I am a huge fan of website FiveThirtyEight: they are always ready to provide the hard data that does some useful mythbusting. But I think their tweet above missed the boat…badly. [Edited to add: To be clear, the author of the piece (Mona Chalabi) did highlight most of the issues below. I think she should have made the point that the TV ownership angle had a distorting effect, but the misleading tweet was likely written by someone else at FiveThirtyEight.]
Bad Data Analysis
I know Twitter has a tight character limit, but the correct version should read “About 1 in every 14 adult men in the United States WHO OWN A TV don’t watch nationally televised sports.” The ESPN information only applies to TV owners. Well, everybody has a TV these days, right?
No. As of 2011, 96.7% of American households had a TV set.
- That’s almost everybody, but it’s not everybody! With about 115.8 million households in the USA as of 2014, the 3.3% who were non-owners would translate into nearly 4 million homes without TVs, or nearly 9 million people.
- The 2011 number was 96.7%…but the ownership figure used to be 98.9%. If it had declined 2.2% by 2011, and given ongoing trends around TV and digital, I would estimate that the 2014 number is likely to be under 95%, with 94% being probable. That suggests up to 7 million US homes without TVs, or 15 million people. That’s more people than there are in Belgium or Ontario.
I expect FiveThirtyEight to get that kind of thing right. [I need to emphasize that the data is about people who watch ZERO sports. This isn’t little sports, it is none.] It is particularly important in this case, because most TV executives believe that live TV sports are the current anchor for their business. For almost all audiences, sports is ‘must see TV’, largely not available on PCs, tablets and smartphones. Many of those who don’t own TVs are likely to also not watch sports, nearly doubling the population of non-sports watchers. I would say the more accurate headline would be “about one in every seven adult men don’t watch nationally televised or online video sports.”
Gender Divide? We Don’t Need No Stinking Gender Divide!
Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that they published the post and gave us the exact number. But the fact that almost all American men watch TV sports isn’t exactly shocking news – perhaps the only surprise is that the number is as high as 13 out of 14, or 93%. But the tweet completely missed the much more surprising news: the percentage of TV owning men who don’t watch TV sports is exactly the same (over the last four quarters) as the percentage of women who don’t watch TV sports! Say what? The cliché of the sports widow is ubiquitous, in the media, and even in stock photos. [You have to click on that link from the 538 article: the sheer number of photos depicting angry women being ignored by sport-loving men is hysterical.] We all know the cliché is a bit exaggerated: my ex-wife loves TV sports, my mother-in-law watches nearly every Blue Jays game, Canadian Twitter exec Kirstine Stewart (no relation) is a mega fan of multiple teams, and many of my social media female friends comment on sports as often as the men, and as knowledgably.
But still…there must be some gender gap, right? Nope. From the article “The figure is the same for women: On average over the past four quarters, 7 percent of adult women in the U.S. said they hadn’t watched any sports on TV.”
This is news! All kinds of TV content appeals differently to different demographics, including gender-specific preferences. That both women and men watch TV sports in such overwhelming numbers has deep implications for the future of TV, of TV advertising and TV subscriptions. But it’s not the most important aspect of the post.
This chart is:
The Kids Are Alright. But They’re Not Watching TV Sports.
Americans as a whole are watching more traditional TV, and adding over the top services like Netflix and YouTube: internet video has (so far at least, and for most people) been largely additive and complementary to traditional TV, not substitutive and competitive.
For the last fifty years 18-24 year olds have always watched about 25% fewer minutes of TV per day than average: they are young and active and out socializing. But something new (and terrifying for TV executives) has been occurring just in the last few years: while the population as a whole still watches about the same amount of traditional TV, 18-24 year olds are watching less, and they now watch 35% fewer minutes per day than average.
That sort of drop in media engagement is very similar to what happened to print newspapers and younger audiences about 10 years ago, and broadcast executives are rightly concerned that the same fate awaits them. But they have a ray of hope: when I meet with them, both in Canada and around the world, they have great faith in the power of live TV sports “Yes, the kids aren’t watching a lot of TV. But sports still matters, and they will watch that, and pay for cable, and pay for sports packages. Maybe not now, but as they get older.” And that matters, since About half of the programming costs on the average US cable bill go for sports programming.
If we look at the FiveThirtyEight chart that shows the non-sports watchers by age, we can lump together the 35-54 year olds and the 55+ demographics, and say that only about 4% of TV owning Americans 35+ watch no TV sports. Averaging the men and women from the 18-34 year old group allows us to further state that 13.5% of Americans in that age group watch no TV sports. Put another way, 18-34 year old Americans are more than three times as likely to watch ZERO sports as all other adults.
It would be very interesting to see that non-sports number for 18-34 year olds over time. Maybe it has always been about 13-14%. But I doubt it. I have a theory that I am working on, but haven’t had any data to support it. Until now.
Historically, younger demographics didn’t watch a lot of sports: heck, they were too busy playing baseball or football to sit inside on a nice sunny day and watch it on TV. But mum or dad brought them to the games, at least once or twice. My Dad never had seasons tickets, but he took me to 3-4 hockey games. I will always remember the Montreal Canadiens playing the Detroit Red Wings at the old Forum in 1972! As a result, I cheered for the Habs for decades, even after I left Montreal.
But for a variety of reasons, the cost of bringing a son and daughter to the game – across all of hockey, baseball, basketball, and NFL football – has risen sharply in the last few decades. My estimate for the cost of a single Leafs game (buying tickets from scalpers, and based on average ticket prices) for a family of four was roughly C$2,000, including tickets, food and parking. Per game. We have other stats, showing that hockey participation by kids is falling like a stone: due to costs, inconvenience and concussions, 90% of Canadian families choose for their kids not to play hockey as of 2013. There are similar stats for baseball, football and basketball in the US.
So here’s my theory. A generation of young people is growing up not playing the sports that are most popular on TV. Their parents are increasingly unable to take them to games in person. And, not surprisingly, these same kids are going to be less likely to be TV sports watchers.
Don’t get me wrong. Millions of boys and girls will grow into millions of men and women who are just as addicted to TV sports as their parents. Tens of millions. Hundreds of millions. Just not as high a percentage as in the past.
What will happen if the percentage of TV owning Americans who watch zero sports goes from 7% to 14%? And if the coveted 18-34 year old demographic goes from 13.5% who watch no sports, to 25-30%? A majority of Americans will still watch sports, and even a majority of young Americans, but much smaller majorities than today. That won’t happen this year or next, but could happen by 2025 or 2030.
If that is the case, do YOU think the prices that TV pays for sports broadcast rights will be as high as they are today?
Many people have asked me what I am reading and why on a fairly regular basis. Most recently, Derek Anderson (@half_way_there) posed the question, and here’s my answer. [I won’t write a blog post on each book I read, but will try to cover most of them.]
What: I am currently reading the third volume of Neil Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, The System of the World.
Why: I have a tendency to find an author I like, and then go nuts and read almost everything he or she has written. I recently completed the 39th book in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and wanted something new to read. I scanned the list of award-winning science fiction authors that I hadn’t read before, and tried out Stephenson’s Diamond Age. I enjoyed it enough that I bought (in print form) everything else he has written. Going by order of publication, I read Snow Crash, then Cryptonomicon. Although the Baroque Cycle was published AFTER Cryptonomicon, it is essentially a prequel, with many of the characters in the Cycle being the forebears of characters in the later book.
Looking at the four volumes en masse, we are talking 5 kilograms of dead trees, 3,775 pages, and roughly 2 million words of fiction.
Dead Trees? And Fiction? Yup, and yup. You will want to check out Deloitte TMT Predictions when they launch on January 13, 2015, as there will be an entire topic about the future of print books. Although I also own and read some eBooks on my tablet, my strong preference is for traditional print. The Prediction will cover some of the reasons why I (and billions of other readers) feel the same way, but this shot of my bookshelves may help you understand!
