The broadcast media landscape is changing rapidly, with people spending less time watching live television. Since young people are quicker to adopt new technologies than older people, the result is that the audience for live TV is getting older.
The flight from live television isn’t new, of course: it started with the arrival of the VCR in the 1980s. However, consumers now have a growing number of alternatives. These include videos on DVD, movie downloads, and live streams from sites such as iPlayer and Hulu.
According to a market research survey of the habits of 1,000 American consumers, the Morpace Omnibus Report for August 2010 (PDF):
“Only 52% of total viewing is of live TV programming. Nearly one-half of all viewing uses alternative and time shifted sources. Viewing DVDs is the largest share at 14%, followed by DVR at 12% and “on demand” at 6%. Online programming makes up 9% of total content viewed.”
This also involves a shift from TV sets to computers and, to a lesser extent, mobile phones. Live TV is watched mostly on TV sets (though there are plenty of TV tuners for PCs), but younger viewers are more likely than older viewers to consume their downloads and streamed videos on a PC than on a TV set.
According to Morpace, 96% of viewers consume media on a TV set while 59% use at least one other device. In order of popularity, these are: laptop PC (40%), desktop PC (36%), mobile phone (9%), media player (8%), netbook (4%) and tablet (2%). However, 16% said their TV set was connected to the internet, and this is likely to grow with the arrival of “internet TVs” such as Google TV.
At the moment, however, younger people are less likely to view live TV than older ones. Morpace reckons that people aged 55+ use live TV for 64% of their viewing. This falls to 51% for those aged 35-54 and 41% for those ages 18-34.
It’s a pretty safe bet that this is trend will continue as the live TV audience disintegrates. Major factors include the plethora of channels of rubbish (there’s nothing on worth watching), the increasing mobility of the audience (live broadcasts don’t fit in with people’s lives), the growth of online video sources (iPlayer, Hulu, YouTube and more) and the increasing speed of the internet (it’s now practical to download gigabyte files).
In fact, the idea that 60% of PC users don’t already use them to consume video is frankly unbelievable. I don’t think any PC users are too old to click a video link, though their broadband might be too slow to make the experience enjoyable.
Still, none of this will come as a surprise to TV broadcasters, because they are the ones who are making programmes available via catch-up services, downloads and DVD box sets. However, they are playing with a double-edged sword. They have been able to increase their revenues by diversifying into delivery mechanisms beyond live TV, but now face the prospect of diminishing advertising revenues based on the decline of live TV.
Which is not to say that diversification was either avoidable or a mistake. Fact is, younger people don’t care whether broadcasters make their stuff available online or not: pirate copies are usually available for download on the popular file-sharing sites. Whether they can now be persuaded to give up these free sources for “official” channels is another matter.