From YouTube to Hulu and everything in between, there’s no questioning that online video is big. So big that one might assume it’s threatening the role of television.

Not so according to two new reports indicating that online video has a long way to go before it eclipses the television.

Nielson’s A2/M2 Three Screen Report found that in Q4 2008, the average US television viewer watched an amazing 151 hours of television (this is a record). The average online viewer in the US watched 3 hours worth of web video and the average mobile viewer took in 4 hours of mobile video content.

All told, all three categories of viewers rose and year-over-year, the total number of people watching time-shifted television grew to 74m in the fourth quarter from 54m in 2007.

But as Nielson’s numbers hint, time-shifting doesn’t mean time-eliminating when it comes to television consumption.

A separate report from Leichtman Research Group (LRG) found that “online video is having little impact on traditional TV viewing and services“.

According to LRG, 34% of adults in the US report watching some form of online video at least once weekly, up from 31% in the previous year. 75% of the adults LRG surveyed “strongly disagreed” with the statement that they now watch less television because of online video. Even 61% of teens “strongly disagreed” with this as well.

Only 3% of adults said they’d consider cancelling their television service because of the availability online video, down from 4% previously.

So what do the numbers mean?

I think a few things:

  • A rising tide lifts all boats. Everyone loves the latest television and video programming and people are consuming more of it. That benefits all screens from the television screen to the computer screen.
  • The online video experience still has a lot of room for improvement. Nothing quite compares to the television experience. Not only is it often more convenient, for viewers with big-screen hi-def televisions, it simply can’t compete.
  • The internet isn’t the only time-shifting tool. DVRs are still growing in popularity; 29% of US homes now have a DRV device.
  • Online video is a fragmented market. While services like Hulu are making professional content more accessible online, they’re not available to everyone and there still isn’t a one-stop internet option. Until it’s easier to find everything you want in a single location, a lot of people will stick with cable TV.

If the numbers show anything, it just might be that instead of looking at the television and internet as a zero-sum competition, smart media companies and content producers will increasingly look at them as partners that complement each other.