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Online TV viewing on the rise

The number of U.S. consumers who had watched a video streamed through their browser doubled over the past year, according to new research.

Americans are watching more video on their PCs via broadband connections than ever before, according to a recent report published by market research firm ABI Research.

Over the past year, the number of U.S. consumers who had watched a video streamed through their browser doubled over the past year, going from 32 percent a year ago to 63 percent today. ABI analysts attribute the increase to more rich content available on the Web as well as faster speed Internet connections.

While sites like YouTube that offer short clips of user generated videos have gotten a lot of attention over the past couple of years, the ABI report shows that viewers are also interested in watching TV shows and movies online.

All of the major TV networks in the U.S. are currently offering at least some of their TV shows online. Some of the shows can be accessed right from the network's Web site. But video aggregator sites such as Hulu.com also help consumers find what they're looking for. Hulu was launched as a cooperative venture of TV networks to provide easy access to movies and TV shows.

Of course, much of the growth in this area comes from younger consumers. When asked if they watched long-form content such as TV shows or movies online, nearly half of those under the age of 25 and 53 percent of those aged 25 to 29 said they had done so at least once a month.

Meanwhile, older consumers are watching more short clips online than actual TV shows. Three quarters of those over 65 who watch video online responded that they have never watched TVs or movies online, according to the survey.

"Today's younger consumers are developing habits that will mean drastic changes for the video entertainment market," Michael Wolf, research director at ABI said in a statement. "Many consume a large percentage or even a majority of their video entertainment through online distribution today, and we believe that this trend will continue to accelerate as more efforts are made to put this content on various non-PC screens."

Another important driver for watching TV online has been the proliferation of faster speed broadband connections. Cable operators have steadily been pushing up their speeds. And services like Verizon's Fios service, which runs over fiber optic lines directly into the home, have also boosted broadband speeds.

But Web-based video isn't without its challenges or without controversy. Sending video over the Internet eats up a lot of bandwidth. And peer-to-peer applications, such as BitTorrent, which distribute video have come under fire over the past year as a network menace.

Cable operator Comcast finally admitted that it has been slowing down BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer traffic. And it has provided a plan for managing traffic, which doesn't include singling out specific types of traffic. The Federal Communications Commission ordered the company earlier this year not to monkey with customers' traffic. Other cable operators, such as Time Warner Cable, are talking about metering heavy bandwidth usage in order to deal with the surge of online video.