TV as we know it today is dying.
While visiting my college-aged nephew in Cincinnati over the weekend, I asked him if he misses TV (since his apartment lacked one). “Miss it? I never even watched it back at school.”
And his experience is not a lone voice. Querying more than a dozen other people his age and in their mid-to-late 20s — and the experiences of their friends as well — all produced eerily similar responses.
Generation Y — the Millennials — and every generation after it has little interest in television, especially once they hit their teens. As young adults, they simply don’t watch it.
Instead, they turn to the Internet, and use it for virtually all of their entertainment needs (save for video games, which are also played on their computers, and to a declining extent, dedicated gaming consoles).
Will anyone care if traditional TV watching goes the way of radio before it — used to watch a select few programs a couple of times a week?
Network television ratings continue to decline year after year. The World Series hit its peak in the late 1970s, with nearly 50 percent of households with TVs watching it. In 2008, it was down to a miniscule 14 percent.1 This year saw primetime’s lowest ratings ever, according to a late April 2012 article in New York Times:
In the last few weeks, new viewership lows for network series have been recorded nightly among 18- to 49-year-olds. […] The declines have not discriminated [between popular and unpopular shows]. […]
The live ratings for network programs (that is, the ratings for people who watch shows when they are first broadcast) have declined for 14 straight quarters.2
These are trends unlikely to stop. The reasons are numerous, but in a nutshell, they include:
- People have always hated commercials.
With the popular adoption of DVRs, iTunes, Amazon Unbox, Netflix, Hulu and a dozen other Internet services, there’s almost no reason to watch a television show with commercials any longer. And that’s just fine by most folks, since commercials interrupt the flow, story and drama of a show.
People were always told that commercials are a necessary evil of TV — then we find out they don’t have to be. I can watch a show on my Tivo DVR commercial-free. I can purchase or watch for free many TV shows on iTunes and Netflix, commercial-free. And of course, there are torrents that provide such television shows for free (but may not be exactly legal).
- People have more options to watch shows than ever before.
Right along with hating commercials, there’s no reason to opt watching a show with commercials when so many other options are available. The Internet has enabled these technologies that simply weren’t as accessible and convenient a generation ago (remember trying to program your VCR?!).
After catching up and watching the popular AMC television show, The Walking Dead, via recordings on iTunes and other places, live just doesn’t cut it, according to the former head of entertainment at NBC, Jeff Gaspin:
“We watched that live,” he said. “It was not nearly as good. The commercials broke the tension. We had watched the other episodes with blankets over our heads. I hate to say this to the AMC executives and everybody else in the business, but I will never watch ‘Walking Dead’ live again.”
Flexibility of watching when you want, where you want is one of the driving forces behind people fleeing traditional primetime TV viewing. Since technology has enabled this ability, it’s not likely to go back anytime soon. Remember how everyone used to gather around the radio back in the 1930s and 1940s for their favorite weekly shows? That’s how people have been watching TV — gathering around primetime to watch their favorite TV shows. Just as (the remaining few) people now catch radio programming where and when they want to, people are now catching TV shows when and where they want.
- Compelling shows are all over 500 TV channels.
Your favorite TV shows are unlikely to be all in one place, right after the other. Instead, they are spread out across the television dial, across the week, and interspersed randomly with repeats and — worst of all — unwanted shows you have little interest in watching.
This has always worked to television networks’ advantage. By making you watch the less-popular shows in-between the shows you actually want to watch, they sell more advertising (and make more money).
With all the options available to watch time-shifted programming, I sit down and watch all my favorite shows when I want. And none of the shows I don’t.
- The Internet is its own source of entertainment.
This is probably the factor least understood by television network executives and, because of that, also the scariest. People are simply not as interested in the TV shows they find on traditional television. Instead, they’re turning to hundreds of shows born and produced exclusively online.
These shows often lack the polish and production values of regular TV, but guess what? People don’t seem to mind. The stories and characters can be just as compelling, and the time commitment is often significantly shorter (think 10 to 20 minutes versus 30 or an hour).
YouTube has birthed thousands of new celebrities in their own right. And many of them are just as — if not more — entertaining than anything you can find on network or cable TV.
- TV’s cable and satellite dish economics don’t make sense.
Cable companies, and satellite companies after then, sucked us all dry providing us with TV service. Consumers are sick of the price gouging, the marketing gimmicks and the always-rising rates while getting nothing new in return. My choices of cable channels hasn’t significantly changed in a decade, yet my price for this simple service has nearly doubled (especially with the addition of HDTV, with many extra surcharges for this “benefit”).
To ordinary consumers, these numbers just aren’t making sense any longer. And while the cable companies will continue to hold many of us hostage with broadband access charges, we don’t have to double what we pay these companies every month just to add TV.3
Many younger people don’t own TVs, a strange turn-around from the days when virtually every household in the U.S. have at least one TV. And while many of them will end up purchasing them for other reasons later on — to watch a DVD on a screen that’s more movie-like or for their kids when they start families — it’s a trend that’s worth noting.
I love TV and still watch it daily. But I recognize I’m in a dying breed of adults who will soon be replaced by generations where TV will be seen as old fashioned as having a kitchen radio.
- http://www.baseball-almanac.com/ws/wstv.shtml [↩]
- http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/23/business/media/tv-viewers-are-missing-in-action.html?pagewanted=all [↩]
- If you haven’t figured it out yet, landline phone service over the Internet can be had for free via services like Google Voice. No need to be sucked into the “bundling” marketing doublespeak. [↩]