Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Binging Into My Mid-60s

Nielsen, the company that measures television viewership, now classifies mine as a “zero TV” household, one of 5 million now nationwide.

This doesn’t mean I don’t watch television, I just don’t subscribe.  The number of “zero TV” households such as mine has doubled in just a few years.

According to SNL Kagan research reported in USA Today last week, subscription television providers including cable, satellite and telecoms added just 46,000 customers last year compared to the 974,000 new households that were created.

I assume this was “net” any cancellations but it must be very alarming for that business model.

Many “zero TV” households still watch television according to a study released last week by Harris Interactive.  This includes 40% of all households that watch via either Netflix (30%) or Hulu (22%) like I do. 

That percentage drops to 19% for the 55+ age group in which I am included but zooms up to 71% and 60% for consumers in the vaunted age groups of 18-29 and 30-39 respectively.

When I do watch television now, it is either a movie or more frequently by what Harris terms “binging.”  This means I may watch two, three or more episodes back to back as though they were a movie.  More than six out of ten Americans now “binge” view, most (78%) using a television as opposed to watching on a computer or mobile device.

I first learned to “binge” view television when on our annual lake trip one year, my youngest sister and I stayed up late one night watching the first few episodes of Lost (image shown in this blog,) a show I had never watched during the six seasons that it ran.

After returning home, over several months a friend and I, who also hardly ever watches TV, “binge” viewed all 121 episodes of Lost.  Half of “binge” viewing involves older shows or past seasons of current shows but 40% involves current seasons of shows.

I rarely watch television now as a diversion, e.g. while eating or mindlessly.  I watch only when I feel like watching and if I find something I like, I find it more enjoyable to watch episodes back to back rather than as it was rationed in the past and at a tiny fraction of the price I previously paid for a subscription.

Friends ask if I miss the news or sports events, but I receive dozens of channels free via a digital antenna.  I also tend to access seasons of certain sports when available, also much less expensive.

Audiences for so-called “local” television stations have continued to stagnate nationwide even though last year was laden with election year advertising.  The average loss for local affiliates was 6.5% last year.

This included annual losses of about 10 million of viewers over all time slots.  Cable news saw a minimal growth of 1% but news packages such as CNN have dropped by half over a half dozen years.

As advertising revenues have fallen for local stations, these businesses have turned more and more for revenue to retransmission fees from subscription TV and now with those outlets also in decline, local television faces strong competition as Google and other avenues begin to offer reach that is truly local.

More than 40% of local news is now sports, weather and traffic reports, all of which can be accessed in real-time on mobile devices.  The good news is that the percentage of coverage obsessed with crime has fallen to 17% replaced by coverage of disasters, government (maybe that is redundant,) business and human interest.

All together nearly one in three Americans have stopped tuning to a news outlet and it ranges equally across gender, political affiliation and age groups including 36% in the age group I am about to enter.

If this is news to you, you’re not alone.  Six out of ten Americans are unaware of the financial woes of the news industry.  Television in particular has trouble turning the lens inward, preferring to cover the woes of newspapers where circulation is leveling out and revenue alternatives are supplanting the decline of advertising.

A byproduct of my shift to a “zero TV” household is that I am reading and indulging interests such as family history research more than ever.

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