Generations Matter

Nielsen recently published their first quarter Total Audience Report for Q1 2017. It’s the best evidence that I’ve seen yet that there is a huge difference between generations when it comes to video viewing habits. Compared to most surveys that look at a few thousand people, these statistics are based on almost 300,000 households.

The report examined in detail the viewing habits of the different US generations – Generation Z (ages 2 – 20), Millennials (ages 21 – 37), Generation X (ages 38 – 52), Baby Boomers (ages 53 – 70) and the Greatest Generation (ages 71+). What might surprise a lot of people is that Generation Z and the Millennials together now make up 48% of the US population – and that means their viewing habits are rapidly growing in importance to the cable TV industry.

The report outlines how the various generations own or use various devices or services. But note that these responses represent the entire household. So, for example, when Nielsen sought answers from somebody in generation Z it’s likely that the answers represent what is owned by their parents who are likely a millennial or in generation X. Here are a few interesting statistics:

  • The broadband penetration rate between generations is about the same, ranging from 82% to 85% of households. It wasn’t too many years ago when the baby boomer households lagged in broadband adoption.
  • There is a significant difference in the use of OTT services like Netflix. 73% of homes representing generation Z subscribe to an OTT service, but only 51% of baby boomer only households.
  • Baby boomers also lag in smartphone adoption at 86% with the younger generations all between 95% and 97% adoption.
  • Baby boomers also lag in the adoption of an enabled smart TV (meaning it’s connected to the web). 28% of baby boomers have an enabled smart TV while younger households are at about 39%.

The biggest difference highlighted in the report is the daily time spent using various entertainment media that includes such things as TV, radio, game consoles, and surfing the Internet.

The big concern to the cable industry is the time spent watching cable content. For example, the average monthly TV viewing for those over 65 is 231 hours of live TV and 34 hours of time-sifted TV. But for people aged 12-17 that is only 60 hours live and 10 hours time-shifted. For ages 18-24 it’s 72 hours live and 12 hours time-shifted. For ages 25-34 it’s 101 hours live and 19 hours time-shifted. This is probably the best proof I’ve seen of how much less younger generations are invested in traditional TV.

This drastic difference for TV stands out because for other kinds of media there is not such a stark difference. For example, those over 65 spend about 67 hours per month using apps on smartphones while those 18-24 use 77 hours and those 25-34 use 76 hours.

There even wasn’t a drastic difference in the number of hours spent monthly watching video on a smartphone with those over 65 watching 2 hours per month compared to 7 hours for those 18-24 and 6 hours for those 25-34.

The only other media with a stark difference is video game consoles with those over 65 using 13 hours per month while those 18-24 use 49 hours per month. Other things like listening to the radio or using a multimedia device (like Roku or Apple TV) are similar across generations.

The drastic difference in TV viewing has serious repercussions for the industry. For example, TV is no longer a medium to be used to reach those aged 18-24 since they watch TV over 180 hours less per month than those over 65. We’re seeing a big shift in advertising dollars and during the last year the amount spent on web advertising surpassed TV advertising for the first time. When you trend this forward a decade it spells bad news for the broadcasting and cable industries. For many years there was a big hope that as people get older that they would revert to the usage patterns of their parents. But the evidence shows that the opposite seems to be true – that kids keep their viewing habits as they grow older.

When you compare this report to earlier ones it’s obvious that the difference between generations is widening. Just comparing to 2016 those over 65 are watching more TV each month while the youngest generations are cutting back on TV over time – Generation Z watched 15 minutes less TV per day just since 2016.

Trends in Traditional TV

Nielsen has now been publishing quarterly reports on TV viewing habits since 2011. Comparing the latest report for the 4th quarter of 2016 to the original 2011 report shows a major decrease in the hours spent by younger Americans in watching traditional television – which is defined as the combination of both live viewing and time-delayed viewing of network television content.

The changes differ by age group and don’t paint a pretty picture for the traditional TV market:

  • Teens (12-17) watched almost 14 hours per week of television, but that’s down almost 11% from 2015 and down 38% from five years.
  • Younger Millennials (18-24) watched 15.5 hours per week of TV, and that’s down 39%, or 1.5 hours per day over 5 years.
  • Older Millennials (25-34) watched 22 hours per week, and which is down 26.5% over five years.
  • Gen-Xers (35-49) watched almost 40 hours per week and have seen a 10% drop over five years.
  • Baby Boomers (50-64) watched 43 hours per week and have had a slight increase over five years of 1.6% in viewing time.
  • 65+ viewers watched 52 hours per week which is up 0.6% over 2015 and is up 8.4% over five years.

