After being dropped by two major pay-TV distributors this year, One America News is attempting a comeback by leveraging an old technology: the antenna.
The conservative channel, which has been accused of spreading misinformation about the 2020 election and praised by former President Donald Trump, lost millions of homes when DirecTV and Verizon Communications Inc. stopped carrying it.
To replace them, OAN is signing up partners to broadcast on so-called “subchannels.” OAN airs on free, over-the-air channels in about 30 markets and plans to be in about 100 by the end of this year, according to a person familiar with the company’s strategy who asked not to be identified because the plans aren’t public. The markets include Pittsburgh; Las Vegas; Wichita, Kansas; Jacksonville, Florida; and Birmingham, Alabama.
Subchannels, which are sometimes called “multicasts” or “diginets,” are a little-noticed corner of the TV business. But they’ve been growing as more people cancel cable-TV and use antennas to supplement their Netflix binges with free broadcast stations. About 15% of US households use antennas, up from 10% in 2010, according to Nielsen.
Over a decade ago, a government-mandated switch to digital broadcasting freed up airwaves for TV station owners to create multiple channels where just one existed previously. Their viewers are typically cord-cutters who use digital antennas. In Pittsburgh, for example, OAN reached a deal in July to air on channel 61.8.
Vernon Van Winkle, chief executive officer of KPVM, a broadcast station in the Las Vegas market, has been carrying OAN as a subchannel for about a year. As part of the agreement, he shares advertising inventory equally with OAN. His signal reaches 875,000 households in southern Nevada.
“Viewers absolutely love it,” he said of OAN. “If my signal goes down for a second my phone lines are blowing up with people asking ‘What’s going on?’”
Van Winkle, who believes that Trump won the 2020 presidential election, said OAN “shows more of the truth” than other news channels.
“OAN is able to dig deeper without a message that’s edited by the major market broadcasters,” said Van Winkle, whose closely held station was the subject of an HBO docuseries.
In Pittsburgh, OAN airs on a subchannel owned by a local production company called the Videohouse Inc., whose signal reaches over 1.6 million households. About 160,000 homes in the Pittsburgh market are using antennas, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.
In an interview, Ron Bruno, president of the Videohouse, said he carries OAN to give antenna users a range of political views.
“I’m trying get as much programming as I can so the people of Pittsburgh don’t have to suffer once they leave cable,” he said.
Charles Herring, the president of OAN’s owner, Herring Networks Inc., said the channel being distributed over-the-air is a free, ad-supported one called OAN Plus that’s different from the cable network.
Many subchannels carry reruns. They often host networks like Cozi TV, which airs old sitcoms such as Roseanne and Frasier; Buzzr, which features game shows; and Bounce TV, which caters to Black audiences with programs like The Bernie Mac Show.
They have also become a home for conservative news. Newsmax has a subchannel with mostly documentaries, according to a spokesman. Real America’s Voice, which airs War Room with Steve Bannon, appears on several subchannels across the country, according to the website RabbitEars.info.
It’s hard to determine how many people are watching OAN. Nielsen, which measures TV viewers, doesn’t report OAN’s audience, though it is reportedly far smaller than Fox News.
The ad revenue from subchannels isn’t likely to be as lucrative as the subscriber fees that OAN once got from DirecTV. In 2020, an OAN lawyer said in court that if the channel’s DirecTV contract ended, “the company would go out of business tomorrow,” Reuters has reported.
Meanwhile, OAN still faces lawsuits from Smartmatic Corp. and Dominion Voting Systems Inc. that allege the network made false claims that their voting machines were rigged in the 2020 presidential election. Herring has unsuccessfully sought to dismiss both suits, saying they were meritless.
Subchannels are part of OAN’s broader strategy to reach fans outside cable TV. It’s also offering free three-month trials of its streaming service, and recently announced distribution deals with Tivify, a streaming service in Spain, and Zito Media, a TV and Internet provider with over 75,000 subscribers. It also appears on Pluto TV, a free streaming service owned by Paramount Global.
OAN’s strategy seems to be “let’s find as many distribution partners as we can,” said Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, a nonprofit watchdog group.
The approach may not be making OAN much money, he said, but it could help it stay relevant with fans and make the case to get carried by a larger TV provider. The network has “developed an ability to be nimble and adaptable and that’s allowed them to survive,” he said.
In a statement announcing the distribution agreement with Zito in September, OAN said it was moving quickly to get its signal out there before the “critical” midterm elections. Part of the strategy includes deploying correspondents in political hotspots across the country, the company said.