My wife is a Veterinarian, and we actually had a discussion about this very subject a day or two ago (and I’ll preface my comments by saying that I’m just reporting what she had said to me, as it is me and not her that is posting this, and I am not a veterinarian).
We have four cats (and have had other cats in the past) and one of our current cats seems to actually watch TV sometimes. None of the others pay any attention, but Bertha sometimes stares intently at the action on the TV, and will occaisionally go up to the screen and bat at something showing on it.
My wife told me how unusual that is, and she said that most cats and dogs are not able to see TV images. It has something to do with our “persistance of vision” (actually I am the one who used this term to try and define what she was telling me, lest anyone think she studied this phenomenon or something) and the physical properties present in the human eye and brain that allows us to see television images do not exist in dogs and cats.
Sorry I have no cites or further scientific evidence or reasoning, but the thrust of what she told me was essentially that in vet school she was told that dogs and cats do not “see” TV, or at least do not percieve images on TV the way we do.
She seemed to know more about the details of canine vision (even though the OP asked not to be informed about this), and says that dogs are very near-sighted, and see in black and white.
Probably those animals that do seem to “watch” TV only see blurs and colors and such.
By the way Ferret Herder, what animals see on a computer screen (such as from your Atari 2600) could very well be different from broadcast images (which refresh at a 1/30th of a second rate, and interlace, or something like that)