With all this talk about the cord-cutting masses no longer wanting to subsidize TV channels they don't watch, it's a little surprising that one of the oldest, most widely available forms of TV is waning: over-the-air broadcast TV. Despite its attractive price of $0 per month and billions of advertising revenue, nobody — including the broadcast networks, the tech companies that are out to disrupt them, and the cord-cutters and cord-nevers who hate cable — is very enthusiastic about antennas. Rather, this is the "zero tv" generation, according to a recent Nielsen study, which found that 5 million households have no television at all and would rather pay for Internet distribution than put a set of bunny ears on a TV set. Aereo, the Barry Diller-backed tech startup, is betting people would rather pay $80 per year (i.e. about what it costs to get a HD tuner for your PC) to deliver this gratis content over the Internet rather than over the air. So enraged at Aereo's elaborate plans of thousands of tiny antennas sucking their signals onto web servers, Reuters reported on Sunday that the Big Four broadcast networks are considering ending over-the-air transmission to foil the service. On Monday, News Corp. chief operating office Chase Carey said the company would turn Fox into a cable channel if the courts allow Aereo to sell their service: “This is not an ideal path we look to pursue, but we can’t sit idly by and let an entity steal our signal. We will move to a subscription model if that’s our only recourse.”
The networks haven't really been excited about free television anymore for a while and for obvious reasons: they don't want to give their product away for free. (Duh.) The big broadcasters engaged in regular wars with cable companies to get them to pay transmission fees just like they do for their cable-only channels like ESPN and Comedy Central. And really, over-the-air TV is a sliver of the market. Though there have been nervousness about the future of TV, pay TV penetration is still around 90 percent.