Consumers tuning out over-the-air TV


No surprise here, and more fuel for the fire of auctioning more broadcast spectrum: New research from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) found consumers are relying less and less on over-the-air TV signals, reporting the number of homes that rely on over-the-air signals for TV programming plummeted last year to 8% of all U.S. households with TVs. CEA recently found that 96% or 114 million, of U.S. households own a TV. Therefore, said the association, there are just nine million homes now exclusively watching OTA TV.

Over-the-air viewing has been steadily declining since 2005, according to CEA’s research, and few U.S. households have interest in cancelling their pay-TV service. 76% of respondents said they were unlikely or very unlikely to cancel pay-TV service. By contrast, 10% of households said they were likely or very likely to cancel service.

“Over-the-air TV was once the defining distribution platform,” said Gary Shapiro, CEA president and CEO. “But using huge swaths of wireless spectrum to deliver TV to homes no longer makes economic sense. Congress should pass legislation to allow for incentive auctions so free market dynamics can find the best purposes for underused broadcast spectrum, such as wireless broadband. Contrary to the National Association of Broadcasters’ assertions, antenna sales are falling and cord-cutters are not shifting to over-the-air television but rather to the Internet. The only cord being cut these days is the one to the antenna. It’s time we accept this shift away from over-the-air TV as an irrevocable fact of the TV market. The numbers tell the story.”

Dennis Wharton, BAB EVP/Communications, says the numbers are pretty questionable: “CEA has zero credibility when it comes to calculating over-the-air TV viewership. Knowledge Networks has stated that over-the-air exclusive homes are more than 14% and rising. We trust an unbiased research firm over a survey paid for by CEA.”

Nonetheless, the CEA survey also found consumers are more and more viewing Internet video from Hulu, Netflix and others on their TVs, which is still the dominant device to watch video content. Computers, car video devices and smartphones are also increasingly being used to watch video content. According to CEA’s 13th Annual Household CE Ownership and Market Potential Study, U.S. households owning a smartphone is estimated to skyrocket from 33% in 2010 to 45% in 2012.

RBR-TVBR observation: Broadcasters bamboozled or just the push of new technology? First, broadcasters were forced to move to digital almost two years ago and then most consumers’ TVs no longer picked up anything without a converter box and antenna. If they used the same antenna sitting atop the TV set with the box, viewers would likely only get a few of the channels they previously got, so a rooftop antenna became necessary. Most folks found it easier just to pay a monthly cable or satellite bill than to deal with pixilated/poor reception or getting up on the roof. Now, lo and behold, only 8% are watching OTA TV today and more of the small spectrum left to broadcasters needs to be auctioned off. Go figure.