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.