Getting local networks online or via an antenna consistently is the real key to cord cutting becoming mainstream. While enthusiasts regularly point to how many customers drop their pay-TV services from year to year there can be a lot of confusion on the part of those that drop cable and satellite packages. But not because they can’t find their favorite cable channel. It’s because it becomes harder to find their favorite local networks.
Local is national and national is local
There are a number of locally accessible networks in a given market. The ones that matter the most for viewers are usually the National Network affiliates. NBC does not have a direct connection to your home. People call the network affiliates the local channels, but the programming they expect is national. Whether its NFL football and the Kentucky Derby or new episodes of Rosanne, the network affiliates are where the content is found.
Why the mixed message?
The biggest reason for confusion on these matters is the way cable replacement services like DirecTV Now and others are promoted. When a prospective customer reads a review of a service that says “Playstation Vue offers local networks as part of its package” a logical assumption would be that signing up for the service will give one access to local networks. But the problem is that coverage is not uniform. On-demand options allow users to see scripted content. But live content is another issue. We monitor social media around the subject and regularly find people frustrated when they can’t see a live event. If an event like a sports contest or major awards show is upcoming we see people desperately trying to find out how to stream it. In some cases there may be no options to do so.
Now why Can’t Everyone Stream Local Networks?
Why do some people get CBS, ABC and other networks through their various streaming services while others do not? Because getting local networks online has everything to do with individual deals with media conglomerates. CBS does not own the majority of CBS affiliates, nor do any of the other big broadcast networks. So for PlayStation Vue to offer NBC or CBS or Fox or any network in a given area they must reach an agreement with an ownership group you have probably never heard of.
Who owns my local networks?
Without getting too much in the weeds there are companies that own multiple network affiliates across the country. For instance, you see this when cable companies have these drawn-out public fights about say a FOX blackout in 5 major markets. The fight is not usually between the cable provider and a network. It is the cable provider VS a company that owns 40 stations from coast to coast. And its portfolio can include affiliates from every major broadcaster. In your hometown, it might be NBC going dark but in another, it could be CBS. Whether its Hulu or Spectrum, the ability to offer major network television including the big game, the Emmys and anything else is due to complicated agreements between multiple entities. The cable companies have a lot more practice and leverage to work with in this process than the streaming entities. One can talk of millions of customers in a given market while the other juggles hundreds of thousands nationally.
What this means for cord cutters
This means that it can be next to impossible to find any one service that provides all of the major networks live. It means that watching your local news on TV live cannot be guaranteed via a streaming service. Just because someone on a forum or Facebook says “I get NBC just fine on my _______ service” does not mean you will. It is necessary to contact any service you are interested in to find out if they offer the local channels you wish to see.
Antenas will grow in popularity
Antenas are not a one stop solution for all. This is because of a range of issues from geography and topography to something as mundane as HOA agreements. But getting channels for free over the air again has been growing over time and a stop in at your local electronics store will show you this. Big box stores like Walmart and Best Buy often, but not universally, carry an assortment of antennas from wall mounted to rooftop models. While there is a wide range of results from some people claiming to receive 100 OTA channels to others getting 10 or less, the new push for antennas will continue to grow if cord cutting does.