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Game consoles increasingly used for streaming video

While playing games remains the most popular use for game consoles, streaming video represents an increasing chunk of console time.
While playing games remains the most popular use for game consoles, streaming video represents an increasing chunk of console time.Nielsen

Game consoles are still primarily for playing games, but a new survey from Nielsen shows they're increasingly being used for a secondary purpose: showing movies and TV shows from Netflix and other streaming services on the living room TV.

Nielsen's survey of 3,000 Americans ages 13 and up found use of streaming video and video-on-demand services up on all three major consoles from 2010 to 2011. On the Nintendo Wii, in particular, streaming video now accounts for an estimated 33 percent of usage time, up from 20 percent in 2010. Streaming video made up 14 and 15 percent of usage time on the Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3, respectively, both up significantly from last year.

Does this mean people aren't using their consoles to play games anymore? Not exactly. Online and offline gameplay still combine to make up a majority of usage time on all three consoles, though proportional gaming time did decrease slightly for Nintendo Wii users this year.

For the most part, Nielsen's data shows the increase in streaming video time comes at the expense of other non-gaming uses for the consoles, such as listening to music, browsing the Internet, or using social networking apps. Users are also spending a little less time watching traditional Blu-ray and DVD movies on the Xbox 360 and PS3 (the Wii doesn't allow users to play disc-based movies, which perhaps explains its larger-than-normal streaming rates).

The increase in streaming is great news for Netflix, which sees half its users watching via a game console, according to a Nielsen report from this summer. The heavy streaming rates among console owners also help explain why, at peak times, Netflix is responsible for close to a third of all U.S. internet traffic.

More than that, though, this new data shows how game consoles are used more than ever as all-purpose, entertainment-focused computers for the living room. Over the last few weeks Microsoft has added new video content from sources including Comcast, Verizon FiOS and YouTube, and both the PS3 and Xbox 360 can already connect to your Facebook account.

Don't be surprised if the next generation of home consoles offers even more internet-connected apps to complement the core gaming functions that still make up the bulk of their usage.

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Kyle Orland has written hundreds of thousands of words about gaming since he started a Mario fan site at the age of 14. You can follow him on Twitter or at his personal website,