The number of televisions has fallen to less than two per home in the United Kingdom, according to a report from TV Licensing. Yet industry audience measurement continues to suggest that people are watching more television, but still an hour a day less than those in the United States. There, Nielsen now recognises over five million households that do not watch traditional television. Nielsen confusingly calls them ‘Zero-TV’ homes, although they are still likely to have a television, with many watching programming over the internet.

There are now 1.83 television sets per household in the United Kingdom, down from an average of 2.3 sets in 2003. That is a 20% reduction of almost 0.5 sets per home over a decade, even though screens have been getting larger and cheaper.

That is one of the more striking statistics contained in the TeleScope 2013 report from TV Licensing. However, it points out that individuals are apparently watching over four hours a day, up from an average of 3 hours 36 minutes a day in 2006.

Interestingly, BARB figures reveal that the amount of viewing increased slightly from 3.67 hours a day in 2000 to 3.75 hours in 2009, but jumped to over 4 hours when a new measurement system was introduced in 2010.

One explanation for the fall in the number of televisions per household may be the rise in the number of other screens available, on laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Another significant factor may be that nearly half the households in the United Kingdom now have a digital video recorder and are able to watch programmes at their convenience.

In 2012, around 20% of viewing in homes with a digital video recorder was recorded and watched later, amounting to three hours and 42 minutes of timeshifted television a week out of 28 hours of viewing.

It is estimated that video recorders across the country are each primed to provide around 36 hours each of pre-recorded programming, which adds up to around 450 million hours of programming, or 52,000 years of viewing.

That sounds a lot, until you work out that the population of the United Kingdom annually watches an astonishing 4.4 million years of television.

With over 4,000 hours of mainstream television broadcast a day, or over 3 million hours a year, there is a lot to choose from. If the average viewer watches 1,460 hours of television a year, that represents just 0.05% of television hours transmitted, which seems rather wasteful.

While 29% of adults in the United Kingdom used online catch up services on a weekly basis in 2012, this currently represents only a few percentage points of total viewing.

The television industry, which is worth &pound12 billion a year in the United Kingdom, is unable to provide much information on exactly how much is viewed online.

The BBC only reports ‘requests’ for television programmes through its online iPlayer. There were 174 million requests in December 2012, or around 1.7 billion over the year.

If we just assume, in the absence of any other data, that each request results in 30 minutes of viewing, it works out at around 33.5 hours of viewing per household or 15.5 hours per individual per year.

In the case of ITV, 458 million long-form video requests over the year works out at 8.6 hours per household or just under 4 hours per individual per year.

Of course, it is likely that online viewing is more prevalent in certain types of household, in which case the usage among certain individuals is likely to be much more substantial.

Nevertheless, while it may be trendy to talk about watching television online, it currently represents a relatively small but growing proportion of total television viewing. The usage of digital video recorders is far more significant, but even then, if the figures are to be believed, it accounts for only a fifth of all viewing.

In the United States, Nielsen has started reporting on what it calls ‘Zero-TV’ households, which do not fit their traditional measure of a television home. That number has risen from 2 million homes in 2007 to over 5 million in 2013. Around 75% of these homes still have at least one television screen, but 67% of them watch programming on other devices, mainly on a computer, with 48% watching television programming through online subscription services.

Those in ‘Zero-TV’ homes tend to be younger, are less likely to have children and more likely to be living alone. Cost and lack of interest are the main reasons that they do not subscribe to television services.

It seems that the terminology of what is television viewing and what is a television home is rapidly changing, but despite the hype around video on demand, the vast majority of viewing is still traditional television, watched at the same time as it is broadcast.

Telescope: A look at the nation’s changing viewing habits from TV Licensing is available from their web site. ‘Free to move between screens’ is the title latest edition of The Cross-Platform Report available from Nielsen.