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Americans Are Watching Less Traditional TV as Smartphone Media Usage Booms

Half of U.S. households now have subscription VOD service like Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu — matching DVR penetration: Nielsen

U.S. consumers on average still guzzle most of their media content from the TV trough, but live television viewing continues to decline as usage of smartphones and tablets to watch video and consume other media skyrockets, according to a new report from Nielsen.

In the first quarter of 2016, daily time spent using smartphones to consume media among U.S. adults (18+) shot up 60% — from 62 minutes a year earlier to 99 minutes per day. At the same time live TV dropped 1%, declining about 3 minutes on average, from 4 hours 34 minutes in Q1 2015 to 4 hours 31 minutes, and compared with 4 hours 51 minutes in the first quarter of 2014, per Nielsen’s quarterly Total Audience Report, released Monday.

Moreover, the average time spent watching TV is skewed by 50-plus viewers. For the 18-34 demo, 39% of media consumption happens on digital (smartphones, tablets and PCs) and 15% on connected-TV devices (like game consoles, Apple TV, Roku and Google Chromecast) versus 29% with live TV and 17% with radio. Americans aged 50 and older spend 53% of their time spent with media in front of the TV, with 21% on digital platforms, 17% on AM/FM radio and 8% on connected-TV devices.

Nielsen pointed to another symbolic milestone reflecting changing media behaviors: As of Q1, about half of all U.S. households now have subscription VOD service like Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu, the same number that have digital video recorders. However, the research firm noted, DVR penetration has plateaued while SVOD remains on a growth trajectory.

Given the aggregate trends, it’s no wonder that traditional TV networks are with varying degrees of urgency shifting to stay relevant as they media-consumption patterns shift to other platforms. That includes everything from the HBO Now and CBS’s All Access over-the-top plays to NBCUniversal’s Seeso subscription VOD service, and from Viacom’s MTV launching a channel on Snapchat and TLC broadcasting a live birth on Facebook.

On digital platforms, Nielsen found that the heaviest users drove a disproportionately large amount of overall time spent consuming media. On TV, 52% of the total minutes viewed come from the top 20% of TV users. By comparison, a whopping 83% of smartphone video viewing, 87% of in-home PC streaming and 71% of TV-connected device usage stems from the top 20% of users.

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