The new TV bundle – Nielsen - Social Media Explorer
The new TV bundle – Nielsen
The new TV bundle – Nielsen

Much has been said about the impact of streaming on the way audiences engage with TV, but the extent is no better exemplified than by the behavior of audiences in TV homes who don’t pay for cable or satellite programming. A specific subset of these homes, which rely on a digital antenna for free, over-the-air (OTA) programming, watch the most broadcast programming of all U.S. TV households, but that’s starting to change. 

The significant amount of broadcast TV viewing within these homes certainly isn’t surprising, given that’s what digital antennas provide access to. These former broadcast programs are now more connected and OTT content has become more popular. This is allowing them to balance their TV programming with sports and news.

OTA home viewers still see more broadcast programming that those who have broadband or cable plus, but they are less likely to be able to access it.1Television households are now watching less TV than ever before (1:54 per person per day in 2017 vs 2:25 in 2018). They also watch streaming video in addition to their TV viewing. The fact is that OTA households now stream more content than viewers in homes with satellite or cable programming.

Despite the shifting behavior of viewers, the remarkable stability that this segment of U.S. television households enjoys is perhaps the most striking. Although the proportions of cable and broadband households has changed dramatically in the last few years, the OTA home percentage is still very steady. In fact, it’s actually increased.

Despite having a broadcast focus, audiences who watch OTA content are shifting to streaming, which is mirrored the changing viewing behavior of viewers in OTA homes. A recent survey by SME TV found that streaming content is moving to the forefront.280% of OTA home viewers also say that they subscribe to a streaming provider. Over two-thirds (65%) of those who have access to both OTA and streaming content say they view more streaming than broadcast.

SMETV panel data indicates that OTA home without additional SVOD and virtual multichannel programming distributor (vMVPD), services is on the decline. These OTA-only households have a median age of 61, compared to 45 in those that receive SVOD or vMVPD and 49 with SVOD.

Many OTA households have always had to consider cost when streaming. In fact, half of those surveyed said that they watched ad-supported, free streaming services. This is twice as many TV viewers who watch other options such as satellite or cable. Just 70% of OTA audience members say they pay less than $100 per month to watch their television programming. But when asked about the features they look for most in TV service, OTA audiences rank “ad-free” and “ad skipping” at the bottom of their priority lists, presenting significant upside for brand advertisers.

Two key principles remain constant despite the evolution in TV viewing.

These stables provide stability and opportunities for the OTA marketplace, given what is known about OTA audiences. They are more likely to watch local news (both national and local), sport and daytime TV, than others, and their streaming consumptions are expanding. 

But all TV audiences love news and sports programming, which is where the opportunity is for broadcasters, largely because many audiences don’t know enough about the OTA options in their areas, or how to access them. Among the audiences who said they aren’t likely to buy a digital antenna, 35% said it was because they don’t know what channels are available to them. 60 percent of non-OTA audience members were asked if it would make sense to invest in an antenna if broadcast TV was available for free.


  1. The cable plus home is one that allows you to view television programs via a satellite, cable or telco provider.
  2. SME TV’s consumer survey was carried out in English only from March 9-24 2022 via an online survey. The survey was conducted on 1,500 U.S. adult 18+, who use TV in their homes.

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