US OTA-Only TV Viewing Hits 17.8% Of HHs

New research shows minorities, younger consumers more likely to rely on broadcasting; that 17.8% figure is up from 15% last year.

According to new research by GfK Media, the number of Americans now relying solely on over-the-air (OTA) television reception increased to almost 54 million, up from 46 million just a year ago. The recently completed survey also found that the demographics of broadcast-only households skew towards younger adults, minorities and lower-income families.

The 2012 Ownership Survey and Trend Report, part of The Home Technology Monitor research series, found that 17.8% of all U.S. households with TVs use over-the-air signals to watch TV programming; this compares with 15.0% of homes reported as broadcast-only last year. Overall, GfK Media estimates that more than 20.7 million households representing 53.8 million consumers receive television exclusively through broadcast signals.

“As we’ve seen for the past few years, over-the-air households continue to make up a sizeable portion of the television viewing landscape,” said David Tice, SVP, GfK Media. “Our research reveals that over-the-air broadcasting remains an important distribution platform of TV programming, and that in the past year the estimated number of broadcast-only TV households in the U.S. has grown significantly over what we’ve seen at least back to 2008.”

The survey found a small and growing number of homes have canceled pay-TV service at their current home. According to the 2012 study, 6% of TV households, which translates to 6.9 million TV households, eliminated pay TV service in their current home at some point in the past and now rely only on over-the-air reception rather than pay TV service. Four percent of TV households had eliminated pay TV service at some point in the past according to the 2011 study.

The survey found some minority groups are more dependent on broadcast reception than the
general population, including 28% of Asian households (up from 25% in 2011) and 23% of African-American households (up from 17% in 2011).

In addition, 26% of Latino homes (23% in 2011) are broadcast-only, a proportion that increases to 33% among homes in which Spanish is the language of choice, up from 27% in 2011. In all, minorities make up 44% of all broadcast-only homes, a four-point increase from 2011, when 40% of broadcast-only homes were minorities.


Homes headed by younger adults are also more likely to access TV programming exclusively through broadcast signals. Twenty-four percent of homes (20% in 2011) with a head of household age 18-34 are broadcast only, compared with 17% of homes in which the head of household is 35-49, or 15% of homes in which the head of household is 50 years of age or older.

Lower-income households also trend towards broadcast-only television, with 26% of homes with an annual income under $30,000 receiving TV signals solely over-the-air. In comparison, 11% of homes with incomes $75,000 or greater rely exclusively on broadcast signals.

The Home Technology Monitor is an independent syndicated research service that tracks both ownership of over 100 media technology devices and services and the ways that people are using those devices in everyday life. The Home Technology Monitor leverages KnowledgePanel, the only online consumer panel based on a representative sample of the full U.S. population. The 2012 Ownership Survey and Trend Report is based on a survey, fielded in March and April 2012 on Knowledge Network’s probability-recruited research panel, composed of interviews with a total of 3,207 households. The interviews included representative proportions of cell-phone-only, non-Internet and Spanish-speaking homes. The standard error range for a question asked of the total sample is approximately +/- 2%.

Comments (14)

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Ellen Samrock says:

June 18, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Interesting; the argument for broadband being allowed to gobble up more spectrum is diminishing while the proof that broadcasters need to keep their spectrum is growing.

Dante Betteo says:

June 18, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Agree D BP

Gregg Palermo says:

June 18, 2012 at 4:02 pm

This survey is an insult to our intelligence. Cable penetration is about 60 percent and satellite is about 32 percent. That’s 92 percent, give or take a few weird homes with satellite and cable combined. I objected to GFK’s study last year, and now I am convinced they are tilting the questions to please the broadcasters who sponsor the report. We are not fooled.

    David Siegler says:

    June 18, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    Oh and the unnammed studies you are quoting don’t tilt questions to favor the cable and satellite services?

    mike tomasino says:

    June 18, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    We are not fooled… Or, is it Rustbelt is a fool!?! Somehow, I think that where ever you’re getting your numbers is an insult to the intelligence of the American people. 17%+ of the population is living in poverty, over 8% are unemployed, and 92% are paying for TV. That would come out to dumb, dumb, dumb, and dumber!

    Ellen Samrock says:

    June 18, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    It should also be noted that while the NAB purchased the study, they did not commission it. The study was done independently and without broadcaster influence.

