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How Many Homes Really Watch Over the Air TV?

New NAB/CEA Feud


They can’t both be right!

Remember a few years ago when CEA and NAB were cooperating in 2008-9 with each other to facilitate the DTV transition? Wasn’t that nice? Two industries sharing their toys like nice little children. Only a little earlier in 2005 they were accusing each other of things like “Perpetuating a Fraud on Consumers”. Well, they are back at each others’ throats again! The telecom bloggers of the USA thank both for this gift. Now that Jon Stewart is back, we hope he can benefit from it also.

On June 21, 2013 NAB announced that

New research from GfK Media & Entertainment shows that the estimated number of Americans now relying exclusively on over-the-air (OTA) television broadcasting increased to 59.7 million, up from 54 million just a year ago. The percentage of TV households currently OTA reliant has now grown from 14% in 2010 to 19.3% in the current survey, a 38% increase in just four years. The recently completed survey also found that the demographics of broadcast-only households continue to skew toward younger adults, minorities and lower-income families.

Who is GfK? They humbly say that

We're one of the world’s leading research companies. Every day, our 12,000+ experts discover new insights into the way people live, think and shop in over 100 countries. We use the latest technologies and smartest methodologies to help our clients deeply understand the most important people in the world: their customers.

Sounds a lot more credible than some blogger, doesn’t it?

But then only 9 days later, NAB’s former partner in DTV transition, CEA, announced

New research released today from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) ® found that just seven percent of American TV households rely solely on an antenna for their television programming. The findings of the new study, U.S. Household Television Usage Update, are consistent with CEA’s 2010 research which found eight percent of TV households reported using an antenna only for television programming. According to historical CEA research, there has been a gradual decline in the percentage of TV households using antennas since 2005. The phone survey of 1,009 U.S. adults is comparable to a 2012 Nielsen study indicating nine percent of all U.S. TV households are broadcast TV/over-the-air only, a decrease from 16 percent in 2003.

The CEA report was designed and formulated by CEA Market Research, “the most comprehensive source of sales data, forecasts, consumer research and historical trends for the consumer electronics industry” with “90+ years of research history” - GfK is only 79 years old, founded in Nuremberg, Germany in 1934. (Perhaps it isn’t fair to say so, but Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will was filmed in Nuremberg in 1934 -- in case the date and location sound familiar. “By general consent [one] of the best documentaries ever made.” -- Roger Ebert)

The only publicly available details on the study cited by NAB in an entry in the GfK blog entitled “Confessions of a Cord Cutter Skeptic Revisited”. By contrast, CEA would be glad to sell you a copy of their whole study ($399 if costs matter, no cost to CEA members).

But the issue here is critical to the pending incentive auction and the whole question of the spectrum needs of TV broadcasting. So this is too important a question to leave to CEA/NAB finger pointing! So in the interest of closure on this issue here is:

A Suggestion to Resolve This Key Disagreement: For at least 2 decades FCC has been paying Census Bureau for quarterly telephone penetration surveys which have been noncontroversial since Census is viewed by all as unbiased on this issue. This data collection is now part of the he Current Population Survey (CPS), sponsored jointly by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Just last Thursday, WSJ reported on the the latest survey and found that “more than a quarter of U.S. households have ditched landline phones”. Significant changes in consumer behavior result from pricing changes and technology changes.

Since the issue of OTA market share is critical for the incentive auction, why doesn’t FCC pay Census to track both OTA home penetration as well as telephone penetration? I suspect that the cost would be allowable as part of the expenditures to support the incentive auctions and thus need not come from the very limited FCC appropriated budget.

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