Ask any 50- or 60-year-old to describe what their home television system looked like during their younger years and you’ll most likely get descriptions of large box-style televisions with dials that needed to be manually turned and rabbit-ear antennas often wrapped in aluminum foil to get better reception.

In the last several decades the options for television viewing has changed significantly, resulting in a wealth of options Rochester residents can choose from.

Today, people don’t just watch TV. They stream, watch live news and sports, or enjoy movies on demand through a set-top box, on apps, or over the air.

And the equipment used to watch TV is as varied as the watchers themselves—and may include huge flat screens in living rooms, mobile devices on the go, or laptops on the kitchen counter or in bed.

In June 2021, Nielsen, the go-to source for measuring TV viewing in the United States, said that 64% of time spent on televisions is on network and cable TV, while 26% of time is spent on streaming services (with Netflix and Hulu being the top). Another 8%, includes—in order—video-on-demand, streaming from cable set-top boxes, and other TV uses (gaming and watching DVDs).

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According to Matt Pease, owner of Northern Antenna, these trends, as they relate to television options, are driven by two major factors: cost and convenience.

“On one hand, you have traditional cable and satellite TV services which just keep increasing in cost, almost to an absurd degree,” Pease says. “All the while, you still have to deal with things like introductory rates, cable boxes, and network carriage disputes.”

On the other hand, many consumers are doing the majority of their viewing on streaming apps—which are cost effective (often $10-$20/month) and convenient, running directly on smart TVs, streaming sticks, and smartphones.

What’s more, broadcast television is a far cry from what it was just a little over a decade ago. In 2009, television stations shut off their analog signals and went digital only. The digital signals they broadcast are capable of delivering HD picture up to 1080i resolution, often with better quality than what you’d see on cable or satellite.

As Pease explains, streaming TV has overtaken cable/satellite to such a degree that many of his customers tell him, with the exception of local news, football, and maybe a few other programs, they really don’t use their cable/satellite service at all.

“Yet, they’re paying on average $100/month,” Pease says. “This is where an antenna fills in the gap—giving you access to your local network channels for free. The trend toward cord-cutting is pretty much universal, no matter where I go.”

The installation and service of Over-The-Air Digital antenna systems is Northern Antenna’s primary business. Additionally, they install Over-The-Air DVRs and get people set up with streaming TV services. They also put in Free-To-Air Satellite systems (primarily for International channels), FM antennas, Starlink Satellite Internet systems and do pre-wiring as well.

With an antenna, you can receive the major broadcast networks, including: ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, ION, NBC, MyNet and PBS, along with so-called “subchannel networks” such as: Antenna TV, H&I, MeTV, PBS Kids, etc. According to Pease, most Rochester residents can expect to receive all 33 Rochester-market channels.

“In neighborhoods with higher elevations, the Twin Cities, La Crosse, and Eau Claire markets become available as well, for a total of up to 98 channels,” Pease says. “For Packer fans, those Wisconsin channels offer an additional three to four games per season not seen on Minnesota affiliates and Twin Cities channels offer a few subchannels not available from the Rochester market.”

According to Jodi Robinson, senior vice president of digital platforms for Charter Communications, Inc., which operates the Spectrum brand of TV, Internet, voice and mobile services in Rochester, “The way customers are consuming video content is changing every day. We are always looking to innovate and find ways to make our video products easily available to all customers so they can enjoy their Spectrum TV service wherever and whenever they want.”

Rochester customers can find more than 60,000 shows, movies and more on Spectrum TV On Demand and subscribers can stream On Demand content on the app, or “cast” or “mirror” On Demand movies to another TV over their in-home Spectrum Internet.

Recently, Chromecast compatibility was added to the Spectrum TV App, giving customers even more options for viewing live and On Demand content. This enhancement allows customers to take video content playing on the Spectrum TV App and “cast” it to a larger screen or TV.

Chromecast devices, offered by Google, come as a dongle—a small device—that can be plugged into a TV’s HDMI port. Many newer Smart TVs have Chromecast built in, eliminating the need for a dongle.

As Robinson explains, Chromecast acts as a bridge between the TV and a customer’s personal device, giving them the ability to watch video content from their phone or tablet on their TV.

