Who Cares if Analog TV Goes Dark?

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has some news for the 33.6 million of you who use your television (TV) to view over-the-air (OTA) TV programming - get a life, or rather, get a new Digital TV.

Earlier this month, the CEA giddily released data showing that of America's 285 million TVs only 12 percent (33.6 million) are used for watching OTA broadcasts of what the local TV stations in this country call "entertainment". In a further revelation, the CEA's numbers say that approximately 3 million (around 10 percent) aren't used for viewing broadcast television at all. Instead, the electricity gobbled up by these sets is used to play videogames, watch movies on DVD, or view old Jane Fonda exercise tapes. This means that, despite what the clueless techno-pundits in the mainstream newspapers and magazines whine about, it's not likely that there will be riots in the streets or calls for impeachment once the Feds finally decide to put a padlock on the analog TV broadcasting spectrum. (You can put away those visions of a Boston TV Party in which OTA revolutionaries unceremoniously dump Digital TVs into Boston harbor late at night, okay?) The CEA also discovered that more than one-fourth of the technologically-left-behind (TLB) households - those relying solely on OTA broadcasts to get their regular fix of "American Idol" - have at least one TV in the home that isn't used to watch OTA programming at all.

CEA presented the data summarized above in a serious and official-looking letter to the leadership of the Senate and House Commerce Committees. The information was provided purely as a public service to assist the Committees in "their deliberations on how to ensure the needs of all Americans are addressed when analog broadcasting ceases." The House Commerce Committee is getting ready to consider legislation that will set a hard cut-off date for those beloved analog broadcasts that have been with us since RCA first fired up a transmitter for a very limited New York audience in 1939. The Senate Commerce Committee, after letting the rest of the Senate take a much-deserved breather from their fierce filibuster fracas, will release draft (that's draft not daft) digital television legislation later this month.

"Clearly, the vast majority of TVs in the United States are not used to view over-the-air television and we can presume that these numbers will diminish as more and more Americans subscribe to pay TV services, including coming technologies such as TV-over-IP, via telephony and even powerline," said CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro. "More than 88 percent of today's TVs are connected to cable or satellite service or are used to play videogames, watch pre-recorded content or some other non-broadcast television function."

Neilsen Media Research, the folks who gave us the depressing news that live broadcasts of the Michael Jackson trial verdict on the various networks garnered a 47% share of the available eyeballs, provided some of the information used by the CEA to compile the TV-usage figures. Nielsen says there are 109.7 million U.S. television households, each owning an average of 2.6 TVs. (Another surprising figure was that an average of .6 of TV household remote controls is lost somewhere in the couch.)

The Opinion Research Corporation was hired by the CEA to find out how America's TVs are being used. Of total TV households:

  • 60 percent subscribe to cable
  • 24 percent subscribe to digital satellite
  • 2 percent subscribe to both
  • 2 percent do not subscribe to a pay TV service nor use an antenna to receive OTA TV

In related news, the Cable & Satellite Higher Subscription Fee Association released figures claiming that 72 percent of subscribers felt they were paying too little for their monthly programming. 18 percent said they'd gladly pay twice as much if the level of customer service could be lowered. Surprisingly, a full six percent indicated that they'd rather watch TV from cable or satellite than eat or have sex. (The margin of error for the survey is +/- 100 percent.)