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Forget the internet: Americans still glued to TV sets in 2012

289 million screens glowing for days each month

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Americans are consuming more media on more kinds of devices than ever before, but plain old television still rules the roost, according to the latest statistics from market analytics firm the Nielsen Company.

Nielsen first rose to public prominence in the 1950s as the company behind the Nielsen Ratings, which remain the leading measurement of TV viewership. Today, Nielsen compiles usage statistics for the internet and connected devices as well, but it seems the bulk of its audience sample still loves the boob tube the best.

According to its latest report, 289 million Americans own at least one TV set, and most own more than one – many more, in fact. Fully 48 per cent of the viewing audience owns two or three TVs, and 41 per cent owns four or more.

By comparison, Nielsen found that only 278 million Americans were accessing the Internet during a sample period in September 2012, and of those, only 212 million did so using a computer, as opposed to a smartphone or some other device.

The total population of the US is estimated at about 315 million people.

What's really telling, however, is just how much time Americans spend with their connected devices. "Wasting time on the internet" has become a popular concept in recent years, but even in 2012 nothing wasted time like the idiot box. Each month, the average American spent 144 hours and 54 minutes – just over 6 days – watching traditional TV.

Surfing the web came next, but it wasn't a close second. On average, Americans only spent around 28 hours and 29 minutes online with their computers.

The largest share of that time, around 20.1 per cent, was devoted to social networks and blogs, Nielsen found. Online games were next at 8.1 per cent, then email at 7.1 per cent, and videos and movies at 5.2 per cent, followed by a variety of other websites and services.

Although TV is still the favorite medium for content, online video is definitely changing Americans' viewing habits. In addition to their couch time, the average American spent another 5 hours and 51 minutes watching video on a computer and another 5 hours and 20 minutes watching video on a mobile device.

Interestingly, both those figures are slightly higher than the average time spent watching DVDs or Blu-Ray discs – which was just 5 hours and 13 minutes – indicating that physical media is being passed over for more convenient online options.

Moreover, so-called smart TVs didn't much figure into the mix, either. Nielsen found that just 4 per cent of Americans owned an internet-enabled set in 2012.

One device category that does seem to be on the rise, however, is tablets. According to the report, in the second quarter of 2012, 16 per cent of television owners – or 46 million Americans – also owned a fondleslab. In addition, the majority of mobile subscribers were using smartphones, at 56 per cent.

Nielsen's figures may be taken with a grain of salt, however. Critics have argued that the stat giant's methods no longer hold up to scrutiny in the internet age, and that it regularly tweaks its sampling methodology to make sure its results favor a TV-centric bias.

One thing that is for sure, though: Even Nielsen admits that today's media landscape is vastly different from when it first started gathering TV viewing statistics in the 1950s.

In those bygone days, radio and broadcast TV were the only mass electronic media available. In 2012, Nielsen found that the number of Americans who watched over-the-air TV exclusively was down to just 9 per cent. ®

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