Have we reached peak TV?

by on January 22, 2012 at 3:56 pm in Television | Permalink

Probably not, but right now American ownership is going down:

The Nielsen Company announced the 2012 Advance/Preliminary TV Household Universe Estimate (UE) is 114.7 million, down from 115.9 million in 2011. Marking the first integration of the 2010 Census counts, the 2012 UEs reflect an aging population, as Baby Boomers increasingly shift out of the 35-49 demographic, as well as greater ethnic diversity.

The 2012 UEs also reflect a reduction in the estimated percent of U.S. homes with a television set (TV penetration), which declined to 96.7 percent from 98.9 percent.

There is much more at the link, and for the pointer I thank Mark Thorson.

1 mgoblue January 22, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Peak TV watching on a TV? Possibly. Peak TV watching with a computer? Not even close.

2 anonymous... January 22, 2012 at 5:24 pm

It depends what you call “TV”.

Recall that “appointment television” killed appointment radio. Radio plays were once very big: recall Orson Welles’s broadcast of War of the Worlds, and Gertrude Berg was supposedly at one time the second most popular woman in America, second only to Eleanor Roosevelt. With the advent of TV, however, radio became something that was turned on and turned off as background sound according to your mood and free time, not according to what programs were on the “schedule”. Indeed, radio plays as an art form remain stone dead even today, when they could theoretically be revived at little cost via podcast.

It is likely that the Internet will sooner or later kill off “appointment television” (except for true “event” programming like the Super Bowl). TV will simply be something that you switch on when you feel like vegging out for a while and zapping some channels. For many people it already is. Time-shifting via DVR/PVR and fragmentation of the viewing audience is already killing some of the word-of-mouth water-cooler buzz needed to sustain the momentum of a TV drama series. Season-long story arcs are already mostly a thing of the past: each episode needs to be more or less comprehensible as a self-contained unit viewable in random order. Drama series and sitcoms are already being elbowed aside by an infinite variety of reality shows. Music-industry levels of piracy will probably hit the filmed-entertainment industry in a decade or less, to the extent that higher-speed bandwidth make it feasible.

So, audiovisual entertainment of some kind will be with us forever. But “TV shows” as we have come to understand them might go the way of radio plays, or perhaps might simply serve as the equivalent of trailers for subscribing to the subscription streaming equivalent of a season of a show on DVD.

3 John Thacker January 22, 2012 at 7:22 pm

As far as radio goes, live sports broadcasts remain an exception (including with people watching sports on TV but turning down the announcers to listen to the radio broadcast instead), but live sports also seem to be a strength of paid TV as well.

4 (Not That) Bill O'Reilly January 22, 2012 at 9:55 pm

“Season-long story arcs are already mostly a thing of the past: each episode needs to be more or less comprehensible as a self-contained unit viewable in random order.”

I take it you don’t have cable, then.

Your comments are largely true as applied to broadcast television, where CBS airs virtually interchangeable, formulaic police procedurals every night Tuesday-Friday. But the audience watching those shows is exactly the opposite of the web-savvy, irregular viewer to whom you want to attribute such a shift; CBS gets a lot of their viewership from older individuals who watch religiously.

On cable, you see lots and very successful shows that draw out extended storylines over entire (or multiple) seasons, with many of those shows going on to enjoy continued popularity through web services like Hulu and Netflix. People still want to see shows as soon as possible, though, so their lower ratings will probably continue to be a function of accessibility and sophistication, rather than non-interest.

5 John Thacker January 23, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Season-long story arcs are already mostly a thing of the past: each episode needs to be more or less comprehensible as a self-contained unit viewable in random order

Strange, I find that season-long story arcs have been more and more common over the last ten years, especially compared to twenty and thirty years ago. What have you been watching?

6 Benny Lava January 22, 2012 at 4:14 pm

I am unsurprised for the same reason as the previous post. Young people watch TV on their computer.

7 Silas Barta January 23, 2012 at 12:10 am

Doesn’t Nielsen measure ratings from the sample of people already watching TV?

8 Careless January 23, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Ratings are both on relative and absolute scales. Shares of total viewers as a whole and of various demographics and absolute numbers.

9 Rahul January 22, 2012 at 4:21 pm

The change is less than a percent. What are the confidence intervals on these surveys?

10 jseliger January 22, 2012 at 4:30 pm

I wonder why the insane-seeming TV watching habits of Americans aren’t being explicitly linked to economic and social trends.

11 CBBB January 22, 2012 at 5:23 pm

Nonsense – you may very well have the line of causation running the wrong way.

12 Lupus Yonderboy January 27, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Nielson’s primary metric measures “watching” via inhome devices. This was good enough for the theme of an entire Simpson’s episode some time ago. Homer would get pissed off about something and try and alter the data by leaving the TV on all day on a certain station.

