How the Growth and Evolution of the Over-the-Air TV Home Fits into Today’s Viewing Landscape

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How the Growth and Evolution of the Over-the-Air TV Home Fits into Today’s Viewing Landscape

01-31-2019 – Over-the-air (OTA) TV—the programming that we all have access to even if we don’t have a cable or satellite programming subscription—is becoming a big thing again. In fact, it’s one of the best things to happen to cord cutters and cord shavers, as it offers them free TV through a digital antenna. Even better, with the shift to digital broadcasting a decade ago, they’re getting even more channels for free—and in great HD quality. Because of our comprehensive panel approach, our data is inclusive of all household types, including OTA, which allowed us to conduct deep insights and analysis in this important growing segment. So what do we know about OTA households? We recently dived into the data to find out more about them—particularly, how many there are, what they look like and how they consume media.


According to May 2018 Nielsen population estimates, as detailed in our latest Local Watch report, there are over 16 million OTA homes in the U.S. That comes out to just over 14% of households. Back in 2010, that number was much lower—5 million less, to be exact. That’s an increase of almost 50% over eight years. And as an increasing number of consumers consider a more à-la-carte approach to their TV sources, there is opportunity for this segment to continue growing.


While many of us may equate OTA TV with “rabbit ears” and a physical dial on the TV set, today’s, OTA homes aren’t what they used to be—just like the technology isn’t the same. Today, these homes are a mix of audience groups that consume TV content in different ways. Some are standard OTA homes that access programming with a digital antenna, but most pair their OTA line-up with streaming services. As of May 2018, 41% of OTA homes are traditional, without a streaming service provider. That means the majority subscribe to a streaming service (59%). Nielsen data paints a vivid picture of these two very different groups, revealing some surprising gaps in age, ethnicity and income. Suffice to say, the only thing these households have in common is the absence of cable cords and satellite dishes.

To further muddy the waters, a third type of OTA home subscribes to a virtual video multichannel programming distributor (vMVPD), commonly known as a “skinny bundle,” which allows them to stream cable programs. This group falls directly into the streaming service segment (Plus SVOD) that makes up 59% of OTA homes. As of May 2018, it accounted for 8% of OTA, or 1.3 million homes.


Three hours each day comes out to roughly 1,100 hours per year, which represents the amount of time the average adult in an OTA home spends watching broadcast content on TV. While that’s a big number, it can be deceiving. Behind the scenes, three very different audience segments (no SVOD; OTA + SVOD; OTA + SVOD w/vMVPD) make up that number. So which segment is watching the most content? Those without SVOD spend a whopping 4 hours and 51 minutes with broadcast TV each day. But, the story is different for the others. Higher fragmentation driven by internet-connected device usage brings broadcast viewing down, but SVOD homes with and without a vMVPD still clock over an hour per day. Cable viewing picks up steam with vMVPD access, but still lags behind broadcast viewing. Regardless of OTA home type, broadcast TV is a daily go-to source for content on the TV screen.



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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
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Nielsen: Diaries Finally On The Way Out

By Adam Buckman
TVNewsCheck, September 18, 2014 3:55 PM EDT

Nielsen’s diary-based system for measuring local TV viewership — a system that has been in place in one way or another for at least 60 years — is beginning to be dismantled and will “eventually” be retired, TVNewsCheck has learned.

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