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Study: TV Viewing Up in Homes With Net Access

Contrary to earlier studies, a new report from Discovery Communications Inc. using Nielsen Media Research data found that television viewing for households with an Internet connection rose faster than that for all households from 1996 to 1997.

The analysis, based on data from 389 homes, found residences with Internet access increased their viewing on a total-day basis, in prime time, and during the weekday afternoon-early evening period, according to Bloomberg News. Full-day viewing increased 1.8% for Internet homes compared to 1.3% for all homes.

The findings contradict another recent study on the Internet's impact on TV viewing at a time when TV and Internet companies are competing for advertising dollars. In August, a study released by America Online said Internet households watch 15% less television than those without Web access.

"This refutes what we would have expected," Steve McGowan, Discovery's vice president for research, told Bloomberg. "Intuitively, we expected to find a decline and didn't."

The study found that during prime-time hours of 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., viewing rose 1.2% in Internet homes and was flat for all homes. During fringe hours of 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, TV viewing rose 1.1% in Internet homes compared with 0.7% for all homes.

However, the study results may not be all that meaningful because of the small sample size that Discovery was forced to use, said Bruce Leichtman, an analyst with the Yankee Group, a technology and communications consulting company.

The average U.S. household still watches an estimated 37 hours of TV per week, which suggests it will be a tough habit to break, he was quoted as saying.

"People are not on the Internet 37 hours a week," Leichtman said.

The AOL and Discovery studies differed in what they measured, McGowan said. AOL, which also used Nielsen Media data and measured 5,000 homes, looked at a single period and didn't consider whether viewing was increasing or declining. It found homes with Internet access watch TV eight hours less each week than homes without Web access.

McGowan told Bloomberg that TV watching in Internet households will be lower than overall household viewing because the early customers for the Web generally are more affluent than the rest of the population. Wealthier households tend to watch less television because they are more active and read more, he explained.

Discovery Communications owns and operates Discovery.com, the Discovery Channel and eight other cable-TV programming channels.