Satellite TV without satellite reception?

Inevitably, your satellite service will go down. It happens less than .1% of the time and usually fixes itself, but it does happen. Satellite TV is about ten times more reliable on average than cable, but let’s be honest, nothing is perfect. Even satellite TV.

So let’s assume a tree falls on your dish, squirrels bite through your cable, or whatever it was that happened to the poor soul in that picture at the top of the article. What can you do? The good news is that you’re a lot better off than you were just a few years ago. In the last decade we’ve seen the rise of streaming, of course, but that’s not the only option if you really want to get the same content you get from satellite TV.

Watching recorded programming

Both DIRECTV and DISH let you watch recorded programming on your DVR without an active satellite connection. They’ll complain about it, and you may even get the occasional popup on screen, but as long as your DVR is functional, you can usually access recorded programs for about a week. That should be enough to get repairs made.

Why only a week? Both DIRECTV and DISH’s equipment constantly checks to make sure that you have an active account. They can do this even without an active internet connection or phone line, believe it or not. The information comes down over the satellite. If the receiver goes more than a few days without getting that authorization signal, it stops working.

Watch On Demand Programming

As long as whatever took out your dish didn’t fry your receiver and take down your internet connection, you should be able to get on demand programming from your DVR. This is possible because on-demand programming comes through your internet connection, not from the satellite dish. You’ll need a DVR because the programs download to the hard drive, they do not technically stream live. So as long as your equipment is connected to the internet, it should work.

There’s a workaround here for DIRECTV users. If you see this arrow next to the name of a program in the guide:

that’s an indication that you can use DIRECTV’s “restart” feature. This allows you to rewind back to the beginning of a program even if you tune in late. If you tune to that channel, you might get a message to press the rewind button to go back to the beginning. Since this content is internet-delivered, it might let you watch a live show even if you have no satellite service.

Use your phone or tablet

The best thing is that there’s a ton of content, including over 100 channels of live TV (for DIRECTV users) available on the excellent phone and tablet apps available from both DIRECTV and DISH. You’ll get access to the same on demand library, plus content from premium channels you have can access, and you can even rent movies and access pay-per-view content. DIRECTV and DISH also allow you to access other apps for content from AMC to We, giving you a whole universe of entertainment on your phone, tablet or streaming device. As long as your satellite TV subscription is still active, you’ll be able to watch. This is an excellent option for those people who are away from home as well because you’ll get a lot of the same entertainment you would get at home, even if you never recorded it. Unfortunately, local channels aren’t part of the package you’ll get there.

Use an antenna

If you’re dealing with a long-term outage, you’ll be amazed at just how much you watch that’s available over the air with an antenna. It makes sense to shop at for the antenna you’ll need and have it there when you need it. All the top rated programs are available with an antenna and over 90% of people can get free TV broadcasts with an antenna. Of course, antennas aren’t going to bring in those national channels, but that’s no surprise; on the other hand you’ll probably get dozens of channels you wouldn’t see on cable or satellite, channels you didn’t even know you could get.

As I said, the news is pretty good when you look at all the alternatives. Satellite TV is awesome. No question there. But, when it comes to backup plans, the fact is that you’re not as bad off as you maybe thought you were.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.