TV viewing is up |

TV viewing is up

The human race seems to be falling for the space aliens’ devious scheme: We’re watching more television than ever, according to a report released in February.

If you’ve seen that commercial starring Alec Baldwin, you know that TV is a plot devised by aliens to turn our brains into mush so they can scoop them out and eat them. Computers, the ad says, are making our brains even mushier by giving us more places to watch TV.

The Nielsen Co.’s “Three Screen Report” ” referring to televisions, computers and cellphones ” said the average American now watches more than 151 hours of TV a month. That’s about five hours a day and an all-time high, up 3.6 percent from the 145 or so hours Americans reportedly watched in the same period last year.

Television executives (and space aliens) have the recession and the heightened interest in election coverage to thank for the increase in TV watching. People are staying in and watching the boob tube rather than spending money outside the house.

“The timing of a lot of things has converged, what with … less money to go around and people entertaining at home more,” said Susan Bandura, director of strategy at San Francisco advertising agency Hoffman/Lewis.

Also contributing to the increase are the steady growth in TV programming and the number of TVs in households, Nielsen spokesman Gary Holmes said. The average U.S. household now contains more televisions than people, which means that family members or roommates can watch their favorite shows alone.

“Everyone has their own niche show they want to watch,” he said.

More Americans also are watching time-shifted television via TiVo and other digital video recorders. About 29 percent of households have DVRs, Holmes said, which let them record programs that air simultaneously. The amount of time spent watching time-shifted television was up 33 percent from last year, to seven hours and 11 minutes.

Newfangled distribution methods are adding to the total: an extra three hours on the Internet for people who watch online video, and four hours on cellphones for those who watch mobile video, the report said.

It’s not just the kids firing up their computers to check out shows. Adults ages 18 to 24 spend five hours watching video online, while 25- to 34-year-olds spend just over four hours. Those ages 35 to 44 and 45 to 54 spend three hours, 20 minutes and two hours, 34 minutes, respectively.

And on the web, work time is still prime time. About 65 percent of online video viewers stream content between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

Internet usage overall grew 3.6 percent from the same time a year ago, to 27 hours a month.

The amount of time spent watching traditional TV increases with age. Teenagers (12 to 17) spend 103 hours watching TV a month, whereas senior citizens (65 and older) spend 207 hours. That’s about seven hours a day – enough for two baseball games.

One of the biggest surprises in the report: Teens watch about 6 1/2 hours of video on a mobile phone per month, as opposed to the nearly three hours that adults ages 18 to 24 watch.

That raises the question: Does watching TV on phones still turn brains to mush suitable for a hungry alien?

The sharp downturn in the nation’s economic fortunes also is directly influencing the premises of a number of projects for the 2009-10 season, particularly on the comedy side.

“Last development season was impacted by the WGA strike,” said one high-level agent. “This development season, we’ve been hit by the economic strike.”

Indeed, if the strike last year gave network and studio execs a reason to scrutinize how much they spend on pilots, the recession forced them to do something about it this year.

Twentieth Century Fox TV chairman Gary Newman said the entire industry has been given a “wake-up call.”

“We had an incredible growth cycle – fueled by ad revenue, DVD sales and international markets – that has now changed course,” Newman said. “Now we’re being forced to be much more economical and thoughtful in the way we produce our shows.”

The belt-tightening has resulted in more in-house productions at the nets, a rise in lower-cost presentation reels rather than full-blown pilots and a willingness to cut pilots loose quickly if a star or director can’t be found.

“Everything’s shrinking – ratings are down, earnings are down, a lot of people are nervous,” one agent said.

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