Television is dying. So what else is new?



“TV Is Dying,” blares a November 24 Business Insider headline, “And Here Are The Stats That Prove It.” Those “stats” include:

  • Cable, satellite and internet subscription services down 113,000 subscribers in the quarter just ended.
  • About 5 million cable and broadband subscriptions canceled since January, 2010.
  • Except for Olympic and Super Bowl peaks, live and same-day DVR ratings have plateaued since September, 2012.
  • Fewer people are watching World Series and NBA games.
  • Fewer than half of broadband internet customers now bundle cable television with their service.
  • Cable’s quarterly share of the video market has declined from 51.7 percent first quarter of 2011 to 47.2 percent third quarter of 2013.
  • Media consumption on mobile devices quintupled, from 4 percent in 2009 to 20 percent this year.

There’s only one problem with those statistics, and that’s that they’re not about television – at least television as a whole.

Television isn’t cable

One thing that tech writer Jim Edwards loses sight of is that television isn’t just cable television.

According to Nielsen figures, there are 15 percent more television sets in the US than households, so it’s fair to assume that virtually all of the 114,800,000 households the US Census counted in 2010 are television homes.

Of those, almost half – 55,245,375 or 48.1 percent if you want to get picky – don’t have cable. So all the woeful viewership losses those statistics bemoan don’t reflect their viewing patterns.

Among the remaining 59,554,625 households, cable use breaks out this way among the ten biggest companies:

  • Comcast – 21,955,000 subscribers
  • Time Warner – 12,218,000
  • Verizon FIOS – 4,726,000
  • Cox – 4,540,280
  • AT&T – 4,536,000
  • Charter – 4,148,000
  • Cablevision – 3,197,000
  • Bright House Networks – 2,013,145
  • Suddenlink Communications – 1,211,200
  • Mediacom – 1,000,000
  • Plus some more for satellite subscribers and customers of the smaller cable outfits.

The funny thing is, if this form of television – not television as a whole, but cable television – were in its death throes, then all these companies would be losing subscribers left and right, all across the board. But they’re not.

According to ISI Group estimates that Edwards himself cites, the third quarter of this year Cablevision, Charter, Comcast and Time Warner were down – 500,000 for the group, 350,000 for Time Warner alone. But others were up, by a combined total of 710,000 – 150,000 for DirecTV, 25,000 for Dish, 150,000 for FIOS, 300,000 for AT&T and about 10,000 for Century Link.

So while cable companies were losing viewers, the cable industry (including satellite) enjoyed a net gain.

Television isn’t hardware

Edwards also confuses the medium with the hardware it’s viewed on.

Television is programming, and those programs will be the same, whether viewers watch them on giant-screen plasma HDTVs, on laptops, over DVRs, on tablets or on smartphones. Even the commercials can be the same, if advertisers choose to make them so.

And while mobile viewing may have quintupled, that was from a tiny base, so of course growth percentages will look big. But not only does mobile represent less than half of viewing on conventional TV sets, but that mobile media use is also divided among television, music, texting, tweeting, IMing, photographing, and other media.

The same effect, where a small base’s percentage growth looks huge, applies to advertising spending. While spending on internet advertising grew 26.6 percent from second quarter 2012 to 2013, the internet accounted for only 4.3 percent of advertising dollars. That’s just 0.1 percent more than just the dollar-value increase in TV advertising over the same period. It’s also, we noted here, “entirely possible that television’s 4.2 percent increase is more in absolute dollars than the internet’s base plus its 26.6 percent increase combined.”

The fact that advertisers are willing to pay record-high prices for television air time is not, Edwards to the contrary, proof that they’re living in some kind of delusional bubble. As we also noted,

To Randall Beard, global head of advertiser solutions at Nielsen, there’s another factor at work – a trust factor. In his opinion, the 57 cents of every ad dollar spent on television is “a worthy investment considering that global consumers reportedly trust TV over all other paid media channels.”

In other words, it’s not just cost per exposure, but trust per exposure that matters.

And that should remain true however people’s television programs are transmitted – by broadcast, by cable, by satellite, by broadband to a laptop, by cell signal to a mobile phone or tablet, or by what Business Insider sees as the main culprit in telelvison’s death, the fast-growing number of free wi-fi hotspots.


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