So what are the younger people doing other than watching traditional TV?  The numbers for 19-24 year old users is interesting.

  • They spend 15.5 hours per week watching traditional television (including time-shifting).
  • They spend 20.8 hours watching subscription-based OTT content like Netflix or Amazon.
  • They spend another 17 hours watching something else, which includes things like DVRs, video on social media, or free web content like YouTube.
  • That’s an average of 53 hours per week, about the same amount of screen time as those over 65 watching traditional TV.

This same group also uses a variety of different screens. That includes an average of 9.2 hours per week watching video on a PC or laptop, 1.5 hours per week watching on a tablet and 1 hour per week watching on a smartphone. The rest still use a television screen, even if the content is not a traditional TV feed.

The good news for the whole industry is that young people are not tuning out from watching video content – they are just watching a lot less traditional television. And that means less of the major networks, less sports, and less of all of the various networks found on cable systems. They have decided, as a group that other content is of more interest.

It’s soon going to be harder for Nielsen and others to quantify the specific types of content viewing because the lines are starting to blur between the various categories. If somebody watches a live feed of a basketball game or a traditional network show on Sling TV that is basically the same as watching traditional TV. But on that same platform you can also watch streaming movies in the same manner as Netflix. And traditional broadcasters are doing something similar. For example, CBS All-access not only includes traditional CBS programming, but there is new content like the new Star Trek series that is only going to be available on-line.

We’ve known for a long time that younger viewers are not watching television in the same way as older generations, but these numbers really highlight the differences. Those over 65 years old are watching four times more traditional television than teens. And viewing hours for younger viewers are steadily dropping while older viewers are watching as much or more TV than five years ago. You only have to trend this forward for a decade to foresee continued dramatic drops in total TV viewership.

For years there has been hope in the industry that as kids age and get families and buy homes that they will return to the traditional pay-TV packages. But numerous surveys have shown that this is not happening. It seems that the viewing habits of youth influences viewing habits for life. And that creates a real challenge for the advertising-supported pay TV model. TV advertisers are only reliably reaching older viewers, and yet most advertisers still believe that TV advertising is one of their most effective tools. But each year TV advertising is going to reach fewer and fewer younger viewers, and at some point the advertisers are going to be forced to look elsewhere.

Looking at Generation Z

We’ve already seen a lot of analysis about the viewing habits of Millennials. We know as a group that they watch less traditional linear TV than older generations. We know that over 30% of millennial households are already cord cutters and get all of their entertainment from some source other than traditional TV.

But now we are starting to get a glimpse at Generation Z, the next wave of our kids. These are the generation following the millennials. A new survey firm, Wildness, is concentrating on this generation to study trends for companies that want to market to this segment. The firm is a spin-off of AwesomenessTV (and since I assume you don’t know what that is, it’s a leading source of programming for kids on YouTube).

Wildness just did their first survey of Generation Z viewing habits. These kids are the first ones to grow up in a connected world since birth. They looked at 3,000 kids from 12 to 24 and found the following:

  • Nine out of ten watch YouTube daily.
  • For 31% of them their favorite programming is on YouTube.
  • 30% of them follow their favorite brands on social media and post about them.
  • When asked if they could keep only one viewing screen, only 4% said they would keep a television. Their screen of choice is a cellphone.

This does not bode well for traditional linear television. For a long time industry pundits assumed that millennials would ‘come back’ to traditional TV as they got older and started their own households. But they have not done so and now it’s largely accepted that the way you learn to view content as a kid will heavily influence you throughout your life. And Generation Z kids are not watching linear TV.

Another interesting aspect of Generation Z is that they are not just content consumers, they are also content generators. More than half of them routinely generate content of their own (short videos, pictures, etc.) and share with their friends. And a significant amount of their viewing is of content generated by other kids. This has to scare traditional content generators a bit as these kids are not consuming traditional media to the extent of older generations. This generation has blurred and blended their social life with their online life to a much greater degree than older generations. This is the first generation that freely admits to being connected 24/7.

And it’s not just prime time TV shows that are being ignored by this generation. They are also not following sports, traditional news or any of the other standards of programming. At a young age they are discovering that interacting with each other is far more satisfying than watching content ‘crafted’ for them by older generations. Most of the programming they follow on YouTube is being generated by contemporaries (millennials or younger) rather than by traditional media companies.

