The Original Couchable Media

A new study is out, from the Nielsen-funded Council for Research Excellence, and it dispels some of what we think we know about new media:

…younger baby boomers (age 45-54) consume the most video media while confirming that traditional “live” television remains the proverbial “800-pound gorilla” in the video media arena.

In addition to the revelation that consumers in the 45-54 age group average the most daily screen time (just over 9 1/2 hours), the VCM study found the average for all other age groups to be “strikingly similar” at roughly 8 1/2 hours — although the composition and duration of devices used by the respective groups throughout the day varied.

The research also found that:

– Contrary to some recent popular media coverage suggesting that more Americans are rediscovering “free TV” via the Internet, computer video tends to be quite small with an average time of just two minutes (a little more than 0.5 percent) a day.

– Despite the proliferation of computers, video-capable mobile phones and similar devices, TV in the home still commands the greatest amount of viewing, even among those ages 18-24. Thus, in the eyes of the researchers, this appears to dispute a common belief that Internet video and mobile phone video exposure among that group (and the next one up, age 25-34) were significant in 2008.

For those of us steeped in the virtual world of the web, it’s easy to forget just how important television is to our culture. But that said, I think studies like this miss an important point about what “television” actually means today.

I’ve been writing a lot about Boxee, and in my last post called it “couchable media,” and this study only makes me like that term even more. It’s true that users/audiences want is media that is easily consumable, that they can enjoy while kicking back on the couch. On one hand, there is an element of escapism; on the other, I think there is a very social element at work. Far from the bowling alone metaphor, television is quite a social thing. It’s true that we view television programming from within our homes, but it’s not always that we’re sitting alone. We often watch together, and we then talk about what we watch with other people.

And increasingly, new media, such as blogs and Twitter, allow us to liveblog and livetweet, making the experience of television even more overtly social. And sites such as YouTube allow us to share what we’re watching on television with others, in smaller, bite-sized chunks. Today, couchable media doesn’t have to mean bowling alone. When I watch BSG with Boxee, my friends there get alerted to the fact that I like that show. And with my iPhone handy, I’m hardly ever watching TV without twittering what I’m watching.

Framing these types of studies, then, in terms of “800-pound gorillas” is really the wrong approach — media is never used in isolation. The world is increasingly participatory, and net-based media such as blogs and twitter don’t replace other media, but simply add to them.

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