Tripping Points 2015, Part 1: Is Live TV Dead?

By Active International Archives
Cover image for  article: Tripping Points 2015, Part 1:  Is Live TV Dead?

“The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips and spreads like wildfire.”

That's a quote from Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

The tripping point is a similar notion, applying specifically to the ad industry, where some traditions die hard.  The resistance to change requires more of a push, so picture a raised threshold and a push from the circumstances around us.  In this three-part series, we will examine three key areas in our industry where we predict 2015 will mark the Tripping Point, beginning with live TV viewing.

The Death of Live TV?

At some point in the last few months, through conversations with friends and family, I realized that I do not know many folks who watch live TV.  I personally watch live TV, though overall I am a light TV viewer and have lately been fixated on FiOS VOD.  My mom watches live TV; she’s now in her seventies, never figured out how to set the time on her VCR (back in the day) and has tried hard not to adapt any post-VCR technologies. 

But the list ends there.  My wife exclusively views Netflix and DVR.  My two grown sons, both out on their own, are cord-cutters who mooch off our Netflix account.  My grown daughter has a Roku.  All my friends profess to binge-watch various series on Netflix, Amazon Prime or DVR.  None of these people plan their evenings around primetime TV schedules.  The notion of “must-see TV” (remember “Friends” and “Cosby”?) is quaint.  Technology makes it possible and easy to time-shift viewing of any program.

Our newest TV is Internet-enabled. Live TV is essentially an app, one of many apps available to choose from when we turn on the screen.  It is not a far reach to imagine all network and cable channels becoming apps.  We are already in a world where Bravo often seems to be all “Real Housewives” all of the time, no doubt a scheduling tactic designed to appeal to consumers that prefer to binge-watch.  Why not take the extra step of letting them decide whether they want to binge-watch “Real Housewives of Atlanta” or “Real Housewives of New York”?

Where is the Research?

As an advertising media professional, I understand that my personal experience and that of everyone I speak to is not necessarily nationally projectable.  Yet I suspect many of you reading this now may identify with the picture I have painted above, which begs the question, where is the research that substantiates this?    

The alarming drop in TV ratings for cable and broadcast is well documented, with declines in the double digits for 2014 and early 2015.  Much of this viewing would seem to be shifting to DVR, but the data, according to Nielsen, does not seem to support this.  In fact, naysayers would claim that most TV viewing is live (over 90% compared to time-shifted) and DVR is only increasing by single digit points over the past three years.  Additionally, game console and multimedia devices (commonly used for viewing streaming VOD) account for minimal share of average time spent viewing per day; overall video viewing increases are largely due to mobile. 

The real story is the Nielsen data behind the data: broadband households that pay for subscription VOD (SVOD) like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon or a combination of these streaming services are fundamentally different than other households.  Technology begets more technology, and these households (roughly 40% of the US and growing) are high-tech, above average for enabled Smart TVs, DVRs, multiple PCs and tablets, as well as PlayStation/Xbox videogame consoles.  When you look at these broadband SVOD households, they spend nearly double the amount of hours in front of their TV screen compared to other broadband or non-broadband households.  Time-shifted and on-demand viewing of content enables them to consume more, thereby reinforcing the behavior of leveraging their technology to do more.  This suggests that as more consumers sign up for more streaming services and discover alternate sources that enable them to view content on-demand (Hulu, Crackle, etc.) they will seek out ways to consume content on their timetable.  In other words, once you have Netflix (or Amazon or Hulu), you never go back.  Live TV viewing will inevitably continue to decline.

Have We Tripped?

The way the year is unfolding, we have definitely tripped as far as live TV viewing is concerned.  Sure, sports and big events will continue to attract larger live audiences.  But for nearly everything else, TV ratings continue to come up short, down double digits in the first months of the year.  Recent research from Hub Entertainment Research suggests 53% of all viewing among consumers 16-74 is time shifted vs. 47% live (a statistic that matches my experience, in contrast to the aforementioned Nielsen data).  New streaming offerings like Sling TV, CBS All Access and HBO Now are launched and their impact on the full year is as yet unclear.  Hulu’s announced distribution deal with Cablevision portends additional deals that will scale SVOD rapidly.  In 2015, we tripped.

Next: Tripping Points 2015, Part 2:  The Content Fronts

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