The way Americans watch television continues to evolve
by Brett Buckner
Special to The Star
Jun 15, 2012 | 3720 views | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Charles Battles misses the days of “Ozzie and Harriet.” Those were the simpler times when Wally and the Beaver were always getting into trouble and family values were important because “Father Knows Best.”

“Today,” said Battles, who lives in Anniston, “there are too many reality shows or shows with sex and violence in them and not enough family-oriented programs.

“Aahh, the good ol’ days. Where have they gone?”

Growing up, Battles only had two channels to choose from — WBRC Channel 6 or WAPI Channel 13. Today, with so many channels to choose from, Battles is constantly flipping without staying on one show for more than a few minutes — save for a college football game. But for all his frustration, Battles has learned to adapt.

“Technology has definitely changed the way people watch television,” he said. “I, myself, don’t watch a lot of TV, but I do love the fact that if I see a program being advertised, I can go in and set my DVR. I also like the fact that I can pause any program that I am watching if the phone rings or I need to take a bathroom break.”

Sept. 7, 1927, marks the birth of television. According to a recent USA Today and Nielsen Media Research study, the average American household has more televisions — 2.7 — than people — 2.5. Televisions have grown in more than just number, experiencing a remarkable evolution in recent years.

In 2004, the average TV was 27 inches. Today, the average TV is 37 inches, a size that’s projected to reach 60 inches by 2015. But it’s not just the size of televisions that have grown in recent years. It’s also the availability of programming.

The Internet has forever changed the way Americans consume TV programming. For better or worse, those “Leave it to Beaver” days of the family gathering on the living room couch at a certain time to watch their favorite program are a thing of the past.

By renting shows that recently aired through iTunes, Netflix and Hulu, people can now watch shows and movies whenever they want. And technology is moving in the direction of Smart TV, where web-based technology allows Internet access to television. Currently, Smart TV has sold more than two million units worldwide, but it’s in less than a million U.S. homes. Like Blu-ray players before it, the technology is still in its infancy, but that won’t last.

“We rarely watch TV in real time anymore and when we do, we’re usually watching one show while recording another,” says Angie Finley, a public relations specialist at Jacksonville State University . “We are heavy Netflix and Apple TV (iTunes) streaming users in our family.”

Pause and play

In 1999, TiVo was launched, changing the way people watch television. With “DVR-ing” viewers could record shows while watching them — allowing for pausing or skipping commercials — or simply recording shows to watch later. In its prime, TiVo had more than four million users but soon DVRs transcended TiVo. Now, a company like DirecTV has more than 19 million users, most of whom have DVRs as part of their service.

No longer do Americans schedule their lives around TV shows. Now they schedule TV shows around their lives.

“I love my TV and watch almost exclusively via TiVo,” says Lucile Bodenheimer, a clinical psychologist at the Bodenheimer Psychological & Counseling Center in Anniston, adding that she has one with more than 2,000 hours of viewing. “Since I work until 7 p.m. or later most nights — in fact, it’s unusual for me to leave the office before 8 p.m. — by the time I eat and then exercise, my TV viewing time doesn’t even begin most nights until 9 or 10 p.m.”

The ability to pause live TV can reach the point of a natural reflex.

“I’m so used to being able to fast forward, rewind and pause my entertainment,” Finley said about a recent drive to work, “that I caught myself reaching up for the radio button in the car because I missed part of what the DJ said. For a half a second, I actually thought I could rewind him.

“What does that tell you about the age we’re living in?”

The Digital Age

According to a 2011 study, one in four people used Hulu to watch TV and movies, while 56 percent say they had recorded live TV at least once in the past month.

But for the enormity of plasma screens in American homes, the digital age has made movies and TV more accessible than ever. Angie Finley can often be found in the doctor’s office watching streaming programs on her mobile device.

“I often watch movies and such on my iPhone or iPad via iTunes or Netflix while I’m stuck in the chair,” Finley said. “It’s nice to have it all portable. (But) I really don’t watch so much TV that I have to have it with me all the time.

“It’s more a matter of being so busy that, when I can pause to catch my breath and watch a bit, I want it to be waiting for me and not the other way around.”

Not to mention the fact that watching TV via portable device is a lot safer.

Monty Clendenin, a retired pastor who lives in Jacksonville, remembers growing up in Texas when his family had a 100-foot TV antenna they “honed in” on a signal by sliding a wad of tin foil up and down the antenna wire. Doing that only brought in three stations. It also made his dad fall off the roof while trying to redirect the antenna. He wasn’t injured, just crushed the rose bush.

“From the technology standpoint,” Clendenin said, “it takes me three remotes to turn on my TV.”

That’s the one thing that won’t change any time soon.

Contact Brett Buckner at brettbuckner@ymail.com
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The way Americans watch television continues to evolve by Brett Buckner
Special to The Star

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