News Analysis
The Wall Street Journal last week published an article saying that millennials are behind a recent increase in the sales of TV antennas.

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“Millennials Unearth an Amazing Hack to Get Free TV: The Antenna,” proclaimed the article’s headline.

Scores of media outlets immediately seized upon the story as evidence that young people are cutting the pay TV cord. The WSJ ‘discovery’ was cited in new stories by such publications as Mashable, The Decider, The Daily Caller, The Daily Mail and Mother Jones, among others.

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“Millennials Looking For Free TV Are Discovering The Convenient Charms Of The Antenna,” said The Decider, citing the WSJ article.

The problem, however, is that The Wall Street Journal article offers no evidence that more millennials are actually buying more TV antennas, other than interviews with four people under the age of 30.

Four people.

Yes, WSJ published an article asserting there’s a new trend — millennials buying more antennas — based on four people saying they didn’t know that TV antennas are available and free.

The closest thing to real evidence in the article is a Consumer Technology Association study that estimates that antenna sales will rise by 7 percent this year. However, the CTA study doesn’t say millennials will be responsible for the largest portion of the increase in sales, if indeed there is one.

The WSJ story also cites a National Association of Broadcasters study from June that says 29 percent of Americans are unaware that local TV channels are free via an antenna. However, the study apparently also does not say millennials are more ‘unaware’ than other age groups. The WSJ article does not indicate that it does.

Editor’s Note: I asked the NAB for the exact wording of the question that elicited the 29 percent statistic. The NAB has not responded to my inquiry so we don’t know if the survey respondents were asked if they knew that antennas were free, but were not told that the antennas themselves must be purchased. If they were not told the antennas must be purchased, it would not be surprising if a significant number of people would say they were unaware that antennas were free. (Cause they are really not.)

UPDATE: The NAB on Monday (August 7) responded to my inquiry, providing results of its June antenna survey cited in the WSJ article.

According to the NAB survey, 67 percent of Americans aged 18-34 (“Millennials) said they were aware they could get local TV signals for free while using a TV antenna. Thirty-three percent of the 18-34 group said they were not aware of this.

The ‘No’ numbers for the Millennials were slightly higher, but very close to the responses for other age groups, particularly with the margin of error of two percent for the poll.

Age 18-34:
Yes: 67 percent
No: 33 percent

All Adults:
Yes: 71 percent
No: 29 percent

The Wall Street Journal article did not include the breakdown of these numbers, nor the fact that 67 percent of Millennials in the poll said they knew that you could get local channels for free with an antenna.

The WSJ article lacks evidence, but it’s more evidence that journalists today too often put the lust for narrative ahead of the facts. Clearly, the newspaper wanted to write an article saying that millennials are cutting the cord and discovering the old-fashioned TV antenna in the process.

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Why? Because the very word, ‘millennials,’ generates more page views, as does articles about cord-cutting.

However, I’m not sure which is worse. The original WSJ article, or the numerous journalists from other publications who cited the WSJ ‘discovery’ without checking the facts.

Or, apparently, even reading the WSJ article very closely. For if they had, they would have ‘discovered’ that the story was nearly totally devoid of any real evidence.

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— Phillip Swann