MONTREAL - Canadians are spending more time online than they are in front of their television sets, the first time Internet usage has jumped ahead of TV watching, a new survey by the Ipsos Reid polling firm suggests.

But they're still watching TV on their computers as more shows migrate online, said Mark Laver, associate vice-president of Ipsos Reid. "We're not necessarily watching less television," Laver said Monday from Calgary.

"We're watching television in a different form in a different medium. Some of that increase in Internet usage is coming from people watching shows online."

Overall, Canadians are now spending more than 18 hours a week online, compared with 16.9 hours watching television, says the Interactive Reid Report.

Internet usage is up from 14.9 hours last year, while the number of hours watching television also rose in the last year, from 15.8 hours in 2009. Usage of newspapers, radio and magazines have all remained relatively stable in the last year.

Some industry watchers have noted the cost of watching TV is rising as cable TV companies and satellite operators raise the monthly cost of service. As that happens more people are watching TV online for free.

On Monday, the CRTC gave financially ailing TV networks a victory, ruling that the networks can seek payment from cable and satellite companies for the right to carry broadcast signals.

The CRTC said the networks can even choose to withhold their signals from a cable company if negotiations go bust.

But the federal broadcast regulator said before negotiations can get going, it wants the Federal Court of Appeal to rule on whether the new system is legally sound.

Laver said people's schedules and more online content like video clips, games and channels from abroad are factors in the growing trend.

So is the cost of cable television.

"If you're not a big television watcher, can you justify paying $30 a month, $50 a month, $80 a month for television when you watch one show a night, one show a week? The reality is that show might be available online," he said.

"There are people who are going to say, 'I don't need cable."'

For the younger generations, the computer is much more important than the television and they generally spend more time online than those over 55, Laver said.

But computers are becoming increasingly important in everyone's lives, no matter what age, as the are used to find information and as an entertainment hub, he said.

"It's a lifeline, a tether for your life. You're using it a lot more frequently than a lot of other things right now."

The TV is still considered more important but "we're getting very close" to the point where the PC will take over from it, Laver added.

Tony Olvet, vice-president of research at IDC Canada, agreed the PC will overtake the television in popularity at some point because of the variety of online activities and content.

But he said television has the high-definition format in its favour.

"It's very difficult to replicate, especially the HD experience on the computer today," Olvet said.

"In our forecast, virtually all of the growth is going to be the value of the digital services that people purchase in cable and satellite or IPTV on the revenue side for those TV providers."

Television is still the more dominant medium for the Canadian consumers that advertisers are targeting, Olvet said.

"Those consumers are predominantly watching the majority of their television in the traditional format," he said from Toronto.

In breaking down its survey, Ipsos-Reid noted that males are spending significantly more time online than females - 20 hours compared with 16. In addition, 18-34 year olds are spending 20 hours a week online on average, compared with 18 hours for those over 35.

"In previous years we've seen significant differences between the generations and the amount of time they spend online," Laver said.

In a related development Monday, a report in AdAge.com said U.S. TV giant CBS has sold out its online advertising inventory for March Madness on Demand, the broadcaster's online coverage of the U.S. collegiate basketball tournament.

The website says CBS brought in about $37 million in online ad sales, up 20 per cent from the year before.

This year, Capital One, a major U.S. credit card company, joined phone operator AT&T and soft drink giant Coca-Cola as online advertisers and sponsors, the website said.

Last year, 7.5 million people watched the NCAA tournament online, compared with 130 million on TV. However, digital revenues are steadily growing.

AdAge.com said that at an investor conference last week, CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves called the online broadcast of the NCAA games "a great new source of revenue" for the broadcaster.

As for the Canadian TV and Internet use survey, the Ipsos Reid poll was done in the last quarter of 2009 and questioned 839 Canadian adults. The survey's margin of error is plus or minus 3.38 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Ipsos Reid has operations in eight cities and employs more than 600 researchers and support staff in Canada.