Clayton Mowry says:

June 18, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Fuzzy math, sir. This likely takes into account HH’s with some form of cable or satellite but with 2nd or 3rd TV’s receiving OTA. People on a budget are unlikely to get digital boxes for every set. Besides, the survey acknowledges under 8% of HH’s solely on OTA, I don’t think it is wrong.

Christina Perez says:

June 18, 2012 at 4:33 pm

FCC must investigate whether a military contractor with operational control of a U.S. government cell tower- mounted radio frequency directed energy weapon system is purposely interfering with over the air digital TV reception by citizens extrajudicially targeted as “dissidents” or “undesirables,” using the addressability feature of digital TV to jam service at will on some or all of the available channels. This veteran journalist has documented instances of such apparently purposeful use of RF weaponry as a tool of political repression and harassment:

Brian Bussey says:

June 18, 2012 at 4:34 pm

I have all 3 in my home. digital, basic digital, and OTA digital. I watch NFL football in my garage on rabbit ears. The fellas have folding chairs and a beer in the bar fridge. I really don’t want them in my house. As we allow the right to brutalize America’s working middle class, OTA broadcasts will only grow because they will not be able to afford the alternative. Right now I pay $575 per month for cable, cell and web access. It’s a joke.

David Siegler says:

June 18, 2012 at 4:44 pm

In Iowa, where I live a large number of the small cable providers use an over the air signal as the source of their local station feeds, yet the homes connected to these systems are considered cabled yet if the stations turn off their transmitters, those cable homes lose local stations. The same is true for satellite local, the station hosting the collection point may have a direct feed, but all of the other stations in the market are received at the collection point via their over the air service.

    Chad Leabo says:

    June 19, 2012 at 7:54 am

    MrFantasy’s point is often over-looked….it is true. OTA broadcasts feed cable and satellite in many markets, yet those homes and the spectrum broadcasters use to feed them is often forgotten about.

Brian Walshe says:

June 18, 2012 at 6:58 pm

We have DirecTV, DirecTV HD and OTA reception in my home and co-located office.

I prefer the picture quality of OTA and can see the definite difference (along with lag) between OTA HD and DirecTV HD. Enjoyed the US Open over the weekend OTA.

The difference is noticeable even watching downconverted HD on an SD set with built-in tuner (as we have in the bedroom) or via a DTV converter on a Sony BVM-1910 in my office.

As more people “discover” (or re-discover) free, over the air television transmissions, we’ll continue to see more people adding OTA and dropping pay-tv, perhaps while upgrading their wired internet bandwidth.

It’s unfortunate that the Sacramento ABC affiliate and PBS member stations chose to take their DTV signals to high-band VHF at the end of analog… as I can rarely receive enough signal from their “full power” transmissions at around 2,000 HAAT to receive them… while a low power Community Digital (CD) UHF signal from a 300′ tower in downtown Sacramento (about 20 miles closer to me) does pop up often enough to watch. The CD station is now carrying six SD signals… which all look like VHS without analog tape noise.

OTA needs all the spectrum that is currently reserved for it. To squeeze stations onto the same six MHz channel is not serving the public interest, convenience and necessity, especially as our communities grow and need first-service or additional services.

c munc says:

June 18, 2012 at 10:04 pm

While I appreciate the authors of this study for conducting it, I strongly disagree with its conclusions. While preparing business plan for our new national Civic Affairs TV Network, as an alternative to C-SPAN for broadcasters, I develop a new research methodology which challenges the traditional DMA-level approach to figuring out an accurate level of OTA households. When actual local jurisdictions (cities and counties) are officially queried about their actual cable subscription fees received from the cable companies as compensation for their franchise agreements, and then matched against the official 2010 US Census data fo0r households in that community, you will find in most major urban centers, all the way down to DMA 175 or so, that the actual cable penetration rates range between 45-65%, meaning 55-35% do not subscribe to cable. Most urban cores do not have high levels of DBS either. It is the suburbs and rural areas which make the numbers go higher. The DMA approach is a relic of the old analog transmission system and does not work today!

Jeff Groves says:

June 19, 2012 at 8:09 am

The hand is writing on the wall, Pay Tv. After years of ever-increasing prices, and ever decreasing quality, people are getting fed up with paying for a product that no longer has any value for them. Everywhere I go I hear the same story, and the same reasons for “Cutting the Cord”. Too Much Money, Too Much Advertising, and Too little Variety. Many places are able to get 30 or more channels over the air for FREE. Yes, there are still Commercials, and there is probably some programming duplication, but you cannot argue over the price!

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