July 05, 2012

By Cheryl Pearson-McNeil

NNPA Columnist


I’ve said it before – we are spoiled rotten.  Reviewing Nielsen’s latest Cross-Platform Report, How We Watch from Screen to Screen, I can’t help but smile and remember the earlier days of “watching television.”  (You, know the one screen, the only option we had). I suspect a good many of you sometimes get a bit nostalgic, too (even though now we probably would be hard-pressed to part with any of our current technological conveniences).  Before flat screens, HD, satellite, DVR, cable, hundreds of “channels” and the internet, plus a growing number of devices to watch “TV” – we had one, maybe two (if you were lucky) TV “sets” in the house.  Before we had all of these fancy remotes, people actually got up to manually turn a dial to change stations, adjust the volume and turn the set on or off.  Back then, which wasn’t actually all that long ago, there were maybe five broadcast stations – the three major networks ABC, CBS and NBC, followed by PBS and maybe an independent station or two which required a tweak of your TV antenna to achieve a clear picture, and you know the secret tool was that aluminum foil. I know a lot of y’all know what I’m talking about.

Today, of course, we can watch video or media content whenever, wherever and however we want – on actual televisions that are connected to either cable, telephone company or satellite subscriptions, game consoles or timeshifted viewing (DVR, on-demand and cloud-based DVRs); or on our computers, tablets or mobile phones through online streaming with Netflix, Hulu and other video apps.   We’re talking everything here – from new movie releases, to our oldie-but-goodie TV shows and everything in-between. 

However, even with all of these cool technological choices, the latest Cross-Platform Report revealed that television remains the platform of choice for watching content. Now, the television as certainly gone through a few facelifts, but it is still one of the main sources we use. The number of people who have HDTV sets grew by more than 8 million over the past year.

Live and time-shifted TV reigns supreme; accounting for more than 33 hours of viewing per week on average among Americans.  Our community, however, is not average as we continue to top those numbers.  The study shows that African-Americans still over-index in traditional TV viewing, clocking more than 57 hours a week in front of our televisions.  The average African-American household also owns four or more televisions. Yes, this is great for darting from room to room without missing a beat of your favorite show; but, I personally stay super-glued to my comfy couch and only watch one of the four TV’s in the house.

Even though all Americans watch more traditional television than any other platform, the Cross-Platform Report shows that traditional TV viewing actually declined one half of one percent (or about 46 minutes per month) after consistent year-over-year growth. This is attributed to simply leveling off after a period of sustained growth, weather, economic factors or the plethora other viewing options available to us we’ve already named.  Of our total monthly viewing time, all TV homes (including those with cable provider-enabled time-shifting and homes with DVRs) report watching 13 hours of timeshifted TV.  In homes with DVRs only, that number jumps to 27 hours and 30 minutes per month.  In the African-American community, those numbers are nearly 9 hours and just over 22 hours, respectively.

Americans also watch video on our mobile devices, which are increasingly becoming mini, handheld TVs.  Last time I mentioned, 54.4% of Blacks owned smartphones and 50.4% of U.S. mobile subscribers owned smartphones.  And, of all American smartphone owners, 33.5 million people now watch video on their phones—an increase of 35.7% since last year.  Blacks, Hispanics and Asians all average four hours and 20 minutes a month of viewing on our smartphones.  White Americans average three hours and 37 minutes a month watching video on their mobile devices. 

So, what does all of this mean?  For one thing, it means the media industry may one day have to redefine the terms “TV household” and “TV viewer.”   And, as I repeatedly try to remind us all, our choices mean that marketers are going to have to pay closer attention to our community and the significant combined buying power our choices represent.  The operative word being power.

Cheryl Pearson-McNeil is senior vice president of public affairs and government relations for Nielsen. For more information and studies go to www.nielsenwire.com.

Category: Opinion