Costs of the various cable, satellite, streaming, and antenna services vary by provider and each person’s particular set-up, but a new outdoor antenna system from Northern Antenna, for example, can run anywhere from about $500 to over $1,000 installed, depending on the options (fixed-direction antenna, rotator-controlled antenna or multi-antenna array). Existing antenna installations can often be serviced for less.

“The cost savings over subscription TV is quite dramatic,” Pease says. “You’ve paid for the hardware in six months to one year and you’re saving $1,200+ every year after that.”

What the Future Holds

As Robinson points out, the video industry is changing right before our eyes. “The way customers are subscribing to and consuming video content is changing every day. We are actually seeing a revolution in the variety and volume of content that’s available via streaming service, via direct to consumer platforms, and on inexpensive and high-powered devices.”

As far as broadcast TV is concerned, Pease says we’re going to see the deployment of NextGenTV (ATSC 3.0) standard in the next 5 to 10 years. This new standard will use the same towers and the same channels that are currently used (and can be received by the same TV antennas), but will give broadcasters an even more robust signal and more bandwidth to work with. With NextGen TV, broadcasters can send higher resolution picture (4K/HDR/60Hz), better sound (Dolby Atmos), more subchannels and even interactive features.

“While there aren’t any NextGenTV signals on the air in our area yet, some new high-end television models already have NextGen capability built-in,” Pease says. “You’ll see that become a standard feature in the next few years and, eventually, NextGenTV tuner boxes will become available for existing TV sets, at a nominal cost. We might eventually even see NextGenTV integrated into phones and cars as well.”

Learn the Lingo

Streaming: This means watching video via an IP-connected or wireless device.

Casting or Mirroring: Both refer to sending a signal from one device, usually a smartphone, to a larger screen or TV. But they differ in that when casting, users can still use their phone without interrupting the video, whereas with mirroring, exactly what is on the phone screen is shown on the larger screen.

What (and How) You Watch: Locals share their viewing set-ups

“We love DirecTV. Never had any issues with quality although it will lose signal during a rain storm. We pay $75/month for a basic package then an extra $35-ish a month for the 6 months of football.

We have always had the one-screen Netflix streaming for roughly $10 a month. We did a free trial of FuboTV to be able to stream the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.

We also have the Disney bundle for around $13.99/month. We love how Hulu will have the new episodes of currently airing shows within about 24 hours!”

— Alysia Steinbeck, Rochester

“We cut cable and never looked back! Antenna gets all local channels plus a few in Wisconsin. The rotor lets us redirect to get all the Cities’ channels (and Vikings games). Roku also gets us movies and shows on demand. No waiting around to view our favorite series shows! Never making cable or dish payments again.”

— Chris Eck, Elgin

“We went from DirecTV to streaming/antenna about a year ago. Best choice we ever made, as it was a huge money-saver. We do Prime, Hulu, Philo and get local channels from our antenna. I bought the Onn outdoor antenna and put it on the roof using the brackets/wiring from my dish. We get 20 channels with that.”

— Eric Sanvick, Rochester

“I am a millennial, so I do not own a TV. I stream shows via Netflix or Hulu approximately whenever the family members who own those accounts recommend something heavily enough.”

— Anne Halliwell, Rochester

“We don’t have cable or a dish system anymore, though I admit that I kind of miss cable sometimes. Instead, we have four streaming services: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Disney Plus. And, honestly, we’d only have three, but I keep forgetting to cancel Disney Plus. I ordered it last summer just to watch Hamilton. Which I did at least a dozen times. So, totally worth the cost.”

— Jennifer Koski, Rochester

“In 2015, we decided to cut cable. We bought a $60 antenna (RCA ANT800 Outdoor HDTV Antenna) and I put it on our roof (and it took me a few hours to figure out the best way to align it). It gets all of the local channels plus a few others. And it’s still standing after six years.

We bought a Roku box and get plenty of free channels on the various apps there. We also get SlingTV ($35/month for 30-plus channels), Disney-Plus (on a free trial), and Netflix ($10/month). We use Spectrum for internet.”

— Steve Lange, Rochester