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Reminder: You (Still) Love Your TV

Moan about it all you want, but you're spending as much time as ever in front of your set.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

This week’s Disney/Dish deal, which might lead to a Web TV service in our lifetime, is very exciting. But while we wait for the future to arrive, it’s good to remember that lots of people are okay with the status quo, even if they say that’s not the case.

New numbers from Nielsen’s Cross-Platform Report remind us that Americans spend nearly 34 hours a week watching TV — not on the Web or their phones, but on live TV, just like they have for decades.

That number, not surprisingly, shrinks as Americans get younger: Nielsen says 18- to 24-year-olds average a mere 22.5 hours a week, while people older than 65 are logging 50.5 hours a week.

Nielsen’s numbers do show that live TV time is dropping off a small bit, which makes sense to people who read things like the thing you are reading right now. In the last quarter of last year, Americans were averaging 155 hours and 32 minutes a month watching live TV; two years earlier, that number was 156 hours and 24 minutes a month.

But that doesn’t mean that TV time is dropping off. Because Americans are spending more time watching TV shows on their DVRs, and via their pay-TV system’s video on demand offerings.

Nielsen says we watched 14 hours and 40 minutes of “time-shifted TV” last quarter. That’s up from 12 hours and 38 minutes two years ago, and if you added it back to the live TV numbers, it shows that our overall TV time — again, not Web TV or other variants, but time spent watching “regular TV” — is up.

Right now those time-shifted hours aren’t as valuable for the TV Industrial Complex as live hours, because people are either skipping ads when they watch those shows, or the ads they do see don’t carry the same weight with advertisers.

The TV guys are trying to solve that problem, but even if they do, it may take a while. And there’s an obvious long-term trend that worries the TV guys who think about the long term, and gives people who invest in platforms like YouTube a lot of hope. But the near-term looks just like it always has.

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