Off-Air TV Viewing Remains 'Virtually Unchanged' Since 2004

Will the 22.5 million households relying on off-air terrestrial TV reception switch to cable or satellite TV when analog TV is shut off in February 2009? A new study released Monday by the Association of Public Television Stations indicates they may not.

According to APTS, off-air TV households have resisted subscription campaigns by cable and satellite companies. APTS research showed the number of such households "has virtually remained unchanged since 2004 at 22.6 million, compared with 22.5 million in the first quarter of 2007."

The study found that retail point of sale efforts to educate consumers about the DTV transition will have limited impact, as off-air viewers lag in their purchases of DTV sets. Off-air households purchase new TV sets at about a 12 to 13 percent rate each year, compared to the 18 percent rate per year for those with cable and satellite subscribers. The percentage of off-air viewers owning a DTV set grew from 1.96 percent to 7.12 percent from the first quarter of 2005 to the first quarter of 2007. The number of satellite and cable subscribers owning a DTV set grew from 4.49 percent to 23.45 percent during the same period.

According to Dr. Barry Goodstadt, senior vice president at Centris, the research firm that conducted the study, "The latest results suggest that early and strenuous efforts are needed to educate consumers regarding their available options when analog TV transmissions are ended in 2009."

John Lawson, APTS president and CEO, said, "Public broadcasters have long supported a successful DTV transition. However, our study confirms that the government grossly underfunded consumer education when it mandated the end of television as most people know it by February 2009."

Lawson stated that a "Y2K-level effort" was needed now to make sure that off-air viewers aren't without television service unless they either purchase a new set or converter, or subscribe to a cable or satellite service.

He added that such viewers also need to be reminded that digital off-air television will still be free of charge and that they will get more channels and better picture quality just by purchasing a set-top box.

APTS is a founding member, along with the National Association of Broadcasters, of the DTV Transition Coalition.