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Study: Net users watch less TV

A study shows that Net users watch 15 percent less TV, but fails to reveal the reasons for the discrepancy.

America Online and Nielsen Media Research today revealed that households wired up to the Internet watch 15 percent less television than households without Net access.

That may sound like great news for Net companies--but closer inspection reveals that the numbers have not changed much since a similar report was released a year and a half ago.

Today's study strikingly resembles a report released in January 1997. The reports were identical in their results and methodology.

Nielsen showed that most households connected to the Internet are generally categorized as "upper-demographic," meaning their age and income levels are higher than those of average Americans. The firm has additionally shown that upper-demographic households generally watch less television than their lower-demographic counterparts.

But perhaps more significantly, both studies could not determine causality, meaning Nielsen could not show that households were watching less television as a result of Internet usage, a Nielsen spokesman said.

Today's results, like the results in 1997, only show different usage patterns among households from different socio-economic brackets.

"The findings from this study are consistent with other research indicating that online households are more upscale than their unconnected counterparts, and that upper-demographic homes, as a whole, watch less television than the U.S. average," said Nielsen vice president Paul Lindstrom in a statement.

Nonetheless, AOL still found the study a useful tool to wave flags at advertisers still skeptical about the Internet's effectiveness as a marketing tool. And despite the stagnancy over the year and a half, AOL still considered the numbers "an encouraging sign."

"It really shows that advertisers realize that interactive marketing has to be part of their mix," said AOL spokesman Tom Ziemba.

The current research measured a panel of members during January 1998 and examined television and Internet usage among the households selected. The study examined 4,471 households. Of those polled, 1,006 had Internet access and 3,465 did not.

Nielsen is currently undergoing a syndicated research program to establish accurate determinants of causality between Internet and television usage. Besides comparing television viewing habits before and after getting Internet access, Nielsen also will release data with more specific demographic information based on gender, age, and income, among other factors, said a Nielsen spokesman.