Buddy, Can You Spare Some Time?
By Martin Peers
26 January 2004
The Wall Street Journal
(Copyright (c) 2004, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)
LIKE MOST American families, the Koepke family of New York City spends at least a little time every evening
relaxing in front of a screen. While one child thrills to a PlayStation videogame, another instant messages
friends. Peter Koepke and his wife, Nicky, divide their time between shopping or paying bills online and
Times have changed since families sat together during the evening to listen to the radio or watch a single TV
set. Now, that concept is so unusual that TV executives have a special term for it, "co-viewing" ("American
Idol," for instance, is a co-viewing show).
Television has "become background noise," says Susan Young, a 46-year-old mother of two from
Maplewood, N.J. Her boys, 9 and 13, watch about an hour of TV a day during the week, sandwiched between
homework, sports, religious school and piano lessons. But when they watch TV, they're frequently on the
computer or playing with a toy at the same time. It is videogames they really prefer, so much so that
they're only allowed to play them on the weekend, when the television becomes less of a focus. "Regular TV
doesn't hold much appeal," Ms. Young says.
Late last year, TV executives bitterly disputed a Nielsen Media Research study that found young men were
watching less television and spending more time playing videogames or watching DVDs. But that was just
the tip of an iceberg that could rock the entire media industry in coming years. The battle for Americans'
disposable time -- among a vast proliferation of entertainment products and media channels -- is becoming
even more pitched than the battle for their disposable income. Indeed, in many key demographic groups,
time is scarcer than money.
The scramble for consumer attention is having ripple effects for other industries as well, particularly
technology and advertising. So much is changing so quickly that NBC's head of research, Alan Wurtzel,
predicts the period of 2003-2005 will in the future be seen as a "watershed change . . . the beginning of a
very different era."
Media options aren't just competing with each other. Consider this: Since 1973, the median number of hours