U.S. Television Homes to be down 1.2 million in 2012


The Nielsen Company has released its 2012 Advance/Preliminary TV Household Universe Estimate (UE) of 114.7 million, down from 115.9 million in 2011. Marking the first integration of the 2010 Census counts, the 2012 UEs reflect an aging population, as Baby Boomers increasingly shift out of the 35-49 demo, as well as greater ethnic diversity. 

Nielsen will adjust local UEs with the changes to be released in late August 2011 for the 2011-12 TV season and review TV penetration on an annual basis moving forward. The 2010 Census will play a significant role in determining population shifts from market to market.

The 2012 UEs also reflect a reduction in the estimated percent of U.S. homes with a television set (TV penetration), which declined to 96.7% from 98.9%. The last such UEs decline occurred in 1992, after Nielsen adjusted for the 1990 Census, and subsequently underwent a period of significant growth. Potential interrelated factors for the 2012 UE downward shift in TV penetration include:

1)      Digital Transition: The summer of 2009 marked a significant milestone with a shift from analog to digital broadcasting. Following the transition, consumers were only able to view digital broadcasts via a set with a built-in digital tuner (i.e., a newer TV set) or an analog TV set connected to a digital-to-analog converter box, cable or satellite.  TV penetration first dipped after this transition; the permanence of this trend was acknowledged in 2010 after the number of TV households did not rebound over time.

2)      Economics: As with previous periods of belt-tightening, the cost of owning a TV is a factor in this UE decline; TV penetration first saw sustained decreases in Q2 2009.  Lower-income, rural homes were particularly affected.

3)      Multiple Platforms: Nielsen data demonstrates that consumers are viewing more video content across all platforms—rather than replacing one medium with another.  However, a small subset of younger, urban consumers are going without paid TV subscriptions.  Long-term effects of this are unclear, as it’s undetermined if this is also an economic issue, with these individuals entering the TV marketplace once they have the means, or the beginning of a larger shift to viewing online and on mobile devices.

RBR-TVBR observation: We had said this a few times before and after the DTV switch: many folks (especially aging demos and lower income) that had traditionally watched television with an analog set with rabbit ears were not going to pick up digital signals—at least not as many. Obviously as the Census numbers show, a measurable number did not upgrade their television sets; get a rooftop antenna or switch to satellite or cable. Another note: there is also a measureable amount of viewers that simply switched to online or mobile viewing. The good news there is Nielsen’s cross-platform media measurement will allow them to report the total picture of video consumption, regardless of delivery method.