The times (and technology)—they are a-changin’

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Technology is moving faster than the speed of light. Are you keeping up? Eighty-eight year old actress Betty White—whose popularity has gone through the roof lately—was marveling at how “live” TV was such a unbelievably big deal back in the 1940s and ’50s when her 63-year career began. Back then owning a television was a luxury. Today, Black families typically own more televisions per household than any other demographic group. ’Fess up—do you have more televisions in your house than people?CherylPearsonMcNeilbox

Despite the fast pace of technology, don’t believe the hype that TV viewing is on the demise. Watching TV is still the most popular way to watch video programming. We can’t even just call it watching television anymore, because it’s not: people watch video in three distinct ways: on their televisions, via the Internet and on their mobile phones. And, video viewing has grown in all three mediums. That’s according to the latest edition of The Nielsen Company’s (my employer) Three Screen Report, which analyzes the measurements taken from our national TV households, our online sample and our mobile insights surveys. The report shows that U.S. households are watching more video programming because superior technologies are improving the experience in both quality and convenience. Here’s the breakdown of how we’re splitting our time between the three screens:

•U.S. households spent an average of 158 hours and 25 minutes each month watching television in the first quarter of 2010, an increase of two more hours a month than in the same period last year. (The televisions in my house have gotten so complicated I can’t even turn them ON unless my 13-year old does it for me! Just between us? I think he programmed them that way on purpose.) But, I digress…

•63.5 percent of homes have broadband Internet access. Nielsen data shows that the number of homes using TV and the Internet at the same time grew nearly 10 percent, up to 3 hours and 41 minutes per month. And, some 134 million people watching video online spent an average 3 hours and 10 minutes during the month doing so.

•Nearly a quarter of all households (up 38 percent over last year) have smartphones—fancy mobile phones that can do almost anything (except track down your ex-husband when tuition is due, where’s the “app” for that I’d like to know?). The mobile video viewing audience grew more than 50 percent over last year. And the 20 million-plus people who watch mobile video in the country now spend an average 3 hours, 37 minutes doing just that. Amazingly, more than half (55 percent) of that mobile video audience is 25–49, not teenagers, as we might expect.

And apparently a lot of us are trying to keep up with the “Jones” because according to the Nielsen report, of all the TV households in the US, more than half now have a high-definition television and receive HD signals (Maybe it’s me, but my failing eyes need a 42” screen in order to see anything!) More than a third of homes have a digital video recorder, making it possible for more of us to watch TV programs on our own schedule and to timeshift (playback at our convenience).

But admit it: The technology is coming at us so fast it’s intimidating, isn’t it? I hate to admit it (working for Nielsen and all), but I did not know I had Video-On-Demand, until my nephew Tyler showed me. Before that I was still heading out to rent videos—yes, out because I certainly hadn’t discovered online video rental. But one particularly nasty rainy night Tyler said (without a hint of sarcasm in his voice, because he was only nine years old then and sarcasm didn’t hit ’til his teen years) “You don’t have to go out, Auntie Cheryl, you have everything you need right here.” He flicked a button, and asked, “What would you like to watch? Drama, action, comedy?” And just like that a whole new world opened up to me.

Yes, technology is moving rapidly, but it isn’t cheap. And as consumers I think we should let our wallets dictate the pace at which we keep up. And just between us, unless the newfangled stuff comes replete with a non-sarcastic nine-year-old instructor who doesn’t make me feel stupid for not knowing what I don’t know, I’m perfectly content doing things the old school way.

(Cheryl Pearson-McNeil is the senior vice president of public affairs and government relations for The Nielsen Company, the world’s leading market research company. For more insights go to http://www.nielsenwire.com.)

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