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Zero TV turns respectable

discarded television photo
The number of Zero TV households has more than doubled in the U.S. since 2007.

The cable box era is coming to a close, and those without an affinity for cable and prime time TV are no longer considered societal outcasts.

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Claudia Broman

People like me now have a new label, according to leading research firm Nielsen Co., and the number of us being lumped together as “Zero TV” consumers is growing. 

study issued in March by Nielsen says that though 95 percent of American households have televisions, the number of Zero TV households has more than doubled in the U.S. since 2007, increasing from 2 million in 2007 to more than 5 million today.

Different demographics now

In the past, those without televisions could be more easily ignored – take for example a book published in 2008, “Living Without the Screen,” which describes those without TV as either “very liberal” or “very conservative.”  Given demographics at the time, Zero TV people were likely considered on the fringe – those who wanted distance from sex and violence, were tired of being held hostage by commercials, and placed more value on doing something other than – gasp – watching TV.

When the book came out, author and communications professor Marina Krcmar of Wake Forest University noted that average Americans watched three hours of TV every day. It seems like it would be easy to do: one hour over breakfast and two after dinner. However, media consumption in general is significant, with individuals spending nearly five-and-a-half hours in front of electronic screens of one kind or another. Zero TV people consume mobile technology, sometimes with abandon, according to Nielsen, as 67 percent of the group still accesses media on computers, smartphones, tablets, or through general internet use.

As much as the people in Krcmar’s study felt they were “unusual” or “different” for bucking being average Americans, it seems that the Zero TV contingent will need to find other ways to set trends, and media marketers will need to find other ways to reach the group.

How will they connect?

And that’s where it gets a bit problematic. Zero TV’ers want to be reached on independent terms, not be held captive by a box or a flat-screen module.  So how exactly it will work in practice as this Zero TV trend continues is yet to be seen, though Trendwatching.com predicts a tendency toward corporate transparency and consumers wanting to know how a company makes a positive difference in the world, rather than just absorb information about the products a company produces. It seems that the 30-second commercial is becoming a disservice to both producers and consumers.

What Nielsen is finding is just another indicator of a general shift away from blind consumerism and one toward authenticity and local consumption.  Back in 2008 Krcmar said people who rejected TV felt domestically empowered and were more engaged with their families and friends.  In this modern world rife with shootings, stabbings, and propaganda-swinging politics, it seems that more community engagement could very well be the antidote we need.

Claudia Broman writes from Litchfield, Minn. and is the former publisher of the online news site, Ashland Current.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Emily Sojourn on 04/15/2013 - 10:07 am.

    And the story is where?

    A tiny group of people don’t have TVs. (Which, BTW, has always been the case.) They consume media from computers and mobile phones instead. (So it’s debatable about being really ZERO TV.)

    “… another indicator of a general shift away from blind consumerism and one toward authenticity and local consumption.” Yeah, and how many times have we claimed that was happening? And how many times has that mindset actually stuck?

    So…. the newsworthy story here is where?

  2. Submitted by Jonas Benson on 04/15/2013 - 02:06 pm.

    A notion of “Watching TV” as obsolete as a 1950s Philco

    Broman is not a cutting-edge trendsetter on the verge of some major societal shift, much as she seems to want to claim that honor. What’s outmoded is her way of thinking about those devices that we now use to watch cable and prime time programing — and for myriad other purposes. She actually never even defines what she means by “watching TV,” and therein lies the fault with her thesis, if she has one. If I’m using that 55 inch flat-panel in my living room to watch a blu-ray of Citizen Kane, am I watching TV? What if I’m using it to Skype with my cousin in Norway? Or to access other news and information sources as an extension of my PC? Or to watch what my kids are doing in the backyard? Or to view video I myself recorded earlier in the day, perhaps on my cell phone? Or to connect with friends via a social media app that was designed for my TV? Her rant against “blind consumerism” and enthusiasm for zero tv appears to reflect zero knowledge of where the technology is really moving, and the potential it offers for the authenticity and empowerment she craves.

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