In Q4, TV viewing patterns showed a definite age trend. While 18-24-year-olds watched les TV than a year earlier, 25-34-year olds kept their consumption fairly steady (down only 28 minutes per week), while the 35-49, 50-64, and 65+ groups all watched more, by 13, 97, and 72 minutes, respectively. Compared to prior quarters, it looks like traditional TV consumption patterns actually trended upwards for all age groups save for the 18-24 set. (This may have been related to coverage of the elections, with older groups more likely to turn on the TV for election news, and youth more likely to use digital sources.)
Nevertheless, the latest quarter of data (Q4) indicates that younger adults are moving away from traditional TV viewing at a faster rate than older viewers, whose consumption patterns haven’t significantly changed. That’s not a terribly surprising result, given that younger adults have adopted internet and mobile video at a greater rate than their more mature counterparts.
It’s worth noting that the above figures are averaged among the entire population. When looking just at persons in TV households, though, the shift is remarkably similar. That is, on a monthly basis, 18-24 TV viewers watched about 9 and a half hours less in Q4 than they did a year earlier. That translates to roughly 19 minutes less per day. The same trend observed above applies here, too: those 9 and a half hours that 18-24-year-old TV viewers spent elsewhere are a big difference from the 7 hours and 40 minute gap seen in Q3 2012.
Looking at other age groups, 25-34-year-old viewers watched about 30 minutes less TV per month in Q4 2012 than in Q4 2011 (as opposed to 40 minutes less in Q3), the 35-49 demo watched about 2 hours and 15 minutes more, the 50-64 demo watched 7 hours and 40 minutes more, and the 65+ group spent about 7 hours more time watching TV.
What About Teens?
Teens are often used as a barometer of things to come. So how is this potential leading indicator faring in terms of TV viewership?
In Q4, 12-17-year-olds watched roughly 21 and a half hours of TV per week, the lowest amount of any age group. Interestingly, that not only was about 45 minutes less than Q4 2011, it was about 1 hour less than the previous quarter, which may serve as another indication that teens are getting their political news (however much they consume) through sources other than TV.
Looking at year-over-year patterns, teen consumption on TV decreased by 45 minutes in Q4, dropped by 98 minutes in Q3, by 47 minutes in Q2, and by 127 minutes in Q1. Other than the fact that viewership dropped each quarter, there aren’t many linear trends to take away from that. Perhaps more significant is when the major drops in viewership occurred. Q1 and Q3 were the heaviest TV viewing periods for teens (coinciding somewhat with TV seasons), but those showed the biggest consumption declines.
It’s Still Too Soon to Claim the King Has Been Dethroned
It’s true that TV’s audience has seemingly plateaued (down 0.2% in Q4, after declining by 1.1% in Q3 and by 1.7% in Q2) while the number of mobile subscribers watching video on a mobile device has grown by 22%. But looking at those trends out of context is a bit misleading.
Here’s why: in Q4, 18-24-year-olds may have watched less TV on a weekly basis, but they still watched more than 23 hours. How much time did they spend watching video on the internet or on a mobile phone, combined? About 2 and a half hours.
Still, there’s no avoiding the rise of online viewing. That 2 hours and 32 minute total represents continued growth from 2 hours and 15 minutes in Q3, 1 hour and 45 minutes in Q2 2012, and roughly 1 hour in Q3 2011. The same increase is apparent for 25-34-year-olds, who spent 2 hours and 7 minutes watching video on the internet or a mobile phone in Q4, up from 1 hour and 9 minutes a year earlier.
So while traditional TV still remains by far the dominant viewing medium for youth, there is certainly movement on the digital side of the equation.
How Much Does Streaming Affect TV Habits?
The Nielsen reports also look at how streaming behavior correlates with average daily minutes spent with TV. As Nielsen has found for some time now, there is a negative correlation between streaming and TV viewing. That is, in Q4, as in earlier quarters, those who streamed the most (the top quintile streamed about 24 minutes a day, unchanged from Q3), watched the least TV (about 247 minutes, up a few minutes from Q3). Again, though, the comparison is illuminating. The top quintile of streamers watch 24 minutes per day. They spend about 10 times that amount of time watching TV.
Also, the numbers don’t show that people watching the least TV are streaming far more. For example, the top quintile of TV viewers watched more than 10 hours of TV in Q4, while the bottom quintile watched about 40 minutes. But that bottom quintile only streamed for roughly 5 and a half minutes a day, compared to about 3 minutes for the top quintile of TV viewers – a marginal difference at best.
Services like Netflix might be putting a dent in TV viewing behavior, though. In its Q2 report [download page], Nielsen looked at the media consumption behavior of Netflix users compared to those who don’t use the service. The report found that on average, while Netflix users consume the same amount of media as non-Netflix users, they spend half an hour less per day watching TV, making that time up spending 15 minutes more time with video game consoles, 8 minutes more with DVD/Blu-ray playback, and 8 minutes more on streaming. These findings contrast with September 2012 survey results from GfK, which found regular Netflix users saying their TV content consumption was unaffected.
Cable Loses Subscribers, But Not to the Internet
Another topic of interest is cord-cutting – in which consumers stop paying for TV services and instead find programming online. Estimates have varied significantly on the extent to which this is occurring.
Nielsen’s Q4 report shows that the number of households with a cable subscription declined by roughly 2.7 million year-over-year in Q4 2012, or by about 4.4%, consistent with the year-over-year percentage decline seen in Q3 and Q2. But those households didn’t become broadcast-only households who may be watching online. In fact, the number of broadcast-only households only grew by 234,000 (although that’s a jump from Q3′s 67,000 increase). Instead, telco picked up more than 1.4 million households, and satellite another 124,000. And broadcast-only households with broadband (those most likely to be replacing their pay TV subscriptions with online viewing) remained flat at 5.1 million in Q4 2012. This suggests that the decline in cable TV subscribers isn’t necessarily driven by the availability of online content, a finding confirmed by Nielsen in its survey of “zero TV” households.
- Looking at ethnicity and race, African-Americans continued to consume the most TV on a monthly basis in Q4, more than double the amount of time spent by Asians, who spent the least amount of time watching TV (215:02 vs. 99:30).
- Asians spent the most time watching video on the internet (15:01 monthly), with African Americans (10:54) and Hispanics (9:58) relatively far behind. Each of those ethnicities spent far more time than the average American (7:43) watching video on the internet, suggesting that Caucasians trail in online video viewing.
- Asians also spent the most time watching video on a mobile phone (6 hours and 20 minutes per month), followed closely by African Americans (6:15) and Hispanics (5:58). Each was above the average (5:23) again.
- The average time spent per day watching Live TV, DVR playback, video games, and DVD playback grew to 5 hours and 28 minutes in Q4 2012, up from 5 hours and 13 minutes in Q4 2008. Live TV consumption, at 4 hours and 39 minutes, was up from Q4 2011 (4:35), but down from Q4 2008 (4:44)