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September 19, 2014
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Attitude toward TV undergoes cultural change

Television watching hours are not shrinking: they are growing.
By David Bauder
AP Television Writer (*)
According to pollsters, it is no longer shameful to talk about watching small-screen stuff

NEW YORK — Manjula Stokes has twice sworn off television, once throwing a set off her deck in a fit over an ex-husband’s sports obsession. Now she’s a devotee of programmes like Downton Abbey, Mad Men, Survivor and Masters of Sex.

The teacher from Santa Cruz, California, illustrates a subtle change in society’s attitude toward television. The medium is growing in stature, propelled by both art and technology. More worthy programmes are available at a time when viewers are becoming more comfortable setting up their own schedules to watch.

“I feel it’s more like reading a good book,” Stokes said. “The acting is better, the direction is better. I think it’s more serious as an art form.”

A CBS survey of 700 people in the US with Internet and television connections last year found that 28 percent said they’re watching more television than they did a year ago. Seventeen percent say they’re watching less, with the remainder indicating their habits are unchanged.

That may not seem like much, but there’s a long history of people saying they are watching, or plan to watch, less TV — even as Nielsen measurements proved the opposite is true.

In other words, liking television is becoming more socially acceptable.

“You can go to a sophisticated party in New York City now and people will be talking about television programming, not the latest art film or the latest play,” said David Poltrack, CBS’ veteran chief researcher. “You can go to a bar in a lower socio-economic neighbourhood and they’ll be talking about television. They may be talking about different programmes, but they’ll be talking about television.”

Now, for every award-winning drama there’s a series about botched plastic surgeries, naked dating or Kardashians. More than one, truthfully. But the push among cable networks during the past decade to make their own original series has significantly increased the amount of quality programmes.

For years, polls uncovered a certain shameful attitude toward watching television.

When asked in 2000 how much time they spent watching TV the previous day, 84 percent of respondents told the Pew Research Center it was less than four hours. That didn’t jibe with the Nielsen company’s finding that the average US citizan that year watched four hours, 15 minutes of television a day.

A Gallup poll in 1990 found 49 percent of people said they spent too much time watching television. Only 19 percent said they watched too little. Nine years ago when CBS began its annual survey, more people said they were cutting back on TV time.

This year, Nielsen estimates the average US citizen watches four hours, 50 minutes of TV a day.

“I think the quality is better,” said Yael Chanoff, a 25-year-old writer from San Francisco. She’s a fan of smart comedies like NBC’s Parks & Recreation. Many older shows Chanoff has seen, even hits like Friends, strike her as cliché-ridden.

Some better shows now have an attention to detail that reminds Stokes, who is 59, of work done by the MGM movie studio during the last century.

Cory Phare, a 33-year-old academic conference director from Denver, said he grew up watching a lot of television but drifted away. The ability to binge on well-written dramas like Breaking Bad, The Americans and Dexter through Netflix drew him back in. He just finished going back to watch the entire run of The West Wing.

“Even when I’m on a lunch break, I pull it up on my smartphone,” he said.

That’s another key to television’s resurgence. Viewers no longer depend on prime-time schedules set up in Hollywood boardrooms; they don’t even have to depend on television. Stokes, Chanoff and Phare all consider themselves fans of modern-day TV, and none of them have cable or satellite subscriptions.

“My friends all watch it on computer,” Chanoff said. She finds a friend with cable to watch Parks & Recreation, the only show she cares to watch live.

Television continues on firm footing financially, despite the rise of digital video outlets like Netflix and YouTube. The research firm eMarketer Inc. predicted TV ad spending will hit US$78.6 billion in 2018, up from US$66.4 billion last year.

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