TV viewing, time-shifting rise

Increase partially attributed to writers strike

Here's some data for buyers to chew on as they mull over the latest offerings from the broadcast networks during upfront week: Americans are spending more time watching TV than ever before. Yet nearly 80 million people watched some amount of time-shifted TV during the first quarter, meaning that lots of ads are likely getting skipped.

According to Nielsen's latest quarterly Three Screen Report, Americans averaged roughly 153 hours a month watching TV at home during Q1, nearly three more minutes than the same quarter in 2008. Meanwhile, the 79.5 million viewers who watched time-shifted TV during the quarter (up from 58 million a year ago) averaged over eight hours doing so. That's an increase of up 40% versus the same quarter last year and a full hour more than the the most recent quarter (Q4), per Nielsen (which is the parent company of Mediaweek).

Nielsen attributes some of the increase in time-shifted viewing to the 2008 writer's strike (when there was perhaps less original content for viewers to record and play back later). But the growth in time-shifted viewing is also likely driven by the growing penetration of DVRs. In March, Nielsen found that 30.6% of the households in its National People Meter Panel have a DVR.

Besides time-shifted viewing on TV, many viewers are watching their favorite TV shows on the Web, along with all sorts of other content. Over 131 million Web users watched some video online in Q1, an increase of 13% year over year. Those users spent an average of three hours watching Web video during the quarter, just seven minutes more than the previous quarter but a full hour more than Q1 2008 (a surge of 53.2%).

Perhaps not surprisingly, Web video consumption is being driven by younger demographics, found Nielsen's report. Adults 18-24 averaged over five hours a month (5:07) watching online video in Q1, nearly as much time as the group spent watching time-shifted TV (5:47). Nearly every other age group exhibited a preference for watching time-shifted TV over online video based on the gap between time spent on each activity. For example, adults 25-34 averaged over four and a half hours watching online video each month in Q1 but spent over 12 hours each month watching time-shifted TV.

Lastly, watching video on mobile devices continues to grow, albeit from a small base. Nielsen found that over 13 million Americans watched some video on a mobile device in Q1, an increase of 52% versus last year. That group averaged over three and half hours consuming mobile during the quarter, though that number was down slightly versus the previous quarter: 3:42 in the fourth quarter of 2008 vs. 3:37 in the first quarter of 2009, per Nielsen.