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Videogames Approach 5th Network Status

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Americans as a whole spend more time playing videogames than they do watching the CW television network. And videogames -- the real “5th Network” -- may even be closing in on NBC.

Those are a few of the conclusions that can be drawn from a new report issued by Nielsen PreView called "The Video Game Handbook," which provides marketers with a sense of the scope and scale of the growing videogame audience. According to the data derived from Nielsen’s National People Meter in Q4 2008, usage of console videogames (defined as systems connected to users' TVs) accounted for 64 billion minutes in December.

Only four other networks accounted for more viewing time during that period. And though Nielsen does not identify those networks, based on ratings patterns they are presumed to be CBS, ABC, Fox and NBC.

According to the report (the full version of which is available at nielsenpreview.com), the TV industry doesn't necessarily need to feel threatened because gamers are also avid TV fans who in general consume high amounts of media.

Videogame users appear to shift back and forth from games to TV mode in a consistent pattern. Among console users, their gaming peaks around 7 p.m. while TV viewing peaks around 9 p.m. That perhaps indicates that advertisers should attempt to use both media to reach consumers, said Nielsen. "In general, many gamers give way to the primetime TV hour as it approaches, indicating a complementary approach to the two media would be most efficient," said the report.

Plus, those brands might want to factor in seasonality, since gaming tends to peak around June and at the end of the year, dipping in August and September. While weather may play a role, the report attributed this trend to peak release periods for new games, particularly during the holiday shopping season.

Nielsen’s report also puts another nail in the coffin of the young male pasty-faced gamer stereotype. Console game use has become increasingly mainstream, particularly with the explosion in popularity of the family friendly Nintendo Wii, which has sold 18 million consoles versus 11.6 million for the Xbox 360 and 5.7 million for Sony’s PlayStation3.

Overall, Wii now accounts for the highest percentage of usage minutes for adults, per the report. And not necessarily young adults: one-third of those minutes were consumed by women 35 and older.

Brandweek is a unit of the Nielsen Co.