Media consumption: US households spending more time with digital devices than watching TV

By August 23, 2013
A couple watching a tablet

Digital devices are set to become the primary media source in the United States this year, surpassing television. This trend is spearheaded by mobile devices, which have just overtaken desktop and laptop computers in terms of media consumption.

For several years now the decline of the television has been on the cards, but according to a report just published by New York-based market research company eMarketer, it appears that TV is finally about to be overtaken by digital media channels. Although 20% of all US citizens are still without access to the Internet, digital platforms of all kinds have already dethroned the TV set as the main source of daily content consumption. The report’s methodology has widened the definition of overall consumption time by acknowledging the phenomenon of multi-screen use/multitasking.  Thus if a person is using an Internet-connected device while the television is running simultaneously during a one-hour period, that is counted as a total of two hours of media consumption. This change in methodology is a clear pointer to how mobile is taking over consumer habits, generating a continuous flow of media content.

Digital increase driven by mobile and multiscreen

The fact that television has now been overtaken is due first and foremost to the increase in use of various types of mobile device, which are fostering the rise of fragmented, multiscreen consumption. A US adult today spends an average of five hours a day online with a connected device – ranging from fixed-line desktop computers and laptops to mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets – compared with four and a half hours in front of the television screen. This statistic underlines a fundamental trend: time spent in front of the TV has declined since 2012 in the United States, while by contrast digital media consumption is forecast to rise by just under 16% this year. The most significant share of the growth comes from mobile devices, with an average of two hours twenty minutes a day spent on tablets and mobile phones (excluding voice communication) during 2013, compared with a little over 20 minutes spent using this equipment as a media channel in 2010.

Reworking TV content towards ‘connected’ use

The eMarketer report does not however conclude that TV content is in certain decline. Changes in consumption patterns can be explained by the increasing availability of alternative competing devices, leading to more fragmented use of media. In fact content produced for television can also be viewed online, a telling example being the approach taken by CBS, which is actively developing its online platform and is enjoying constantly rising revenues – up by over 11% in the last half year. An initial response to digital from TV producers is the TV Everywhere strategy, which makes TV content accessible at any time across a wide range of mobile devices. In addition, multiscreen consumption patterns should encourage the development of connected television, fusing the traditional functionality of the small screen with the connectivity of mobile devices. With the development of useful accessories such as Google’s WiFi adaptor Chromecast, it is thus easy to envisage the TV set being transformed into a connected screen.

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