Don't Touch That Dial: TV Households Drop 1st Time in 20 Years

Tuesday, 03 May 2011 01:02 PM

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archie bunker, nielsenArchie Bunker would drop his remote and let his cigar sag into his beer at the news: The number of households with TV sets has dropped for the first time in two decades. The loveable '70s sitcom bigot always was glued to his TV set, but folks aren't these days, partly because the laptop is replacing the boob tube.

Because of the decline, the Nielsen Company, which factors TV set ownership into its ratings, will tell television networks and advertisers on Tuesday that 96.7 percent of American households now own sets, down from 98.9 percent previously, The New York Times reports.

The TV ratings giant cites two reasons:
  • The fact that some low-income households no longer own TV sets, most likely because they cannot afford new digital sets and antennas.
  • The fact that ballooning technology has spawned a generation of young people who have grown up with laptops instead of remotes and don't see the need to buy TVs. They opt to watch TV shows and movies on the Internet.
That second factor is propelling Nielsen to consider redefining the all-important ratings term of "television household” to include Internet video viewers.

“We’ve been having conversations with clients,” Pat McDonough, the senior vice president for insights and analysis at Nielsen, told the Times. “That would be a big change for this industry, and we’d be doing it in consultation with clients if we do it.”

Archie Bunker, TV chair
Archie Bunker's TV chair is bound for the Smithsonian.
Nielsen’s household tally indicates that, although TVs remain center stage of the average American’s media life, many Americans can take it or leave it — and they're leaving it.

The “persistently rocky economy” is “the driving factor,” the company says in the report to be released Tuesday, the Times reported.

As for Archie Bunker, well, The Washington Post reported last month that the instructions for the popular college diversity program “Archie Bunker’s Neighborhood” will be turned over to the Smithsonian Museum of American History on July 1. Also Smithsonian bound is the iconic chair from which he watched TV while barking orders at the son-in-law he called Meathead, in a grudgingly affectionate way. If those good old days were now, there's a convenient spot on the TV side table for a laptop — next to Archie's beer.

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