Consumer Group Refutes CEA Findings on OTA TV Viewing

July 6, 2005
You've probably seen the statements from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) that very few households rely on over-the-air TV. Consumers Union (CU) and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) hired Opinion Research to conduct its own research in June and it found "39 percent of U.S. television viewing households rely on approximately 80 million television sets to view some or all of their television programming from over-the-air broadcast signals."

The CU/CFA survey results are similar to those from studies conducted by the NAB and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which showed 73 million over-the-air sets. The CEA study showed only 33 million TV sets relied on over-the-air broadcasts.

The CU/CFA report, Estimating Costs of A Federally Mandated Digital TV Transition: Consumer Survey Results , lists the three questions Opinion Research asked the 1,007 survey participants. It infers the questions used in the CEA study may not have counted TV sets in households with cable TV or satellite TV service that still depend on OTA TV for reception of local broadcast programming. (CEA disputes this--see below). The CU/CFA study excluded those sets that were only used for video/DVD viewing, for video games or which were not used at all. The report notes that CEA has not released the questions it used in its survey.

The CU/CFA report concludes, "Congress should place the number of TV sets that will stop functioning after analog TV is shut off at no less than 70 million and plan accordingly." Using the GAO estimate of $50 per tuner to convert these sets for DTV reception, the report states, "the direct government-imposed costs on consumers who seek to preserve the usefulness of these sets would be $3.5 billion or more." It warns, "Relying on lower estimates could lead members of Congress to understate the number of households affected, the total costs to consumers and the level of the compensation necessary to hold consumers harmless from the congressionally mandated transition to digital television."

NAB President/CEO Edward O. Fritts statement in response to the CU/CFA report welcomed its support for the GAO and NAB findings on OTA viewing, but said cable carriage for local TV programming was its priority. "We're pleased the Consumers Union/Consumer Federation of America survey reinforces the findings of both the NAB and the GAO. We expect Congress will pass a DTV bill this year with a hard date for turning off analog television with minimal consumer disruption. NAB's priority continues to be the prevention of cable companies from blocking consumer access to local TV programming."

The CEA stood by its survey. "The survey appears to assume that any TV not connected to cable or satellite is connected to a broadcast antenna. In fact, as our most recent (May 2005) survey found, a minimum of 31 million sets are not connected to broadcast antennas and are used exclusively for video games, DVDs or other purposes. For this reason, the CU and CFA survey appears to significantly overstate the number of televisions used to view OTA broadcasting," the CEA reported in a statement.

"CEA stands firmly by our survey and the data we have presented to Congress. Our data is extremely comprehensive--unlike the CU/CFA survey, we asked about the specific usage of each individual set in a household. We also limited our survey to TVs in the household that had been used at some point within the prior three months, thereby allowing us to have an accurate, real world analysis of TVs that are in use."

Who is right? The questions asked, the survey methodology and complete results of the CU/CFA survey are available in Estimating Costs of A Federally Mandated Digital TV Transition: Consumer Survey Results. A summary is available in the Consumers Union news release, four out of 10 households could be forced to pay for the digital television transition, new survey finds. I did not find the CEA survey on the CE Web site, but the statement said, "We are glad to provide CEA's complete survey documents and offer to further analyze the data in any way that assists Congress in developing proposals to minimize viewer impact. We remain committed to our lengthy history of providing accurate and sound data to policymakers, the technology industry and the financial community."

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