Big But Little-Watched, That Amusing NBA, Etc.

Counterintuitive Factoid of the Week: People who buy the most expensive TV sets don’t spend the most time watching TV. In a survey of consumers who’d bought high-end TVs between April 2003 and October 2004, J.D. Power and Associates asked respondents how much time they spend in front of the tube. Among those who’d bought a set in the $1,000-2,499 range, a plurality (35 percent) said they watch for 40-150 hours per week. Among those who’d spent $3,500 or more for their set, a plurality (40 percent) said they watch for 20 or fewer hours per week. One possible moral: The more clearly people see today’s TV shows, the less they like them.

If there’s a more depressing holiday than New Year’s, you wouldn’t guess it from the results of a recent Gallup poll. Respondents were asked to say which is their favorite holiday: Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s? Christmas won in a landslide (63 percent), with Thanksgiving a distant second (27 percent). Just 9 percent picked New Year’s. And if you asked them again on Jan. 2, more than a few of them might recant.

People love to complain about how little leisure time they have. Lack of free time (or the appearance thereof) has become a status symbol of sorts, denoting that the person is too indispensable to get away from work or family responsibilities for more than a fleeting moment. No doubt there are such people, but there’s scant empirical evidence to suggest they represent a mass-scale phenomenon. In fact, the aging of the American workforce carries with it a little-noted consequence: Lots of people have been at their current jobs long enough to have qualified for lots of vacation time. Summarizing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the chart at lower left gives an idea of how much vacation time workers of various tenure get in the private sector.

Once, horse racing was the sport of kings. In more recent years, it seems to have become the sport of old guys who smoke cheap cigars. However, a poll by Scarborough Sports Marketing finds some indication that the sport is regaining traction among young adults. Nine percent of respondents in the 18-24 age bracket said they watched a horse race on TV during the past year, vs. 5 percent in a 2002 survey. Seven percent said they’re at least somewhat interested in the sport, an uptick from 6 percent in 2002. No doubt the emergence of a crowd-pleaser like Smarty Jones has something to do with the gains. More broadly, one wonders if twentysomethings’ recent surge of interest in poker—another pastime of old guys with cheap cigars—has rubbed off on the phenomenon of wagering in general, to the benefit of horse racing. What’s next—bingo parlors for young hipsters?

And a merry red-state Christmas to all. A Zogby International poll finds conservatives less likely than left-of-center Americans to be reducing their holiday spending this year. Fifty-one percent of self-described progressives said they’ll spend less this year than they did last; 49 percent of liberals said they’ll cut back. Just 21 percent of conservatives said the same. Moderates fell in the middle, suitably enough, with 37 percent saying they’ll spend less. Meanwhile, another poll detects some shrinkage in the partisan consumer-confidence gap. In the latest ABC News/Money magazine Consumer Comfort Index, the confidence of Republicans averaged +27 on a scale of -100 to +100. Democrats came in at -29. Though still big, the current disparity is significantly smaller than in July, when Republicans averaged +43 and Democrats averaged -47.

A light-hearted ad campaign about the relationship between NBA fans and players from visiting teams? In the aftermath of The Brawl at a Pistons-Pacers game? Granted, the timing may seem less than ideal for a new Charlotte Bobcats campaign in which a fan bends, folds, spindles and otherwise mutilates life-size cutouts of such opponents as Yao Ming and Kobe Bryant. And a spot featuring Ben Wallace, a principal in the recent melee, has been shelved. But viewers will likely enjoy the now-quaint notion that fans can poke fun at visiting players without coming to blows with them. In one spot (see frames above), the Bobcats’ self-appointed “ambassador” takes the Yao Ming cutout to a yoga class where some Bobcats are stretching. Following the leader’s instructions, he ends up folding the very tall player into a very short lump of cardboard. In another spot, a Shaquille O’Neal cutout goes up in flames at a Bobcat cookout. It’s all in good fun—really! Boone/Oakley of Charlotte created the campaign.

They’re missing out on the most pleasant advertising medium of all: the promotional calendars that fuel-oil companies give to their residential customers. Nonetheless, a majority of Americans insist on heating their homes with gas, according to a new report from the Census Bureau. As of last year, 57 percent of homes used gas heat (including utility, bottle, tank and liquid-petroleum gas). Most of the rest (31 percent) used electricity. Just 9 percent used fuel oil or kerosene. States with warm climates were the most likely to use electric heat. In Florida, 90 percent of homes use it. Fuel oil is most popular in the Northeast and Alaska, with Maine the state where it’s most common (79 percent). Of course, heating isn’t a big issue in some locales: 61 percent of homes in Hawaii don’t use any fuel or equipment to heat their homes.

The cheapskatization of our holiday shoppers continues apace. In an American Research Group poll, adults were asked: “When you purchase Christmas gifts this year, will you pay full price for the gifts or will you wait to see if the gifts go on sale?” Just 16 percent said they’d pay full price, the smallest number in 10 years. Sixty-five percent said they’d wait for a sale, and 17 percent said it depends on the gift. Some of these folks will be online skinflints: 37 percent of all respondents said they’ll buy presents via the Internet this year.