THE BOTTOM LINE: AT HOME, THE FAMILY IS ANOTHER COUNTRY SHOW

An obscure satellite channel dedicated to country and western music could be the last bastion of the British nuclear family. Mum, dad and the kids now rarely sit down to watch television together, according to research revealed at The Television Show last week by RSMB/DGA, a research company. But the Country Music Channel is a rare exception.

Only 35 per cent of television viewing is "social" - ie in groups of two or more. "Forget about the nuclear family clustered around the television," David Graham, managing director of DGA, says. "It is no longer the norm because social change and extra choice have shifted what TV has always been about."

The social change has been well documented. The number of single-occupancy homes is increasing and will almost double to 35 per cent of homes by 2011. The number of family homes with both partners present is moving in the other direction and will be just over 40 per cent of the population by 2011.

Added to this social change is the rapidly increasing number of channels. Sixty per cent of all homes have two or more televisions but in family households the figure is 80 per cent. Those homes are also more likely to have cable or satellite channels and they are proving a big force in driving different members of the family to different televisions.

Instead there are now channels that attract different levels of social or single viewing.

"Watch with mother" does still exist: children's channels such as Disney and the Cartoon Network still provide a relatively high amount of social viewing - around 45 per cent. Single-interest channels, not surprisingly, are much more often watched by a viewer on their own.

Three-quarters of viewing of channels such as the Sci-fi Channel or Eurosport are watched by a person on their own. Music channels usually adhere to this rule, with the exception of The Country Music Channel, which, strangely, is the most socially viewed channel on British television.

The consequences for programme makers and advertisers of this shift in viewing habits are yet fully to sink in. David Graham believes big prime- time programmes such as Coronation Street, which are currently dependent on families watching together, will inevitably lose numbers because of the end of that type of viewing. He predicts that the nation's favourite soaps could lose as much as a third of their viewers over the next 10 years.

The change will also bring opportunities for programme-makers, however.

Perhaps more worrying than what programme-makers do next is what such changed viewing does to British society and the family. Does the future of the nuclear family rest with an evening of live entertainment from Nashvillen

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