All About Streaming Local Channels

For some, the biggest hurdle in cutting the cord to cable or other TV providers is ensuring they can get their local channels. It's important to stay in touch with what's happening in the community. Streaming Live TV apps have added local stations, but the deals to include them aren't made with individual stations. That may change soon.

An antenna can be the best way to receive local channels once you cancel your TV provider. Yet, in some areas, station signals can come from different directions requiring an adjustment to the antenna when changing channels.

Streaming live stations along with other content is more convenient. NBC and CBS stream local channels through their streaming apps. Peacock offers the local NBC affiliate to stream live. Your local live CBS channel is streamed through Paramount+. The ABC app requires a TV provider login, which defeats the cord-cutting experience.

The best (but not cheapest) way is to stream all live TV content, including local channels, from a live TV streaming service. YouTube TV and DirecTV have the most complete list of local channels, although they don't have The CW. Others, like Hulu+ Live TV and Fubo TV, don't include local (or any) PBS stations. Local, mostly regional, PBS stations are available to stream for free from the PBS app or on the web at

A 1992 rule required that cable and satellite providers negotiate directly with local stations, but the rule hasn't been updated to include streaming services.

The local stations that are included in these live-streaming services are available through this loophole that allows the networks to make deals directly with the services. The networks pocket fees "for the content they provide to the affiliate," cutting into the monies that go to the local stations. The network may pull its programming if the local station refuses to accept the terms.

But the local channels are providing important community news, from emergency information to local election news. And local newsrooms aren't cheap. The Wall Street Journal reported that the annual budget for a newsroom in a small market could run $5 million—and subscription fees from cable and satellite account for 40% of a station's income.

This may soon change as local broadcasters have joined to create The Coalition for Local News. This advocacy group is looking to influence the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to "modernize regulations" to require streaming services to negotiate directly with local stations.

The group stated, "As the most trusted source of news for Americans, local news broadcasts provide timely coverage of important issues and events, emergency weather service, and access to lifesaving information. The future of local broadcast news is threatened by regulations that need to be modernized and government inaction in exercising existing authority to protect the ability of local news outlets to compete."

Mike Meara, former chair of the ABC Television Affiliates Association and member of the Coalition said, "The market has evolved dramatically, and it's time for lawmakers and regulators to act to protect local broadcast news." The FCC started looking into this "streaming loophole" in 2014, but it's been a dead issue ever since.

Following a letter from Senator Maria Cantwell, the FCC announced its "intent to consider" updating the carriage rules, acknowledging the need to change video regulations in this new streaming era.

Michael O'Brien, Senior VP at The E.W. Scripps Company and member of the Coalition, addressed the issue, "This 'streaming loophole' takes direct investments away from local broadcasters and allows national media conglomerates to control the right to local broadcasters' signals, ultimately deciding the fate of local news."

Just as important as it is for us to know what's happening in our community, it's equally important that our local news is supported and gets the full carriage fees.

rjmedich's picture

Another issue when streaming local channels: Recording shows. If you get a separate antenna, you can't record local channels unless you get a TiVo equipped to do that (but those TiVos don't record cable channels, which regular TiVos do). I don't know of any other DVR that will let you record broadcast shows off an antenna.

At least with streaming, if you get cloud DVR, you can record all channels, including local, right?

Barb Gonzalez's picture
Have you heard of AirTV? Hauppauge? HD Home Run? Air TV works with Sling for Cloud DVR of local channels. HD Home Run works with a Plex DVR. Tablo has a built-in DVR so you don't have to pay for another online service.
CinemaDude's picture

rjmedich is exactly right on the money here; today there is no easy way to record OverTheAir broadcasts. In the days of analog TV, every electronic manufacturer under the sun offered a dozens models of VCRs with built in tuners and sophisticated scheduling program that allowed you to record any OTA programming your heart desired, giving you the flexibility of time-shifting your viewing choices. The VCR selected the channel and the times/programs you wanted to record.

Today, for whatever reason, that concept of time-shifting local programming is no longer available to because there is no equivalent hardware to record digital OTH broadcasts; the digital version of the VCR has gone the way of the LCassette -- it doesn't exist, except as MJ points out, a TiVo unit that will do it, but you need subscribe to that, paying a monthly fee. No reason why this hardware black hole exists. Is there some sort of conspiracy between the cable conglomerates and the electronics hardware manufacturers? As in, a contract to supply their cable box unit requires them to never manufacture DVRs that can record OTA programming -- a way to discourage using free content and instead subscribing to cable service? OK, maybe that is the cynic in me, but long story short, there are no black boxes out there that are like the old VCR, that have a digital tuner in them and a hard drive and software that allows you to schedule OTA programs for later playback. It is a dire situation and there is no reason for it. And it is certainly something the FCC should look into since its mission is to support use of the airwaves as in TELEVISION broadcasting. Hello?!

I understand that you can create a setup with a computer used as the recording device but it is very complicated and not something that most folks will want to do, so they just do without time-shifting local stations' programming. I would love to have my local station as I watch plenty of content from them, but for years I've never watched in real time but always via using a VCR, time-shifting. Without a DVR to do that, I mostly no longer watch those local OTA stations.

brenro's picture

ATSC 3.0, if it ever truly gets off the ground, is antenna only.

EthanParker's picture

Technology does not stand still. I am sure that something like this has already been invented and realized. It's just that not everyone knows about it yet.

AlisaSerikova's picture

That's not quite right. Some devices record TV programs online, as well as programs that convert Spanish video to English or other languages. There are many ways to get the picture and sound you want.

JimmyHarding's picture

I agree with the previous comment. I myself recently faced the need to convert Spanish video to English, and you know, it's possible now, not what it used to be