“What you do in the dark will always come out in the light.” Remember when your grandma used to tell you that? And you hoped like the dickens that she didn’t know what she was talking about. But well, yeah, she kinda did. Sorry. And you know how the more sophisticated and intellectual we become the more we say we don’t do “so and so?” “We don’t eat greasy foods because we know it’s bad for us;” “we don’t mix all our trash together because we recycle now;” and “we don’t watch all that much TV anymore because we simply don’t have time?” Umm hmm. Well, it’s light outside. And while I can’t vouch for the authenticity of your first two statements, I can tell you African Americans ARE spending almost 40 percent more time watching TV than any other American demographic group. I didn’t get this from grandma–because she’s probably sitting right there watching TV along with you–I got it from The Nielsen Company’s recently released comprehensive report, The New Digital American Family.
The thing is, unlike eating greasy foods or not recycling, watching TV doesn’t have to be a negative. If we use our consumer power for good, as I’m always stressing in this column that we should make it a point to do, we can use our viewing habits to our advantage. If we, as Blacks, are over indexing on television viewing–which means watching way more than anyone else–that means we should be demanding that we see people who look like us in the programs and commercials we’re viewing. If we’re watching more television than any other group we should be watching the type of programs that depict us in positive ways. And since we’re watching more television we should have a stronger voice of dissatisfaction, which we exercise fully if we don’t find these things happening. So the question shouldn’t be, “how much television are you watching?” The question should be rephrased: “as a connoisseur of television viewing, are you making your viewing preferences known by what you’re watching? And are you using your television viewing power for good?” Only you know the answer to that, but remember grandma’s words: what you do in the dark will always come out in the light.”
The Nielsen report also noted that TV ownership is down. While African Americans now own four or more sets per household, the number of American homes with a television set dropped to 96.7 percent from 98.9 percent. Why the decline? During a shaky economy, economics is always in the mix, especially with “luxury” items like televisions. Part of the decrease in TV ownership can be attributed to economic belt-tightening, particularly in rural or low-income households. You may also remember that back in the summer of 2009, the Federal Communications Commission mandated the switch from analog to digital broadcasting. After that transition, consumers were only able to watch TV via a newer TV with a built-in digital tuner, a satellite dish–or with a special digital-to-analog converter box to connect to their old analog set. Many people simply could not afford that upgrade, even though the government tried to subsidize the converters.
But while Americans overall are watching less television for the first time in 20 years, now at 114.7 million, down from 115.9 million, Nielsen data shows that consumers are actually viewing more video content than ever before. Through the wizardry of technology, video can be viewed on multiple platforms, like laptops, tablets, iPods or smartphones. Another recent Nielsen study shows that the number of Americans watching video on their mobile devices rose more than 40 percent in the last two quarters of 2010. That’s nearly 25 million people.
And, what does any of this mean? It means Nielsen still has a responsibility to measure all of this content and report the total picture of video consumption regardless of delivery method. And that we as consumers have more opportunity than ever before to express our preferences to “the industry”–TV networks, mobile companies, marketers and advertisers — who rely on us for our business and who must re-think the way they reach us for your hard-earned dollar. See? It all matters.
Cheryl Pearson-McNeil is the Senior Vice President of Public Affairs and Government Relations for The Nielsen Company. For more insights go to www.nielsenwire.com.