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Blast from the past: TV antennas prove very handy in digital age

A spiny pack of near-extinct, multi-limbed creatures are turning up incities across Canada, creeping up the sides of buildings and settlingon urban rooftops.

A spiny pack of near-extinct, multi-limbed creatures are turning up in cities across Canada, creeping up the sides of buildings and settling on urban rooftops. TV antennas are making a tentative comeback in this country.

Nobody in the broadcasting industry or government seems to know how many Canadians are scrapping cable and satellite in favour of the old-school technology, but there’s anecdotal evidence a mini-boom is under way.

Ironically, it’s all being fuelled by the high-tech switch by broadcasters from analog to digital and high-definition channels.

Viewers are discovering that they can get over-the-air, digital television stations that proponents say come through better than on cable and satellite, where signals are compressed.

“And the magic word is ‘free,’” says Jon LeBlanc, Canada’s antenna guru. LeBlanc began an “over-the-air” discussion board on digitalhome.ca five years ago, where a few diehard antenna fans would pop by.

Now he’s the most popular forum on the site, with dozens of new people logging on every month to find out about getting hooked up.

LeBlanc himself gets 14 digital stations, including six from the U.S., with his rooftop antenna in Delta, B.C.. “If a person weeds through what they’re actually watching, does the value-added provided by a cable company or a satellite company make any sense? ... More and more people are saying ‘No,’” says LeBlanc.

Conventional TV broadcasters say they’re struggling to survive in a multi-channel universe with dwindling ad revenues.

They’re pushing the government to provide some regulatory and financial relief, particularly over the costs of converting their transmitters to digital by 2011.

But the industry has not publicly discussed the phenomenon of Canadians willingly rejecting the 500-channel universe in favour of signals they can catch locally. The Canadian Association of Broadcasters says it’s not something they’ve noted at all.

The number of Canadians who rely on over-the-air TV is repeatedly pegged at nine per cent nationally, 16 per cent in Quebec.

David Purdy, vice-president of video product management for Rogers Communications, predicts the numbers will continue to decline once all Canadian stations convert to digital by August 2011.

“The notion that a linear television offering, whether through rabbit ears or a digital receiver, is somehow going to meet the customer’s needs is completely not reflective of the world we live in,” Purdy said.

But Karim Sunderani, co-owner of Toronto’s Save and Replay store, says he’s been selling 1,000 antennas a month, and feels he’s at the cusp of something big.

“It’s mainly the picture quality,” says Sunderani, who gets a dozen channels in his store with a $50 set-top antenna. If you look at the difference between the old VHF, the UHF is stunning, we’re actually getting high-definition and obviously no monthly bills once you put the antenna up.”

 
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