TV isn’t dead. But a very bad thing is happening.


It’s silly to talk about the death of TV. Around the world, more people are watching more minutes and hours of traditional TV per day than last year. Even in North America, the rise of over the top video services like Netflix has had almost no effect on hours watched or pay TV subscriptions.

Before we go any further, it is important to note that young people have always not watched as much traditional TV as older viewers. 18-24 year olds are more active, and spend more time in conversations and social settings compared to those over 65. To give you an idea, all Americans over the age of 2 watched just over 37 hours per week of live and time shifted TV, while those over 65 watched nearly 54 hours per week, and 18-24 years olds clocked about 24 hours per week. 65+ watch 45% more than average, 18-24 are about 35% less, and those over 65 watch over TWICE as much as 18-24 year olds.

That’s not the problem. This table is:

Nielsen NEW

In the last two years, while the US population as a whole is watching  a bit more TV (live and time shifted), 18-24 year olds are watching less.

It’s not a “big shift” as yet…only 11%. And it almost certainly varies by urban vs. rural; gender; and race.

But I have seen this movie before. I remember the newspaper industry in the 1990s. It had always been true that teenagers didn’t subscribe or even read newspapers. That was OK…once they moved out and got a job or went to college they started. Then one day, around about 1995, that changed, and we started seeing (at first) very small annual DECREASES in print newspaper consumption in 18-24 year olds. 20 years later, that trend has been working away, and we now have the situation where (in one UK survey) less than 0.5% of 16-34 year olds listed print newspapers or magazines in their top five media they would miss the most.


For years now, the TV industry has been mopping its brow, and been thankful that what happened to newspapers doesn’t seem to have happened to it. I could be wrong, but I think we are starting to see the first signs of the ‘newspaperification’ of the traditional TV industry. Up until now we have had surveys, anecdotal data, and lots of arm-waving that young people are abandoning traditional TV, but not much real evidence. The empirical data is coming in now, and I think it is important.

But I need to be clear. Traditional TV remains a globally massive ($400 billion) industry that is growing in most regions and most age groups. It won’t go away just because some younger viewers are watching less. And there is no simultaneous TV equivalent of what Craigslist did to classified ads. Advertisers care about 16-24 year olds, but they also care about all the other demographics too.

This isn’t the death of TV. But it is important.



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