Anybody that offers traditional cable TV has to look at these statistics and know that the clock is already ticking towards a day when cable TV becomes obsolete. Already today the average age of viewers of prime time shows keeps climbing as younger viewers eschew linear programming.

Last year about 1.7% of all households become new cord cutters. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s over 2.1 million households. And it seems that cord cutters rarely come back to traditional TV. A lot more older households are also favoring Netflix and other OTT content. These households still maintain cable TV subscriptions, but you have to wonder for how long.

I would not be surprised within a few years to see cord cutting accelerate rapidly. It’s getting hard to find households that are satisfied with what they are paying for cable TV. Even those who love traditional cable think it costs too much. And this could lead at some point to a rapid abandonment of traditional cable. But one thing the industry must accept is that when Generation Z grows up they are not going to be buying cable TV.

The Market Power of Millennials

wraparound-glassesFour or five times in just the last week I’ve seen news articles that reminded me that we are moving into a millennial world. It’s starting to become clear that millennials are already having a big impact on numerous traditional industries.

We certainly can see the impact of millennials in the telecom industry. New millennial households aren’t buying traditional cable TV packages and landlines. Because of this the average viewer age for traditional TV programming has skyrocketed, which is upsetting the advertising in our industry. Millennials love their smartphones and are happy to use them for the majority of their computing needs. And some are even starting to leave smartphones behind in favor of wearable devices like the Apple iWatch.

This is the first generation that had a radically different childhood than earlier generations. This generation grew up with computers and that seems to have changed them more than past technologies changed other generations. I’m a baby boomer, and we were the first generation to grow up with television and that changed us a bit from our parents. But at the core, the baby boomers still shared mostly the same experiences growing up as their parents, be that with school, church, leisure or social activities.

But it’s becoming obvious that growing up with computers changed the millennials from their parents. This is the first generation that was fully immersed in social networking, texting, smartphones, online shopping and all of the many things that come with being computer-centric.

The millennial phenomenon is not limited to telecom and computers. Millennials are walking away from ‘traditional’ institutions of all kinds. Interest in the NFL and Major League Baseball is dropping – largely due to the fact that millennials aren’t interested. NASCAR has seen attendance and interest drop like crazy – which is something you might expect from a generation that values connectivity more than the past car-centric generations. Church attendance is down. Voting in elections is down. Subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, and traditional news outlets of all kinds are down. Millennials are shunning fast food restaurants, shopping malls and traditional department stores. The bottom line is that this generation has made a big break from the way their parents did things.

So what does this all mean for ISPs, telcos and cable companies? First, it seems to me that millennials also have a different expectation for what it means to be a customer. They are used to buying things online and having the package delivered the next day. They are used to making appointments online and communicating in real time. This is a generation that has already walked away from email and is in the process of walking away from texting. It looks to me like this generation won’t do business with companies that don’t make it easy. For example, everybody in my generation moans about how painful it is to deal with the big cable company – but the millennials seem willing to walk away completely from the cable company or anybody else that is too hard to use.

I build business plans that look forward anywhere from five years to twenty years and sometimes I am not quite sure what to do about millennials in these plans. The one thing our industry sells that millennials seem to like is fast broadband. They live in a video-rich world and like to have multiple streams of video and music running at the same time. It looks like they are ready to slide easily into virtual and enhanced reality technologies which should strengthen their need for broadband. My guess is that millennials will be the ones forcing us oldsters to participate in virtual meetings and using other new technologies.

As different as the millennials are, I really wonder about how different their kids are going to be. If you have recently watched a five year old kid with a smartphone you quickly realize that they really don’t live in the same world as we do, or even as their millennial parents. I don’t know that any of us knows what to expect from the post-millennial generation. That generation is going to grow up in a world of virtual reality, artificial intelligence and all of the new technologies that will be hitting the streets over the next decade. The gulf between them and their grandparents is going to be immense.

Millennials and Broadcast TV

Fatty_watching_himself_on_TVYouTube recently caused a big stir in the broadcast world by announcing that it now reaches more Millennials (individuals between 16 and 36) than any broadcast or cable network. Of course, since massive advertising dollars are at stake, the cable networks all pushed back on the claim. And the fact is, nobody knows the real numbers because YouTube is not measured by Nielsen ratings in the same way as broadcast and cable networks.