I find it hard to believe that people “watch” television 4 hours a day. But the observer effect would be huge for a researcher that had the crazy idea to study these unless there was a portable head mounted MRI scanner that could be used to measure “attentiveness”. That is why the volume tweaking is so effective for broadcasters. Even slight db gains in commercial auditory volume gets my attention. And the effectiveness is implicitly tracked when an advertisers gets feedback from customers saying they saw a commercial.

So when the Apple iGlasses come out and we have the kind of television experience envisioned in Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age”… we will never again be bothered by blog posts that discuss legacy metrics born from the era of assembly lines and mass production and measures like GDP.

13 anon January 22, 2012 at 4:46 pm

How is “TV” defined?

I have a “TV” that is used to watch DVDs (Netflix and owned), Amazon Prime and YouTube videos, stream music from Pandroa, XM, and my iPod, and do other things on the web using Google TV. But rarely is it used to “watch TV” as in local or network television or channels. I have basic cable because the price for the Internet package with basic cable is the same price as without, and I do watch C-SPAN on cable occasionally.

And does Nielsen measure video on the Kindle Fire? iPad? On smartphones (especially with 4g)? The press release implies that they do, but I have my doubts.

14 Nylund January 22, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Between companies like Netflix and Hulu, the less-than-fully-legal ways of getting shows and movies online, and the increasing ability to stream full episodes online or on an iDevice directly from the network, one doesn’t really need a TV to watch TV anymore.

15 KenF January 22, 2012 at 4:50 pm

They also stopped broadcasting normal TV signals, that must have caused some people trouble.

16 Mark Thorson January 22, 2012 at 4:57 pm

In the long run, over-the-air TV is doomed. The spectrum it occupies is more profitably used for wireless services, rather than
infomercials for the Magic Bullet and the Perfect Meatloaf Pan.

17 BruceB January 22, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Three years ago we had 4 working TVs; today we are down to 2.

Primary reason is that we used to have old-fashioned, analog cable and connecting additional TVs incurred no additional cost (as long as you didn’t want PPV or other special features, no box was needed to get 70+ channels).

Now with FiOS (also U-Verse and some digital cable), each TV requires a box at $10/month rental, so the marginal costs of hooking up another TV is significant.

Agree with above commentators that teenagers watch TV on their computers – that is true in our house.

Conversion of broadcast TV from analog to digital probably caused a lot of second and third TVs to go dark, permanently.

18 anon January 22, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Now with FiOS (also U-Verse and some digital cable), each TV requires a box at $10/month rental, so the marginal costs of hooking up another TV is significant.

I don’t have FIOS: is this true even with WiFi or Bluetooth capable sets? So each TV needs a wired set top box? Does Verizon also charge for each computer or other device attached to your in-house network that is attached to FIOS?

19 BruceB January 22, 2012 at 9:02 pm

I don’t think WiFi/Bluetooth/Ethernet in the TV will help tune channels in a FiOS system. But, if you only use the TV to access internet content, then you don’t need the set top box. You need the set top box to tune the 700+ or whatever channels in their TV service.

Rumor is that Verizon is working towards a one “set-top box” per home model – that doesn’t mean they won’t still charge for each TV.

And no, this does not apply to internet devices – you can have as many computers, smart phones, tablets, internet-ready TVs or other devices as their router can handle.

20 NAME REDACTED January 22, 2012 at 5:32 pm

TV is annoying and awkward.

1) For every minute of TV you have 30 seconds of commercials.

2) You can’t avoid the commercials even for pay-tv.

3) The shows come on when they want to, not when you want them to.

4) You can’t FF through boring parts and really awkward scenes.

5) You have to remember channels and numbers and crap.

21 Bill January 22, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Advertising supported television is on decline.

Television as a device across platforms is increasing, or so it says on my IPad.

Is that a TV?

22 John Thacker January 22, 2012 at 7:24 pm

A fair amount of the TV watching on other platforms is also ad supported, including things like Hulu.

23 Bill January 22, 2012 at 8:14 pm

By ad supprted TV I mean the TV referred to in the article.

24 John Thacker January 23, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Then, and I don’t mean this to be insulting, perhaps you should simply use the term “broadcast TV” or “cable TV” rather than a term that is less precise and doesn’t apply.

25 Bill January 23, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Or, perhaps you should read the article upon which the post was based so you could use the same terms?

26 Willitts January 22, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Pink Floyd sang “13 channels of sh** on the TV to choose from.” Now I’ve got almost 400 channels of sh**.

Hollywood’s business model is falling apart. People will watch recycled ideas only so many times. They scarcely have an original thought.

But I’ll wager that household formation is having something to do with the apparent decline.

27 John Thacker January 22, 2012 at 7:24 pm

Disagree. TV shows are becoming more and more interesting, and higher and higher quality than when there were only a few channels. It’s simply that each niche doesn’t appeal to everyone.

They’ve added a hundred channels I don’t care about, but there are ten that are better than anything I could get twenty or thirty years ago.

The decline in traditional TV watching isn’t about quality.

