Unless bundled cable providers find a way to move their racket online, the demographic reality of younger people moving online looms as an existential threat to the most lucrative business in entertainment and the news media. In just four years the median age of the average television viewer jumped a whopping 6% to 44.4 years old.
Six-percent is not a gradual jump. That’s a leap — even over 4 years. The four major broadcast networks are in even worse shape. The average age of the NBC, ABC, CBS and FOX viewer is 53.9 year-old, a 7% jump in four years.
According to Michael Nathanson of Moffett Nathanson Research, the analyst who did the study, television viewers are aging way ahead of the American population. According to the U.S. Census, the median U.S. age is 37.2%, an increase of only 1.9% over a whole decade.
“The shift in demographic viewing is caused by a combination of factors ranging from lower TV penetration rates of under-25 year old households to increasing use of time-shifting technologies in most under-55 year old households,” Nathanson wrote in a research report earlier this week.
For younger audiences, control over when and where they watch has driven the trend away from traditional television. Live television viewing was down 13 percent for all ages except for viewers 55 years and older, who are steadily watching their shows at their scheduled broadcast time.
Any sizable decrease in cable customers would be cataclysmic for both the entertainment industry and the broadcast news media. If cable networks had to rely only on advertiser revenue from actual ratings, a majority of them would cease to exist, or at the very least be hobbled to something much closer to a Wayne’s World type of cable access show.
The windfall from cable television doesn’t come from viewership, it comes from forcing a hundred-million plus households to purchase and pay for, and ultimately subsidize, dozens of channels they never watch.
If you want Turner Classic Movies and Fox News, chances are you are forced to purchase a cable package that might include MSNBC or CNN or MTV. Not only is that crap pumped into your home, you are subsidizing it. Almost every network included in your package receives a piece of your cable bill. It’s called a carriage fee. News and entertainment giants make untold billions from these extorted fees.
Young people, thankfully, are the biggest threat to this racket. Thanks to Obama’s terrible economy, which is hitting millenials hardest, young people just can’t afford to pay $90 a month for TV. They can, though, afford $8 a month for Netflix. They are also the most tech savvy and willing to try new things.
What should worry news and entertainment giants the most is the socialization process taking place. Young people are used to paying very little for a lot of entertainment and are even more used to watching it through online streaming.
John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC