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TV Ownership In The US Down: Nielsen

May 4, 2011

TV ownership in the United States has dropped for the first time in 20 years, according to estimates from Nielsen Co. on Tuesday.

The decline is most likely due to the recession, with many households unable to afford to buy a new set. While retail prices for new HDTV sets are falling, you still pay top dollar for top-performing sets — in excess of several thousand dollars for high-end models.

Another driver of the fall is growing numbers of viewers streaming programs from their computers and mobile devices. Also, the 2009 transition from analog to digital broadcasting, when some TV owners did not purchase new digital sets or converter boxes, contributed to the fall.

Nielsen estimated that 114.7 million — 96.7 percent — of US homes will own television sets next year, down from the current 115.9 million — 98.9 percent.

Nielsen said “younger, urban consumers” were going without paid TV subscriptions and watching more video on the Web. “Long-term effects of this are unclear,” the firm said.

“It’s undetermined if this is also an economic issue, with these individuals entering the TV marketplace once they have the means, or the beginning of a larger shift to viewing online and on mobile devices,” it said.

“Nielsen data demonstrates that consumers are viewing more video content across all platforms — rather than replacing one medium with another,” it added.

According to a report from the New York Times, Nielsen is considering redefining the term “television household.” The change would estimate how many people are watching TV shows and movies on the Internet rather than on a TV.

“We’ve been having conversations with clients. That would be a big change for this industry, and we’d be doing it in consultation with clients if we do it,” Pat McDonough, senior vice president for insights and analysis at Nielsen, told NY Times.

“The media marketplace continues to evolve and become more complex,” McDonough said. “Some consumers are clearly being driven by the economy to make choices on the media devices they purchase.”

“Others are expanding their equipment to add more audio/video devices to their home. Still others may be deferring a TV purchase or replacing their TV with a computer,” she said.

Nielsen’s estimates are compiled from the results of the 2010 census as well as the behavior of roughly 50,000 Americans in the national sample that the company relies on for ratings projections.

“One thing we are seeing in the Nielsen sample are fewer people owning TVs. It was first evident in the sample in late 2008 during the worst of the financial crisis and the recession,” said McDonough.

TV-less households typically have incomes under $20,000. “They are at the bottom of the economic spectrum for whom, if the TV breaks or the antenna blows off the roof they have to think long and hard about what to do,” McDonough said.

“If you’re an affluent household – or most middle-class households – you’re going to get a satellite dish. If you’re a struggling household, likely you’re not going to be able to afford that option either,” she added.
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