Are Canadians giving up on TV, or giving up on complicated setups?

Family watching television, c. 1958
Image via Wikipedia

A Canadian Press report caught my eye last week. It was about a study into the TV viewing habits of Canadians, and it focused on a small group that has apparently turned its back on television.

Canadians who shun TV tend to be young and well educated, commute by walking or public transit and prefer the arts over sports, according to a report.

I initially thought this was a story that might show a connection between living a healthy, active, urban lifestyle, and being more selective in what you choose when you watch television (living a healthy media lifestyle, if you will).

But as I sought out the original study by Media Technology Monitor, I realized this study was less about young hipsters giving up on TV, and more about the failure of broadcasters and electronics companies to capitalize on the introduction of digital over-the-air television. As I read the study, I realized that this key group wasn’t giving up on television- they were just changing how they found it.

The research was done shortly after Canada made the transition to digital broadcast signals in September 2011 (two years after American broadcasters made the switch). This group of “tuned out” Canadians were those who had already turned their backs on the 500-channel universe. They already had low-interest in watching TV. Rather than subscribing to cable or satellite, they had been using rabbit ears to watch a handful of their local analogue TV stations. According to the study:

They watch only four hours of TV a week, split almost evenly between the internet and out-of-home.

Faced with the prospect of having to upgrade their sets, or buying a digital decoder box, many of them simply decided to give up on over-the-air TV (OTA) and get their programs elsewhere, presumably online (the study says this group spends 25% more time on the internet than the average TV viewer). In a press release, Mark Allen, CBC’s Director of Research and Strategic Analysis says “there are now more Canadians who have opted to tune-out of TV than receive TV off-air.”

English: TV antenna
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve written about my experience cutting cable, both to save money, but also to cut down on on all those unnecessary distractions the 500-channel universe was sending my way each month. I find getting my TV signals over-the-air to be a great bargain. Depending on how I place my antenna, I can gain access to about 23 channels from Toronto and Buffalo (that includes all the major Canadian and US broadcast TV networks).

Why aren’t more people taking advantage of this? Connecting an antenna to watch free live TV is relatively simple. However, figuring out how to record those free signals so you can watch them later is no easy task. There are relatively few PVR’s built for OTA signals, and they appear to be in limited supply at specialty shops that sell antennas. You’ll have no luck finding them at big name retailers like Best Buy.

I have a very complicated system set up for recording my TV programs. My iMac records the digital signal from my antenna using an Elgato EyeTV box, then converts that recording to an MP4 file. It then adds it to iTunes, which syncs with the Apple TV attached to my TV set (I can also sync the programs to my iPhone or iPad).

While the system works well for me, it took me hours of tinkering to come up with the recipe that worked best for my needs. If you are only watching a couple of hours of TV a week, why would you go to this kind of trouble? It is a lot easier to simply seek those programs out online, through either legal means like iTunes or network streaming websites, or illegal means like Bit Torrent or Newsgroups.

Even though I think subscribing to a TV service contributes to information overload (I equate it to eating an all-you-can-eat buffet), I must admit satellite and cable have OTA beat when it comes to simplicity. Want a PVR? Pick up the phone and order one. Plug one cable into your TV, another to the cable outlet, and a third to your electrical socket and you’re ready to go.

While digital TV signals offer free, high-quality HDTV TV signals, you shouldn’t have to feel like you need an engineering degree in order to watch your TV shows when you want.

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