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TV Singing the Young Man Blues

The drop off in television viewing among young men appears to be a trend that is not going to reverse:

    Note to the television networks: Pete Brandel is not missing. He’s right here, but like a lot of other 20-something men he’s just not watching as much TV.

    Mr. Brandel, a 24-year-old real estate agent in Chicago, says that these days he looks to the Internet for news and entertainment. Television, he says, is bogged down by commercials and teasers that waste his time.

    The television industry was shaken last October when the ratings from Nielsen Media Research showed that a huge part of a highly prized slice of the American population was watching less television. As the fall TV season began, viewership among men from 18 to 34 fell 12 percent compared with the year before, Nielsen reported. And for the youngest group of adult men, those 18 to 24, the decline was a steeper 20 percent.

    In a world where fortunes are made and lost over the evanescent jitterings of fractions of audience share, the Nielsen announcement was the equivalent of a nuclear strike, a smallpox outbreak and a bad hair day all rolled into one.

    But those who track the uses of technology say that the underlying shift in viewership made perfect sense. The so-called missing men might be more aptly called the missing guys, and they are doing what guys do: playing games, obsessing over sports and girls, and hanging out with buddies – often online.

    And the evidence is accumulating that the behavior of guys like Mr. Brandel is changing faster than once thought. The rapid expansion of high-speed Internet access lets the computer become the video jukebox that Mr. Brandel uses to watch comedy clips. The seemingly inexhaustible appetite for computer games, DVD players, music and video file-sharing – and, yes, online pornography – all contribute to the trend, these experts say. While no one activity is enough to account for the drop that Nielsen reported, all of them together create a vast cloud of diversion that has drawn men inexorably away from television.

    ….nearly 75 percent of males 18 to 34 have Internet access, according to the latest figures from comScore Media Metrix, making them the most wired segment of the population. By comparison, 57 percent of men from 35 to 44 are online, comScore found in research for the Online Publishers Association, which is releasing the results today.

    Between the allure of high-speed Internet services, computer games and other activities, “you begin to have the ability to get entertained and distracted in a million ways, and not just television,” said Rishad Tobaccowala, an executive with the Starcom MediaVest Group, a company that advises advertisers on where to put their money.

    Incompatible survey methods make it impossible to say that a rise in one kind of activity corresponds precisely to a drop in another. But study after study show that those in the age range of the “missing guys” are devoting much more of their time and attention to interactions that take them away from passive activities like watching sit-coms and even popular reality TV shows like “The Apprentice” and “American Idol.”

    ….The missing men “represent the most active Internet users by far, viewing more pages and spending more time online than any other age group,” said Michael Zimbalist, president of the Online Publishers Association. “There is no doubt that the Web has become the dominant medium in their lives.”

    Other distractions abound. Men in that age group are also gadget fans, with nearly 48 percent more owning video game consoles than the rest of Internet users and nearly 17 percent owning digital music players like the Apple iPod.

    ….But Jeffrey I. Cole, who heads the UCLA Internet Study at the University of California, Los Angeles, said, “We could show from day one that Internet users watched less television.” But four years ago, when the first survey appeared, television executives argued that “Internet guys are different” and would not watch much television anyway. Now, Internet use has so thoroughly permeated society that “the differences between users and nonusers has narrowed significantly,” he said, and “our work is showing that some of the time for the Internet is coming from television.”

    That is not news to Sean Hyde-Moyer, 38, a player of computer games whose own experience suggests that the shift away from television among young adults weaned on computers is continuing as they grow older.

    “There’s a lot more interesting things to do online than sitting and watching television,” he said. “Back when everybody was watching TV, whatever happened on ‘Seinfeld’ was what everybody talked about the next day. The only time I hear about television today is when there’s a clever advertisement” and people send a message around telling friends where to find it online. [NY Times]

I don’t watch TV when I’m on the computer and vice versa, and I have definitely watched less TV since the Internet has come along, especially since we got broadband at the beginning of ’91. So this all makes sense to me: the passive nature of TV is a nice break from time to time, and TV can be great when there is something of particular interest on, but people are going to watch TV “just to watch TV” less and less over time. Good.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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