Nielsen’s most recent study indicates that the 18-24 group watched a weekly average of roughly 21-and-three-quarter hours of traditional TV during Q3 2013, about a quarter-hour less than they did a year earlier. That equates to 2 minutes less per day.
Of course, compared to two years ago (Q3 2011), the drop-off is more stark as the losses mount: 18-24-year-olds watched almost 20 minutes less per day during Q3 than they did 2 years ago. But that translates to less than a 7% drop-off in daily viewing from 2 years earlier – hardly falling off a cliff.
Still, traditional TV viewing by 18-24-year-olds has now dropped on a year-over-year basis for at least 7 consecutive quarters. Here’s what that decline looks like:
- Q3 2013 vs. Q3 2012: 2 minutes per day
- Q2 2013 vs. Q2 2012: 9 minutes per day
- Q1 2013 vs. Q1 2012: 11 minutes per day
- Q4 2012 vs. Q4 2011: 20 minutes per day
- Q3 2012 vs. Q3 2011: 17 minutes per day
- Q2 2012 vs. Q2 2011: 15 minutes per day
- Q1 2012 vs. Q1 2011: 13 minutes per day
The immediate trend that jumps out of those figures is that while TV viewing continues to fall, the declines appear to be slowing. Throughout 2012, the decrease in viewing grew larger with every passing quarter, while so far in 2013, the trend has reversed, with narrower gaps. The relatively small decreases in viewing might indicate that youth are watching less TV in favor of alternative options (such as over-the-top services), but are not rapidly abandoning traditional TV viewing.
What might be more worrisome for the TV industry is that declines appear to be spreading from younger age groups to older ones. The 25-34 and 35-44 age groups have now watched less TV on a year-over-year basis in each quarter so far this year – with the declines more pronounced in Q3 than in any other quarter. And for the first time since Q2 2012, the 50-64 age group registered a decline in viewing, though it was fairly slight (20 minutes per week).
The interactive chart below offers a visual presentation of the data contained in the data table above, showing how TV viewing is trending down (sloping to the left) for younger demos, while gradually increasing (sloping to the right) during the past year or so among the oldest group.
A couple of notes regarding the chart: a vertical line chart is used here because it better portrays the varying trends among age groups than a typical horizontal line chart. Also, the trends are exaggerated by making the horizontal data range 20-50 hours per week rather than 0-50 hours per week.
Here’s what the data looks like as a horizontal line chart with no date ranges applied: the consumption decline is somewhat less pronounced.
It’s worth noting that the above figures are averaged among the entire population. When looking just at persons in TV households, though, Q3 offers up a new dynamic: 18-24-year-old viewers actually watched more TV than last year (stop the presses!). Specifically, they watched 107 hours and 43 minutes of traditional TV, up from 106 hours and 6 minutes the previous year – an increase of a bit more than 3 minutes per day.
Granted, that’s a small increase, but it continues a trend observed during prior quarters, where consumption losses had stemmed: during Q2, 18-24-year-olds TV viewers watched roughly 4 minutes less per day than the year before, a much narrower gap than in Q1 (7.5 minutes per day less), Q4 2012 (19 minute drop-off) and Q3 2012 (15-minute decline). Maybe the increasing social buzz around TV is amounting to something?
That consumption increased among these young TV viewers while declining among the 18-24 population as a whole suggests the growing presence of “cord-nevers” – people who have never subscribed to a pay-TV service and are instead getting all their programming options from OTT services. It also means that TV is maintaining a grip on its young viewers for the time being.
Looking at other age groups, 25-34-year-old viewers watched about 4 hours less per month during Q3 2013 than during Q3 2012 (compared to 2 hours and 40 minutes less in Q2, 3 hours less in Q1, 30 minutes less in Q4, and 40 minutes less in Q3 2012). The 35-49 demo also posted a significant decline, watching about 4-and-a-half hours less per month. After spending considerably more time watching TV in Q2, the 50-64 and 65+ groups cooled off a bit in Q3, with their viewing mostly flat.
Those are curious results: when looking at actual TV viewers, the trend looks positive for the 18-24 group, but negative for all the older age groups. These figures will be worth keeping an eye on in future data releases.
What About Teens?
Teens are often used as a barometer of things to come (just Google “Facebook” and “teens” for an example). So how is this potential leading indicator faring in terms of TV viewership?
In Q2, 12-17-year-olds watched about 21-and-three-quarter hours of TV per week, about the same amount as 18-24-year-olds. That represented a 49-minute year-over-year decline, down from a 58-minute drop in Q2 and a 52-minute decline during Q1, but up slightly from a 46-minute drop in Q4 2012.
Looking at year-over-year patterns, teen consumption of TV decreased:
- by 49 minutes per week in Q3 2013;
- by 58 minutes in Q2 2013;
- by 52 minutes in Q1 2013;
- by 46 minutes in Q4 2012;
- by 98 minutes in Q3 2012;
- by 47 minutes in Q2 2012; and
- by 127 minutes in Q1 2012.
The interesting takeaway from there is that while consumption decreases have slowed among the 18-24 group, they’ve stayed fairly constant among teens in the past 4 quarters. Moreover, even among 12-17-year-olds in TV households, consumption is down by about 3 hours per month.
What that portends is up for debate. One could argue that the data demonstrates that people tend to watch more TV as they get older – and that such a trend will hold true for teens as they age. Alternatively, the trends indicate that while viewing remains strong among older age groups, it’s tailing off with younger audiences. Particularly with the emergence of alternative viewing methods, one might expect that consumption decreases will continue among this age group.
- Looking at ethnicity and race, African-Americans viewers continued to consume the most TV on a monthly basis in Q2, more than double the amount of time spent by Asians, who spent the least amount of time watching TV (207:04 vs. 87:10).
- On a year-over-year basis, African-American viewers marginally increased their traditional TV viewing, by about a half-hour per month. Hispanic viewers watched roughly 4 hours less per month, while Asian Americans watched about 9 hours less per month.
- Overall consumption by TV viewers was down by about 1 hour.
- Among the total population (2+), TV consumption dropped by 17 minutes per week to 31 hours and 52 minutes (slightly more than 4-and-a-half hours per day). That was despite an increase in the number of viewers, from 282.6 million to 283.7 million.
- The average time spent per day watching Live TV, DVR playback, video games, and DVD playback was essentially flat on a year-over-year basis at 5 hours and 7 minutes. Live TV consumption, at 4 hours and 18 minutes, was the lowest for a third quarter for the study period (going back toQ3 2009). DVR playback (at 25 minutes per day) was the highest in that time period.