Americans Love Their Media

One of the best sources for understanding trends in media consumption is Nielsen. Their recently released Total Audience Report for the second quarter of 2018 supplies detailed statistics on how Americans consume media including live TV, radio, Internet Browsing, gaming and smart phones. They are the only ones I know who pull this all together and who also trend media usage over time.

Media in general is a major factor in the life of US adults. In the second quarter of this year the average adult spent an average of 10 hours and 45 minutes per day using some form of media. That usage varies by age with adults aged 50-64 at the highest with an average of 11 hours and 49 minutes per day. What might surprise many is that adults aged 18-34 were the lowest demographic at just over 8 hours of media use per day.

The time spent on various types of media is intriguing. Live and time-shifted TV is still king and the average adult watches TV for 4 hours and 21 minutes per day. Next is using apps on smart phones at 2 hours 19 minutes per day. Radio usage is third with an average of 1 hour 49 minutes per day. Smaller categories include game consoles at 44 minutes per day, using tablets at 43 minutes per day and browsing the Internet on a computer at 32 minutes per day.

As we’ve known from the long-time tracking from Nielsen, the hours watching TV varies widely by age group. Adults over 65 watch TV almost 7 hours per day. But a statistic that scares the whole television industry is that adults aged 18-34 are only watching an average of 2 hours per day. There have been several studies over the last few years that concluded that television viewing habits adopted when we are young carry forward for life. Those over 65 are from the generation stretching back to the birth of TV and it’s still an important part of their life, while younger people have chosen other ways to consume media. This doesn’t bode well for the future of TV.

Some other categories of usage have become common for everybody. All adults under 65 now spend between 2 and 3 hours per day using apps on a smartphone. Those over 65 are at about half that usage. Also, average usage of tablets is about 46 minutes per day for everybody over 34, and at 33 minutes per day for those under 34.

Another interesting statistic is how we use media throughout the day. We’re all familiar with the fact that TV usage peaks in the evenings with viewing at prime time double the TV viewing for the rest of the day. But interestingly, the use of combined digital media – smartphones, computers and tablets – is consistent from 8 AM through bedtime.

Another interesting statistic is what Nielsen calls reach – what percentage of adults are touched by a given media during the week. The leader in this category is radio that reaches 92% of adults at least once during a week. Next is live and time-shifted TV that reaches 87% of us. Smart phone apps reach 78% of adults during a week, and Internet on a computer reaches 54% of people each week.

There are some other interesting statistics in the report. 24% of households now have a smart speaker device like the Amazon Echo. That’s pretty amazing for a technology that didn’t exist just three years ago. 19% of adults listen to a podcast each week. 15% of us now listen to satellite radio. I would guess that many people would think that social media has overtaken our lives, but the average adult spends 44 minutes per day on a social media platform.

Another interesting statistic is how we watch TV. Almost 83% of adults watch TV in some manner. 81% of them still watch traditional cable TV; 13% watch TV using an antenna and 6% watch TV on the Internet. It’s easy for us in the Industry to think that Internet TV has taken over the industry, but most households are still watching TV the traditional way. This statistic should scare network planners because it highlights the huge amount of video that could transition to online in the future.

Of course, none of us are average and I doubt that anybody that reads this matches the overall statistics. Like other baby boomers I grew up in a time when the only media available was TV and radio and it’s always interesting to pause and consider the huge number of options we have today. These options mean we all use media in our own individual way. It’s still interesting, though, to see how our individual use of media aggregates into a national average – which is what drives the telecom industry we work in.

What’s the Future for Media Advertising?

Film4I’m glad I’m not in the advertising business. We think telecom is undergoing big changes, but the advertising firms that represent large clients must be struggling to know where to find the eyeballs to view their ads. The public’s traditional viewing habits are changing quickly and dramatically across all forms of media.

Not many years ago ad revenues were spread across TV, radio, and print and the big companies had a pretty good idea who was seeing their ads by demographic. But the way that people view all forms of media is changing so rapidly that it’s a lot harder to know who is seeing your ads.

Consider the following statistics comparing how people spend their time viewing different media versus how advertising dollars were spent. Both sets of numbers are from 2014 and come from Business Insider.

‘                            % of Time Spent         % of Advertising Dollars

Digital                         46.3%                                28.2%

Television                   36.6%                                38.1%

Radio                          11.8%                                  8.6%

Print                             3.5%                                 17.6%

Digital includes the web, cellphones, and all forms of digital advertising.

These percentages show a interesting picture of how people are spending their time and I think this is the first time I have ever seen this expressed in a side-by-side comparison across all forms of media. It’s obvious that people prefer digital media and spend nearly half of their media time there.

The problem that advertisers have is that there are still huge amounts of change happening within each category. For example, it looks on the surface that the amount of advertising spent on television is about right according to the eyeball time purchased. But consider the following facts:

  • The demographics for television are changing dramatically and rapidly. For example, the percentage of households of 18–24 year olds that buy a cable subscription dropped 7 total percentage points (or 12% overall) just last year.
  • The percentage of people who watch TV on a time-delayed basis is up dramatically and over 40% of TV watching is now done on a delayed basis (using a DVR or video on demand), and these viewers largely skip the commercials.

