A lot of Canadians lost their TV signal last fall. In many cities and towns most TV stations converted to a new digital system of transmission, which offered better quality pictures to those who had digital TV sets but potentially disenfranchised those with older, analogue sets that were not connected to cable TV or satellite TV.
I wrote a report for the CRTC 6 years ago, the purpose of which was to determine how many Canadians watched TV via cable/DTH vs. over-the-air (OTA). An update to that report a year later concluded, “Ten years ago 1 in 5 Canadians received TV off-air but this group now makes up only 1 in 10 Canadians ….the rate of conversion from OTA to cable/DTH has slowed and is unlikely to change dramatically in the coming years.” This appears to be the case.
The 2006 study showed that 9.7% of Canadians depended on off-air viewing entirely and an additional number had a least one TV not connected to cable/satellite. Well, the 2011-12 Media Trends Survey shows that 9.7% of Canadians do not subscribe to cable, IPTV or DTH. In other words, it’s déjà vu all over again. The chart shows that not only do 1 in 10 still rely upon off-air reception to watch CBC, CTV, etc., but also that some 1 in 3 Canadians report that they have at least 1 TV not connected to cable or satellite. This was very similar to results in last year’s survey.
In 2011-12 some 18.2% report having at least one TV connected to the internet, which we explored for the first time this year. The proportion with ‘internet TVs’ was similar in both OTA homes and in cable/DTH homes, signalling that OTA homes are not Luddites, they just want to watch TV over-the-air.
Times have changed and since 2006 new options such as internet video streaming have been introduced. Thus, OTA homes are no longer restricted to conventional TV broadcasts. Indeed, we found that in 2011-12 over-the-air homes were just as likely to subscribe to Netflix and that more OTA homes streamed video from the internet than cable/DTH homes. So, at least some of the OTA homes are not just dependent on rabbit ears to watch TV, they have embraced the new technologies. Perhaps some have even recently abandoned cable/satellite. Certainly, if you live in a city with access to a number of the new digital stations, the quality of the over-the-air HDTV signal is superior to that of cable/satellite, which might entice some (not many) viewers to cut the cord. Our 2011-12 survey looked at this in some depth and a future post may examine cord cutting and ‘shaving’.
We know a few things about OTA viewers, other than their age, sex, family income, etc. For example, they watch much less TV and listen to considerably less radio than their connected brothers and sisters, that is, they are not as interested in the main stream media. (They are more dependent on newspaper as a main source of news.)
We also know that they are big fans of CBC TV. 1 in 3 say that CBC is their favourite station, four times more than cable/DTH subscribers. No other station comes close. Likewise, 1 in 3 say that CBC is the one station they would choose if they could get only one.
The Media Trends Survey shows that the majority (about 80%) of the TV/video consumed in OTA homes is conventional over-the-air TV and a large part of this OTA group are still relying upon their old analogue TVs. CBC has maintained its analogue transmitters in some communities but if these are shut down, those viewers will no longer have ready access to CBC TV, unless they purchase new TVs or digital converters.
So, if CBC TV experiences a loss in audience ratings this year or next, CBC programmers should look no further than the viewers lost in transition to digital TV.
The 2011 survey results are from CMRI's Media Trends Survey conducted November-December 2011 among a representative national sample of approximately 900 Anglophone respondents aged 18-plus. Margin of error +/-3.3%. The Media Trends Survey has been conducted for ten consecutive years and has surveyed over 15,000 Canadians in total in this period. The Media Trends Survey is not sponsored by any one industry or affiliated with a media company. Therefore, the surveys are scrupulously designed not to bias respondents into favouring one medium over another.