Nielsen reports a drop in American household TV ownership in America

A new report from Nielsen suggests fewer American households have televisions:

The Nielsen Company, which takes TV set ownership into account when it produces 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.

There are two reasons for the decline, according to Nielsen. One is poverty: some low-income households no longer own TV sets, most likely because they cannot afford new digital sets and antennas.

The other is technological wizardry: young people who have grown up with laptops in their hands instead of remote controls are opting not to buy TV sets when they graduate from college or enter the work force, at least not at first. Instead, they are subsisting on a diet of television shows and movies from the Internet.

Nielsen suggests that affordability is really behind this drop in TV set ownership. But of consumer goods that are truly American, isn’t having a television at the top of the list? More than owning a car or a home (granted, these are more expensive) or a radio or a microwave (a lower ownership rate than TVs according to this), the television is a critical part of average American life. And with all of the purchases in recent years of nicer TV sets (LCD, plasma, 3D, LED, digital tuners), there are plenty of older TVs laying out or available for a low price at garage sales, consignment shops, and on Craigslist.

It makes sense that Nielsen is very interested in these figures. Nielsen’s methodology may not seem important to some people but these ratings are incredibly important for the TV industry. These ratings help set advertising rates which drive the industry and dictate which shows survive on the air and which do not. If ratings go up (whether that is because the show is more popular or because Nielsen can show that more people watch it), then networks can ask for more money.

If household TV ownership rates keep dropping, how might this affect the TV industry and TV networks?

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