Multiscreen Video Up, But TV Still Rules

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After years of steadily rising TV viewing, the monthly time Americans spent tuned to traditional television fell 1.9% in the first three months of 2012 — while video viewing on PCs, smartphones, tablets and game consoles grew.

That’s according to Nielsen’s most recent quarterly analysis of cross-platform usage. The research firm found TV viewing dropped an average of six minutes per day, to four hours and 38 minutes, in the first quarter, which came after a 0.5% decline in monthly TV time during fourth-quarter 2011.

At the same time, Internet video was up to five hours and 24 minutes monthly in the first quarter, though Nielsen said it couldn’t make a direct comparison with the four hours and 33 minutes it measured a year earlier, because of a change in methodology. Viewing on mobile devices rose 3.8%.

One potential cause for the Q1 dip in TV: The number of U.S. television households declined by 1.5 million, to 114.3 million, as cable and broadcastonly losses didn’t make up for satellite and telco TV gains, Nielsen figures show.

So is this the smoking gun proving over-the-top video and cord-cutting are finally making a dent in TV, however small?

Not necessarily, according to Nielsen senior vice president of client insights Dounia Turrill. Overall video consumption continues to expand, she noted: “I wouldn’t suggest that six minutes less of traditional television per day is a significant drop. What it shows is that there are more options outside of traditional television.”

It’s worth noting that live TV still rules the roost, accounting for 89% all video viewing in the first quarter, while about 7% was time-shifted viewing on TV, which includes digital video recorder and video-on-demand playback, according to Nielsen.

Meanwhile, other factors appear to have boosted traditional TV viewing levels a year ago, Turrill said. In an economic downturn people tend to stay at home and watch TV, while the winter of 2011 was unusually cold on the East Coast and in the Midwest.

“There is still room for increased content consumption across all platforms,” Turrill said.