The two companies are stepping up a joint effort to persuade consumers to cut the cable TV cord and substitute a mix of OTA and OTT programming. Direct supplies the antennas, while TiVo supplies the box that not only records and stores off-air programming, but also interfaces with the broadband video world of Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. In the works is a plan that would let stations share in the monthly fees that TiVo charges by promoting the Antennas Direct-TiVo solution. “Our goal is to create an on-going, sustainable and increasing revenue stream for stations,” says Antennas Direct’s Pete D’Acosta.
Andy Griffith and Ernest Borgnine have departed, but one icon of TV’s early days — the TV antenna — may experience a real renaissance, thanks to the a year-old partnership between Antennas Direct, a designer and marketer of antennas, and TiVo, the DVR pioneer.
By combining their technology and marketing know-how, the two hope to accelerate the cord-cutting wherein consumers shuck their cable TV service for a mix of over-the-air broadcast signals and over-the-top (OTT) broadband video offerings.
Antennas Direct supplies the antennas, while TiVo supplies the box that not only records and stores off-air programming, but also interfaces with the broadband video world of Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu and other OTT programmers.
For starters, Antenna Direct will be stepping up local antenna promotions, in which it teams with TV stations to give away antennas to viewers who are not able or willing to pay for cable service, says Director of Business Development Pete D’Acosta.
Over the past three years, the company has bestowed almost 14,000 antennas. In most markets, hundreds of viewers line up for hours (as seen in this composite video.)
“It’s expensive, but local promotion and newscasts are a far more effective way to educate consumers than just buying national ads,” says D’Acosta.
Of potentially greater interest to stations are revenue-sharing programs. Stations that drive viewers to buy discounted antennas and accessories on co-branded Web pages on the Antennas Direct website or through a dedicated toll-free number will earn a percentage of each sale.
This week and next, D’Acosta is meeting with TiVo executives to complete plans to integrate TiVo products into a station marketing collaborative. What’s on the table is a plan by which stations could share in the monthly fees that TiVo charges its customers by promoting the Antennas Direct-TiVo offerings. “Our goal is to create an on-going, sustainable and increasing revenue stream for stations,” D’Acosta says. “The move to OTA and OTT is just beginning.”
Antennas Direct Founder and President Richard Schneider says business is booming with annual sales now approaching one million units. “Our business is doubling every nine months,” he says.
Schneider’s comment jibes with a study from GfK Media last month that found that 17.8% of U.S. home rely on OTA broadcasting for TV. That’s up from 14%-15% just five years ago, the research firm said.
Recent stories in Time and the Wall Street Journal attribute that rapid growth to cash-strapped households escaping cable fees. Schneider agrees, but thinks the long-term appeal of over-the-air reception is more about technology than economics.
“Only a small minority of Americans are aware that OTA digital TV even exists,” Schneider says. When they see it, consumers are “amazed by the picture quality, and surprised to discover so many OTA channels are accessible using such a small device.”
Schneider focused much of his original investment in the eight-year-old Antennas Direct on reviving the long-neglected art of TV antenna design. By applying computer modeling developed to improve military communications, “we were able to quickly test thousands of antenna geometries to make antennas more compact and aesthetic, yet resistant to interference, which is key to television,” he says.
Antenna Direct offers free sales and technical support online or by phone to help consumers choose the best model for their household and geographic surroundings.
Its ClearStream antennas come in a wide range of sizes and form factors to suit nearly any terrain or architectural setting.
Unlike the tall spindly eyesores that once adorned nearly every American rooftop, the most popular ClearStream model, the sleek Micron-R color indoor antenna, is smaller and lighter than a laptop computer and comes in a choice of five colors.
Schneider says that a sleek, unobtrusive product was always a design priority. “Remember, those big C-Band dishes never really caught on. It wasn’t until DirecTV’s mini-dish that satellite TV gained customer acceptance.” And retailer acceptance too, because a smaller product means far greater efficiencies in electronics store shelf space. “Today we’re in over 7,000 retail outlets including Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Costco,” says Schneider.
The other half of the cord-cutting formula is OTT. While many consumers have embraced streaming video services like Netflix and Hulu, others despair at the thought of the extra cables or devices needed to connect OTT content with OTA — plus the added challenge of finding, storing and keeping track of those programs.
Antenna Direct’s solution, announced last summer, was to partner with another innovator — TiVo, a leader in DVRs, electronic program guides and integrated streaming services.
“TiVo is the ultimate cord-cutting device because they bring all the broadband premium content into one simple interface that anyone can use,” says Schneider. “If you think of over-the-air as the new basic cable, then adding TiVo is the tipping point.”
While many set-top boxes, gaming systems, DVD players and “Smart TV’s” feature broadband connectivity to streaming video services, “TiVo is the only consumer-branded DVR that allows over-the-air customers to search, pause, record and archive shows,” says Doug Bieter, TiVo VP of sales.
The basic TiVo Premier box is available through the Antennas Direct website for $99.99 plus the monthly fee of $14.95. It features a 500 gigabyte hard drive that can store up to 75 hours of HD programs. A built-in ATSC tuner can record two programs off air at the same time. For consumers who also want cable service, the Premiere also supports an optional M-Card (CableCard.) The Premiere can also connect to Verizon’s fiber optic FIOS service but not to AT&T’s U-Verse or to satellite services.
For about $100 more, TiVo offers the TiVo Premiere XL, which supports THX audio, contains a 1 terabyte hard drive which stores up to 150 hours of HD content and sports a backlit remote control. (The Premiere XL does not appear on the Antennas Direct website.)
In addition to Netflix and Hulu Plus, both units enable direct connection, search and recording from Amazon Instant Video, YouTube and Pandora, the Internet radio service. Each unit can connect to broadband via built-in Ethernet, or to wireless networks using optional adaptors.
Once connected, the device can employ TiVo To Go to transfer programs to a PC or Mac to be played back or burned to DVD. And this fall, TiVo will introduce a new accessory, TiVo Stream, which lets consumers stream content to an iPhone or iPad both in and outside the home. That is, most content. Some copyright holders like HBO may impose restrictions. (An Android version of TiVo Stream will come later.)
While TiVo is quick to praise the innovative style and performance of the Antenna Direct aerials, both companies emphasize the power and versatility of the TiVo interface, which neatly combines all digital broadcast shows with OTT streaming video subscription services with the wild world of webcasts, podcasts and humorous shorts.
“Consumers want access to any content on any device at any time,” says Bieter. “By pushing broadband content through the TiVo platform, we make program content much easier to search for and discover.”