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Rabbit Ears Sell Well in L.A. Amid Economic Woes

While it’s probably true in all-sized markets these days, the nation’s second biggest DMA, Los Angeles, is seeing some renewed interest in those trusty rabbit ears (both old and new) especially now that digital technology permits a growing number of over-the-air channel choices from the same basic number of sources as before — local broadcasters.

In the greater L.A. region, many viewers who have gone the rabbit ears route report being able to capture about three times as many channels (roughly 65, including about 10 HD venues) as available in the analog era, since there are more channels to receive than before. The rabbit ear audience is limited to those dwellings that are close enough to the broadcast towers with an indoor antenna, yet in L.A. (as in all major markets) even a relatively small percentage of OTA viewers still represent a rather large number of people.

A bit part of the renewed interest for indoor antennas, to no surprise, is the economy, although an unexpected benefit of HD/SD terrestrial viewing is the generally higher quality of the uncompressed content, which is noticeable to even the most casual viewer, according to the L.A. Times.

Nielsen estimates about 20,000 Asian American homes in the L.A. market began using rabbit ears after the DTV conversion last June, and about 8,000 African Americans switched to terrestrial mode when analog went dark. But nearly a quarter of all L.A. Latino TV households (about 440,000 homes), use either indoor or roof antennas in late 2009. Although numbers vary, the Times said an estimated 11 percent of all U.S. homes are still terrestrial-only (therefore, not including second, third or fourth sets in the home).

Antennas Direct, an antenna maker based in St. Louis, said indoor antennas sales have nearly tripled since the switchover six months ago. (In some L.A. area “dollar stores,” rabbit ears go for as little as $1.)

A growing number of terrestrial-only homes also report combining OTA broadcast content with a growing array of TV and movie offerings available for free (i.e., Hulu) online via broadband.