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CEA Pegs OTA Audience at 8 Percent

The Consumer Electronics Association says only 8 percent of the U.S. television audience now watches TV over the air, according to a recent survey sponsored by the association.

CEA is a vocal advocate of the FCC’s current National Broadband Plan, which calls for, among other things, incentive auctions to recapture spectrum from broadcasters to redeploy for wireless broadband. Broadcasters have said they support such a plan, but only if auctions are truly voluntary and do not jeopardize those stations that choose not to participate.

In a phone survey of 1,256 adults conducted in December, 2010, CEA found the number of homes that rely on over the air signals stands at 8 percent of all U.S. households with TVs. CEA said that, according to its research, over the air viewing has steadily declined since 2005.

“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.”

CEA also said the survey debunks recent reports of a rise in “cord-cutting” in which consumers are cancelling pay-TV services in favor of over the air TV. Of those surveyed, 76 percent said they were unlikely or very unlikely to cancel their pay-TV service, contrast with just 10 percent of households who said they were likely or very likely to cancel their subscription service. It also said that more consumers are viewing OTTP video, including services such as Netflix and Hulu and that the TV set is still the dominant medium for such services.

CEA said that according to its research, 96 percent or 114 million U.S. households own a TV set, and that 8 percent of that translates to just nine million homes now exclusively watching over the air TV. In contrast, CEA estimates that smartphone ownership will grow from 33 percent in 2011 to 45 percent in 2012.

NAB dismissed the survey. "CEA has zero credibility when it comes to calculating over-the-air TV viewership,” said spokesman Dennis Wharton. “Knowledge Networks has stated that over-the-air exclusive homes are more than 14 percent and rising. We trust an unbiased research firm over a survey paid for by CEA."