Wakshlag: Television offerings have never been stronger

Is this the Golden Age of Television?

On Sunday, tens of millions of people across the U.S. will watch the 62nd annual Primetime Emmy Awards, celebrating excellence in American television.

Many feel the Golden Age of Television was in the 1960s, with classic comedies like “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” whose creator, Carl Reiner, is one of the industry’s most prolific Emmy honorees with 12 wins over his long career. Others might say it was in the ’70s, when the epic miniseries “Roots” captivated huge audiences night after night.

While each decade has its own right to claim excellence, I believe we are in the midst of what will eventually be seen as the true Golden Age of Television.

Television has never been bigger or more popular. According to Nielsen, the average viewer watched about 34 hours of television per week in 2009 — a record number despite all the other entertainment and news sources available to occupy one’s time.

Big-budget primetime comedy, sports and drama, once the exclusive domain of broadcast networks, are now widely seen on cable networks, generating increased viewership, and increased Emmy recognition, for dozens of networks. And year-round variety and choice for viewers have never been better. Television viewing used to drop substantially in the summer; that’s no longer true. The difference between the year-round average and the average in the summer has shrunk to 3%-4% over the past few years. TV summers weren’t so “golden” in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s or the rest of the 20th century.

The coming decade will be a TV fan’s dream. The content we are used to seeing on a home TV screen will be available on a wide assortment of multipurpose screens, with content delivered in many ways. Mobile video, iPods, iPads, broadband to PC and a plethora of electronic marvels make it possible to watch what we want, when we want, where we want.

For researchers this presents an immense challenge as we figure out how to account for and track viewing across all these platforms. For starters, we need to know how many watched, how often, for how long, on each screen and in what combination. If it were easy, we’d have figured it out already. It’s not.

But none of these developments would be exciting to anyone but a research geek or engineer without the content — and that’s where the real excellence lies. It’s that excellence that drives the business and what makes television so exciting. So sit back and enjoy the celebration. It’s going to be golden.

(Jack Wakshlag is chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting.)

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