Over-the-Air TV is Booming in U.S. Cities

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Over-the-Air TV is Booming in U.S. Cities

03-11-2019 – Despite the prevalence of digital technologies rippling through many aspects of our daily lives, an increasing percentage of Americans are embracing over-the-air (OTA) television. And in looking at findings from Nielsen’s most recent Local Watch Report, we see an upward trend in the adoption of digital OTA tuners. But while the 16 million OTA homes (as of May 2018) paints an overarching national picture, our comprehensive panel approach to TV measurement allows us to dive into the data to understand the different types of OTA viewers across the U.S. and where they’re most likely to live.

While the majority of U.S. homes still subscribe to a pay-TV service (cable or satellite), the shift to free broadcast TV suggests that folks are exploring alternatives. And with a myriad of internet options available today, many of them aren’t mutually exclusive with their viewing options. Rather, they’re pairing their broadcast local news and network stations with a subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) streaming service.

According to Nielsen’s TV panel, 59% of OTA homes have access to SVOD and 41% don’t. And things get even more interesting when we factor in a third underlying segment: OTA homes that subscribe to a virtual multichannel video programming distributor (vMVPD). These services provide a broad range of video content through an internet connection (rather than through wired cable or satellite). Consumers who supplement their OTA viewing with “skinny bundles” from vMVPD services can stream programs to their smart TVs and mobile devices. Small but growing, these consumers make up 8% of OTA homes, which comes out to about 1.3 million U.S. households.

While these numbers tell the big-picture story, we can take things further by drilling down to local markets, which reveal some surprising differences in OTA status. In looking at Nielsen data, we see a high concentration of OTA homes in the Southwest region, averaging 19% of households in those areas. This makes sense, since this area is popular among Hispanics—a group, according to our profile data—that is 48% more likely to have OTA status than the average U.S home.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Northeasterners are more likely to stick to their cable packages, with only 7% of households having OTA access. This region also experienced the smallest year-over-year growth. Designated market-level (DMA) stats from the Local Watch Report support these findings, with markets like Albuquerque and Phoenix topping the list for presence of OTA homes. Meanwhile, markets like New York and Boston rank among the lowest for OTA penetration. Milwaukee is an interesting outlier, as it has the highest penetration for both OTA homes with and without SVOD. Dayton came out on top for the market most likely to pair OTA with vMVPD.


Percent of households by over-the-air type, May 2018
Source – https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2019/over-the-air-tv-is-booming-in-us-cities.print.html