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Online viewing gains ground among TV watchers

July 29, 2008 |  5:20 pm
Heroes

Americans may love their TV sets. But more and more, they are also flipping open their laptops to watch TV shows.

According to a new study, the computer monitor, derided as a pixelated and cramped approximation of the TV set, is gaining ground on the boob tube. More than 20% of Americans watched some prime-time TV on a computer monitor during the spring TV season, up from 6% in the fall of 2007, according to the report (PDF download) from Integrated Media Measurement, a research firm in San Mateo, Calif.

"We are absolutely astounded at how fast this is happening," said Tom Zito, the firm's chief executive.

For the first time, the report's authors say, a "significant portion" of the online audience for a prime-time TV show is not also watching the show on TV. For example, last season, during a given week of the NBC show "Heroes" (pictured above), about 10% of people watched the episode for the first and only time on a computer monitor, Zito said.

Among people who turned to the Internet as a TV substitute, 50% viewed TV shows online as they became available. The other half powered up their computers to watch shows they had missed or to re-watch episodes. The study looked at the TV, Internet and cellphone media consumption of 3,000 people in six cities (Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami, Houston and Denver) over a month during the spring TV season.

The shift to watching TV on the computer is particularly true among women, perhaps ...

... the busiest contingent. The biggest group watching TV online is comprised of white, well-educated, affluent, working women between ages 25 to 44, the study said.

Appointment TV -- when a family would sit in front of the set -- has long been on a decline, first with the VCR and then the digital video recorder. Now, for some shows, more people are watching it on the computer than recording it with a DVR. That suggests that, instead of buying a DVR, some people may be just using the computer for time-shifting, the study said.

The study throws a wrench in the television industry's assertion that by streaming programs, it is not cannibalizing its regular audience, says PaidContent.

Then again, online viewing might bring in a new audience: people who have no idea when shows such as "Heroes" air live but want to see what all the fuss is about. In fact, those who watch TV shows primarily on their computers don't watch as much TV as those who watch on their TV, the report says. Only 13.6% of online viewers are considered "heavy watchers," compared with 22% of live viewers.

What it all means is that the computer monitor might be a good enough screen. So pop the popcorn and gather around the laptop.

-- Michelle Quinn

Photo: A scene from "Heroes." Credit: NBC

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