Not Watch?...Fugetaboutit!

Brian Hicks

Updated May 3, 2007

"Television is a chewing gum for the eyes." —Frank Lloyd Wright

If you weren’t watching, then you probably missed it. Last week was National TV Turnoff Week, an event sponsored by TV-Free America.

It’s a group dedicated to the crazy belief that somehow we have the power to determine what role television plays in our lives. Rather than waiting for others to make "better" TV, the group says, we can just turn it all off and a do something novel like spend some time with our families, our friends, or simply ourselves.

Joining the anti-TV group were some one million erstwhile viewers. Like the 24 million others that have come before them since 1995, they did the unthinkable–they shut down their tubes for a full seven days. Miraculously, there were no fatalities.

Of course, I would’ve joined those brave few, but the truth is that they picked a really bad week for me.

The Dow cracked the 13,000 mark for the first time and Jack Bauer was still on the prowl chasing down bad guys. Besides, what football fan in his right mind could skip a full 12 hours of wall-to-wall draft coverage?

Not many, including me.

In fact, like most fans, I spent the better part of the day on Saturday listening to Mel Kiper Jr. and watching Brady Quinn drop down the boards (GO IRISH!)–which when you think about was kind of pathetic. It was a beautiful day, or so I heard.

But at least I can take some solace in the fact that I was hardly alone. The latest Nielsen statistics reveal that in the average American home, the television is on for well over eight hours a day. The average American now watches four hours and 35 minutes of television each day.

Even more troubling is this: U.S. surveys indicate that by the time a young American graduates from high school, he or she will have spent more hours in front of the TV than in school.

TVs even outnumber us now. There are 2.73 sets in the average household compared to the 2.55 people that live there.

But despite these troubling figures, we party on, surfing the dial, watching everything from Sponge Bob Square Pants to grainy black-and-white documentaries about the Battle of Stalingrad.

It’s a weird cycle that never seems to end. Because let’s face it, we love our TVs, and we need them on that wall–even if there is nothing on.

The flatter, of course, the better. Those fat old cathode ray tube (CTR) sets just don’t cut it anymore.

At least that what Sony (SNE:NYSE) believes. It’ll stop shipping the bulky CTR sets entirely this year. Instead, the company plans to begin selling a line of ultra-thin TVs using organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology, hoping to be the first to market with the promising next-generation display.

The new set wowed them at the Consumer Electronic Show in January and has been on the fast track ever since. In TV land, it simply stole the show

And for good reason. Sony’s 27-inch set was a mere ten millimeters thick, while its eleven-inch version was a wispy three millimeters–that’s as thin as the cardboard box your big set came in. You could practically paste it to the wall.

On top of that, the picture quality is off the charts. The sets feature a contrast ratio of 1,000,000 to 1, which means that unlike other flat panel TVs the blacks are quite black and the whites are brilliant.

The remarkably vivid picture can even be watched at an angle without losing its image quality. By comparison, plasma and LCD displays look faded.

What makes all of this wizardy possible is the OLED screen. It uses the self-luminescent properties of organic materials and requires no backlight. Before now these screens have been found mainly in smaller devices like MP3 players and cell phones.

The Nikkei business daily reported last month that Sony would begin mass-producing the sets along with its partner Toyota Industries in a joint venture called ST Liquid Crystal Display. Only about 1,000 of the 11-inch OLED sets will be manufactured per month.

That means that besides being very expensive, they won’t exactly be flying off the shelves of your local Best Buy this year.

But industry analysts predict that by 2012 sales of OLED sets will generate $690 million as they increasingly begin to take their share of the current $35 billion market in flat screens.

"It won’t be easy for OLED TVs to replace LCD TVs," said Sony Executive Katsumi Ihara, "but we would like to turn it into a big new business."

His big plans are shared by others in the industry. Samsung, LG Phillips (LPL:NYSE), Canon (CAJ:NYSE) and Au Optronics (AUO:NYSE) are all also working to bring this technology to the market.

It all means, of course, that TV-Free America will have its work cut out for it again next year. Those sets are going to be working overtime, no matter what’s on.

Maybe they could pick a better week.

Wishing you happiness, health, and wealth,


Steve Christ, Editor

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