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Americans Have More TVs, Watch Less

January 6, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ Americans have more televisions than ever but are watching them less, suggests a year-end report by the A.C. Nielsen Co.

According to Nielsen’s figures, the average U.S. family watched 49 hours and 48 minutes of television per week in 1987 - more than seven hours a day. That was less than in 1986, when the average household logged 50 hours and 16 minutes of viewing per week. In 1985, it was an even 50 hours.

The percentage of viewing during prime time dropped by 2 percent in 1987 compared to 1986, while the percentage of viewing during the day rose by 3 percent.

Families are probably not, however, gathering around the fire to read classics and have lofty discussions. More likely they’re flocking to video clubs to rent the latest ″Rambo″ movie. Nielsen’s audience measurement system can tell when a television show is taped, but can’t detect VCR playback.

An increase in cable viewing also has been gradually reducing the network audience for years. It’s hard to tell exactly how much the network audience has decreased, however, because Nielsen switched last September to a new method of audience measurement and recruited a whole new batch of Nielsen families. The new numbers are registering lower across-the-board.

According to figures for last May, however, before people meters were used, Nielsen showed network viewing had dropped from an average of 36,160,000 million viewers in 1986 to 34,610,000 in 1987. The network share of the viewing audience dropped from 72.3 percent in 1986 to 68.6 percent in 1987.

Meanwhile, the number of television households has increased. Nielsen estimated at the beginning of the television season that there were 88.6 million homes with televisions, consistent with the pattern for the last several years of about a 1 percent increase per year.

Cable households are increasing, too. Nielsen recently announced that for the first time slightly more than half of all television households had cable, and it is estimated that more than 30 percent of all television households can receive 30 or more channels.

Cable has been steadily cutting into network audiences. According to the Cable Advertising Bureau, cable viewing rose from 11 percent of all viewing during the 1985-1986 television season to 13 percent during the 1986-1987 season. Just counting cable households, it was up from 20 percent to 23 percent.

The percentage of households with more than one television set has steadily increased, too. In 1987, 39 percent of all U.S. homes had two televisions, and 20 percent had three or more, a rise of 1 percent in each category compared to the figures for 1985.

Sixty-five percent of households have only color sets. Thirty percent have both color and black-and-white. Only 5 percent have only black-and-white.

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