It's ironic given the origins of broadcast TV that broadcast TV networks are now the source of some of the most difficult content to get online without a subscription fee. Broadcast network shows are free over the air but not over the top. (See Free TV's Decline Has Begun.)
Dish, however, may be close to offering a solution. According to a report by long-time media blogger Dave Zatz, Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) and its corporate fellow EchoStar Corp. LLC (Nasdaq: SATS) look to be on track for the launch of a new Sling AirTV device in September. The AirTV box will reportedly use a digital TV antenna to ingest local broadcast programming and then spit that content back out into the Sling TV app.
So far, Dish has not confirmed the news, but the AirTV has appeared in both Amazon and B&H Photo product listings with a price tag of $150.
The problem with licensing broadcast content for digital distribution is that a service like Sling TV has to sign deals not just with the national networks, but also with numerous local affiliates. That's why, for example, Sling TV today only includes local content from select markets in its OTT mix.
But an OTA solution would let Dish sidestep the licensing issue altogether. And if Dish integrates that OTA content into a single user interface with its existing OTT video, it could make for a compelling offering.
Dish isn't the first distributor to bring broadcast networks online via an OTA approach. Aereo notoriously tried the same strategy, but because it centralized antennas in a single location outside of the consumer home to receive over-the-air transmissions, it ran afoul of copyright laws.
Channel Master has also combined OTA and OTT content in a single platform. The company's retail DVR+ solution offers over-the-air channels alongside apps for OTT services like Vudu and YouTube. (See Channel Master Offers Online Linear TV.)
In January, Channel Master added Sling TV to its OTT lineup.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading