Will DIRECTV ever add those subchannels that you can only get from an antenna?

One of my favorite things to do after a long day is wind down with some brainless retro TV. I like tuning into networks like Buzzr, MeTV, ThisTV, AntennaTV, those sorts of channels that show reruns of the shows I grew up with. Sure I’ve seen them all before but that’s ok. It’s fun just to spend a little time thinking about the world way back when and reminiscing.

Of course, I get all those channels with my over-the-air antenna, but if you’re not the sort to hook up an antenna, what can you do? Some of these networks stream but that’s really not what you want. In fact if I had my exact choice I’d watch them on a black-and-white 19″ TV, maybe one on a rolling cart. I don’t want to fire up my computer to watch shows from the 1960s. That just doesn’t seem like the way to do it.

Will these channels make it to satellite?

So the question is, will DIRECTV or any other national provider ever add these channels? The answer isn’t up to DIRECTV. They probably won’t add the local feeds; unlike over-the-air broadcasting, the subchannels would take up extra bandwidth when carried on satellite and it’s not likely that any local market would really be able to support them. That means the only way you’ll see them on your DIRECTV lineup is if a national feed is made available, one that could cover the entire country. Of course this would eat into the local market coverage of the same channels and may or may not even be allowed by current FCC rules.

If these channels gave up on the subchannel model and started distributing nationally, they’d probably be carried by DIRECTV without a second thought. Some of them, like BUZZR! and Comet, are available on streaming. The thing is, these services were created specifically to take advantage of that subchannel capacity. Old TV shows are perfect for subchannels because they’re all in low-quality standard definition anyway and cost next to nothing to distribute, due to older or expired royalty contracts. The market for these old shows is limited to people outside that vaunted 18-34 demographic and so it’s important to keep costs down since your advertisers are not going to pay a lot anyway.

Why does cable carry these channels and satellite does not?

Some cable systems do carry subchannels. It’s one of the few things I do think cable does better than satellite. They can do it because each cable system is specific to the area it serves. DIRECTV and DISH have to broadcast all the channels they want to carry, in every local area. That’s the difference.

Now, at the moment DIRECTV does have a lot of extra satellite capacity. Given that these are standard definition channels and low quality ones at that, they could probably make it happen if they wanted to. But, the economics probably get in the way.

Personally I think it’s a shame.

Not all of these shows are really worth exposing to a new generation. Mostly they’re just time capsules that show us more than what the world of the past looked like. They also show uswhat we were interested in back then. They’re educational for new generations in ways that they never were intended for. When it comes to quality and entertainment value, many of them fall short. I freely admit that.

Folks, today’s TV is a million times better in almost every way and most of the shows on these retro TV stations are suitable for museums and not much else. But you know, there’s a value to looking at your past that we tend to ignore. One of the things we really should cultivate is a desire to do things the old way. There’s a benefit to an authentic experience. It seems to me that this should also mean watching old game shows on old TVs. That’s how they were intended. No digital picture, no digital sound… just plain old black and white.

What do you think?

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.