Households' TV viewing at a record

James is a Times staff writer.

The U.S. is a nation of even bigger couch potatoes than previously realized.

Nielsen Co. left little doubt Monday when it reported that television use is at an all-time high in the U.S., with home TVs turned on for an average of 8 hours, 18 minutes a day.

A decade ago, American households watched an average of 7 hours, 15 minutes a day.

Television continued to be the screen of choice despite increasing competition from computers. During the third quarter -- when the Olympic Games and presidential debates were broadcast -- American individuals watched more than 142 hours of TV a month, which was five hours more than in the same period in 2007, or an increase of 4%, according to Nielsen. That comes out to more than 4 1/2 hours a day.

(By comparison, the typical American gets only 6 hours, 40 minutes of sleep per night, according to a 2008 poll by the National Sleep Foundation.)

The firm's findings might seem counterintuitive because many experts predicted that the Internet would take a big bite out of people's TV time.

"While new media technologies have offered new entertainment options -- from the Internet, mobile phones and iPods -- television viewing has actually gone up," said David Poltrack, chief research officer for CBS Corp. "Viewing levels continue to climb."

People who use the Internet spent 27 hours a month online, Nielsen found. Users spent about 2 1/2 hours watching online videos.

In a troubling sign for TV networks and advertisers, the use of digital video recorders -- which enable consumers to fast-forward through commercials -- doubled in the last year. Americans spent 6 1/2 hours a month watching time-shifted TV.

More than 27% of U.S. homes now have a digital video recorder.

Although about half of all consumers who have digital recorders use them to zip through commercials, Poltrack said the devices have actually increased TV viewing.

"People are using the DVR to rearrange the networks' schedules so they can watch the most popular shows," he said. "People no longer need to decide whether to watch 'CSI' or 'The Office' or 'Grey's Anatomy,' which all run Thursdays at 9 p.m.

"They can now watch all three shows," Poltrack said, adding that about two-thirds of all DVR playbacks are for broadcast network shows.

Susan Whiting, vice chairwoman for Nielsen, said that "TV remains the dominant choice for most Americans, yet time-shifting as well as videos on the Internet and on mobile phones continue to be trends to watch."

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meg.james@latimes.com

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