TV antenna marketing gets ever more sleazy | Top IPTV

Did you know that with the right over-the-air antenna, you can watch free broadcast TV stations from across the Atlantic Ocean?

It’s true, at least if you believe the marketing from antenna makers on sites like Walmart and eBay, which prominently advertise indoor antennas that supposedly pick up broadcasts from thousands of miles away. The situation isn’t much better on Amazon, where unscrupulous vendors hawk “long-range” indoor antennas with ranges in the hundreds of miles.

Antenna experts say that in reality, even the best outdoor directional antennas are unlikely to pick up signals from more than 70 miles away. But don’t just blame the sleazy antenna vendors for their inflated claims. Misleading antenna marketing is a systemic issue made possible by today’s sprawling online marketplaces, in which strict oversight is nearly impossible.

I know this because I wrote about this exact issue in 2019, and little has changed since then. If anything, the problem is only getting worse.

Evidence of sleazy TV antenna marketing

A few years ago, the worst offenders on Amazon were advertising ranges of around 100 miles for their indoor antennas, which is still well beyond what users should expect. Those claims almost seem honest compared to what antenna vendors are advertising now.

For example, searching on Amazon for “OTA antenna” shows a sponsored result with an advertised range of “380+ Miles.”

380+ Mile antenna on Amazon search page

Amazon’s top sponsored “OTA antenna” search result advertises “380+ Miles” of reception.

Jared Newman / Foundry

From that antenna’s product page, you’ll also find a slew of related listings promising reception from more than 400 miles away.

Amazon related products showing 400+ mile range antennas
These inflated range claims are everywhere on Amazon.

Jared Newman / Foundry

At other sites, antenna sellers have gone to even further extremes.

On eBay, the top search result for “antenna” is a sponsored listing for an indoor flat panel model that advertises a 3,600-mile range, roughly equal to the flight distance from New York to Madrid. This antenna has been sold more than 3,000 times according to eBay’s public data.

eBay search result showing 3600-mile antenna
eBay’s top “antenna” search result promises 3600-mile range.

Jared Newman / Foundry

Meanwhile, eBay’s third non-sponsored result advertises a range of 5,600 miles, and the same seller also has more than a dozen copycat listings.

Walmart’s top search results for “antenna” aren’t quite as exaggerated, with the top sponsored result promising a range of 130 miles–although it also commits a different sleazy marketing sin: Its promotional picture suggests that ESPN is available over-the-air. It’s not.

Walmart antenna advertising ESPN as a channel
The double no-no: Inflated range claims and a channel you can’t get over the air.

Jared Newman / Foundry

Another listing further down the page shows a 960-mile antenna with cable channels ESPN, CNN, and Fox Business in its promotional art. If you search hard enough, you’ll find 5,600-mile antennas as well.

To be clear, I’m not just cherry-picking examples. These antennas appear prominently in search results, and in some cases are paid listings that get top billing. Search for an antenna on these sites and you’ll run into wildly inflated range claims.

Richard Schneider, the president and founder of Antennas Direct, says that even the best outdoor antennas don’t exceed a range of 70 miles, and indoor antennas top out at 60 miles under perfect conditions. A first-floor antenna with no obstructions, he says, would achieve a range of 30 miles at best. He doesn’t advertise reception beyond those ranges, and is bitter about losing business to companies that do.

“We’re at a disadvantage because we can’t lie,” he says.

Online seller responses to dubious antenna marketing–or the lack thereof

Amazon has not yet commented on the latest round of sleazy antenna marketing. The last time around, the company responded by removing some (but not all) of the offending listings.

A representative for eBay asked for product links to see if they might violate the company’s policies, but has otherwise has not commented. Walmart has not answered a request for comment. We’ll update this story if these companies do respond.

Walmart antenna with claimed 5600-mile range
This antenna on Walmart’s website goes all-out with bogus marketing claims.

Jared Newman / Foundry

Even if these companies take down some of the listings in question, it’s not clear how they’ll keep similar listings from coming back. Amazon, eBay, and Walmart all operate vast marketplaces full of independent sellers, and antennas are barely a blip on their radars.

Government regulators seem unlikely to solve the problem either. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission did settle a case with a New York-based company for deceptive marketing, but that case revolved around claims that were not directly tied to mile range. (For instance, the vendor allegedly misrepresented which channels cord-cutters could get over the air and passed off other companies’ product reviews as its own.)

"Best Seller" antenna on Amazon advertising 250-mile range
This antenna, with an advertised 250-mile range, is a “Best Seller” on Amazon.

Jared Newman / Foundry

Schneider believes the FTC has been reluctant to pursue antenna makers based on inflated range claims because the exact range of an antenna is difficult to measure. The agency is more likely to pursue vendors for cut-and-try offenses, such as implying you can watch ESPN and other non-broadcast cable channels with an antenna.

(Despite its role in enforcing truth-in-advertising laws, the FTC’s Office of Public Affairs said my inquiry would be better-directed to the Federal Communications Commission, which did not respond to a request for comment.)

Schneider also notes that many unscrupulous antenna vendors aren’t based in the United States, which would make FTC enforcement even harder. Still, he’s putting together a list of offenders that he plans to turn into the agency, and is hoping at least some enforcement will help keep vendors honest.

“If it works, I guess it’s like getting Al Capone for tax evasion,” he says.

What you can do about false antenna claims

If you’re looking for the best over-the-air antenna, my advice is to avoid getting hung up on mileage claims in the first place. Instead, plug your address into, where you’ll get a general guide to the size and type of antenna that you need.

As I wrote last time, you can also reward vendors that don’t inflate their range claims. Antennas Direct, Channel Master, Winegard, and Antop are all reputable brands that avoid wildly overpromising.

Antennas Direct Infographic showing no line of sight for 100-mile antennas
An infographic from Antennas Direct shows how the earth’s curvature prevents even the best antennas from working beyond 70 miles or so.

Antennas Direct

But even among those brands, understand that their estimated mile ranges represent the absolute best-case scenario. (After all, they’re being forced to compete with companies that have no problem making outlandish claims.) Don’t take any advertised reception capabilities at face value.

You can also shop at stores that aren’t allowing antenna range claims to run amok, including Best Buy, Target, and brick-and-mortar Walmart stores. Solid Signal is also a reputable online vendor that downplays range claims in its product listings.

And if you’re living more than 70 miles from your nearest broadcast stations, you should just consider other ways of watching local network TV content. You’re not going to pick up an over-the-air signal no matter what some random Amazon or eBay seller has to say.

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Author: Jared Newman

author photo Jared Newman 1646880234

Jared Newman has been helping folks make sense of technology for over a decade, writing for PCWorld, TechHive, and elsewhere. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for straightforward tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for saving money on TV service.


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