This means that the demographic for those who watch television is aging rapidly, and even many of those who watch are doing so on a time-delayed basis and skipping the ads. This has to be a huge concern for advertisers.

But there are equal issues with web advertising. One of the fastest growing categories of web apps is for ad blocking, meaning that a huge number of people are now blocking ads from showing up on the pages loaded by their browsers/devices. Studies have shown that people are capable of ignoring web advertising compared to advertising on television or the radio. They can and do read news articles or other content without looking at or clicking on any of the ads.

And so an advertiser has a very tough choice to make. They can place ads on television with its rapidly-aging demographic and quickly-decreasing percentage of people who see the ads, or they can advertise on the web where people either block the ads or become good at ignoring them.

This is all evidence that technology has given the average person the ability to skip ads if they so choose. I know I have largely wiped ads out of my life. I can’t recall having watched an ad on television this year and I very rarely click on web ads. I used to be a voracious reader of magazines and I have not looked at a magazine this year. I read a local paper every day but I cannot name even one company that advertises in that paper. The one place where ads still get to me is on the radio that I always have on when I’m driving.

The problem with my behavior (and everybody else that ignores ads) is that advertising is what pays for a lot of the content we enjoy. If advertisers eventually bow to reality and cut back on TV and web advertising then a lot of the content we like will not be produced. It’s a real dilemma not only for the advertisers, but also for the television networks and web sites that rely on advertising to fund their content.

FCC Makes Changes to 60 GHz Spectrum

United States radio spectrum frequency allocat...

United States radio spectrum frequency allocations chart as of 2003 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On August 12, 2013 the FCC, in [ET Docket No 07-113] amended the outdoor use for the 60 GHz spectrum. The changes were prompted by the industry to make the spectrum more useful. This spectrum is more commonly known as the millimeter spectrum, meaning it has a very short wavelength and operates between 57 GHz and 64 GHz. Radios at high frequencies like this have very short antennae which are typically built into the unit.

The spectrum is used today in two applications, a) as outdoor short-range point-to-point systems used in place of fiber, such as connecting two adjacent buildings, and b) as in-building transmission of high-speed data between devices for functions such as transmitting uncompressed high-definition (HD) video between devices like blu-ray recorders, cameras, laptops and HD televisions.

The new rules modify the outside usage to increase power and thus increase the distance of the signal. The FCC is allowing an increase in emissions from 40 dBm to 82 dBm which will increase the outdoor distance for the spectrum up to about 1 mile. The order further eliminates the need for outside units to send an identifying signal, which now makes this into an unlicensed application. This equipment would be available to be used by anybody, with the caveat that it cannot interfere with existing in-building uses of the spectrum.

One of the uses of these radios is that multiple beams can be sent from the same antenna site due to the very tight confinement of the beams. One of the drawbacks of this spectrum is it is susceptible to interference from heavy rain, which is a big factor in limiting the distance.

Radios in this spectrum can deliver up to 7 Gbps of ethernet (minus some for overheads) and so this is intended an alternative to fiber drops to buildings needed less bandwidth than that limit. A typical use for this might be to connect to multiple buildings in a campus or office park environment rather than having to build fiber. The FCC sees this mostly as a technology to be used to serve businesses, probably due to the cost of the radios involved.

Under the new rules the power allowed by a given radio is limited to the precision of the beam created by that radio. Very precise radios can use full power (and get more distance) while the power and distance are limited for less precise radios.

The FCC also sees this is an alternative for backhaul to 4G cellular sites, although the one mile limitation is a rather short one. Most 4G sites that are already within a mile of fiber have largely been connected.

This technology will have a limited use, but there will be cases where using these radios could be cheaper than installing fiber and/or dealing with inside wiring issues in large buildings. I see the most likely use of these radios to get to buildings in crowded urban environments where the cost of leasing fiber or entrance facilities can be significant.

The 60 GHz spectrum has also been allowed for indoor use for a number of years. The 60GHz band when used indoors has a lot of limitations related to both cost and technical issues. The technical limitations are 60 GHz must be line-of-sight and the spectrum doesn’t go through walls. The transmitters are also very power consumptive and require big metal heat sinks and high-speed fans for cooling. Even if a cost effective 60 GHz solution where to be available tomorrow battery operated devices would need a car battery to power them.

One issue that doesn’t get much play is the nature of the 60 GHz RF emissions. 60 GHz can radiate up to 10 Watts with the spectrum mask currently in place for indoor operation. People are already concerned about the 500mW from a cell phone and WiFI and it is a concern in a home environment to have constant radiation at 10 Watts of RF energy. That’s potentially 1/10 the power of a microwave oven radiated in your house and around your family all of the time.

Maybe at some point in the distant future there may be reasonable applications for indoor use of 60 GHz in some vertical niche market, but not for years to come.