Are Americans Falling Out of Love with Their Televisions?

The latest Pew study asks about what Americans see as luxuries vs. necessities, as part of a longitudinal study of attitudes towards major categories of goods.

Clear majorities in polls conducted since 1973 have said that their TV set is something they couldn’t do without. Yet the latest Pew Research Center survey suggests Americans’ long love affair with their TV sets may be cooling.

Whether prompted by the recession or by the lure of new computers and other devices that can display TV programs as well as other kinds of streaming video, barely half (52%) of the public now say a television is a necessary part of their lives. That’s a decline of 12 percentage points since 2006 and the lowest proportion since 1973 to view a television as essential — even lower than the 57% who said a TV set was a necessity when the question was first asked in 1973.

Young adults have led the march away from the TV screen: Only 38% of those 30 or younger say a TV is a necessity, a 15-point decline since 2006. In contrast, perceptions of a television set as a necessity declined by just 6 points to 68% among respondents or older

Now far be it for me to impugn Pew (who seem like they do really smart and interesting pulse-taking research), but as of 2007 99% of US households had at least one TV, and the average household had 2.24 sets. So what’s the relationship here between what people say and what people do? If you’ve already got a TV set, how hard is it to say it’s not a necessity? [Of course, more people are getting video content online so that’s part of the reason for the drop and Pew accounts for that, but I’m looking at the other issue]

I think we place a lot of extra importance on self-reported survey data, where people express opinions, out of context. There’s no behavioral data here about what people are actually doing (i.e., selling their TV sets to buy something more important, or holding off buying new TV sets, etc.) If people respond to the question about the importance of the TV in a new way, does that really mean the perception of the TV has changed or does it point to a different way to answer the question?

What do you think this bit of data means? What are the consequences or impacts? Who should be taking notice of it, and what should they do?


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