TV Viewing Dropped This Fall: Is the Web Finally Cutting into Tube Time?

Published on December 8, 2009
by Peter Kafka

For some time now, TV industry executives who want to tell themselves the Internet isn’t going to destroy their business have had a useful data point to lean on: Even as people watch more and more Web video, they’re watching more TV than ever.

What happens when that changes?

We might find out sooner than we think. Nielsen’s newest “Three Screen” report, which measures video consumption on TV, the Web, and mobile devices, shows that TV-time did indeed drop–slightly, but still a drop–during the last three months. Here’s the table (click to enlarge):

nielsen 3 screen report Q3

If you make your money in the TV business and you want to sleep better at night, you can tell yourself that this is just a single report, and that a 0.4 percent drop isn’t that big of a deal. And you can note that people are still spending almost all their time in front of the TV–129 hours a month is 32 hours a week, which is basically a second job.

But if we see more of these declines? That’s a problem, and it’s probably an inevitable one: It just stands to reason that the more time people spend logging on at Hulu or Google’s (GOOG) YouTube, the less time they’ll have for the boob tube.

If the TV industry is smart and lucky, it will be able to navigate this transition by making sure that much of what people end up watching, and/or paying for, on the Web is their stuff anyway. There’s even a scenario where the TV guys end up getting more per eyeball via the Internet, but that seems fairly far-fetched to me.

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