The Evolving ‘OTA’ Home: Top Markets, New Trends


As of May 2018, some 16 million homes are considered “OTA.” That number is on the rise, and as consumers look for more on-demand and cost-effective options, there’s been a resurgence in this type of TV household.

A new report from Nielsen is designed to “to really grasp this trend” and to understand what OTA homes look like.

A shift is underway in the TV universe, with more homes swapping traditional pay-TV cable and satellite service for additional options.

According to Nielsen’s TV panel, one in every seven homes are now considered “over-the-air”—up 48% from eight years ago.

No longer restricted to terrestrial signals and rabbit ears, over-the-air homes are now able to access cable and subscription VOD content via digital devices, such as smart TVs, tablets and smartphones.

The latest edition of The Nielsen Local Watch Report examines how technology is redefining “over-the-air” as we’ve known it, giving way to a dynamic, diverse segment that is shaking up the TV ecosystem.

Justin Laporte, VP/Local Insights at Nielsen, comments, “Two prominent OTA segments co-exist, each with very different profiles and media habits.”

One type of OTA home has at least one subscription video on-demand (SVOD) service, while the other has no SVOD service.

SVOD is industry parlance for pay services such as Netflix, Hulu (not Hulu Live), and Amazon Prime Video.

The “No SVOD” homes tend to be older, Laporte notes. They also tend to be more diverse and have a smaller median income, compared to the “Plus SVOD” segment, which skews younger, and tends to be more affluent and more device-connected.

“We see different media behavior with Plus SVOD homes consuming less traditional media and spending more time on personal devices,” he notes. “In an average day, the No SVOD homes have more viewing to broadcast stations, at almost five hours, than all of the TV usage combined in Plus SVOD homes.”

While Nielsen sees some “very distinct differences” in the two larger segments of OTA homes, a third segment, which is a part of the Plus SVOD group, has emerged. These homes have access to a virtual provider, or vMVPD, which includes services such as Sling TV, DirecTV Now, Sony PlayStation Vue, YouTube TV, and others.

As of May 2018, there were 1.3 million of these homes.

Sharing a similar profile to the Plus SVOD group as a whole, these consumers have a higher median income and access to more devices. They also have access to individual cable networks and spend an almost equal amount of time watching broadcast and cable sources.

“What the data tells us is that today’s OTA landscape is no longer characterized by our grandfather’s ‘rabbit ears,’” Laporte concludes.

  • The percent of homes without traditional cable (wired or satellite) that receive local broadcast stations on a TV set via some form of digital antenna has increased 48% over the past eight years, totaling 16 million homes as of May 2018.

  • The SVOD crowd is the Millennial. The “OTA” without SVOD is the AARP crowd.

  • We live in a digital delivery world.


Each demo behaves differently. However, there are similarities in the way the TV screen is used within each OTA segment. In “No SVOD” homes, people spend far more time watching broadcast and cable sources, while people in “Plus SVOD” homes are more likely to stream video. That being said, Persons 25-54 time spent viewing broadcast sources almost doubles that of Persons 18-34 in both OTA groups. Persons 55+ spend the most time viewing broadcast sources.


Beginning to reveal itself in Nielsen data as of 2018 is a new OTA type making its way into the mix. Still in its embryonic stages, this segment is emerging from the “Plus SVOD” OTA group —homes with OTA reception who subscribe to a virtual multichannel programming distributor (vMVPD).

Small but growing, these homes tell a different story when it comes to television consumption.



Editor’s Note: Graphics and data are taken from a final draft report presented to the press prior to the release of the final report. To download the final report as presented by Nielsen, please click here.

Nielsen Local Watch Report – Jan. 14, 2019