001S is a decent indoor, flat antenna (about $30).
Q: Has anything changed in antenna construction to make them worth another shot if a person had little success with them in the past?
A: Antennas haven’t changed in 40 years, but the chips inside the tuner they’re using in newer TVs are a lot more sensitive. They’re less likely to lock up the picture and give reception issues. Generally, the bigger the antenna the better, but now we don’t have low-band VHF, so antennas can be more compact.
Q: Who is not a good candidate for an antenna?
A: The toughest situation I’ve encountered is a guy who lives in a low-lying area in Apple Valley. It’s a mature neighborhood so the entire area is covered with trees 40 to 50 years old. When you stand on his roof all you see are trees. He still dropped cable and went with Sling.
Q: How can boosters help your antenna?
A: A preamp is good if you live 50 miles out of the metro in a weak signal area. A distribution amp works if you have a strong signal that gets split among six to eight TVs in the house. Each split causes some signal loss. Preamps run $60 to $90 and distribution amps run $19 to $50.
Q: Is weather a problem with antennas?
A: They’re not like a dish that may lose signal or shut off in a heavy snowstorm.
Q: Some say that if you supplement free OTA channels with streaming services such as Hulu, Netflix, and PlayStation Vue, you are paying nearly the same amount as cable or satellite.
A: It depends on how much programming you want. Getting a sports package can add up.
Q: Can anyone who has had cable for decades get used to an antenna and streaming services?
A: We’ve gotten my 81-year-old mom into the streaming world with a Chromecast device (about $35), Netflix ($10 a month) and a four-button remote. She can’t believe how much better the world is without commercials. You shouldn’t have to be a computer wizard to do streaming.
Q: What are some good resources for the do-it-yourselfer?
A: Antennaweb.org can help with information based on your ZIP code. TitanTV.org gives a channel lineup and program guide for the Twin Cities.
Q: What if you have gotten used to using a DVR with cable or satellite?
A: You can buy a Channel Master DVR or TiVo. They start at $250.
Q: What if the cable company increases your internet bill after cutting the cord?
A: Wait 90 days and call up and renegotiate. My kids use the hot spot near their cellphones but that may start using bandwidth if they go over their allotted bandwidth for the month.
Q: What if you want an installer to help choose the best antenna, install it, and help get you started after you cut the cord? Or someone to help with streaming services and DIY problems?
A: In the Twin Cities, there are installers to help with that like Cable Alternatives, Mr. HDTV Man or Enhanced Home Technology. In the St. Cloud area, it’s Minnesota Electronics and in the Hutchinson area, it’s Electronic Servicing.