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Surprise Interest in Over-The-Air TV

One of broadcasters’ frequent complaints about the digital television transition is that consumers don’t realize they can receive crystal-clear high-definition pictures for free, by using an over-the-air antenna, without having to sign up for high-definition cable or satellite service. And they may be correct in thinking that consumers would be very interested in that capability, if they only knew about it.

After an Associated Press story ran on April 29 that described how simple antennas might deliver better HDTV pictures than cable or satellite service, due to the level of compression that some operators use for HDTV signals, a flurry of traffic hit , a Website run by the Consumer Electronics Association that provides information on over-the-air antennas. The CEA site had 86,000 inquiries about DTV antennas that day, a huge jump from the normal Sunday traffic of 6,000 inquiries, according to CEA spokesman Jason Oxman; the site usually averages 100,000 inquiries per month (an inquiry is more than a hit, says Oxman, as it requires filling out a form to get detailed recommendations on antenna choices based on a viewer’s geographic location).

The spike in traffic for actually overwhelmed the site and caused it to start giving out error messages, such as the one a B&C reporter experienced when checking it on Tuesday. Oxman says that based on the increased interest, CEA was working with the vendor who hosts the site to increase its capacity.

"It’s a data-intensive site, so it requires a lot of bandwidth resources," says Oxman.