This study has been prompted by the relatively small body of knowledge on the media use of the elderly. The aim of this study was to show how people 50 years and older use the medium television in Germany. Therefore, the 1996 television usership data collected in a representative ‘peoplemeter’ panel of about 4,800 German television households have been surveyed, processed and analyzed using standard audience research software. In 1996, Germans 50 years and above watched on average 233 min television per day. The older a person, the longer he or she watches television. Individuals 65 years and older watch television for 253 min per day. This subgroup appears to comprise the most intensive users of the medium. Men 65 years and above may be depicted as the heaviest weekend TV watchers, older women as the medium’s closest followers from Monday to Friday. Television program broadcast late in the afternoon and early in the evening have by far the best chances to be chosen by seniors. The affinity of the elderly for the medium can be explained by its potential for offering entertainment, information, and companionship, being a substitute for primary interpersonal communication, a tool for structuring time patterns and keeping up the rhythms of long-established everyday rituals. On the one hand, television can be a ‘lifeline’ and a ‘window to the outside world’ for people with little opportunity for direct, unmediated social contact, thus possibly raising their satisfaction of life. On the other hand, prolonged TV use may be seen as an indicator for the degree of loneliness and neglect of the elderly.

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