Rebecca Greenfield collates a bunch of commentary about the slowing growth — almost non-growth — of TV subscriptions in the US. Around 400,000 Americans cut the cord last quarter, but cord-cutters aren’t the trend to watch: it’s cord-nevers.
Rebecca Greenfield via the Atlantic Wire
Cord-never numbers are particularly hard to measure. A cable company, of course, can’t report the amount of people who never subscribed to them in the first place, but we can do some piecing together to get an idea of the changing trends. U.S. census data found that 1.8 million new households were formed, but that only 16.9 percent of those signed up for pay-TV services, according to Ad Age’s Dan Hirschorn. The TV industry has been flat for years; U.S. households continue to rise. Meanwhile, as cable subscription rates have stayed flat, Internet subscriptions are on the rise. Comcast added 156,000 net broadband subscribers, an 8.4% increase; Time Warner added 59,000 residential high-speed Internet subscribers. While something like 100 million U.S. households subscribe to TV services, the U.S. 2010 census data had 120 million households with Internet — those numbers have only risen since then, with these companies reporting increased subscriptions. And what do people do on the Internet? Watch things. Though the most popular Internet activity, as of 2010, was social networking, video saw a 12 percent increase, according to a Neilsen report. Though, those numbers include people with cable.
These cord-never numbers matter more than the cable-cutters because the people who tend to not ever sign up for cable are young — and the youth is the future. Americans ages 12 to 34 are spending less time in front of the TV, found another Neilsen study. As of February 2012, for three quarters in a row, there have been declines in viewing among Americans under 35, The New York Times’ Brian Stelter reports. He attributes this decline to a shift to streaming. “Young people are still watching the same shows, but they are streaming them on computers and phones,” he writes. Right now the cable industry has maintained stable subscription rates because of an elderly population that’s watching television more, adds Stelter. But, those people won’t be around to change the future. The broke twenty-somethings who survive off of Hulu, Netflix, bootleg streams of their favorite shows, and stealing each others’ HBO Go passwords now, might get used to a life without paying for cable, causing a generational shift in the way Americans consume things. That’s what the cable companies should worry about.
And some people are simply watching less of the mass-marketing oriented Hollywood mumbo jumbo, and doing other things.
I expect a revolution in what we call TV, and it will emerge from the rise of the second screen, and the separation of advertising revenue from broadcasting (see Social TV and The Second Screen). Imagine if Twitter built a variant of its tool that was geared to a richer social experience around TV. And imagine that millions of people watching the NBA playoffs are using that app to socially experience the playoffs, running the game on the dumb box in the corner and the Twitter app on the iPad or iPhone or laptop. And imagine that Nike decides to pay Twitter for ads on the second screen. How will the NBA or ESPN respond? What law is being broken?
This is like cord-cutting, metaphorically. It’s cutting the link between advertising dollars and the ‘owners’ of the TV products.
So the revolution comes when the networks and the cable companies loose a large slice of their ad revenues. It will be just like the newspapers losing the classified business to Craigslist.
On the other side of that collapse will be new TV, but first it will all fall to bits. And then I will finally be able to buy access to a single NBA playoff game, or just the Women’s Beach Volley Ball at the Olympics, or just Game Of Thrones from HBO, because the natural unit of TV is a show, an episode, a game, just like the natural unit of music is a song, as iTunes proved.