25 things Vanishing in America, part 2: Homes without cable
Nielsen breaks down how many people watch television over the air by race: white, 10 percent; African-American, 15 percent; Hispanic, 17 percent; Asian, 13 percent.
In other words, not very many people limit their viewing to over-the-air TV. Nielsen says some of the non-cable population live in remote places and some – mostly women – just aren't interested in TV.
All of this has been under scrutiny lately because Congress and the Federal Communication Commission have been pressuring the television industry to give up analog spectrum and convert to digital transmission, so the more versatile analog spectrum can be sold to other users for huge bucks. Converting to digital makes all the users who depend solely on rabbit ears on top of an old analog TV unable to receive the signal. Originally, the deadline for conversion was in February, but in light of the economic situation, the FCC delayed the final deadline for the DTV transition to June 12.
The NAB is pleading with the Federal Communications Commission to allow its members to totally transition to digital television without delaying until June because most of the TV stations met the original February deadline and running both digital and analog transmissions is expensive.
While 12.5 million may seem at first blush to be a lot of people to persuade to buy a new TV or a converter box so they'll be able to watch television using an antenna once the analog transmissions are totally gone, the reality, according to the NAB's report on calls to the FCC, is that hardly anyone complained on the original digital drop-dead day in February. Only 25,000 people a day for three days rang up the FCC and registered their displeasure. After that, nobody called. A strong argument that almost everybody is watching TV with a high-tech connection.
About dozen years ago, when the digital conversion process first began, I was covering the story for a television business magazine. In order to watch digital TV, I had an antenna installed on my roof. That and a converter box got me the earliest HDTV. It was available only a few hours a night, but reception at my Detroit-area house was great. Today, that antenna works just fine as long as I'm content to watch only broadcast stations – CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, PBS, and a few local UHF channels.
But like most people, I want my MTV and my ESPN, HBO and movies on demand. Saving the money I spend on cable might be a good idea – especially in this troubled economy – but not good enough to make me and millions of others give up on our favorites. Before I settle for network TV only, times are going to have to get a lot worse.