NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Television Faces Competition For Children's Attention

December 2, 1999

The average television viewing time per child has fallen in recent years, despite a fountain of fresh programming.

  • Nielsen Media Research reports kids ages 2 to 11 watched an average two hours and 57 minutes of television per day this last broadcast year, compared with three hours and 25 minutes a decade ago.
  • Viewership among youth ages 12 to 17 now stands at just under three hours, compared with three hours, 15 minutes in the 1990-91 broadcast season.

Whether or not the averages continue to fall, it is certain that there will not be an increase in viewership among children, because their lives are becoming as frantic as their parents.

  • More two-career couples and single parents means children spend more time in day care and preschool starting at an earlier age.
  • Concerns about child safety have prompted more organized after-school programs.
  • The bull market coupled with parents' anxiety about their children's future has led to full employment of piano teachers, gymnastics instructors and companies offering SAT preparation courses.

Also, television faces growing competition from high-tech entertainment sources -- namely video games, personal computer and the Internet.

  • Boys spend an average of five hours a week playing video games.
  • Approximately 62 percent of U.S. households with children ages 6-to-12 now have personal computers, while 42 percent are wired to the Internet.

Despite the decline in viewership, television remains the first choice among youth with 47 percent of media hours spent watching TV, 23 percent spent listening to the radio, 10 percent spent on computers, 8 percent using the VCR, 8 percent reading, and 4 percent playing video games.

Source: Lauren R. Rublin, "Tuning Out," Barron's, November 8, 1999.


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