Summary:

Consumers are watching more TV today than ever before, but that increased consumption is rapidly changing with the times. According to a new…

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Consumers are watching more TV today than ever before, but that increased consumption is rapidly changing with the times. According to a new survey from TVGuide.com and paidContent, a good part of the growth in TV usage — among those who are avid TV watchers already — is coming via online content, time-shifting systems and the use of new devices like tablets. But it also revealed some key insights to the business models behind that growth: a lot of users are skipping ads, although a growing number (but not all) of are willing to pay for their content instead.

The TVGuide.com Fall 2011 survey generated more than 5,800 responses from TVGuide.com’s 10,000-member research panel and is being released today at paidContent Entertainment in LA. According to Christy Tanner, EVP and GM of TV Guide Digital, the panel’s demos and habits usually correlate with mass market general studies and tend to reflect the general U.S. population.

Overall, it found that the number of people watching more than 30 hours of TV per week (that’s more than four hours per day) has rocketed up to 32 percent of the population, a rise of 14 percent over the last year. In general, 93 percent of respondents said they were watching more than before.

That growth is largely coming from the rise of new technology, with some 55 percent of users said that they are watching TV online. The amount of time that people are spending watching online is growing fast: 15 percent of people are watching six or more hours of online video per week these days, a big spike on the four percent a year ago. Overall some 62 percent said they were watching for more hours than before.

That could be a reflection of user habits, but it’s also a testament to the growing amount of content that is available for them to view: the rise of services from Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN), as well as the existing offerings from the likes of Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX) and Hulu, will be joined by more programming offerings from Google (NSDQ: GOOG) — giving users potentially a far richer catalog of content via the internet than they have through their traditional TV sets.

That’s not to say that TV-based viewing is disappearing, but it is shifting — time-shifting, that is… Some 71 percent of respondents said they were watching more time-shifted content, using their own DVRs or those from their pay-TV providers, than they were a year ago.

Time (NYSE: TWX) shifting has been great news for those of us who are not able to keep to the timetables set by networks, but as many expected would happen, the technology is also leading to another inevitable problem: decreasing attention being paid to advertising.

An astounding 96 percent of respondents say they fast-forward through ads on DVR content these days — although some 44 percent did point out that they “don’t mind” ads as a general rule. Still, the number of people skipping ads on time-shifted content, and that growth of time-shifted content consumption seem set for some kind of collision course in the future.

Ad industry aside, there are other business models emerging to finance content and make revenues as a content owner: the survey revealed that 19 percent are paying more for their TV content than before, and that model is also translating to the growth of online and streamed video content: some 34 percent said that they pay for these.

But even so, the big challenge remains: how do premium providers get people to pay when there is so much on offer that is free? The survey showed that some 81 percent watch streaming and online services for “free” (not counting their broadband bills), even if 69 percent also use paid content or subscription services.

And pay-TV providers have opportunities in enabling new services like time-shifting to viewers. Today, 41 percent are paying for time-shifted viewing, although it’s not clear from the survey whether that represents much growth over the last year.

Just as technologies are enabling new kinds of consumption habits, new devices are also having a big impact on usage.

Tablets present one of the biggest opportunities for TV consumption — with their large screens and improved processing power, they have effectively taken the place of the smartphone as the key wireless TV device. (The smartphone, of course, does drive lot of video usage but it has not proven to be the ubiquitous TV-viewing device that everyone thought it could or would become by now.)

The survey found that 27 percent of consumers planned to buy a tablet in the next year, and that the iPad is still the device of choice — 77 percent said they would get Apple’s tablet if price weren’t a factor. That could leave the door open for the cheaper alternatives out there, such as the new Kindle Fire from Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN). The survey notes that 30 percent said they were likely to buy a Kindle Fire, with 47 percent like to buy the iPad.

And two endnotes that alternately point to a challenge ahead, and a big opportunity for those opting for the Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) product universe to distribute their TV content: only 14 percent of respondents knew what Ultraviolet was, while 44 percent recognized the term “iCloud.”

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