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FCC Issues OTA TV Viewer Report

As reported by Mark Schubin in his Monday Memo:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Media Bureau issued a 24-page, easy-reading "Staff Report Concerning Over-the-Air Broadcast Television Viewers" on February 28 (released March 1). It's refreshingly free of certainties but is otherwise chock full of information:

- Estimates of the percentage of off-air-only households range from 13% to 19%. According to one respondent, another nine million households (roughly 9%) are satellite subscribers but rely exclusively on off-air reception for broadcast channels (bringing the range up to 21% to 28% relying on antennas for reception of broadcast networks). It is also said that 18 million cable and satellite households have at least one TV relying exclusively on off-air reception.
- Well under two-percent of those off-air-only households watch DTT (under one percent of the high end of the range). According to the joint submission of the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV) and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), only 177,000 off-air-only households watched DTT via antenna as of a Knowledge Networks/SRI spring 2004 survey (554,469 including off-air DTT viewing in cable or satellite homes):

- There is wild variation between markets. In ten markets (including New York, Philadelphia, and Boston) representing more than 15% of U.S. TV households, over 80% already subscribe to cable (not even counting satellite). But, in 13 markets (including Dallas-Ft. Worth and Salt Lake City) representing almost five percent of U.S. TV households, fewer than half already subscribe to cable (and, even when satellite is added, one of those markets stays below 50%). Disney's comments show similar variation: 9.1% relying exclusively on off-air reception in the New York market and 15.3% in the Los Angeles market. In the Palm Springs and Parkersburg, West Virginia markets, only six percent rely on off-air reception; in the Dallas-Ft. Worth, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Salt Lake City markets, it's 30%.

- Even in cable and satellite households, there may be some 30 million TVs relying on off-air reception.

- What does this mean from a policy standpoint? Again, the report is refreshingly free of certainty, but it does offer a rationale for one extreme of a date range. With the "tuner" mandate kicking in for most TVs in 2007 and a 25-year TV-set lifetime, it offers (at one extreme) a "natural retirement" analog-TV shutdown date of 2032:

- For what it's worth, here's a story about why off-air reception might be important even to cable and satellite subscribers: