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PCs replacing TVs as center of home entertainment

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

PCs replacing TVs as center of home entertainment

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1994, The Syracuse Newspapers

A recent survey is offering the first evidence that PCs are replacing TVs as a primary source of home recreation, information and entertainment. The survey may show the most significant shift in these three areas since the introduction of mass-market television in the late 1940s.

The survey's findings may be even more important as an indicator of a major cultural shift. TV viewing is a passive activity, requiring almost no interaction from the viewer, while personal computer use is usually highly interactive. This suggests that the era of mindless TV viewing of a "boob tube" is about to come to an end.

The survey was conducted at random among 1,200 homes nationwide. It was sponsored by a computer manufacturer, AST Research, as part of its standard customer-satisfaction procedures. But when AST analyzed the results, it discovered an unexpected result—that the average computer user spends 13 hours a week in front of the PC but only eight hours a week watching prime-time TV.

While a more scientific survey, conducted by an independent agency, would be needed to confirm the results shown in the AST study, there is little doubt that PC users are spending more time at their computers than ever before. In many cases, this would also mean they have less time to watch TV.

This reflects both an excitement with a new medium and the general entertainment value of modern personal computers, which can dazzle the user with stunning color pictures and stereo sound.

But a more dramatic cultural shift that should worry broadcast executives can be seen in the rapidly rising popularity of dial-up online services such as CompuServe, America Online, GEnie and Prodigy. These are accessed from home by as many as 20 million computer users and have become a significant source of news and information for perhaps one-third of those users.

Unlike TV, radio or newspapers, online services supply news and information on demand, at any time. Even more importantly, they do this selectively and in far greater detail than the broadcast and print media can supply. A PC user can locate information or receive quick help on an obscure topic through an online service—tasks that would be impossible or impractical by traditional methods.

Experiments on the Internet, a web of interconnected online systems, have already demonstrated the feasibility of transmitting radio programs and even limited-quality television pictures across telephone lines to PC users at home.

In a little-noticed regular feature, hundreds of thousands of Internet users tune in daily to an Internet Radio program.

Too much can be read into these developments, of course. TV, radio and the print media are not likely to succumb to the enticements of the online world anytime soon.

But it is also not difficult to see the beginning of a major shift in lifestyles. When the personal computer, now found in about 40 percent of the homes in North America, approaches the 95 percent level of TV and radio, our expectations for entertainment, recreation and information—and the way we achieve them—will undoubtedly change in ways we can only imagine now.

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