In July 1969, television viewers all over the world gathered in their living rooms to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing. All three major carriers at the time — CBS, NBC and ABC — covered the mission, with 94% of all Americans watching television tuned into the event. People who did not own TV sets kept up with the coverage from bars, town squares and department stores, according to The New York Times.
Six hundred million people, a fifth of the world’s population at the time tuned in, setting a viewership record that held until 1981 when the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles netted 750 million viewers worldwide.
Those are just two examples of “appointment viewing” — live, broadcast television watched together in a shared cultural moment — but they certainly weren’t the last. From once-in-a-lifetime broadcasts to annual events like the Super Bowl and the Oscars to weekly must-see TV like “The Bachelor,” people still love to watch certain things live as they happen.
But the shift to streaming has made that increasingly difficult to do. Often, broadcast television shows are only available to stream after they’ve aired live, typically the next day. While this may be an option for catching up on all the drama you missed live on last night’s installment of “Bachelor In Paradise,” you miss watching the action unfold in real-time and joining in the conversation — either in a group chat with your friends or via social media online. By the time you catch up on streaming, the conversation has moved on entirely.
The most recent Olympic games in Tokyo is another perfect example of the limits of streaming: would-be viewers took to social media to lament their inability to access the games on streaming services, often leaving them with no way to watch at all:
We physically cannot figure out how to watch them https://t.co/UN0lTZMM1E
— Ashtyn "GP2" Butuso (@lil_buts) July 25, 2021
Over-The-Air TV Offers A Free Solution
Enter: the humble antenna.
Over-the-air TV may sound old-fashioned at first blush, but it’s come a long way in recent years and is no longer the spotty, rabbit-ear setup that often comes to mind. Best of all, it’s essentially free: simply purchase the physical antenna — a one-time, upfront cost starting at about $30 — and you’re ready to tune into live TV across all the basic broadcast channels and often, depending on your location, much more.
An antenna, at a minimum, will give you access to all the major networks: ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS, The CW and UPN. Depending on your antenna placement and how far away you are from the broadcast towers, you could also gain access to channels including PBS Kids, MeTV, Court TV, Bounce, Cozi TV, ION, QVC, HSN, Qubo, Buzzr, LATN and more. You can find out which channels are available to you in your area by checking out a station locating tool like this one from Over The Air Digital TV.
Cheer on your favorite team in the Super Bowl live on CBS, NBC or FOX, the three networks that take turns airing it. Access the Olympics on NBC without missing any of the action, no matter what streaming services you have (or don’t have). Watch your favorite awards shows live, learning in real-time who won the Oscar for Best Picture. Join the ongoing Twitter conversation as you tune in live to pop culture phenomena like “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette.” All of that, and more, is free once you install an antenna.
Local News, Morning Shows, Primetime Hits And More
And we haven’t even mentioned all of the access an antenna will grant you to everyday standbys such as local news, morning shows including ABC’s “Good Morning America” and NBC’s “Today,” late-night talk shows including “The Tonight Show” on NBC and “The Late Show” on CBS, game shows such as “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune” and reality TV competitions including “Dancing With The Stars,” “The Voice,” “Survivor” and more. You can even tune in weekly to your favorite scripted programming including “Law and Order: SVU,” “This Is Us,” “NCIS,” and “The Simpsons” — the list is nearly endless.
While streaming does offer an incredible, on-demand array of content, it can’t replicate the ephemeral magic of live TV. Watching the Super Bowl live with your friends over buffalo wings and nachos, getting all dressed up to attend an Oscars watch party and tuning into the latest installment of “The Bachelor” franchise to join the ongoing Twitter conversation are all examples of live television as a vehicle for community-building — and all are virtually irreplaceable by streaming alone.