More TV watchers are thinking small

  • Article by: KATIE HUMPHREY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 27, 2012 - 6:08 PM

Flatscreens continue to sell well, but smaller, more portable electronics are booming in popularity.

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Maria Huntley said she’s reconsidered her apprehension over allowing daughter Lola Googins watch video on her iPad.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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Maria Huntley is surrounded by flatscreen TVs. There's one in her St. Paul living room, another in her bedroom and a third in the kitchen. Yet when it's time to watch "Grey's Anatomy" or "Weeds," she reaches for her iPad, usually while soaking in a bubble bath.

Huntley, 37, is among a rapidly growing set of people who have upended their TV viewing habits, trading their big screens for comparatively tiny tablets, laptops and smartphones that dispense with multiple remotes and keyboards.

Of course, big TVs are still selling well. In fact, sales of flatscreens larger than 50 inches are expected to rise as prices fall. But while Americans, including Huntley's husband, might gather around the big screen for Sunday football or to play HD video games, watching TV shows and video on mobile devices is skyrocketing.

Viewing on tablets has doubled since 2011, and 70 percent of consumers say they watch TV shows and video on something other than a television, according to market analysis by NPD DisplaySearch, an industry group. Watching video on the devices has become the most popular tablet activity, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

It's a quiet but pervasive change in homes across the country as tablet computers -- this year's hot holiday gift -- explode in popularity.

Ease, resolution

Nicole Robinson, 29, of St. Paul sometimes settles onto the couch with her iPad, ignoring the much larger living room television altogether, to the amusement of her husband.

"He'll say, 'Why are you watching that on a smaller screen when you've got better technology?'" she said. "Because it's right here on my lap."

While tablet screens are smaller -- many measure about 10 inches and some of the newer "mini" versions are just 7 inches -- they boast resolution that's better than most TVs.

And tablet watchers maintain that the size of the screen doesn't matter much, because the screen is right in front of you rather than across the room.

It's more than just the picture that's luring viewers away from traditional television sets.

Streaming video, which lets people watch TV shows and movies by request over the Internet, has been a game changer, said Benjamin Arnold, director of industry analysis at The NPD Group. With so much entertainment available, he said, people are watching more video on screens of all sizes.

"Now instead of being limited to whatever is on TV in your bedroom, you can cue up Netflix on your tablet and watch something you really want to watch," he said.

And Netflix is just the beginning of the streaming options. It seems that almost every provider, from Amazon and Apple to Hulu and traditional TV networks, offer apps for mobile viewing.

Mobile TV

Using a tablet as a television dovetails perfectly with our on-the-go lifestyles.

Dustin Schroeder, 31, of East Bethel turns to his Motorola Xyboard tablet to watch television at the ice arena during his kids' hockey practices.

He even watches it at home when the kids take over the 55-inch television in the living room.

"I'm not really that interested in Sponge Bob," he said. "I might watch a movie [using] on demand on my tablet."

As the owner of Satellite Experts, a Verizon, Dish Network and DirecTV vendor in the north metro, Schroeder has seen an increasing number of his customers -- mostly those under age 50 -- ask about watching television shows and movies on something other than the family flatscreen.

He expects more inquiries after the holidays.

"Tablets are going to be one of the No. 1 gifts for Christmas," Schroeder said.

Robinson discovered the perks of watching TV on her tablet after her daughter, Imogen, was born and refused to nap without mom nearby. Donning earbuds to avoid waking the baby, she watched episodes of "Downton Abbey," "Project Runway" and "Modern Family."

"I could be entertained for hours on end while she slept on my shoulder," Robinson said.

The habit stuck, even after Imogen grew more independent.

"I wouldn't even think to turn on a TV anymore," Robinson said. "If it's not on the iPad, I probably won't watch."

Katie Humphrey • 612-673-4758

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