Television: Is It Dying? – The TV Answer Man!

Q. I notice that teens are usually watching videos on their phones rather than the TV. Being in the industry, I also read the reports saying television is dying because today’s young people aren’t interested in watching hour-long shows, or subscribing to cable or satellite. They just want to watch their short YouTube videos on their little devices, or just text their friends and play video games. What is your opinion? Do you think we are experiencing the beginning of the end of traditional TV? — Ellen, Pittsburgh. 

Ellen, if you listen to some journalists, and some misinformed Wall Street analysts, you would think that television was dying. They are constantly proclaiming that watching television is an activity in rapid decline. Americans, they say, are becoming less interested in watching video and more interested in gaming, texting and tweeting.

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But that is utter nonsense.

Despite the deafening hype surrounding the cord-cutting issue, there are still more than 90 million households subscribing to cable, satellite and telco services. And the majority of those households are also subscribing to at least one streaming service, such as Netflix, if not multiple streaming services.

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Even people who have dropped the traditional pay TV service — the so-called cord-cutters — are still watching a lot of television. In most cases, they are subscribing to several subscription video on demand services, and/or one of the new live streaming services such as DIRECTV Now, Sling TV or YouTube TV. Many of these people are paying monthly bills almost identical to a lower-tier package from a pay TV service.

People don’t want less television. They want more. More choices. And they are willing to pay for it, albeit perhaps not as much as they did before.

I partnered with Nielsen Media Research in the late 1990s on four landmark studies of the satellite TV audience, and we found that the number one reason why people bought a dish was that it had more channels. It was the same answer in all four studies!

The burning desire for more choices in watching television has never been quenched. People still want more choice and they will go to the companies that give it to them. And they will spend more money to get it.

People love all these choices, and they love all the great television shows that the new services are creating. The growth of binge-viewing is not a coincidence.

And, as for young people…

Every 10 years or so, someone predicts that a new trend among young adults will soon become the norm in our culture. I remember predictions that people would only watch TV on laptops; that house sales would decline because young people were less likely to want to own a home. And so on.

But the reality is that we all change as we get older. We get married, get jobs, have kids, and yes, buy those houses with the accompanied mortgages. We suddenly don’t have the energy or the disposable income to engage in some of the leisure activities that we used to love when we were young and carefree.

And once you have those adult burdens, you also hunger for ways to relax, take your mind off the job and the kids, and that escape is frequently the television. Yes, the television. The big-screen television sitting in the living room.

As today’s Millennials and teens become adults, they will be more inclined to subscribe to a pay TV package. It may not be the expensive pay TV bundle of the past, and it may be via a streaming service rather than a cable or satellite set-top box. But the bundle will give them all the channels they really want, and that their kids want.

Television is not dying, Ellen. It is changing, but not dying.

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— Phillip Swann