Media World: Why Is TV Viewership Still Rising?

TV viewership, which has been climbing steadily for years, is rising further still, thanks to a proliferation of cable channels and the growth in use of digital videorecorders (DVRs). Or is it because the boob tube remains a relatively cheap form of entertainment in these tough economic times?

A survey released earlier this week by Deloitte LLP
, called the "State of the Media Democracy," found a "surge" in TV viewing in a survey of media-consumption preferences among 2,046 U.S. consumers, ages 14 to 75. They claim to watch up to 18 hours of TV programming per week, up from 16 hours last year. Young people aged 14 to 26 increased their viewing the most of any demographic group, to 15 hours from 10.5 hours.
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These findings, which include DVR use, shouldn't be surprising. Data from Nielsen found that viewership for this past TV season was at an all-time high, says Karen Gyimesi, a Nielsen spokeswoman. "TV viewing is as strong as ever," she tells DailyFinance. Far from discouraging TV use, other media such as computers appear to be complimenting it.

Deloitte argues that the recession has increased demand for in-home entertainment, but other experts question that notion. "I think it's up for other reasons," says Brad Adgate of Horizon Media in an interview. Adgate attributes rising viewership to greater choices of programming. "There are more channels than ever before.... There are more TV sets than there are people in the home."

TV Is a Top-Three Favorite

Though the audience is larger, it's increasingly more fractured, which means that individual shows' TV ratings continue to fall. This puts pressure on TV networks to justify their advertising rates, which are based on their ability to deliver audiences. That's getting harder to do as Internet advertising continues to suck away money that had been spent on traditional media. TV executives constantly try to prove their relevance to advertisers, reminding them how many people like to watch the glowing box in their family rooms.

"More than 70% of survey respondents rank watching TV in their top-three favorite media activities. And when ranked alongside activities such as surfing the Web, listening to music or reading, 34% of consumers place it at the top of the list," according to a Deloitte press release. "This is a substantial increase from last year and more than double the percent selecting the number-two choice, the Internet, which came in at 14%."

Demand for TV advertising remains strong. CBS (CBS) recently said it needed to "take back" promo spots to accommodate demand from advertisers for commercial time, according to Broadcasting & Cable. Veteran advertising forecaster David Poltrack is estimating that the broadcast networks will have a 5% gain in TV revenue in 2010.

In an interview with DailyFinance, Deloitte's Ed Moran notes the contradiction between rising viewership and falling ratings, but he adds: "If you want to reach 20 million people, TV is the only way to do it."
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