TV’s Disappearing Act

Television viewing among 18- to 24-year-olds reaches its lowest level yet. 

TV watchingThe latest figures from Nielsen are quite telling:  The decline in TV watching by younger viewers is continuing – and it’s doing so at an accelerating pace.

Looking at year-over-year numbers and taking an average of the four quarters in each year since 2011, we see that the average number of hours younger viewers (age 18-24) spend watching television has been slipping quite dramatically:

  • 2011: ~24.8 hours spent watching TV weekly
  • 2012: ~22.9 hours
  • 2013: ~22.0 hours
  • 2014: ~19.0 hours

It’s nearly a 25% decline over just four years.  More significantly, the most recent yearly decline has been at a much faster clip than Nielsen has recorded before:

  • 2011-12 change: -7.7%
  • 2012-13 change: -3.9%
  • 2013-14 change: -13.6% 

So far this year, the trend doesn’t appear to be changing.  1st quarter figures from Nielsen peg weekly TV viewing by younger viewers at approximately 18 hours.  If this level of decline continues for the balance of the year, watching TV among younger viewers will be off by an even bigger margin than last year.

There’s no question that the “great disappearing television audience” is due mainly because of the younger generation of viewers.  By contrast, people over the age of 50 surveyed by Nielsen watch an average of 47.2 hours of television per week — nearly three times higher.

picLest you think that the time saved by younger viewers is going into outdoor activities or other recreational pursuits and interests, that’s certainly not the case.  They’re spending as much time using digital devices (smartphones, tablets and/or PCs) as they are watching TV.

So, it’s a classic case of shifting within the category (media consumption), rather than moving out of it.

I don’t think very many people are surprised.

The needle finally moves in changing TV viewership habits.

graphDespite the many changes we’ve seen in the way people can consume media today, one thing that has remained pretty consistent has been the dynamics of TV viewership.

Things have taken so long to evolve, to some observers it’s seemed as if TV was effectively immune to all of the changes happening around it.

But now we’re finally seeing some pretty fundamental shifts happening in the way content on TV sets is consumed.  Two new surveys chart what’s changing.

A recently released report from Accenture, which surveyed nearly 25,000 online consumers during the 4th quarter of 2014, notes that viewership of long-form video content (television and movies on a TV screen) is now in decline across all demographic categories – not merely among younger viewers.

The decline amounts to ~11% over the previous year among American viewers.  It’s even bigger (a ~13% decline) when looking at worldwide figures.

Not surprisingly, the drop is less pronounced among viewers aged 55+ (for them it’s closer to a 5% reduction) than with young viewers age 14-17 (a decline in excess of 30%).  But the fact that declines are now occurring across the board is what’s noteworthy.

At the same time, the Accenture survey found that consumers who watch long-form video on connected devices rather than on TVs aren’t all that enamored with the experience:

  • About half find that watching online video isn’t a great experience because of Internet connectivity issues.
  • Approximately 40% complain of too much advertising. 
  • Around one-third encounter problems with video buffering … and an equal portion report problems with audio distortion or dropouts.

More highlights from the Accenture research are available for download here.

time-shifted TV

Another study – this one from Hub Entertainment Research – has found that viewers who have broadband and watch at least five hours of TV per week are actually watching more time-shifted TV than they are watching live broadcasts.

On average, participants in this study reported that ~47% of the TV shows they watch are live and ~53% are time-shifted.

Among younger viewers (age 16-34), time-shifted viewing is even more prevalent (around 60%).

Most time-shifted viewing is still happening through a set top box:  DVRs (~34%) and video-on-demand from a pay TV provider (~19%).

For consumers, being able to watch TV on their own schedule isn’t just more convenient; it has also made back catalogue material more accessible.

Survey respondents noted the following reasons for watching shows at a different time:

  • Can watch when it’s more convenient to do so: ~60% of respondents
  • Can see missed episodes:  ~37%
  • Can skip ads: ~37%
  • Can pause or rewind the program:  ~34%
  • It takes less time to watch the show: ~33%
  • Not available to watch the show during live airing: ~29%
  • Can watch show episodes back-to-back: ~19%

Notice that ad avoidance isn’t at the top of the list.  Nonetheless, for the industry this is a mixed bag.  Time-shifting has clearly put pressure on the business model and how the TV business traditionally makes money – namely, shows watched live, with ads.

Additional details on the Hub Entertainment Research report can be accessed here.