Don't Over-Look Over-the-Air TV - Don Seaman-TVB

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While many American homes today have some sort of subscription television service, whether it's through cable, satellite, or some other content-providing box attached to the television set, the NAB reports that 15% of all US TV homes still get their TV signal from over-the-air, free broadcast stations and their digital subchannels.

That represents about 17.2 million homes nationally - a vast segment of the viewing audience that can't be reached by subscription television. That equates to more TV homes than New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Las Vegas combined.

Over-the-air (OTA) only TV homes represent a hard-to-reach subsegment of the television landscape, one that the government took great pains to include in the digital transition of 2009. Keeping news and information available to these homes was nearly seen as a must-have, so critical that it delayed the conversion so that no TV home would be left behind.

It is when you look at the over-the-air only homes on a local level that the impact of geographic differences in over-the-air distribution becomes apparent. In fact, of the 210 TV markets, 92 of them exceed Nielsen's national average.

Of the top 50 TV markets in the country, 25 of them are above Nielsen's OTA average. Houston, the #10 TV market, shows an 18.7% OTA penetration. In all, 34 markets have 15% or higher OTA penetration.

The top "free air" TV market is Boise, with 28% of the market's TV homes getting their television only over-the-air. In all, there are five markets that have over one-fifth of their homes getting their television only from over-the-air:

1. Boise, ID, 28.0%
2. Harlingen-Weslaco-Brownsville-Mc Allen, TX, 27.2%
3. Fairbanks, AK, 24.9%
4. El Paso (Las Cruces), TX, 23.8%
5. Milwaukee, WI, 20.8%

These are significant percentages to consider, particularly when you're executing a buy in these high OTA markets. But that's really only half the picture.

Consider Los Angeles, the country's #2 television market. The LA DMA has a below-average OTA penetration of 10.3%, considerably lower than that of Boise. But that represents approximately 557,000 homes in Los Angeles, compared to 26,000 in Boise.

The implication, of course, is that in order to reach your target in these particular markets – including half of the nation's top TV markets – broadcast television is the only place to reach them.

In fact, why don't we just go ahead and make the statement even clearer:

When you buy broadcast television, you're reaching 100% of TV homes.

That sure is a handy cheat sheet to have.

Don Seaman joined the TVB in January 2012 as Manager of Marketing Communications, where he is responsible for promoting and raising awareness of the TVB, and of Local Broadcast Television’s value propositions within the traditional and digital media industries. Don can be reached at

Read all Don's MediaBizBloggers commentaries at Local Matters.

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