Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Survival of the Couch Potato

So TV isn’t dying after all!  In fact, it turns out that Americans are watching more TV than ever, according to Nielsen

The average household now watches 20% more television than 10 years ago, when the first Internet pundits had already been predicting the death of the older medium. Oops, did I say 10 years ago? Let’s go back 20 years, pre-Internet, to George Gilder’s book Microcosm: The Quantum Revolution In Economics And Technology, which actually included a chapter titled “The Death of Television.” "In an age when computers will be responsive to voice, touch, joysticks, keyboards, mice and other devices,” Gilder wrote, “television is inherently passive, a couch potato medium.”
Old dogma dies hard. Just a day before Nielsen’s latest report, TG Daily ran the following headline: “AMD Claims TV Couch Potatoes are Dead." Bad timing aside, Jonathan Seckler, senior manager for the computer hardware company more formally known as Advanced Micro Devices, declared, “Television is a fad and the end of television can be seen. Entertainment has become much more visual [sic] intense. People do things now with all that video. People take entertainment with them and don't just go home and watch what happens to be streaming through the air at that time. You can see the end of couch potatoes."
Except that Americans have an awful lot of couches. And they have more TV sets than ever, so where there’s a couch, there’s bound to be a television. They have more channels to choose from than ever.  They have high definition pictures. They have on-demand services. They have DVRs, the ultimate time-delay device. All this means that nobody ever says anymore, “There’s nothing on TV.”
Note also that primetime viewing is actually flat from a year earlier. The average family no longer plops down in front of the master TV and watchew together anymore. Household members come in and out all day (or night) and construct individual TV schedules based on their own lifestyles. 
And the Nielsen numbers don’t even take into effect the TV shows being viewed on Internet screens via Hulu and its ilk, or on iPods, or on mobile devices.
Credit for at least some of the increase in TV viewing must also go, ironically perhaps, to the promotional power of Web tie-ins and social network buzz.
Of course, social networking and Internet use are also up in American households, often being done at the same time as TV viewing. The former activities provide the interactivity that the Gilders, Secklers and other pundits have been expounding on over the years. And, judging by the continuing failure of interactive TV schemes, the TV set provides the passivity that Americans seem to take as their birthright.

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