For first time in 20 years, TV ownership declines

UPDATE: Remember when NBC used to say "If you haven't seen it, it's new to you?" So, my story (below) about six-month-old Nielsen data has so far been picked up by the New York Post and Pat's Papers. Sometimes, it pays NOT to be first on the scene!

Nielsen, the TV ratings people, are out with the 2012 edition of their

Television Audience

report. Much of this is a repackaging of data released previously by Nielsen to its clients. But I hadn't seen it before.

Amidst all the charts and graphs, two stunners:

• The total number of U.S. households with TV sets declined year to year for the first time since

Nielsen started counting TV ownership. 1992

. (A Nielsen rep clarified that the bar charts in the report were misleading because 1992 wasn't included in the historical data.)

• The number of households

with no TV at all

is at its highest level since 1975. Three percent of homes are TV-free.

The decline was not trivial, either — from 115.9 million TV households in 2011, Nielsen estimates that only 114.7 million homes in the U.S. will have a TV set in 2012. That’s a decline of almost 1 percent at a time when the total number of U.S. households continues to grow.

TV technologies on their way up include DVRs, which Nielsen estimates will be in 41 percent of homes in 2012, digital cable (51 percent) and HDTV (67 percent).

Also upticking: houses with three or more TV sets (56 percent) and time the average household spends in front of the tube or flat screen:

a record 59 hours 28 minutes of TV watching per week.

Leading the technologies on their way down is the homely VCR. The tape-eating machine that was in 90 percent homes just seven years ago is now in only 57 percent of households, and we hope you’re all e-cycling.

But homes with DVD players also is expected to decline slightly in 2012, to 85 percent, down from a peak of 88 percent of homes — a pretty good sign that streaming services like Netflix are taking a bite out of other rental media.

Despite earlier reports that suggested people were unplugging, cable and satellite TV use has remained rock-steady in homes with TV (90 percent versus 10 percent of homes using rabbit ears).

Apparently when people are pulling the plug, it’s not just on the cable box but the tube itself.