A TV antenna maker wanted to use the competition's own medium — cable TV — for its anti-cable message. Now, officials at Antennas Direct say Charter Communications' refusal to air the ads is evidence of the cable industry's growing concern over antennas.
At issue are three 60-second spots that Antennas Direct of Ellisville, Mo., sought to air in the St. Louis market through Charter Communications on ESPN, the History Channel and other cable networks. The ads encourage viewers to cancel cable and save money by buying an antenna. One shows a man chained, telling an unseen voice of a cable company, "You're gonna lose a ton of money when people realize they don't have to pay you just to watch TV."
Antennas Direct spokesman Scott Kolbe said Thursday that a Charter executive responded that the company would not run ads for "direct cable competitors."
Charter spokeswoman Anita Lamont said the company decides on a case-by-case basis whether to accept advertising of competitors. "In this instance, we made a decision not to accept business advertising from this company for this particular product," she said.
Brian Dietz, a spokesman for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, said that as Americans watch more TV every year, "the value of cable's video service continues to be the best of any form of entertainment."
But Kolbe said customers are increasingly turning to antennas because streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu allow them to watch their favorite TV shows for a monthly fee that's far less than cable, and the antenna gives high-definition access to local channels.
Statistics from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association show that the number of cable customers was 58 million in 2011, the most recent year available, down from a peak of 66.9 million in 2001.
Cable has faced increasing competition from competitors such as satellite services and more recently from antennas, throwbacks to the "rabbit ears" of the early days of TV.
Today's antennas are more complex. Selling for $50 to $100, they connect to HD outputs. Pictures gathered from over-the-air signals are usually strong, Kolbe said, and there are no monthly fees.
Antennas don't pick up cable channels — no "Pawn Stars," no "Homeland," no "Breaking Bad." And if the signal fades, there is no picture.
The National Association of Broadcasters cited a 2012 study showing that 17.8 percent of U.S. household with TVs use over-the-air signals, up from 15 percent a year earlier. The study by GfK Media found that nearly 21 million households now receive TV exclusively through broadcast signals rather than cable or satellite.
"Five years ago I don't think anybody considered an antenna company a threat to cable," Kolbe said. "I think streaming has been the catalyst that has helped legitimize antenna television."