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Don’t Over-Look Over-the-Air TV

While many American homes today have some sort of subscription television service, whether it’s through cable, satellite, or some other content-providing box attached to the television set, the NAB reports that 15% of all US TV homes still get their TV signal from over-the-air, free broadcast stations and their digital subchannels.

That represents about 17.2 million homes nationally – a vast segment of the viewing audience that can’t be reached by subscription television. That equates to more TV homes than New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Las Vegas combined.

Over-the-air (OTA) only TV homes represent a hard-to-reach subsegment of the television landscape, one that the government took great pains to include in the digital transition of 2009. Keeping news and information available to these homes was nearly seen as a must-have, so critical that it delayed the conversion so that no TV home would be left behind.

It is when you look at the over-the-air only homes on a local level that the impact of geographic differences in over-the-air distribution becomes apparent. In fact, of the 210 TV markets, 92 of them exceed Nielsen’s national average.

Of the top 50 TV markets in the country, 25 of them are above Nielsen’s OTA average. Houston, the #10 TV market, shows an 18.7% OTA penetration. In all, 34 markets have 15% or higher OTA penetration.

The top “free air” TV market is Boise, with 28% of the market’s TV homes getting their television only over-the-air. In all, there are five markets that have over one-fifth of their homes getting their television only from over-the-air:

  1. Boise, ID, 28.0%
  2. Harlingen-Weslaco-Brownsville-Mc Allen, TX, 27.2%
  3. Fairbanks, AK, 24.9%
  4. El Paso (Las Cruces), TX, 23.8%
  5. Milwaukee, WI, 20.8%

These are significant percentages to consider, particularly when you’re executing a buy in these high OTA markets. But that’s really only half the picture.

Consider Los Angeles, the country’s #2 television market. The LA DMA has a below-average OTA penetration of 10.3%, considerably lower than that of Boise. But that represents approximately 557,000 homes in Los Angeles, compared to 26,000 in Boise.

The implication, of course, is that in order to reach your target in these particular markets – including half of the nation’s top TV markets – broadcast television is the only place to reach them.

In fact, why don’t we just go ahead and make the statement even clearer:

When you buy broadcast television, you’re reaching 100% of TV homes.

That sure is a handy cheat sheet to have.

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4 comments on “Don’t Over-Look Over-the-Air TV

  • I am one of those OTA tv viewers. I switched from cable tv to outdoor antenna in 2009 before the official switch. The best viewing experience for a flatscreen LCD HDTV can only be OTA HD. That raw signal from the broadcast tower is the best. I have found that the only reason you don’t see more of a migration toward OTA is the lack of understanding of what took place in 2009. When I tell people that I am receiving HD signals over my outdoor antenna their immediate response is, “No way.”

  • I am too an OTA viewer for 2 years now….live in the SF bay area, plenty of signals to receive. i use an OTA DVR which lets me few just about all I need. I DO NOT miss the monthly cable bill of $60 plus per month

  • Why is it I can have great OTA reception for days or weeks, then have signal drop off on some/many stations.
    Small indoor antenna sits on apt. windowsill, facing towers. Weather, traffic, etc. don’t seem to be causing problems.
    (2nd antenna sits on top of TV and is hooked into DVD/VCR. Expect problems there, but so far, so good–only a few pixelations, etc.)

    • I’ve been coming to your blog for a while now, amoslt hoping to find you had closed up or switched to something else. I have heard so many bad things about these watch tv on pc software programs that I just have a hard time believing you. I do credit you that you don’t pitch the same false hype that many of these watch tv on pc softwares do. I just don’t know if they are really worth it or not.

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