But one thing is clear – that Millennials are abandoning traditional TV in droves. Just this last TV season there was a huge fall-off in Millennial viewers almost across the board, as measured by Nielsen. This not only has a big impact on advertising and on content providers, but it has to be of great concern to anybody that offers a traditional cable TV product.

Nielsen reports that during the 2014-15 TV season that there were 19 shows broadcast in primetime that drew 1 million or more Millennials. In this past season that dropped to 12 shows. And the drop is almost across the board. ABC Millennial viewers were down almost 19%. The CW that has programming for younger viewers was down 16%. NBC dropped 10%, Fox dropped over 7% and CBS was down 3%.

Some individual shows lost a lot of support from Millennials. For example, How to Get Away with Murder and Family Guy each lost an average of 700,000 live weekly viewers. Scandal and Once Upon a Time each lost 500,000 live viewers. The trend isn’t just one of Millennials abandoning live viewing. Nielsen tracks viewing also on video-on-demand. In 2014-15 the show How to Get Away with Murder had 2.7 million viewers aged 18 – 34 in live-plus-three and 2.8 million in live-plus-seven viewing. Those numbers dropped in one year to 1.7 million and 1.9 million, a drop of 37%.

This trend is one of the primary drivers that is moving advertising away from traditional TV to web-TV like YouTube’s Google Preferred. eMarketer reports that 2017 will be the year where Web advertising passes TV advertising. They are predicting $77.4 billion for web advertising compared to $72 billion for TV. And they predict after that web advertising will skyrocket while TV advertising will remain flat. They also predict that by 2020 that mobile advertising will eclipse TV advertising.

None of these statistics are good signs for traditional TV networks and for cable TV operators. An entire generation of viewers is tuning out, and the expectation is that generation Z behind them will have almost no affinity for television. Recent studies suggest that peoples’ TV viewing habits are largely set by their experience with the medium as children, and the children of Millennials are going online far more than watching traditional TV.

This doesn’t mean that watching video content is down. The average hours for individuals to watch some kind of video content has grown slightly over the last decade. But that viewing time is now being spent watching YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime and other non-TV sources of video. And the viewing is rapidly shifting away from the TV screens to other devices.

Millennials are an interesting generation. They are old enough to remember the time just before the explosion of technology, but they are young enough to have adopted new technologies as they came along. They are the generation that has experienced the biggest change during the shortest period of time for digital technologies. But it seems that as they are getting older that they are becoming more like their kids and are abandoning older technologies like sitting in front of a TV.

I’m not sure that cable companies really are going to have any product to attract the attention of this generation and certainly not for their children in generation Z. Cable companies are hoping that things like TV Everywhere and skinny bundles will slow people from dropping TV entirely, but even that might not be enough. Broadcast TV is now largely something that is being produced for – and watched by – Baby Boomers. And they aren’t going to be around forever.

Is There Any Future for Voice Mail?

answeringmachineI read that J.P Morgan and Coca-Cola have dropped their voice mail service and I wonder if we are we starting to see the end of voice mail as a product?

In its heyday, voice mail and caller ID were hailed as the big saviors of telcos. A lot of customers dropped clunky answering machines and changed over to the telcos’ voice mail. And it was lucrative, at least for the larger telcos. They charged $5–$7 for residential voice mail and $7-$10 for business voice mail and this drove a lot of revenue.

It was not necessarily such a good deal for smaller telcos, although they had to have it to remain relevant to their customers. I can remember one client upgrading voice mail and spending $150,000 on the new hardware and software platform. I doubt that they had more than a few hundred customers on voice mail, so this made for a slow payback.

Today it’s easy to think that voicemail has been around for a long time. But it was developed by Voice Message Exchange in the late 70s and didn’t hit the market until the early 80s. Many of the larger companies like AT&T didn’t have a large business solution until the early 90s. Voice mail relied on bulk computer storage and wasn’t practical on a large-scale basis until there were large and affordable drum storage units.

But then the market started chipping away at voice mail. A few cellphones came with free voice mail in the early 90s and today it’s a standard feature on almost every cellphone on the market. Voice mail and a lot of other telephone features are now included with the price of the service for most VoIP plans like Vonage, and most unlimited long distance plans. One has to imagine that the residential penetration rate for paid voice mail has dropped significantly.

But the real money in voice mail has been for service to business lines. It’s not unusual for businesses to pay $10 per line for voice mail, even at large businesses. And of course, with today’s cheap data storage, this has to be almost all margin to the voice mail provider.

