Change afoot among the TV set

Study: Nonbusiness online use surging with boomers

It's no secret that business professionals who are members of the baby boomer generation are constantly online for purposes related to work. Now, though, a sea change might be at hand: They're spending more downtime surfing the Internet than they are watching television.

Baby boomer professionals are spending 12.9 nonbusiness hours each week surfing the Internet and 11.8 watching TV.

The data are based on a survey by ChangeWave Research of 1,660 business professionals ages 45-63. ChangeWave relies on a preselected "alliance" of 20,000 members from the business and investor class to identify trends early.

For its "Internet & TV Viewing Survey," director of research Paul Carton says the firm focused on baby boomers because "we wanted to look at a segment well-rooted in the traditional TV model."

It's too early to call any results of the survey a "trend," he says, because it's the first of its type. Comparing it with another one planned in about six months will be more informative. Still, "it's an interesting look at an industry in transformation," Carton says. "It reminds me of when broadband first started to take off and dial-up services like AOL were just swamped."

Some of the report's more interesting findings:

-- Fifty-one percent of respondents maintain profiles on social networking sites, with LinkedIn slightly more popular than Facebook. Classmates, Twitter and MySpace come in a distant third, fourth and fifth, respectively. As much as they like such sites, however, 77% said they would abandon them if a fee were attached.

-- Asked which subscription service they'd be most likely to give up, 44% of the group said cable and satellite TV. Home telephone service, at 23%, was second, followed by a DVD rental service (11%), Internet service (5%), newspaper (4%), magazines (3%), cell phone services (3%) and satellite radio (1%).

It's important to note, though, that the open-ended question was not restricted to those who subscribe to all of those services. Presumably, there were many who couldn't say they'd cancel a magazine subscription, for example, simply because they don't subscribe to a magazine to begin with.

Perhaps that's why, on the flip side, when ChangeWave asked which subscription they would be least likely to give up, TV fared better. Internet service was first, with 56% saying it would be the last they'd give up, followed by TV (23%) and cell phone (6%).

-- About 69% of those surveyed have watched online video during the past 90 days. Among those who answered in the affirmative, YouTube led the way with 79% having watched video there, followed by a TV network Web site (39%), Hulu (16%), iTunes (11%) and Netflix (9%).

A separate report from Bernstein Research on Tuesday, though, could offer proof that ChangeWave's panelists are, as advertised, ahead of the curve: Bernstein's analysts say the average person consumes only two minutes of online video a day, compared with 309 minutes of live TV.

ChangeWave also asked, "How many ads -- if any -- are you willing to view when you watch video through your computer?" Only 3% answered, "as many ads as with conventional broadcasting," and 47% said, "dramatically fewer."

-- Finally, possibly most disturbing to TV executives, 30% of those surveyed said they watch less TV now than they did a year ago, and only 6% watch more. The No. 1 reason for watching less, "I'm just less interested in what's on TV these days," was cited by 62% of respondents.

But 26%, the second-highest response, said they watch less TV because they surf the Internet more.

The survey also asked, "Over the next six months, how likely are you to downgrade or cancel your TV service package?" Twenty percent answered very or somewhat likely.

The survey, according to the report, "shows a powerful shift occurring among boomers away from traditional TV viewing toward new types of online services and entertainment. Moreover, the transformation has affected lifelong habits."