FTC says antenna company deceived users with false claims

Product images for the SkyLink TV Antenna. (Graphic by The Desk)

The Federal Trade Commission has settled a lengthy investigation into a television hardware company that deceived users by falsely marketing broadcast antennas as capable of picking up cable and satellite channels.

That charge and others were made by federal regulators against Wellco, Inc., the retail manufacturer behind a number of antennas bearing the SkyWire, SkyLink TV, Tilt TV and TV Scout brand names.

The FTC says Wellco’s scheme started in 2017 when the company began making, marketing and selling indoor television antennas that were capable of picking up free, over-the-air broadcast stations — including CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox in many markets.

But Wellco went above and beyond claims that its antennas were able to receive free TV by deceptively telling users that they could “stop paying for cable or satellite TV” and “still receive all of their favorite channels.”

The FTC said that the marketing approach made it appear customers who purchased the antennas could receive cable or satellite channels, which do not typically transmit over-the-air in the United States. In some cases, Wellco falsely told customers they could receive HBO and AMC if they simply purchased their antenna.

Wellco’s unscrupulous actions didn’t stop there: Federal regulators went on to charge the company with falsely claiming their antennas could receive more than 100 “premium channels” in high definition (most broadcast areas are served by about a dozen high definition channels, at most; the rest are in standard definition) and that Wellco’s antennas were “the number one rated indoor HDTV antennas in America.”

To bolster that last claim, Wellco allegedly ripped off testimonials from websites that sold competing antennas, the FTC investigation found. Wellco’s websites also “appeared to reproduce objective news reports” in a way that made it appear as if impartial reporters had reviewed their antennas favorably when no such thing had taken place, the FTC said.

The complaint was filed by the FTC in federal court. Wellco’s chief executive, George M. Moscone, was named as a defendant in the complaint.

Earlier this month, the FTC said it had settled its complaint against Wellco and Mascone with a $31.82 million judgment against the defendants. The settlement still needs the approval of a federal judge, but it is expected to pass.

As part of the settlement, Wellco will only need to pay $650,000 to the FTC if a judge determines the company and its chief executive are not able to pay the full amount.

The settlement does not prevent Wellco or Mascone from continuing to sell the indoor TV antennas, but does require them to bring their marketing and claims up to speed to accurately reflect their capabilities. It also does not prevent consumers from filing their own lawsuits if they feel they were deceived as a result of Wellco’s marketing.