Skip to main content

46 million Americans still watch TV exclusively over the air, says report

It appears, like Mark Twain, reports of the death of the over-the-air TV broadcast audience have been greatly exaggerated.

At least that’s what research from Knowledge Networks released on June 6 suggests. The number of Americans now relying exclusively on OTA television broadcasting in their homes has actually grown to nearly 46 million — up from 42 million a year ago, according to new research from Knowledge Networks.

The findings come as the FCC is moving forward with rulemaking designed to repack broadcasters into less spectrum to free up 120MHz to meet the goals laid out in its National Broadband Plan and Congress considers giving the agency the authority to conduct incentive auctions as a way of clearing spectrum.

Knowledge Networks’ research also comes on the heels of a report from the Consumer Electronics Association released May 31 finding that only 8 percent of U.S. households depend solely on off-air TV reception. In a press statement announcing that research, Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the association, urged Congress to pass legislation to allow incentive auctions “so free market dynamics can find the best purposes for underused broadcast spectrum, such as wireless broadband.

The findings of “The 2011 Ownership Survey and Trend Report,” a part of The Home Technology Monitor from Knowledge Networks, appear to throw open to question the entire notion that OTA broadcast television is no longer relevant as a distribution platform for news and entertainment. On the contrary, the Knowledge Networks research reveals 15 percent of all U.S. households — or 17 million households with 45.6 million people — can only receive TV over the air.

"Our research reveals that over-the-air broadcasting remains an important distribution platform of TV programming, and that the estimated number of broadcast TV households in the U.S. has grown," said David Tice, VP and group account director in Knowledge Networks’ media practice, in a press statement accompanying the announcement of the findings.

Rather than diminishing, off-air reception has actually grown at the expense of pay TV. According to the report, 4 percent of TV households, which translates to 5 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. Of these homes, 71 percent identified cost cutting as the reason for cordcutting and 30 percent did so because of a lack of value for the cost, the report said. (Respondents could give more than one reason.)

Minorities make up 40 percent of all broadcast homes, the survey found. By minority group, the survey found the percentage relying on off-air reception to be:

• 25 percent Asian households
• 17 percent African-American households
• 23 percent Hispanic (27 percent among households where Spanish is the language of choice).

Age and income also played important roles. Twenty percent of homes with a head of household age 18-34 are broadcast only, compared to 15 percent of homes in which the head of household is 35-54 and 13 percent of homes in which the head of household is 55 years of age or older.

Similarly, 23 percent of homes with an annual income under $30,000 receive TV signals solely over-the-air. In comparison, 11 percent of homes with incomes greater than $30,000 rely exclusively on broadcast signals.

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.