Number Of U.S. TV Homes Drops For First Time In 20 Years: Nielsen

Cord-cutting may have been among the factors driving down the percentage of U.S. households with TVs for 2012 to 96.7% -- from 98.9% this year -- according to Nielsen's preliminary estimates released Tuesday.

The Nielsen estimates account for data from the 2010 U.S. Census. The 2012 universe estimate for TV household is 114.7 million, down 1.2 million (about 1%) from 115.9 million in 2011, with the last such decline occurring in 1992, after Nielsen adjusted for the 1990 Census results.

Nielsen cited three potential factors for the decline in TV penetration: a substitution of TVs for video viewing on PCs among a "small subset of younger, urban consumers" who are forgoing paid-TV subscriptions; the digital TV transition in the summer of 2009, which required households to have a TV set with a built-in digital tuner or an analog TV set connected to a digital-to-analog converter box, or cable or satellite set-top; and the economic recession, with a decline in TV households among lower-income, rural homes.

"Some consumers are clearly being driven by the economy to make choices on the media devices they purchase," Nielsen senior vice president, insights and analysis Pat McDonough said in a statement. "Others are expanding their equipment to add more audio/video devices to their home. Still others may be deferring a TV purchase or replacing their TV with a computer."

Nielsen said it will release updates to local TV household estimates in late August 2011 for the 2011-12 TV season, noting that the 2010 Census will play a significant role in determining population shifts from market to market.

The company's 2012 TV penetration for U.S. households was estimated based on data collected during the recruitment of homes for Nielsen's People Meter panel. Nielsen's definition of a television household requires at least one TV capable of tuning to at least one channel.