Companies are dropping voice mail partially because of the cost, but more importantly because people just don’t use it much. I know I hate voice mail and it’s a labor to check my own. I finally installed an app that would transcribe my voice mails to an email so I wouldn’t ever have to check it again. If I call somebody I know and get their voice mail I don’t leave a message but instead send them an email. And all of us remember those people who left us interminably long voice mails that made you groan once you knew who left the message.

The millennials hate voice mail. They are a generation that expects to be able to communicate quickly and they prefer text messages or instant messaging. In fact, one of the big complaints about millennials in the work force is that many of them hate talking on the phone at all. I’ve read that in colleges today leaving voice mails is as rare as sending emails – they are both dismissed as old technology.

We are probably a generation away from a time when voice mail will become a thing of the past just like many other telecom services. It is hard to explain to a kid today why somebody should pay $10 per month just so others can leave them messages.

Today a lot of telcos are pushing unified communications, which is basically enhanced voice mail. This is a product that combines all forms of company communications onto the same platform and lets people receive communications in whatever format they like. But as the millennials become more prevalent in the workplace even unified communications doesn’t look to have a rosy long-term future. A lot of these platforms are about transcribing things from emails and voice mails, and if those aren’t used then you don’t really need a fancy platform if employees are only going to text and  IM each other.

I am positive that when voice mail was introduced in the 80s that absolutely nobody could have imagined that just over thirty years later people would be abandoning it, and by fifty years later it might be completely dead as a product. This goes to show you how quickly things are changing. Now millennials, can I make a request? Can you also get rid of the big corporate IVR systems?

The Young and the Old

Old TVI’ve just seen some recent statistics that talk about TV viewing in different demographics. On the young side, Verizon just released a study it did of the TV viewing habits of Millennials, which it defined as those between the ages of 16 and 34. On the older side, there have been some interesting statistics released talking about who watches network TV.

Verizon’s study quantifies what we have already all suspected – that the viewing habits of young people are a lot different than the rest of us. This is not to say that everybody’s viewing habits aren’t changing, but the young have changed to a greater degree. For example, all age groups watch over-the-top video online, but Millennials spend three times as much of their viewing time on line as everybody else.

Millennials have not yet abandoned cable services and 75% of them still watch cable TV. Only 13% of Millennials have cut the cord compared to 9% of the rest of us. But unlike the rest of us, they are also huge subscribers other services like AmazonPrime, NetFlix and Hulu. They simply have a lower tolerance for linear TV programming and want to watch things on their terms when they are ready to watch it. Millenials also like to browse more than watch specific TV shows at set times. Millennials are more likely (64%) to be using some other viewing device like a tablet, laptop or cell phone than everybody else (49%).

Millennials seem to be very brand-loyal and the brands they like are not the same as everybody else. For example, when naming their top entertainment brands, Millennials don’t put any of the broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX) into their top ten brands while all four make it into the top brands for non-Millennials. Interestingly the company that makes it as the top name brand for everybody is Amazon.

Contrary to what other surveys have found, Millennials are willing to pay for multiple kinds of TV services and they are more likely to subscribe to both cable and online entertainment sources. But in looking at their viewing habits, they are more likely to engage in binge watching and more attuned to when entire series of shows are released on line.

Millennials also get more of their entertainment from non-traditional sources like YouTube and social sites. Millennials are more likely to game and to play fantasy sports than others. They also frequent a number of social sites like Reddit, Imjur, 4chan and 9gag that nobody else uses.

Very much as a compliment to the Verizon survey, I was looking through statistics about who watches network TV. The demographics of the major networks is aging even faster than the population. The median age of viewer for network TV is now 54 while twenty years ago it was 41. In 1993 the number one show was ‘Home Improvement’ with the age of the median watcher at 34. Today the most popular show is ‘NCIS’ with a median age of viewers of 61.

Interestingly, the networks still get the majority of the advertising dollars, but the increasing age of their viewers is probably going to change this a lot. Back in the Verizon survey, only 32% of Millennials said they would even miss the major networks if they went away. Advertisers want to find better ways to get to Millennial and other younger viewers, but the way they watch programming makes it hard to get to them in the same was as they can get to viewers with network TV.

The Verizon survey should give pause to anybody in the cable TV business. The Millennials and the following generations will be the majority of viewers in a few decades and once has to ask if it is possible to have a set of products that they are willing to pay for. They are not afraid to spend money for entertainment, but a lot of that money goes to online sources instead of to the local cable TV.