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Why TV antennas are making a comeback in the streaming age

ELIZABETH ROY opted out of her cable package years ago. But the 40-year-old can still watch the 2021 Emmy Awards on her local CBS affiliate—free of charge—with an assist from a $19 antenna she bought on Amazon. “I’m honestly surprised it’s legal,” said Ms. Roy, who works in marketing in Nashville, Tenn.

Streaming-only households in the U.S. are projected to eclipse the number of homes with cable by 2024, according to market research firm eMarketer. As Americans increasingly decide to cut the cord—tired of paying for cable on top of the various Netflixes and Hulus—a technology more than 70 years old is taking cable’s place. Antennas, or “rabbit ears” provide completely free access to local network affiliates, typically including ABC, NBC, Fox and others. Fueled largely by millennials who’ve long sidestepped cable, antenna sales in the U.S. have risen 4% over the past year, according to the Consumer Technology Association, a trade group.

If your memory is scarred by the ugly jumble of metal rabbit ears that sat atop the televisions of the 1970s and ’80s, you might be pleasantly startled by the streamlined modern versions, some of which are practically invisible depending on where you install them.

Anthony Leyba, owner of Digital Concepts, an A/V installation service in Denver, always tells his clients to add an antenna if they don’t have a cable subscription. “An antenna lays a foundation because you’re never going to have to pay for your local channels,” he said.

Indoor antennas are the least expensive (with some going for less than $15) and simplest to set up. Just affix the device to the television or a surface nearby and plug it into the back of your TV. If the signal is jumbled, try repositioning the antenna closer to a window.

If you live outside an urban area or further from a broadcast tower, a pro-installed outdoor or attic antenna can significantly improve reception. “I’ve seen people buy four different antennas trying to get the perfect signal. The further out you get into the suburbs, indoor antennas don’t tend to work as well,” said Ed Carson, owner of Atlanta Digital TV. To identify the optimal type of antenna for your location, Mr. Carson recommends using Just input your address and the site tells you the ideal antenna type and the strength you need to receive the stations in your area. A professional can further optimize installation, especially on tricky spots like your roof’s highest point. Keep in mind that topography matters: Mountains, dense forests and tall buildings can all muddle reception, decreasing range from the nearest broadcast towers. Wall Street Journal

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