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Cable Technology Feature Article

May 03, 2011

Number of Televisions Owned in U.S. Declines

By Jamie Epstein, TMCnet Web Editor

It has been a staggering 20 years since something like this has happened—the number of homes in the United States that own television sets has decreased.

The Nielsen Company, a research firm that conducts surveys on television ratings, looks at how TV set ownership can potentially affect these ratings. They recently announced that 96.7 percent of American households now own television sets, down from 98.9 percent.

Nielsen claims there are two major factors affecting this lowered number. These factors include poverty and technological advances.

Many low-income households are struggling just to pay the mortgage on their homes and put food on the table, and many no longer own TV sets. This economic depression has been enhanced by higher food prices and drastically increased gas prices. When the going gets tough, television sets have to get going—as they are extremely expensive and something you don’t actually need to survive (though some might disagree with this statement).

 “They are people at the bottom of the economic spectrum for whom, if the TV breaks, if the antenna blows off the roof, they have to think long and hard about what to do,” Pat McDonough, the senior vice president for insights and analysis at Nielsen said in a statement. Most of these households do not have Internet access either. Many live in rural areas.

Technological advances from streaming websites like Netflix, have allowed the younger generation to watch all of their favorite shows and movies through their computers or tablets, which has contributed to the reduction in the amount of television sets being purchased. This factor is also propelling Nielsen to seriously think of redefining the term “television household” to include Internet video viewers.

“We’ve been having conversations with clients,” said McDonough. “That would be a big change for this industry, and we’d be doing it in consultation with clients if we do it.”

Nielsen’s household figure results show that although most Americans rely heavily on the TV set, some people are being forced to look at other viewing options. The “persistently rocky economy” is “the driving factor,” the company says in the report.

Nielsen explains the way they view the results: “While Nielsen data demonstrates that consumers are viewing more video content across all platforms — rather than replacing one medium with another — a small subset of younger, urban consumers seem to be going without paid TV subscriptions for the time being. The long-term effects of this are still unclear, as it is undetermined if this is also an economic issue that will see these individuals entering the TV marketplace once they have the means, or the beginning of a larger shift to online viewing.”

Jamie Epstein is a TMCnet Web Editor. Previously she interned at News 12 Long Island as a reporter's assistant. After working as an administrative assistant for a year, she joined TMC (News - Alert) as a Web editor for TMCnet. Jamie grew up on the North Shore of Long Island and holds a bachelor's degree in mass communication with a concentration in broadcasting from Five Towns College. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves