Blackouts remind us that local TV is free

A wide Dish Network satellite dishIrony. DirecTV had been the latest TV provider to see local over-the-air channels blacked out because of contract disputes. I was going to write about my common sense alternative to these retransmission consent arguments between broadcasters and providers, but yesterday the issue hit home. My home. (That alternative will have to wait until my next post.)

Dish Network lost its Tribune-owned stations yesterday. That includes two of my local channels and three of the Superstations I subscribe to. (Not only am I a shareholder, I’m also a customer.) The good news is that according to Dish’s press release, it’s offering free OTA antennas to affected subscribers. That’s a great reminder that viewers don’t need to pay for local TV.

To me, the worst thing about losing any local channels from my Dish receiver is the inability to record their shows on the same DVR I use for pay TV. Fortunately, I’m already used to recording OTA with a couple of other devices, my Tablo and my DVR+. Around 2009, Dish stopped adding subchannels to its program guide. Most Dish receivers won’t schedule recordings for any dot-2 that premiered after that cutoff. If I want to watch movies from ThisTV or GetTV or Movies!, I can watch them live through my OTA-enabled Dish receiver, or I can record them to watch when I want with my Tablo or DVR+.

Sure, it’s convenient to get it in the same pipe as ESPN and HBO, and it’s cable is a necessity for folks who can’t get their channels with an OTA antenna. But the point is, broadcast TV is free. When giant entertainment corporations do battle, that’s a comforting thought.