I read between 100-150 books in a given year. Non-fiction makes up at most a couple of books. There are three big reasons why I almost exclusively read fiction. 1) Between research reports, media articles, and think pieces I read 3-4 hours of non-fiction daily already. A little balance is needed! 2) Most business books have to be written in a certain way: they don’t sell if they don’t provide answers. But I don’t want (or trust) other people’s answers, I prefer information and ways of thinking that I can use to craft my own answers. 3) Fiction (especially fantasy and science-fiction) is often criticised as being ‘escapist.’ When I think about the world of 2014, and the issues we will confront over the next decades, books that talk about artificial intelligence, quantum computers or global environmental crises seem the opposite of escapism! To quote Isaac Asimov “Reality is a crutch for people who can’t handle science fiction.”
OK, you get it. As a guy trying to predict the future, you can see how I might prefer fiction, and certain kinds of fiction. Given that the Baroque Cycle is set in the period 1660-1715, how could that possibly help me in my work?
Refresher: Yes, I took calculus in 1982-1984; and studied a fair bit about encryption in 1988-1989. But that’s a LOOONG time ago. So reading a book that covers the invention of the calculus by Newton and/or Leibniz, how it was developed, and what it meant for the world of science (or Natural Philosophy, as it was then known) is hugely helpful for me. Various characters in the book use cryptography, keys both public and private, and even the problems around factoring large numbers into their primes. All of this is relevant to public key encryption and security today. I could go read textbooks on these subjects, but Stephenson’s description of how Newton arrived at the concept of ‘fluxions’ and ‘fluences’ by following the banks of the Cam will stick with me much longer than any text will!
The nature of money: The Baroque period was a complicated time for money. What did it really mean? Did it have to be a precious metal, like gold, or silver? Did it have to be “coined” and have the imprint of a king on it? What happened when governments added base metals to the mix? (This is where we get the term ‘debasing currency.”) Lyon and Leipzig were leading the way in moving large parts of money around on pieces of paper: how did that work in the early days? What happened when the precious metal supply was interrupted, and the currency supply became fixed? All of these questions are relevant in 2014, with the concepts of Bitcoins and other blockchain currencies forcing us to examine what we mean by currency and money. Are they a store of value? A medium of exchange? What roles do trust and volatility play? What effects does fixing the money supply have?
Bitcoin seems like high tech today, and making coins seems low tech. But – at the time – who did the UK get to run their Mint, and revive the moribund economy? Isaac Newton was the greatest scientist of his time (and possibly ever!), and was Master of the Royal Mint for 30 years.
Queen Anne’s Veto: My knowledge of this period of British history was less than perfect. And by ‘less than perfect’ I mean that I remember that there was someone named Queen Anne, but I had forgotten whether she came before or after William and Mary! So I was reading the Wikipedia article on Anne, and came across something: she withheld Royal Assent of the Scotch Militia Bill on 1 May, 1707. Having the British monarch veto a bill passed by both Houses of Parliament was rare, but not uncommon: King William had done it seven times. But Anne’s veto was the last time it ever happened: Royal Assent has not been withheld in 307 years and counting.
Our world is filled with many things that seem permanent. Sometimes technological, or sometimes cultural. When I was growing up, some homes had intercoms so that people on different floors could talk to each other: seems kind of silly in a world of smartphones!
On TV shows, women weren’t allowed to be pregnant, and even newlyweds like Rob and Laura Petrie on the Dick van Dyke Show had to sleep in twin beds. Then one day, nobody ever did that again, and sleeping in a double bed was just the new normal.
In 2014, is there anything we will see happen for the last time ever? A device or behaviour that seems completely normal today, but a decade (or century) from now we will look back and ask ourselves what we were thinking?
Not to over-generalise, but more-or-less forever!
When I started writing this post, I went into deep thought to come up with an example or two from my own past that could be compared to torrenting TV shows and downloading MP3 files. After 15 minutes, blushing with remembered guilt, I had an entire catalog of thievery.
Cable splitters: Back in the 1970s and 80s, you had to subscribe to cable in order to get the US channels: an antenna didn’t work, at least where I lived in West Vancouver. I don’t know what the monthly bill was back then, but a coaxial cable brought us a list of around 20-30 TV channels. At first, when almost all homes owned only a single TV, this was fine. Those few homes that could afford a second TV and wanted to connect THAT to cable had to pay for another subscription. Which was no big deal, since we all assumed that only multi-millionaires had more than one TV; and they could afford the extra $10 a month or whatever it was.
But the price of TVs fell quickly, and even middle class homes bought a new one for the living room, and moved the older set into the basement. But the idea of paying the cable company MORE money (for a signal you were already paying for) seemed nuts. Why not just buy a cable splitter (photo at top), put it against the wall where the cable entered your house, and run a coaxial cable to the new set? I guess it was illegal, but it didn’t feel illegal.
And do another split to another TV set, and (while I am at it) that same cable also transmitted high quality stereo FM signals that I couldn’t get with an antenna, so I connected my FM tuner to the co-ax too. The problem is that each splitting of the signal causes the signal to attenuate (by about -3.5 dB, if you care) so that by the time I had a spaghetti monster of cables coming out of that single ‘line in’, the TV reception had gone to hell. Did I stop stealing and pay for each signal? What are you, crazy? I went out and bought a power amplified cable splitter, which were much more expensive. Not only was I stealing, but I was now purchasing special devices whose only possible use was theft!
Cassette tapes: We were all happy to buy records in those days. My generation was a bit after the 45 rpm single craze, so we owned 33 rpm vinyl Long Play (LP) albums. I had a paper route, and all my money went on either my stereo equipment or albums from A&B Sound on Seymour St. at $5-10 per record. I probably had nearly 1,000 albums at one point. Not all my friends were so hard working or had such a large collection. Luckily the new generation of cassette tape recorders had better technology like high bias Chrome tapes and Dolby noise reduction, and that allowed me to make decent (but not great) copies for my friends. I didn’t charge them, except to cover the cost of the tapes. That was, yet again, not strictly legal. But since I had already paid for the content by buying the records, making the copies also didn’t feel like stealing.
Multiple phone lines: Remember how we were supposed to pay for each TV connected to the cable? Same for phones. It was illegal to run your own wires and create a new RJ-11 jack, and you weren’t allowed to buy your own phone in the States and connect it to the system. Only phones rented from the monopoly carrier, and connected to authorised jacks, were allowed. There was no way to enforce this, of course, so we cheerfully ran multiple lines and bought phones. To be clear, each phone had to share the same number (929-1939, if I recall) so we only had one line. Once again, this didn’t feel like stealing, but I don’t think BC Tel would have agreed.
Photocopied textbooks: OK, now we’re getting serious. University text books were as expensive then (in the money of the time) as they are today. And paying (in 1982 dollars) $60 for a text was killer, when I was only making $3.65 per hour working at McDonalds. Multiply that by 5-10 courses per year, and more than one text for some classes, and I just didn’t see how I could afford to pay for all of them. So I didn’t. We pooled with friends, or copied library books, or otherwise made our copies at Kinkos from books we paid for but returned.
Did we know we were stealing? Oh yeah. We justified it all kinds of ways. We did pay 5 cents per page for our photocopies, right? And we all knew that the profs just assigned new textbooks (that they had written) to make money, and the old ones were basically the same. And that professors made an awful lot more money than we did. But, in our heart of hearts, we knew.
Computer software: I stole. I stole left and right. I stole everything but MS-DOS, and that was only because they forced you to buy that when you bought the PC. I stole games software, I stole spreadsheet software, modem software, mapping software, graphics software. Word processing. Charts. Tax software. You name it: if someone had spent years of their life writing code, I copied it onto a 5.25 inch floppy disk and loaded it on my machine. #hangsheadinshame
Why? I am not completely sure how I justified all the theft to myself, but perhaps it was because the PC was this new thing? Growing up I knew that stealing a horse was bad (rustling), and bank robbery was bad. Heck, even a loaf of bread could get you in some serious trouble in Les Miserables! I knew all that from movies and TV and books. But I hadn’t seen a whole lot of information about how stealing PC software was wrong, so somehow it didn’t feel wrong. It may even have felt kind of cool? Hackers were heroes in the movies I was watching.
Computer Time: I don’t even think this is a thing anymore. Anyone who wants access to computing has their own device(s), access to one at work, or can get time at the library. But that wasn’t common in 1985. But my girlfriend did work at the Word Processing centre at UBC. There were a bunch of dumb terminals, and a central minicomputer running WordPerfect. After hours, while Deirdre worked away, she tolerated me hanging around and playing an early text based computer game. It was awful by today’s standards, but enjoyable enough that I asked her if I could bring some friends over. There’s no question that NONE of us were supposed to be there, and we were certainly “making unauthorised use of university property.” AKA stealing.
Gee, my parent’s generation must have thought we were a generation of thieves?
Not so much. I learned the cable splitting trick from my Dad – he’s an electrical engineer and taught me about the dB power loss. I doubt he or my mom cared about the cassette tapes: I had previously listened to hours of bootlegged music they had (illegally) recorded on an old 1958 Philips reel to reel recorder back when they were in their 20s! I am not sure if my parents did this, but teenagers used to sneak into drive-in movie theatres in the trunks of their friends’ cars. I don’t think they knew about the textbooks, and probably wouldn’t have understood the PC software theft, not having a PC of their own.
So I guess that generation, growing up during WW2, were the first generation of thieves of media? Nope. Before that shellac recordings were pirated, the original cylinders were pirated…even sheet music was pirated. The novels of Dickens were pirated in the US, and Twain was pirated in England; and Victor Hugo was pirated both places! I haven’t found anything about illegal copies of Player Piano rolls, but I bet they are out there. And people were stealing Shakespeare’s plays within days of their being performed.
Given that the history of the last 500 years indicates a large market for intellectual property theft, why are we labelling the kids of today as thieves?
A final observation:
Young people steal more, because they are relatively poor. When they are no longer poor, they may be more willing to pay. That may not happen with this generation, but I can only give my own evidence: I pay for EVERY copy of computer software today, and have for decades. Same with music and video: I know there are stolen versions available, but I won’t use them.
Interestingly, we are starting to see some of the same trends in young media consumers today. When we look at growth in PAID services, like Netflix, Spotify, and Pandora, we can see that – given a legal option – they may be willing to pay.
 I need to be clear here. The behaviors I describe below were not felonies. The stealing I am talking about was not against the Criminal Code of Canada, but was violations of agreements between me and various service providers or content providers. To the best of my knowledge, almost nobody was ever caught, charged, fined or even disconnected for the kind of stealing I did (sort of like how no one gets arrested for downloading MP3s, now that I think about it!) There were stories that the cable company would fine you if they caught you using a splitter, for example. But I don’t know if that ever happened.
 As an aside, this is much less of an issue today. Each TV set usually requires a set top box, so a simple device like a cable splitter doesn’t let you watch on multiple sets any more.
 I still miss my Dual 505 turntable with the Shure cartridge.
 While standing underneath signs that warned that copying textbooks was theft!
 I think it was a Digital Equipment PDP-11, but I could be wrong.
 If I remember, it was a variant of Dungeon, but this was 30 years ago. There were swords, elves, and jewels…if that helps. J
I did a guest post for my friends at Canada Media Fund. Please check it out on their site!
I was working in France last month. Even though my days were busy, for each of eight nights Barbara and I had a date night; free of kids, cooking, dishes, and dogwalks. As is our custom, we both dress up for dinner, and since that takes longer for Barbara than it does for me (although getting my hair just right does take a while!) I go down to the restaurant first, and order a glass of white wine. And while she deals with the finishing touches, I take a greeting card and pen, and hand-write my gorgeous wife a love note. These aren’t short: about 300-600 words. And I do it every night, so you can see above the (hopefully blurred into illegibility) eight cards I wrote her on this most recent business trip.
You can now say “awwwww” but that’s not my point. According to my kids, I am old and almost dead: maybe it’s not surprising that a 50 year old enjoys writing with pen and paper so much? Surely, you say, the kids today are all digital, all the time? Perhaps not: in a recent focus group I did in collaboration with the Canada Media Fund, I wasn’t planning to talk about writing letters or cards. But the young people (18-24) in attendance brought it up themselves. They talked, with considerable feeling, about how they would like to – at least occasionally – take pen in hand and write, in the old fashioned sense.
I have a theory! I think that digital and text and screens and keyboards are all great. But handwritten letters or cards have five Ps: Pen and Paper are Powerful, Passionate, Personal, Private and Permanent.
Powerful: Anything that we do infrequently has a bigger impact. In a world where we receive hundreds or even thousands of emails and text messages per day, the fact that someone takes the time to find a card, buy it, save it somewhere safe, and then find a pen (where the heck did I put that, etc.) and hand deliver it will ALWAYS impress the recipient.
Passionate: Many studies show that our brains and what we write are different with pen and ink than on a keyboard. We remember what we write better, and we are more involved. We pick shorter words, which are more effective. We are physically involved in a way that tapping on a keyboard doesn’t access…and we pour our heart out as a result. Further, if it is more than a few words, then writing a card causes a sixth P: pain! Back in the day, nearly every right handed adult had a callus on the middle finger of their right hand, caused by holding a pen too firmly. As I have discovered during my card-writing sprees, my now-dainty hand isn’t nearly tough enough to write for more than five minutes without it hurting. Hurts so good, as John Cougar would have said.
Personal: Human beings reveal themselves in our handwriting. Unlike a standard font from a digital device, our physical cursive or printed script is unique to each of us. But the physical card or letter is also unique to the recipient. A text message reading “I miss you…want to get together?” could be merely one of 50 similar messages sent out on a lonely Saturday night. The handwritten equivalent is a unique artifact, which gives it enormously greater meaning and value.
Private: A text message could be intercepted, or go to the wrong address. A copy might be left on the sender’s smartphone, readable to anyone who accesses the device. Same with the recipient’s phone. Worse, the recipient might forward a text to hundreds of their closest friends, with a “Can you believe this?” attached. In contrast, a written card leaves no trace, except a bit of ink on my right hand. It could be sent to others, but not easily. Perhaps most importantly, it feels private: that moment when you give someone a written card and watch them read it in front of you is a deeply intimate act.
Permanent: This is a complicated angle. The Snapchat generation sometimes loves the idea that some things are impermanent…messages vanishing forever after only 10 seconds. But they have also been through the experience of losing all their files when they lose their phone, or a password, or a cloud provider goes out of business. Kids today have all heard their great-grandparent’s stories of having a “shoebox full of love letters.” They laugh, but there is a bit of envy there too: what records will they be able to access so easily 50 years from now?
Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a prediction that younger demographics are going to throw away their laptops and smartphones, and that we should all be out buying shares in Bic. (Trading at €99.47 on Friday, and with a 2.6% yield! Did you even know Bic was publicly traded???)
But I think there is a view that younger people don’t even know how to write with a pen, and don’t care that they don’t. And that when the last person my age dies, the handwritten card will be as extinct as the dinosaurs.
I don’t think that is true. Listening to young people, I think they are aware of the magic and emotion of those cards, and will continue to write them for many years.