Free TV? Could be a trend on the rise

10:53 PM, May 21, 2012   |    comments
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PLYMOUTH, Minn. - Shelly Feldman and her two daughters are in a brand new apartment. Recently single, Feldman is trying to find a few financial shortcuts. Her first cut - the luxury of cable television.

"I need it but I don't have it. I'm saving a lot of money not doing it," she said, flipping through a handful of off-air channels.  "I'm fine. I don't even have the inkling to get it; not to say I don't go to people's houses and want to watch their TV," Feldman added with a chuckle, admitting she misses plenty of her favorite reality TV shows.

Doug Mamer of East Lake Electronics knows where Feldman is coming from.

"It's the first bill you look at and wonder; do I need it?" said Mamer. 

Mamer installs antennas for customers on a weekly, and sometimes, daily basis. He says in most parts of the metro a simple indoor antenna is all that is necessary, and after a quick and easy scan, consumers get some pretty good options.

"In fact, when we started, we've been doing this two-and-a-half years now that they changed to digital, we'd do the installs and pick-up a dozen stations and that'd be good. Now it is 38 stations," Mamer explained.

"The antenna sales have been booming the last couple of years," Mamer's antenna distributor, Mike Ness, said. Ness owns St. Paul-based Ness Electronics, and ships off hardware to all parts of the Midwest. "Their retail customers have just gotten to the point where $100 for cable TV or satellite just is too much," he said.

Ness argues the HD signal through the antenna is better than satellite or cable. Do you need a huge antenna on your roof?

"The farther out from Shoreview that you get, the bigger the antenna you would have to use. If you're within 20 miles you can just use the standard set top," Ness said.

It's when you start to get 30, 40, and 50 miles from the massive Shoreview TV towers, you may need more hard-core hardware on your roof, explained Ness.

You can find out what you'll need to pull in a signal by logging on to

There is also a sizeable movement afoot as consumers try to catch television off the internet.

"I do get one or more a day that are like 'hey, I've ditched this. What do you got for me?' It's the new thing, it's quite common. You can save a lot of money and still get a lot of great content online," Best Buy Blue Shirt Jeff Yelverton said as he led us around the Eden Prairie store.

Yelverton says Roku and AppleTV are becoming very popular pieces of equipment that guide the online content onto your TV. He also says Amazon Prime, at around $80 a year, has proven quite popular for people who are seeking multiple channels. Netflix and Hulu are also well liked, and both will run you in the vicinity of $8 a month.

Still, there are some customer concerns at the counter.

"What they're more leery on is how much access they're actually going to have to shows. How much content is actually out there? They're afraid that maybe one or two shows a week... you're kind of at the whim of the internet at that point," Yelverton warned.

"We're bringing more and more content," Mary Beth Schubert, a Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Comcast, was quick to tell KARE 11. Comcast provides cable to a good portion of the Twin Cities metro area. Citing competitive reason, Schubert couldn't tell us if local cable subscriptions are up or down, but she did say numbers are up nationally.

Nielsen, which monitors the industry, reports in April of 2012, almost 82 percent of TV watchers in the Twin Cities television market used cable or satellite while about 18 percent used the "over the air" signal.

Comcast is branching out by providing its TV service to your computer and smart phone. ESPN has signed on. Sports programming is just one thing folks cutting the cable cord seem to be missing.

"You can get all of the four different ESPN programs that are available on an app if you're a Comcast customer. That's an example of where we want to be, where our customers are anytime, anyplace, on any device," Schubert explained.

"The only thing I miss really is live sports," Arik Hanson of Minneapolis admitted.

Hanson, a well known blogger and communication expert, recently wrote about his family's decision to "quit the dish."

"The biggest thing is we don't watch so much TV. I've read three books in the last couple of months, which is a lot for me," he said.

Hanson lives in one of those signal-tricky areas of the metro so he needed to buy and install an antenna on the roof of his south Minneapolis home. The hardware cost him $100 and the install cost him another $100. He says those are one-time costs, as was his AppleTV box.

Overall, the family is spending $21 per month on TV when you add up subscriptions to Hulu and Netflix, in addition to an estimated $5 per month spent renting movies from Redbox. The Hanson's old satellite bill was $100 so the savings come in at $79 per month.

It adds up to almost $950 a year; that's money Hanson will give to his kids.

"That's all just money we're going to put in their college fund," he concluded.

You don't have to be a finance major, a computer science major, or a technical wizard to make this TV decision. Cable, satellite, or none of the above? Only you know what you can afford and what you can and can't live without.

(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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