It seems that digital television broadcasts in the United States are increasingly being received not via subscription television, but over the airwaves with the help of an old-style technology: rabbit ears.

Viewers who are either unwilling or unable to pay for increasingly expensive cable or satellite television are turning to free-to-air television, with the help of the new generation of rabbit-ear type antennas, which are designed to receive digital broadcasts.

The evidence of this move is not simply andectodal, but is supported by cable television companies and analysts, who have noted drops in pay television subscriptions. As further evidence, at least one cable provider (Time Warner Cable) started offering in November a cut-price package with a smaller range of channels.

Interestingly, it seems that consumers choosing free-to-air over subscription television services are supplementing their viewing with specific programs from cable television operators downloaded over the Internet, including from iTunes.

In a market saturated by subscription television options, is the move back to free-to-air a sign that cable television is simply too expensive these days, or that free-to-air plus selectively purchasing your favorite cable shows on iTunes is both more economical and more enjoyable? Probably both–as well as being a function of the nature of digital television broadcasting itself. Whereas analog television signals become progressively unclear as you move further away from the source of the signal (leading to constant adjustment of those rabbit ears at the margins), digital television broadcasts are typically either received fully or not at all. So remedying poor reception is not such a strong reason to go to subscription television any more.

The article does not discuss the use of external antennas (masthead or otherwise) at all. I wonder if viewers able to do so are also investing in antennas on their roofs?