A new study from Nielsen Media Research simultaneously highlights some of this society’s most pressing and intractable problems—and some of our most striking opportunities.
As headlined by the Associated Press, the report indicates “TV’s Taking Over in U.S. Homes” and conveys the disturbing news that for the first time, the average American home now contains more television sets than people. The typical household accommodates only 2.55 people, but 2.73 televisions. An astonishing 50% of all homes boast three or more TV’s, and only 19% contain just one. In 1975, by contrast 57% of households owned only one television, and only 11% contained three or more.
Moreover, all these new television sets in bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, saunas and exercise rooms have led to a vast increase in the amount of television each individual regularly views. As recently as 1996, the average citizen watched 3 hours, 59 minutes a day – an already excessive number that increased to a staggering 4 hours, 35 minutes a day in 2005-2006. That represents an increase of some 10% -- or more than four additional hours per week – in just ten years. Robert Thompson, professor of television and pop culture at Syracuse University, expressed amazement at the new figures. “A lot of people thought that as we entered the 21st century, there was only so much TV that people could watch,” he told the New York Times. “And others have said that because of new media, the TV era was somehow over. But TV viewership numbers are going up….”
Those increases proved also most notable among the most vulnerable segments of the population. Teenagers spent 3% more time in the last year watching television while younger children (aged 2 to 11) increased their viewing by 4% -- including a 6% increase during late night. African American children (aged 2 to 11) increased their viewing by a full 10% in the last year, while Hispanic children in the same age group spent a staggering 14% more time with the tube.