New Nielsen data shows Wii leading pack

Viewing of streaming media and video-on-demand content continues to spike on gaming consoles, particularly among users of Nintendo’s Wii.

Nielsen issued the results of a survey Wednesday that found increases in usage of content apps like Netflix across Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3 and Wii. Nielsen surveyed 3,000 console owners age 13 and older in the U.S. in October. The survey highlights the fundamental shift in how vidgame console owners are using the devices, which offered little to no video just a few years ago — and that shift makes them a more attractive target for Hollywood and other content owners.

While Xbox and PlayStation users reported spending 14% and 15%, respectively, of their total time on the console watching streaming video, Wii users spent more than double that time using their consoles for viewing various media. A survey last year showed a similar pattern.

As for the amount of time users spent on the core gaming offering,the results were a mixed bag depending on whether gaming took place on- or offline. Xbox was the only console that saw a year-over-year increase in gaming online; PlayStation had the same distinction offline.

Gaming consoles are just one of the ways video content is being consumed alternative to incumbent multichannel distributors like cable operators and satcasters, but there’s plenty of evidence its headstart into this market ahead of either freestanding devices like Roku or connected TV sets like Sony’s Bravia make it the primary over-the-top delivery system.

A Nielsen survey in July found the Wii was second only to PCs as an access point for Netflix and Hulu. PS3 and Xbox were fourth and fifth.

Netflix is likely the primary video source across all consoles. Nintendo prexy Reggie Fils-Aime said 1.5 million Wii users were using Netflix every day. But the streaming service is the only content app Nintendo has (the company announced last month that Hulu Plus will be added soon).

In contrast, Wii’s competitors have made some big moves going back to 2010 that don’t seem to have closed the gap with Nintendo.

In November 2010, Xbox padded its already robust content offering with an interactive version of ESPN3, bringing thousands of hours of collegiate sports to the platform. Xbox added Hulu Plus in the spring. In August, Sony announced PS3 became a entry point for DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket; console already had MLB.TV and NHL Game Center.

Despite Sony’s and Microsoft’s focus on their video offerings, Wii may be capitalizing solely on a bigger installed base. While Xbox has been on a hot streak as of late, outselling the others for the past four months, Nintendo has sold 37.7 million Wii consoles in the U.S. as of November, according to NPD Group, well ahead of Xbox with about 31 million and PS3 with just under 19 million. Wii has also always appealed to a broader demographic than its counterparts, which have been more popular with the core gamer crowd.

Xbox and PS3 may have better luck in 2012. Xbox Live recently announced enhancements including Microsoft’s Bing search service and upgrade of Kinect, the voice and gesture-control device. Xbox Live is also making a sixfold increase in blue-chip content partners that will include Comcast and Verizon’s FioS TV.

Last month, Sony announced a revamped Video Unlimited service with as many 80,000 TV and movie titles to rent, depending on the territory.

Xbox and PlayStation also offer video via downloads but were basically flat year over year in that delivery mode, both with 5% of viewer usage levels. XBox’s storefront for downloading movie and TV content, Zune, isn’t as central to the video offerings as it once was. Sony’s download hub, PlayStation Network, hasn’t been as de-emphasized.

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