Mark Palko writes:
Salmon is dismissive of the claim that there are fifty million over-the-air television viewers:
The 50 million number, by the way, should not be considered particularly reliable: it’s Aereo’s guess as to the number of people who ever watch free-to-air TV, even if they mainly watch cable or satellite. (Maybe they have a hut somewhere with an old rabbit-ear TV in it.)
And he strongly suggests the number is not only smaller but shrinking. By comparison, here’s a story from the broadcasting news site TV News Check from June of last year (if anyone has more recent numbers please let me know):
According to new research by GfK Media, the number of Americans now relying solely on over-the-air (OTA) television reception increased to almost 54 million, up from 46 million just a year ago. The recently completed survey also found that the demographics of broadcast-only households skew towards younger adults, minorities and lower-income families.
As Palko says, Salmon is usually a pretty careful reporter. And this one should be right up his alley. Here’s Palko again:
We’ve talked about how well over-the-air television compares to cable (for some people), how new and apparently successful businesses are springing up around OTA, and how the number of viewers getting their television through antennas appears to have been growing substantially since the introduction of digital. What we haven’t covered so far is the potential social impact of killing broadcast television.
It is almost axiomatic that, if you have a resource that is used in one way by people at the top of the economic ladder and in another way by people on the bottom and you “let the market decide” what to do with the resource, it will go with the people who have the money. . . .
This becomes particularly troubling when we’re talking about a publicly held resource. . . . What groups rely heavily on broadcast television? What groups would have the most difficulty finding alternatives?
People in the bottom one or two deciles are going to be in trouble. Even the lowest tier of cable would represent a significant monthly expense. People with limited residential security will be even worse off. People with limited income security will face a difficult choice: sign up for exorbitant no-contract plans or commit to a financial obligation they may not be able to fulfill. People with poor credit histories will have to come up with large deposits every time they move. . . .
OTA [over-the-air television] is a promising technology supporting an innovative and growing industry, serving important economic and social roles.
The technology is doing fine in the marketplace. It’s lobbyists who are likely to kill it.
I wonder what Salmon’s take is on this. Is Palko missing something, or does he just happen to be sharing a perspective that is different from that of NYC-based financial journalists?
P.S. Let me emphasize that this post is not some sort of trolling of Felix Salmon. I’m a big fan of his quantitatively sophisticated reporting, which is why it’s interesting if he’s getting something wrong.
P.P.S. There’s some dispute about that 54 million number. Salmon points to this news article by Michael Grotticelli:
Free, over-the-air television viewing of broadcast TV signals are now watched by only 9 percent of the U.S. population — down from 16 percent in 2003, according to Nielsen, the major TV and radio rating service. . . .
The Nielsen numbers are certain to cause a dispute with the NAB, which has insisted the amount of over-the-air viewing is increasing in an era of cord-cutting. Last summer, the NAB produced a survey by Knowledge Networks citing about 18 percent as “broadcast exclusive” households. That total was 54 million Americans — up from 46 million in 2011.
So, one claim is that 9% watch any over-the-air TV, the other is that 18% only watch over-the-air TV. That’s a big gap.