Nielsen report tracked trends over last five years

Broadcast TV viewers are spending more time with the drama found in sports, reality and hourlong scripted series, and less time with sitcoms and news, according to a Nielsen report tracking viewing trends in the past five years.

Nielsen’s survey of English-lingo broadcast TV viewing in the 2009-10 season confirmed what is already taken as gospel in the biz: Hourlong scripted dramas rule the roost in primetime for the Big Four and CW.

Drama skeins accounted for 41% of viewing on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and CW in 2009-10, up from 40% in the 2004-05 season. Variety/reality programs comprised the next biggest chunk at 24%, up from 21% in 2004-05, followed by sports (12%, up from 8%), sitcoms (9%, down from 11%) and news/docu fare (3%, down from 5%).

The average American watched 35 hours and 34 minutes of TV a week last season. Kids ages 2-11 averaged 25:48 hours of tube time. As usual, adults older than 65 were the most avid couch potatoes, taking in 48:54 hours a week. Of the nation’s 115.9 million TV households, 30.9% have four or more TV sets; three sets are found in 24.4% of homes and 28.4% have two sets.

The balance of power between broadcast and cable nets continues to shift. The broadcast nets accounted for 16.6% of U.S. TV ratings in 2009-10, compared with 18.3% in 2005-06, while ad-supported cable nets climbed to 18.6% of ratings, from 16.8% in 2005-06. (Bear in mind that the ad-supported cable category encompasses 40-plus channels compared to five for broadcast.) Premium cablers (HBO, Showtime and Starz) have held steady at 1.4%-1.5% of ratings over the same period.

Nielsen’s survey also underscores the dramatic rise in DVR use in the past few years. As of July, 37.3% of TV households have DVRs, up from 1.2% in January 2006. But the majority (71%) of DVR homes still have only one such device; 24% have two and only 5% have three or more. Most DVR viewers get their service through their cable or satellite set-top box; only 3% have a stand-alone DVR unit perched on top of the TV set.

Viewers 45 and older remain the most eager to time-shift their TV viewing. The 45-plus crowd makes up 37% of DVR viewing, up from 28% in 2006.

The availability of high definition TV has also skyrocketed in the past three years, ever since the feds gave it a push by mandating that broadcast stations transition to all-digital telecasting in June 2009. In July, 54.2% of TV households were able to receive high-def TV, up from 10% in July 2007.

In keeping with the everything’s-bigger-in-Texas motto, the top 25 market with the highest percentage of HD-capable homes is Houston, with 64.9%. Portland, Ore., has the lowest penetration with just 50%.

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