Americans viewing TV at record levels

Over 8 hours per household, Nielsen says

September 30, 2005|By DAVID ZURAWIK | DAVID ZURAWIK,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Members of U.S. households spent more time last year than ever in front of a TV set, according to a report released yesterday by Nielsen Media Research. And as the new fall season swings into action, the rise in viewing continues - a development certain to alarm those who blame the medium for contributing to obesity in children and shorter attention spans, even as the trend cheers industry insiders.

The study, conducted by the world's largest provider of TV and audience data, found that during the 2004-2005 television season, members of average American homes collectively spent 8 hours and 11 minutes per day watching TV. (The season ran from Sept. 20, 2004, to Sept. 18, 2005.)

The figure - 2.7 percent higher than last year and 12.5 percent above viewing levels a decade ago - represents the greatest amount of time being spent watching TV in American homes since Nielsen began measuring national audiences in the 1950s.

Individually, Americans watched more television than they have in 15 years, according to the study, which put each person's daily viewing time at 4 hours and 32 minutes. That's seven more minutes per day than during the previous TV season.

"The perception has been that TV viewing is going down and that people are using other media," said Karen Gyimesi, a Nielsen spokeswoman. "But we're not seeing that. ... Obviously, viewership for the big networks has fluctuated, but, overall, TV watching is up."

Nielsen's Matt Tatham attributed the record level of TV time to changes in lifestyle as well as growth in programming choices. "More people are consuming more media in the home than ever - all kinds of media. And there is more television than ever to spend more time consuming," he said.

Yesterday, some analysts linked the rise in TV viewing to a widely reported decline in movie attendance. In May, the film industry reported that moviegoing was down 9 percent from the previous year.

"Based on our research of consumers and media use, we're not surprised that Nielsen found more television viewing than ever," said Abe Novick, senior vice president at Baltimore-based Eisner Communications, one of the country's most sophisticated television viewer research operations. "There is a connection between fewer people going to movies and more people spending more time than ever with TV. ... Simply put, television is offering viewers so much more these days."

But he also cited last year's presidential election, the Iraq war and recent natural disasters as factors contributing to the increased time spent with TV: "Just look at how much viewing has been done in connection with Hurricane Katrina."

While many in Hollywood have blamed the film industry's box-office slump on consumers watching DVDs at home rather than going to theaters, the record-setting Nielsen figures measured the amount of time spent by viewers watching TV programs on the day or night they aired, Gyimesi said. So, the impact of DVDs is a separate matter altogether.

As for this year, the number of people watching the first week of new fall series was 6.3 percent larger than the audience for the first week last year - 115.8 million viewers compared with 102.5 million.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

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