Does Free HDTV Still Matter?

Does free HDTV broadcast over the air still matter? The Consumer Electronics Association contends the answer is no. And it has trotted out a survey to prove its point. Among 1256 adults questioned in December 2010, just eight percent said they get over-the-air HDTV signals. And the number has declined since 2005.

"Using huge swaths of wireless spectrum to deliver TV to homes no longer makes economic sense," said CEA CEO Gary Shapiro. "Congress should pass legislation to allow for incentive auctions so free market dynamics can find the best purposes for underused broadcast spectrum, such as wireless broadband."

CEA's position places it on the side of the Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan, whose main adversaries are the National Association of Broadcasters, their TV station membership, and their formidable political allies.

CEA says the FCC's wireless broadband initiative is vital to the economy, asserting that every moment of delay costs money, as illustrated by its Spectrum Crunch Clock. The NAB retorts that the spectrum grab will harm reception, especially for the elderly and the poor, who depend on antennas and free DTV.

The CEA study addressed the subject of cable/satellite cord cutting, finding that 76 percent of pay-TV subscribers had no intention of canceling, while another 10 percent said they were likely to cancel. However, the study also found that more consumers are watching internet video.

Even so, the CEA-pegged eight percent of antenna-dependent viewers adds up to nine million households that might find themselves with fewer or no over-the-air channels to watch. Commented our colleague and contributor Michael Fremer in an emailed response to CEA: "The 'just' nine million people (thrown under the bus) number is amusing."

He also makes the case for broadcast HDTV in terms of quality: "OTA sound and picture are superior (particularly sound). It's a loss for those who care about quality. Unfortunately NAB and its stations do a terrible job of promoting OTA reception.... I think you've made the case based on numbers, much as one could call for ending fine dining because of the numbers compared to McDonald's." In an email to us, Fremer also noted that ATSC is working on higher-resolution technology for future incorporation into the DTV broadcast standard.

For another skeptical perspective, see Pete Putman's HDTVexpert.

See press release.

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COMMENTS
theo's picture

I am currently a cable subscriber and purchased--yes purchased--an antenna to mount so that I can get over the air HDTV. Why?

1) Economic: I'm getting ripped off for TV I don't use or watch. At the end of the day, I'm only watching a few channels and then only a few times a week.

2) Time-Shifting: When there is a show I'm interested in, it's generally not at a time I can watch it. Today, shows being available when I want to watch it is a much better model than being tied to a particular time. So, if I don't have time to watch a show during its slot, then it's a waste.

3) Netflix! Streaming movies and shows trumps Cable. I get much better mileage from Netflix watching than anything else.

4) Sports. The only compelling thing for me for cable is sports. However, now that AppleTV and others are integrating MLB and NBA TV why do I need cable? Plus all the major events are on the local, over the air networks.

5) My Antenna looks cool: LOL, it actually does look more like a space ship and less like a traditional antenna. :-)

I can understand what the CEA are trying to do and say, but I, for one, am dumping cable and going back to traditional over the air. I love and agree with what Michael said. I've invested years of time and planning in my audio setup and I am continually disappointed by the lack of good quality audio programming and inconsistent video quality that oftentimes appears on Cable. Michael Fremer is the man and Mark thanks for posting this.

agentstaobao0's picture

I can understand what the CEA are trying to do and say, but I, for one, am dumping cable and going back to traditional over the air. I love and agree with what Michael said. I've invested years of time and planning in my audio setup and I am continually disappointed by the lack of good quality audio programming and inconsistent video quality that oftentimes appears on Cable. Michael Fremer is the man and Mark thanks for posting this.

samiambest1's picture

For those of us who live in reasonably remote locations (think Montana) and were duped into getting DirecTV because we could get our local channels and only when we were all set up and locked into a contract were we told we could NOT get our local channels, over the air HD is necessary - it's the only way I can get my local channels short of getting cable hooked back up . . . while I'm still stuck in my DirecTV contract. That dish is history in August, and then I'm back to not caring about over the air HD. But I'm betting there are a lot more folks out there who will keep the dish and will need the over the air HD.

MatthewWeflen's picture

Taking away free OTA HD would be a giant victory for companies that want to monopolize content and drive up prices - namely, Comcast, DirecTV, TimeWarnet, etc.

I use OTA HD and internet streaming as an alternative to my one terrestrial cable and two satellite cable choices in Chicago. I simply don't want to pay $80 a month for bloated programming packages that are 95% unwatched fluff.

Since cable providers won't provide a la carte options, OTA and streaming are my only viable alternatives. I would be devastated if OTA HD went away.

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