28 Ted Craig January 22, 2012 at 8:15 pm

I have to disagree. I think the higher quality of TV today is an illusion. The highest levels may be higher, but the lowest levels are really low. There are more hours of “Jail” on than “The Wire.”

29 Willitts January 22, 2012 at 9:36 pm

OK, I’ll grant you that expanded choices have given me more I might like. It appears diluted by all the crap. I’m happy with SyFy, History, AMC, Military, NatGeo, TMC, Bravo, and A&E. Hours will still go by with nothing good to watch. There are a lit of repeats. The DVR is a saving grace, and On Demand beats a trip to Blockbuster.

But when there were fewer stations, wouldn’t average perceived quality be higher? Les diverse but higher quality.

I think we were better served by Gilligan’s Island than Jersey Shore.

30 CBBB January 22, 2012 at 10:14 pm

I don’t think Average TV show quality has really increased – I agree with Ted, the highest levels are better but we have a lot of garbage now. The other thing is many of these channels like NatGeo, History, A&E are utter crap 99% of the time. TV is a failed market in that it ALWAYS pays to focus on the lowest common denominator. There’s always this argument at there’s no need for channels like PBS because the market will come up with alternatives. But we now have a plethora of alternative channels churning out mostly the same shit – I really don’t buy that say the history documentaries on History are superior to PBS.

31 John Thacker January 23, 2012 at 12:12 pm

There’s always this argument at there’s no need for channels like PBS because the market will come up with alternatives.

Not nearly as bad an argument as the one that “the market is failing to outcompete this heavily subsidized alternative, therefore the subsidies are necessary.”

32 John Thacker January 23, 2012 at 12:16 pm

I don’t think Average TV show quality has really increased – I agree with Ted, the highest levels are better but we have a lot of garbage now.

As you yourself state, there ALWAYS was a lot of garbage. The difference is that in the ’60s and ’70s the garbage was lowest common denominator garbage that everyone could relate to, whereas now many more shows are narrowly targeted.

There are plenty of channels that I’ll never watch, but I think it’s ridiculous to pretend that they’re all objectively garbage, simply because they’re not to my taste. I’d end up sounding like those critics who would never watch, e.g., Game of Thrones or Firefly, because “SF is inherently stupid genre work for male nerds.”

33 CBBB January 23, 2012 at 2:47 pm

The critics are correct, SciFi is an inherently stupid genre for male nerds. Plus TV sucks because you’re always forced to buy these channels as a package rather then being able to pick and choose. What’s the different then with Public Broadcasting? With all these TV packages I’m still being forced to buy into channels I’ll never watch so I can help subsidies bullshit.
Maybe the average quality has increased, now that I think about it the gold standard stuff of 40-50 years ago was like “Leave it to Beaver” and “I Love Lucy” those shows are basically unwatchable.

34 CBBB January 22, 2012 at 10:15 pm

Although I don’t know about Gilligan’s Island, I think the modern sitcoms, starting with Seinfeld, are much better then the stuff from the past

35 Andrew' January 23, 2012 at 9:42 am

I accidentally tuned into public radio for a riveting analysis of the latest buzzy opera. Don’t kid yourself about public broadcasting. It’s not that they are better or worse, they do what they do. They appeal to a segment.

36 CBBB January 23, 2012 at 3:29 pm

I don’t understand what your complaint is

37 Andrew' January 23, 2012 at 9:46 am

A model: Back in the day, the filter was on the business side. Only the highest quality providers could earn a spot. Now the filter is on the consumer side. American Idol is a very overt example of this. It works because the competition itself is entertaining. For bad sit-coms the competition is not enjoyable. Additionally, you have a loss of clarity on the producer side. Now, rather than knowing that everyone is competing for the same prize, you have to know exactly who you want to work with to end up with a good product.

38 John Thacker January 23, 2012 at 12:10 pm

But when there were fewer stations, wouldn’t average perceived quality be higher? Les diverse but higher quality.

That’s entirely a result of niche stations. One person’s trash is another’s treasure.

Fewer stations catered more to the lowest common denominator, but people will actually perceive the quality of lowest common denominator shows to be higher than that of shows targeted at entirely a different audience.

39 Becky Hargrove January 22, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Because I’m old I still like the evening news. The rest? Nah.

40 John David Galt January 22, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Just wait a few years. The Internet is about to replace the telephone (or at least wired ones) for the same reason it is now replacing television: because consumers have come to expect both more flexible abilities and more reasonable pricing structures than the old Big Media companies are willing to provide.

The purpose of both television and the telephone, in the opinion of the old Big Media companies, is to create billable events, not to move useful data where the consumer wants it. It’s time to stop supporting that model. The present controversy over SOPA and PIPA is its last gasp. It’s dead and good riddance to it.

41 Rahul January 23, 2012 at 12:21 am

Wouldn’t the cellphone be a more likely candidate to replace the wired telephone? Isn’t it doing that already?

42 Lupus Yonderboy January 27, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Is it safe for me to remove my aluminum foil fedora yet?

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