“Stop Watching So Much Television. You’ll Ruin Your Eyes!”

Those of us old enough to remember when a 19-inch black-and-white television was a “big screen” know this mantra by heart. Back then, in the US, there were three TV networks plus a few independent stations, and most of my TV viewing was on Saturday morning when all those great Warner Brothers cartoons were on (plus numerous commercials for sugar-laden cereals, the dentist’s best friend!).

I would guess I probably watched maybe an hour or two of television per day, when I wasn’t outside playing with my friends, doing schoolwork, or fooling around with my ham radio station. Nonetheless, Mom made sure I didn’t spend too much time in front of the “idiot box.”

So, you can imagine my surprise when I read the latest Deloitte “Digital Media Trends Survey,” which claims that (and I quote) “…on average, Americans watch 38 hours per week of video content (39 percent of which is streamed), nearly the equivalent of a full-time job.” (Which, for those keeping score at home, amounts to 22.6% of ALL the hours in a week.)

To say my jaw hit the floor is an understatement. That’s an average of almost 5 ½ hours a day of viewing, with the streaming portion accounting for almost 15 hours per week. Another quote: “High-quality original content appears to be driving an increase in streaming with nearly half (48 percent) of all U.S. consumers streaming television content every day or weekly, up 11 percent year-over-year.” This, despite the fact that the average viewer subscribes to just three out of the nearly two hundred streaming services now available.

What’s driving this obsession with TV viewing? Is it the availability of faster-than-ever broadband? Bigger and cheaper TVs? More viewing on mobile platforms? Binge viewing? Probably all of these reasons.

Perhaps not surprisingly, pay TV (cable, FiOS, satellite) viewing is trending downward with just 63% of U.S. households still subscribing to a pay TV service. Also not surprisingly, this downward trend is most pronounced with Generation X, Millennials, and Gen Ys, which the report lumps together as “MilleXZials.” (I tried other anagrams and that’s about the best anyone can do, sorry.)

More interesting tidbits from the survey:

  1. 46% of all pay TV subscribers said they are dissatisfied with their service and 70% feel they get too little value for their money,
  2. 22% of millennials say they have never subscribed to a pay TV service, and perhaps ironically,
  3. 22% of all consumers without pay TV say they don’t watch enough TV to justify the expense. (Wait: Then who, exactly, is logging those 38 hours in front of a screen each week?)

We do know that streaming services have gotten a lot better at delivering uninterrupted 1080p video and multichannel audio to the home, thanks to multitudes of servers that have been installed near metro areas by the likes of Netflix, Amazon, and Google (YouTube). It doesn’t hurt that these services are also available as apps on many cable system operators, but who needs the Comcast X1 platform when you have a Roku box?

This trend has definite market implications. In a story on the Fierce Video site, long-time industry analyst (and sometimes pot-stirrer) Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson Research claims that cable TV system operators would probably be doing themselves a favor if they began phasing out costly, high-maintenance pay TV channels and packages and simply switched to the electric company model (and mobile phone model, BTW) by just providing fast data pipes to the home.

Indeed, smaller cable system operators mentioned in the story say they’re losing money on pay TV subscribers, and one (CableOne) goes so far as to point angry customers to streaming services when the inevitable “I’m canceling my service, it’s too damn expensive” call comes in. I’ll bet the customer didn’t expect to hear that!

I’ve mentioned the idea in previous DDs about cable companies inexorably moving to an all-data service, letting customers handle the subscriptions and annual fees with each service they like to watch. Reading through the Deloitte data, it seems like all cable TV companies will have that day of reckoning in the not-too-distant future, what with the harbinger of double-digit annual subscriber losses.

It’s why many of these companies are branching into home security systems and (amazingly) mobile phone service, a cut-throat market with tight profit margins. Even industry Goliath, Comcast, seems to have gotten religion. At a recent investor conference, Comcast Cable CEO, Dave Watson, stated that his company’s strategy is centered on broadband and adding video only where it makes sense, saying “We’re simply not going to chase unprofitable video segments.”

We know certain trends are going to continue. TVs will get bigger (the median size for American homes is now over 55 inches), resolution will increase (not necessarily a good thing), prices will continue to drop (a good thing for the consumer), image processing and scaling keeps getting better with time (a very good thing), and on-demand cloud delivery of video content – the 21st century version of broadcasting – will only increase in popularity.

The only question is, will that 38-hours-per-week average increase? (PP)