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Zero TV turns respectable

New media-use trends are another indicator of a general shift away from blind consumerism and one toward authenticity and local consumption.

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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.

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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 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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