How local TV stations plan to remain relevant as viewers shift to streaming

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VIACCMCSANFLXGTNTGNASBGISSPNXSTEW Scripps CEO Adam SymsonSource: EW Scripps

The technology behind the distribution of television has evolved with time, from the antenna to cable to satellite, and most recently to streaming.

Now, according to EW Scripps Chief Executive Officer Adam Symson, the time has arrived for the next frontier of TV viewing:

The antenna.

As consumers shift away from traditional pay TV and toward subscription streaming services, the digital antenna will emerge as a necessary component of people’s viewing habits, Symson said in an interview.

Americans will need to find other, free ways to supplement streaming services as they max out on monthly subscription charges, Symson said. Broadcast networks, which offer local news, sports, soap operas, game show staples like “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy,” and prime time content from their national networks, will continue to air must-have content in American homes — even after streaming services replace linear TV as the dominant form of viewing, he said.

“There is no digital platform that reaches the ubiquity and availability of broadcast television,” Symson said. “Everyone is paying attention to the subscription video services. They’re all spending enormous amounts of money in very high-risk ventures, trying to create platforms. But for the average American consumer, if you sign up for all of them, I don’t think it’s economically sustainable.”

A young girl adjusts the antenna of a television in an attempt to obtain a digital signal.Luis Gutierrez | Norte Photo | Getty Images

The shift to streaming is happening quickly. The average American already pays for four video streaming services, according to a Deloitte survey released this week. Nearly 7 million American households likely dropped their traditional pay-TV service in 2020, a record high.

But there’s significant risk to broadcast station groups — companies including Sinclair Broadcast Group, Nexstar Media Group, TEGNA, EW Scripps and Gray Television — as Americans ditch live linear TV for a mishmash of Disney+, Netflix, NBCUniversal’s Peacock, AT&T‘s HBO Max, ViacomCBS‘s Paramount+, and others.

Retransmission fees

The biggest existential concern for network affiliates is the hypothetical loss of billions of dollars in retransmission fees as Americans cut the cord and ditch pay TV.

For the past decade,