Despite new technology, TV is still the main medium

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The holiday shopping season is just one weekend old, but word is, tech products already have been selling briskly. And while this holiday season is forecast to be lousy for retailers, it's not likely to be as bad as last year.

Entertainment technology has been moving beyond television lately, leading some to suggest TV is in decline.

Not true.

TV screens live all around us now, on the walls, on our desks, in our cars and, increasingly, in our pockets. Individual networks and stations are seeing their ratings decline in the crowded, multiscreen environment. But the bottom line is that home entertainment is thriving. People are watching more, in more places than ever. Don't worry about hand-held gizmos taking over from the set in the living room anytime soon.

"The primacy of the TV platform is clear," according to Peter Stern of Time-Warner, in spite of the changing habits of young people on Facebook, YouTube and the rest. Stern reminded a cable convention in Denver recently that 97 percent of viewing is still on TV; the average person consumes 4-5 hours of TV a day, but only 2-6 minutes of online video a day. The average American home has many more TVs than people.

Stop chasing "the next shiny object," Stern advised, and give customers what they want to watch on TV.

We've all heard anecdotes about kids watching their iPhone in the shadow of a 50-inch plasma TV. Sounds like the death of the big screen, but it isn't.

At the cable conference, executives from several companies urged their colleagues not to trip over themselves in the rush to put video online. TV is still the core business, they were told.

Stern, who is Time-Warner cable executive vice president and chief strategy officer, said 84 percent of online video viewing occurs within the home, and 79 percent of consumers who watch video online say they would prefer to watch the content on a TV rather than a PC. The idea of "home entertainment" now means many things. But the TV set remains the center attraction.

Jim Pearse, president of Colorado-based Ultimate Electronics, is bullish on home entertainment.

"In television, the unit sales are up year-to-year by 20-plus percent," Pearse said. "People are buying more and more TVs, as the average selling price has dropped quickly."

Expect deals in stores and online now that 32-inch TV sets can be had for $300, 42-inch TVs for under $500 and 60-inch TVs for $799.

"As the prices come down, the market is opened up for a lot more people to get involved," Pearse said.

In his experience, people are reassessing how they're going to spend their money during tough financial times.

"As opposed to a fancy trip to Disneyland, they're now spending on an unbelievable home theater system," he said.