Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Surprise! You’re Watching More TV Than Ever.

poltergeist_feature_cropNo one watches TV anymore.

You don’t, and no one you know does, and it’s just a matter of time before the TV Industrial Complex folds in on itself and disappears.

Except … it turns out that people are. Still. Watching. TV.

More than ever, according to Nielsen.

That’s not immediately apparent if you take a look at the audience-counter’s newest “cross platform” report (registration required).

In fact, at first glimpse it appears as though TV viewing may have decreased in the last quarter, for the first time in several years: If you look at the chart below, it looks like Americans spent four hours and 43 minutes a day (!) watching live TV and shows on their DVRs in the third quarter of this year. That’s down from four hours and 46 minutes in Q3 2012.

Nielsen Cross Platform Q3 TV Time Per Day

That’s a small decrease (and it’s still more than people were watching in 2011) but it’s still a decrease. Hence: End of TV. Right?

Nope. For whatever reason, the Nielsen chart above doesn’t factor in video-on-demand viewing. And video-on-demand viewing is skyrocketing.

Comcast, the country’s biggest pay TV provider, said 70 percent of its subscribers watch stuff on demand, and that TV shows account for 40 percent of its usage. (If you factor in pay-TV channels like HBO, the number jumps up to 60 percent.)

So once you do factor in on-demand usage, you see a different story. Nielsen said that there has been a small increase in the number of people watching live TV, and a significant increase in the number of “timeshifted” TV watchers — people watching on either DVRs or VOD.

Nielsen Q3 Cross Platform TV Usage

And when you look at the amount of time spent watching TV, live-TV viewing is down, a bit. But timeshifted viewing is up by nearly 15 percent. Note that these numbers don’t include people watching TV shows on the Web via services like Netflix and Hulu.

Nielsen Q3 TV Time Spent
So how about that? People still like TV. They just like to watch it on their own timetable.

This doesn’t mean things are rosy for the TV Industrial Complex, of course. Obviously, all the competing digital distractions (maybe even the story you’re reading now!) pose a problem for the TV guys (though note that Nielsen said traditional PC usage declined this quarter).

And while Comcast, Nielsen and some of the TV networks are trying to figure out how to change this, right now timeshifted TV is much less valuable for them than live TV. (Hence the warm reception for Twitter’s “we’ll bring our viewers to live TV” pitch.)

But it does mean the TV Industrial Complex isn’t going away anytime soon. You guys would miss it if it did.

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— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo