Nielsen: TV viewing dips

For the first time in years, Nielsen is reporting a slight decline in overall TV viewing in the US. In the last three months of 2011, the average American with a TV set at home spent 153 hours and 19 minutes each watching “traditional TV” — viewed on a television rather than a device like a computer or tablet — which is about 46 minutes less than was watched in the last three months of 2010, according to Nielsen, which monitors a sample of US households to produce TV ratings every day.

Per person, the decline comes out to be about 30 seconds a day, hardly a seismic shift. But cumulatively, the decline is significant because – to the astonishment of some in the industry — total TV viewership has been steadily rising year-over-year despite a plethora of other entertainment options. It may suggest that some people are opting for Web video or are spending more time playing video games and less time watching TV.

A previous survey, throughout the first nine months of 2011, the average time spent watching TV each month was up versus the same period in 2010, just as 2010 was up over 2009.

The total number of Americans who watched any traditional TV in a given month also declined during the last three months of 2011, according to Nielsen: 284.4 million, down about 1.7 per cent from 289.3 million during the same time period in 2010.

In a report to its television industry clients, Nielsen wrote of the viewership decline: “This may be the result of leveling off after a period of sustained growth, weather and economic factors or of other viewing options.”
Nielsen defines traditional TV as consumption through a television set, either live or via a digital video recorder or video-on-demand service. The company does not count consumption on computers, phones or tablets like the iPad. That may explain, in part, why the total number of viewers slipped late last year.

Nielsen also said that it believed the total number of American households with television sets is continuing to shrink. Last year, for the first time in 20 years, Nielsen said the figure dropped to 114.7 million, from 115.9 million previously, despite a rise in the number of households in the country. Nielsen attributed the drop both to economic factors and to technological ones.

The company’s latest estimate once again shrinks the total number of homes with TV sets, this time to 114.1 million. It also estimates that the total number of people living in those homes has shrunk, but at a lesser rate — to 289.2 million, down 100,000 from 289.3 million previously.

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