Millennials May Doom the TV Business (Or Maybe Not)

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Cord cutting cannot be denied.

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The overall traditional pay-television universe keeps getting smaller. The entire industry, which includes cable and satellite providers, dropped 795,000 subscribers in 2016, more than twice what it lost the previous year, according to data from Leichtman Research Group (LRG). Those numbers have heated up in 2017 with slightly more than 1 million homes cutting the cord with cable.

Those numbers are troubling on their own, but they seem worse when you look at recent data from Nielsen. In its most-recent Comparable Metrics Report, the research firm showed that people ages 18-34 -- the age group known as millennials -- simply watches less television than older generations. That suggests cord cutting could get worse as more digital-native generations grow up, but that's only one way to read the data.

What does the report say?

People ages 18-34 (millennials) only watch 19 hours and 18 minutes of TV each week. That's less than the nearly 31 hours watched by the 35-49 age group, and less than half the 46 hours and 32 minuted of TV watched each week by people ages 50 and over.

Millennials do spend more time each month using TV-connected devices (DVD, Game Console, Multimedia Device, VCR, etc.), but at about three hours more than 35-49-year-olds, and just over five hours more than those aged 50 or older, it does not eliminate the overall deficit. In addition, while 18-34-year-olds use their smartphones about five hours more each week than people over 50, they actually use them a little more than an hour less than 35-49-year-olds.

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Basically, when you look across TV, radio, TV-connected devices, PC, smartphone, and tablet usage, millennials actually have the lowest total use of the three age groups. The 18-34-year-old group spends 64 hours and one minute each week on their devices while 35-49-year-olds clock in at 82 hours and 43 minutes and the over-50 set spends 82 hours and 54 minutes.

What does this mean?

This research proves that millennials may not fit some of the stereotypes associated with them. The fact that they actually use their phones less than 35-49-year-olds is surprising, as is their overall lower use of all devices compared to all age groups.

The data does suggest that millennials have less interest in traditional television than other age groups, which suggests cord cutting will increase as more 18-34-year-olds start living on their own. That's possible, but it's worth noting that this trend isn't new. Going back to Nielsen data from Q4 2008, 18-24-year-olds and 25-34-year-olds (as it was broken down in the report) watched less TV than older age groups. In fact, from ages 18-24 through each group tracked, TV consumption increased as people got older.

Is TV doomed?

Viewing patterns are changing and millennials appear to be more willing than other age groups to consume entertainment on TV-connected devices rather than through cable or satellite connections. That seems likely to continue since streaming services cost less than traditional pay-TV packages. That probably means cord cutting continues its steady growth, but it's a shift in how TV gets consumers not the death of television.

Content providers and cable companies would be smart to continue to develop alternative delivery methods to serve millennial needs. But, as that age group gets older, its members are likely to see their overall TV and TV-equivalent content consumption increase. Cable and satellite services may not be dying, but they're going to shrink as a delivery method. Watching television-style content and consuming screen-based entertainment, however, seems as healthy as it has ever been.

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