TV viewing on the rise

Despite what we often hear or read about the encroachments of new media, Americans watched more TV than ever before in 2010, according to Nielsen.

Total viewing of broadcast networks and basic cable channels rose about 1 percent for the year to an average of 34 hours per person per week. The generation-long shift to cable from broadcast continued; however, the shift is subtle: NBC‚ the smallest of the big four broadcast networks, still retained more than twice as many viewers as USA, the largest basic cable channel.

The most popular new show of 2010, CBS’ revamped “Hawaii Five-O,” was on broadcast TV, not cable. CBS remained the No. 1 network among total viewers for 51 out of 52 weeks, and three of its new shows were in the year’s top 20.

“CBS has been able to replenish its lineup as older shows fade,” Brad Adgate, senior vice president for research at Horizon Media, told The New York Times.

Nielsen noted in an end-of-the-year survey that 8 of the 10 highest-rated telecasts of the year were football games. The two others were the Academy Awards and the premiere of CBS’ “Undercover Boss,” which followed the Super Bowl.

The biggest gainer on the broadcast schedule for the year was Univision, a Spanish-language network. For the year, it averaged a 1.5 rating among 18- to 49-year-olds and 3.7 million total viewers.

On cable, USA remained the most popular in prime time. Yet despite a vast oil spill and a midterm election, all of the cable news channels posted declines from 2009. The Fox News Channel remained the most popular of the group by far, and MSNBC celebrated a historic win in prime time over CNN, having beaten that channel for the first time among all viewers.

The bad news for CNN did not end there. It lost more viewers than any other cable channel, ending the year with an average of 578,000 viewers in prime time, down 34 percent from a 2009 average of 874,000 viewers. Two other channels, VH1 and the Hallmark Channel, also lost more than a quarter of their audience.

The History Channel and ION Television each grew by more than 25 percent year-over-year. Perhaps the biggest growth on TV came from the relatively small Investigation Discovery, or I.D., which specializes in nonfiction crime stories and is owned by Discovery Communications. I.D. averaged 283,000 viewers at any given time, a gain of 64 percent over the previous year.