TV Viewing Still Going Strong -- What's Going On?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the convergence of the television and the Internet. I’ve always thought that someday (sooner than later) most of us will be kicking back on the easy chair in the living room watching what we used to call a TV set, which will  be nothing more than a monitor picking up streams from zillions of sites the Web. Then yesterday I read this, and for a moment thought I might be wrong:

Americans are receiving more TV channels than ever before, but the number they actually watch does not appear to be growing, according the 2007 findings of an annual report on U.S. TV audiences from Nielsen Media Research.

For the first time, the number of channels “receivable” by the average TV household shot up past 100, jumping to 104.2 in 2006, up from 96.4 in 2005. But the number actually tuned by the average household remained about the same, moving to 15.7 in 2006 from 15.4 in 2005 and 15.0 in 2004, the first year for which Nielsen reports that statistic.

That pattern isn’t surprising to television researchers who have long known that people will only watch a limited number of channels regardless of how many options are available to them.

I came to my senses when I realized something else is lurking beneath the surface. People will change their behavior when there’s a compelling reason to do so. The old phrase “100 channels and nothing on” is as true today as it was years ago. It’s not about how many channels, it’s about how finely tuned those channels are to what people will watch. (Direct marketing 101, all over again.)

If the TV set turns into the Web-set, then I think we’ll begin to see major differences in this kind of research. It’s my bet that a symphony lover will change his TV viewing habits when he can watch a broadcast of a Finnish orchestra concert coming from Helsinki. The same will be true of a theater lover who can now watch a reading of a new Mamet play coming from Austin, Texas.

Then we’ll be in a world where there are 10 million “channels” and it won’t be the case that 7 or 10 traditional TV channels will rule the living room.

Check back with me in about 2010, will you?

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