Are Young People Watching Less TV?

Source: November 16, 2012 by MarketingCharts staff

There’s a strong perception that with the rise of social media, mobile device usage, and other such digital trends, youth have put TV on mute. According to the latest cross-platform report [download page] from Nielsen, young people are indeed watching less TV, but it’s not a seismic shift, yet. The 18-24 group, for instance, watched a weekly average of 22 hours and 32 minutes of traditional TV in Q2, about 1 hour and 45 minutes less than they did in Q2 2011. That’s about 15 minutes less a day. The difference in monthly viewing time for this group between Q1 2012 and Q1 2011? About 1 and a half hours, or 13 minutes a day.

It’s interesting to note, though, that all ages are watching a bit less TV this year than last. The 65+ segment (which spends the most time watching TV), spent almost an hour less in Q2, and more than an hour less in Q1. The 50-64 set had only a marginal difference in weekly viewing in Q2, but watched about 1 and a half hours less in Q1. So there doesn’t appear to be a strong generational divide at play.

It’s also worth noting that these figures are averaged among the entire population. When looking just at TV viewers, the shift is less drastic. That is, on a monthly basis, 18-34 TV viewers watched about 2 and a half hours less in Q2 and Q1 than they did a year earlier. That translates to roughly 5 minutes less per day, not an earth-shattering amount. Viewers aged 55 and older also watched less TV, though the decline was even less pronounced.

It’s Too Soon to Claim the King Has Been Dethroned

It’s true that TV’s audience has declined – by 1.7% year-over-year in Q2 – while the number of mobile subscribers watching video on a mobile device has grown by 24%. But it’s too early to pronounce the demise of traditional TV viewing.

Here’s why: in Q2, 18-24-year-olds may have watched less TV on a weekly basis, but they still watched about 22 and a half hours. How much time did they spend watching video on the internet or on a mobile phone, combined? About 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Still, there’s no avoiding the rise of online viewing. That 1 hour and 45 minutes represents significant relative growth from about 1 hour a year earlier. The same increase is apparent for 25-34-year-olds, who spent about 1 hour and 35 minutes watching video on the internet or on a mobile phone in Q2 of this year, as opposed to about 1 hour a year earlier.

So while traditional TV still remains by far the dominant viewing medium for youth, there is certainly movement on the digital side of the equation.

How Much Does Streaming Affect TV Habits?

The Nielsen report also looks at how streaming behavior correlates with average daily minutes spent with TV. As Nielsen has found for some time now, there is a negative correlation between streaming and TV viewing. That is, in Q2, as in earlier quarters, those who streamed the most (the top quintile streamed just under 20 minutes a day), watched the least TV (about 230 minutes). Again, though, the comparison is illuminating. The top quintile of streamers watch 20 minutes per day. They spend more than 10 times that amount of time watching TV.

Also, the numbers don’t show that people watching the least TV are streaming far more. For example, the top quintile of TV viewers watched about 10 hours of TV in Q2, while the bottom quintile watched about half an hour. But that bottom quintile only streamed for 4 minutes a day, compared to about 2 and a half minutes for the top quintile of TV viewers – a marginal difference at best.

The study does demonstrate that services like Netflix might be putting a dent in TV viewing behavior, though. On average, while Netflix users consume the same amount of media as non-Netflix users, they spend half an hour less per day watching TV, making that time up spending 15 minutes more time with video game consoles, 8 minutes more with DVD/Blu-ray playback, and 8 minutes more on streaming. These findings contrast with September survey results from GfK, which found regular Netflix users saying their TV content consumption was unaffected.

Cable Loses Subscribers, But Not to the Internet

Another topic of interest is cord-cutting – in which consumers stop paying for TV services and instead find programming online. Estimates have varied significantly on the extent to which this is occurring.

The Nielsen report shows that the number of households with a cable subscription declined by slightly less than 3 million year-over-year in Q2, or by about 4.4%. But those households didn’t become broadcast-only households who may be watching online. In fact, the number of broadcast-only households declined by about 50,000. Instead, telco picked up more than 1 million households, and satellite another 170,000 or so. While broadcast-only households with broadband (those most likely to be replacing their pay TV subscriptions with online viewing) did grow, the number only increased by about 200,000, hardly enough to offset the decline in cable subscribers. This suggests that the decline in cable TV subscribers isn’t necessarily driven by the availability of online content.

Other Findings:

  • According to the Nielsen report, women aged 50 and older watched the most TV in Q2, at slightly more than 200 hours per month.
  • Looking at ethnicity and race, African-Americans continued to consume the most TV on a monthly basis, more than double the amount of time spent by Asians (202:35 v. 90:33).
  • Viewers aged 18-34 made up 19% of the traditional TV audience, 27% of the internet video audience, and 52% of the mobile video viewing population.
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