The contrast between cable and broadcast

Although it’s hard to believe, there are still people who don’t own a cell phone or even a color TV. However, that number is small, but it was quite bigger at some point. Everything has changed as the time passed by, and new technologies started emerging. If you think about it, a vast majority of the US citizenship didn’t have access to cable television, while others did. People who always had it won’t notice the difference between over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts and cable services. However, the business models are somewhat different.

family watching tv
Photo Credit: NY Daily News

What are the major differences?

There are a few differences between these two services. The biggest differences are the way the ad revenue stream works, general rules, and content control. This contrast isn’t visible to the everyday user. All that consumers do is change the channels, and they expect it to be smooth and effortless. Most of the users are also unaware if they’re watching digital or broadcast stations.

Photo Credit: LifeWire

The consumers can only notice the difference if they pay attention to the current program and catch swear words or inappropriate content. For example, networks like NBC, ABC, and CBS, have strict rules, although they haven’t changed a lot in the past couple of decades. As you can see, even if you never had cable, you couldn’t tell the difference between it and broadcast services because they’re quite similar in many ways. The main difference is that the broadcasters use public airwaves, while digital providers don’t.

The quality

As far as the quality goes, there is a noticeable difference, especially if you’re using a high-tech TV. Although this technology has its limits, the issue is solvable. The providers use specially designed amplifiers after a certain distance, to preserve the good signal quality. Airwaves, on the other hand, tend to provide signals of reduced quality as the distance between two receivers grows.

cable tv
Photo Credit: Investopedia


The channels are also much better in many ways. The good thing about cable TV is that broadcasters have to prove their relevance to be hosted by it. Therefore, the amount of low-quality channels is reduced greatly. Also, as we said, the set of some rules isn’t the same with both systems. Cable TV tends to have more open channels regarding swearing, explicit content, political discussions, and so on.

What’s important?

The most important thing to remember is that you can’t ignore the differences, even if they’re purely theoretical and negligible. An average user doesn’t care whether he’s watching a broadcast or cable TV signal, as long as the picture quality meets his standards. However, there is a lot more to it than just quality of the picture.


While public policy may catch up with the matter soon, it’s still not there. In the meantime, we have to accept the fact that the TV industry still works on rules based decades ago. As the technology progresses, we’ll see more and more improvement regarding high-quality TV signals, new ways of transmitting, and more.