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Old TV Habits Die Hard

2/28/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

The idea that online video viewing continues to rise won't come as breaking news to anyone who's followed the television space over the past year. But according to two new video viewing studies — Nielsen Media Research's A2/M2 Three Screen report and Leichtman Research Group's Emerging Video Service III survey — the old-school habit of watching TV on a video screen isn't in a free-fall decline … yet.

The LRG report stated that 34% of adults watch some type of video online content at home weekly, with 11% of those respondents staring at computer screens daily for their video entertainment. That's up from 25% who watched online video content weekly in 2008 and 25% two years ago.

But the silver lining for cable operators worried that a substantial number of consumers will choose to watch quality network series and specials via free or low-cost online streams, rather than through subscription-based cable, is that the viewing of television shows online is relatively rare.

Just 8% of adults view TV shows weekly, according to the report. While that's up from 6% last year, it's well short of the 24% of viewers that watch news clips, 20% that view YouTube or other user-generated video online, and 15% that watch sports news or highlights.

More important for the industry, only 3% of adults watching video programming online strongly agree that they would consider disconnecting their TV service to just watch Internet video. That's down from 4% last year. Further, those who watch recent TV shows online weekly are no more likely to consider disconnecting their TV subscription than others.

The findings come amidst a Nielsen report that claims traditional television viewing during the fourth quarter of 2008 reached an all-time high.

The average American viewer watched a whopping 151 hours of TV per month, up 10 hours from the same period last year and 15 hours from fourth-quarter 2007.

The increase is not surprising given the poor economy: More people are seemingly choosing to stay home and watch television rather than spending discretionary income on more expensive entertainment options.

But with Nielsen reporting increases for online and mobile video viewing as well, it shows that viewers are adding rather than subtracting from their video entertainment experience.

That doesn't mean network executives should ignore the growing trend of alternative viewing. Younger viewers — cable's future subscribers — are watching more online video. Nielsen reported that viewers between 18 and 24 have the fewest viewing hours a month on TV among adults — and the most time spent watching videos on the Web.

But for now, it seems that the inevitable discarding of traditional TV viewing to the entertainment scrap heap — along with eight-track players, video cassette recorders and vinyl records — is further away than initially expected.

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