CBS's Moonves dismisses OTA viewers

Les Moonves in 2001

Les Moonves, photo © DepositPhotos / Ryan Born

There are a lot of times when I like the Consumer Electronics Association. In the battle for unfettered access to entertainment, the CEA is usually on the side of consumers, who often lack a strong voice of their own. But this week the CEA came out with a doozy of a report, saying its research shows that only 7% of US households rely on over-the-air (OTA) for their television viewing. The CEA said this lined up with a 2012 Nielsen study that said 9% of US households rely on OTA, down from 16% in 2003.

For all that to be true, there must have been thousands of families who unplugged their rooftop antennas so they could start paying for cable. Oddly, I couldn’t find any articles that mention those families.

The National Association of Broadcasters reacted by pointing to a different study that said 19.3% of homes rely exclusively on OTA television, up from 14% in 2010. That sounded like a much closer match to what I’ve read and seen over the past couple of years.

Just as I was feeling vindicated, CBS CEO Les Moonves spoiled my buzz. Only a few days after his trade organization re-emphasized its viewer numbers, Moonves told analysts in a conference call that those viewers really didn’t matter anyway. According to Deadline, Moonves said, “Right now over 85% of our viewing is done through satellite, cable, or the phone companies. The remaining 15% are not the most advertiser friendly, appealing to advertising.”

You put all that together, and the finished message from CBS is “There are a lot more OTA viewers than you think, but they’re not very important.” There’s a corollary to that: Anyone smart enough to dump cable and save money is not the kind of sucker an advertiser wants.