Has The Tough Economy Changed Americans’ TV Habits

Has The Tough Economy Changed Americans’ TV Habits

The ongoing financial crisis has had far-reaching effects in the U.S., where it has taken a toll on everything from Americans’ shopping habits to their retirement savings.

Could the dire economic conditions also be changing the way Americans watch TV?

Yes and no, according to a Nielsen report released Friday, which found that Americans are watching more cable news this year than they did last year. Between September 15, 2008 and October 19, 2008, tuning to cable news networks almost doubled, versus the same period last year, according to Nielsen.

U.S. homes with the highest household incomes ($100,000+/year) — who likely have the largest investments — showed the greatest percentage growth in cable news viewership over last year (+125%).  Among households with the lowest annual incomes (less than $20,000), cable news viewership in September and October showed the smallest growth from the same period in 2007 (+38%).

A caveat: the presidential race is likely drawing more cable news tuning in 2008.  As such, growth in cable news tuning cannot be attributed solely to viewers’ interest in the economic crisis.

Population Segment

(by annual household income)

Household Ratings:

Cable News Networks*

(Sept. 17 – Oct. 21, 2007)

Household Ratings:

Cable News Networks*

Sept. 15 – Oct. 19, 2008

All Households 1.5 2.8
HH Income

1.3 1.8
HH Income $20-40k 1.6 2.5
HH Income $40-60k 1.6 2.7
HH Income = $60,000-74,999 1.5 3.0
HH Income = $75,000-99,999 1.6 3.2
HH Income = $100,000+ 1.6 3.6
Source: The Nielsen Company (Sept. 17 – Oct. 21, 2007 and Sept. 15 – Oct. 19, 2008).
*Note: Sources include CNBC, CNN, Fox News Channel, Headline News, and MSNBC. Daypart is Monday – Sunday, 6am-6am.

Meanwhile, despite shrinking household budgets and widespread belt-tightening, Americans are not downgrading from cable and satellite TV plans to less expensive broadcast only TV service.

As of September, 1.4% of homes that received cable or satellite service in September 2007 had downgraded to broadcast only service.  That percentage of down-graders remains unchanged from last year, when the U.S. economy was still relatively healthy.

View the full report.