TV increasingly for the old, Internet for the young

A new analysis suggests the population of TV watchers is aging faster than the US and Internet users tend to be younger:

The median age of a broadcast or cable television viewer during the 2013-2014 TV season was 44.4 years old, a 6 percent increase in age from four years earlier. Audiences for the major broadcast network shows are much older and aging even faster, with a median age of 53.9 years old, up 7 percent from four years ago.

These television viewers are aging faster than the U.S. population, Nathanson points out. The median age in the U.S. was 37.2, according to the U.S. Census, a figure that increased 1.9 percent over a decade. So to put that in context of television viewing, he said TV audiences aged 5 percent faster than the average American…

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.

But, what about watching TV on the Internet? Here is more about watching different kinds of videos online:

Teens said they identify more with YouTube celebrities such as comedians Ryan Higa and Smosh, a “Saturday Night Live”-style singing, rapping duo, more than Hollywood A-listers Jennifer Lawrence and Seth Rogen, according to a July poll commissioned by Variety Magazine.

And like YouTube, Vine, which is owned by Twitter and has 40 million registered users, is producing celebrities who are getting increasingly picked up by mainstream media.

Perhaps not too surprising. Yet, it may lead to some interesting changes with both mediums. TV has traditionally tried to chase younger audiences, people that are impressionable and have spend a lot of disposable income. How much should TV chase younger viewers, particularly as the Baby Boomers, people used to TV and spending, age? On the other side, young Internet users do grow up at some point. Can sites like Facebook and YouTube continue to appeal to aging users as well as younger users who want new things?

At the least, this suggests moving images are not going away anytime soon, even if the delivery mode changes.

Stat of the day: cable companies now actually have more Internet customers

New figures show cable companies now have more Internet customers than TV customers:

For the first time, the number of broadband subscribers with the major U.S. cable companies exceeded the number of cable subscribers, the Leichtman Research Group reported today. Among other things, these figures suggest the industry is now misnamed. Evidently these are broadband companies that offer cable on the side.

To be sure, the difference is minimal: 49,915,000 broadband subscribers versus 49,910,000 cable subscribers. But even assuming a huge overlap in those numbers from customers who have both, the primacy of broadband demonstrates a shift in consumer priorities. Nearly all the major cable companies added broadband subscribers over the past quarter, for a total of nearly 380,000 new signups. Cable subscribers don’t have to worry about TV as they know it going away any time soon. But cable is on its way to becoming secondary, the “nice to have” compared to the necessity of having broadband access…

The better margins boil down to the fact that broadband is purely about access, while cable is about content. The crux of the cable side of the cable business is hatching deals with the makers of sports, news, and entertainment so there’s something to send through the box. And the costs can be steep. ESPN, the most pricey by far, tops $5 per subscriber per month.

The temptation with these numbers is to see a decline in television but I don’t think this is necessarily the case. TV has had remarkable staying power over the decades (it doesn’t hurt that the technology keeps getting better with better picture and sound as well as lots more channels) and Americans continue to watch a lot of it, on average. The Internet offers different possibilities compared to TV: access to more specific information, interactions with other Internet users, and a less passive overall experience. They also can be consumed together, presenting intriguing potential for interactions between the two.

Perhaps the bigger story here are the larger profit margins with the Internet…

Update on the Internet versus other forms of media

Derek Thompson provides an update on how people use the Internet in comparison to television and other media:

Eyes move faster than ads. It was true for TV: In 1941, when the first television ads appeared with local baseball games, radio and print dominated the media advertising market. Now it’s true for mobile, which is practically a glass appendage attached to working Americans and commands more attention than radio and print combined, even though it only commands 1/20th of US ad spending. Google and Facebook own the future of mobile advertising, for now. But the present of mobile monetization isn’t ads. It’s apps…The second chart that really struck me from the Meeker report shows the growth of the mobile biz since 2008, which has exploded from $2 billion to $38 billion. I never would have guessed that two-thirds of the mobile business comes from paid apps rather than advertising. It’s an interesting reversal from the desktop ecosystem, where just about every Internet property I use is free and supported with third-party advertising. When you combine this graph (basically: Mobile is an app industry, with a side of ads) and the previous graph (basically: The future of attention is mobile), you begin to see just how important it is for media companies to promote high-quality apps for their stuff…

If you’re wondering why Facebook spent a bajillion dollars on WhatsApp and Instagram (and offered more bajillions to Snapchat), just look at this graph for a split-second. The Internet as you know is essentially a series of tubes optimized for facilitating the distribution of photos. Although Facebook’s share of that photo market isn’t growing, WhatsApp and Snapchat have exploded. This feeds into a larger point that Meeker makes in the presentation, which is that the mobile Internet has been a boon for discrete, simple functions. WhatsApp is simple. Snapchat is simple. Timelines are simple. Simple actions and interfaces are thriving on mobile, more than services like Facebook which offer a more complex suite of functions…

– British people watch the most TV.
– The Chinese, Vietnamese, and Russians spend the most time on desktop computers.
– Nigeria is the most addicted to their smartphones.
– Nobody loves tablets more than the Philippines and Indonesia.

Some fascinating info. The quick rise of the mobile device is truly remarkable but it is worth noting that it hasn’t supplanted television and other media just yet. In fact, perhaps part of its appeal is that it is able to co-opt other forms of media: print, TV, and radio can all migrate to a single smartphone screen.

Americans have more TV channels than ever and still just watch 17.5

A new report from Nielsen shows Americans have more TV choices than ever and still watch on average 17 channels:

Americans have no shortage of options in every aspect of their lives. The proliferation of devices for consuming content has enabled more choices than most can count. But the “problem” of having too many options—including a growing expanse of content—doesn’t seem to be having an impact on our TV viewing preferences.

According to Nielsen’s forthcoming Advertising & Audiences Report, the average U.S. TV home now receives 189 TV channels—a record high and significant jump since 2008, when the average home received 129 channels. Despite this increase, however, consumers have consistently tuned in to an average of just 17 channels.

This finding might fit with research that shows giving people more choices in life doesn’t necessarily equate with happier outcomes. Sixty more channels may sound great but who has time for them or is interested in all of their content? It would also be interesting to look at the programming of these 60 new channels as I suspect many of them contain niche programming or may duplicate what is available elsewhere.

One way I think about this is how many DirecTV channel numbers I have memorized. With all of the possible channels, I still have to occasionally look up channel numbers – like last night when the Blackhawks-Wild game was on CNBC. At least DirecTV groups channels of common themes together so it is easier to flip around. I never did understand why Comcast put certain unrelated channels next to each other.

Demolishing public housing as spectacle in Glasgow

Glasgow, Scotland is planning to blow up five 29-story public housing high-rises, the tallest buildings in the city, and broadcast the event live on local TV and set up a viewing in a nearby soccer stadium:

Glasgow has a novel plan for grabbing viewers for this summer’s Commonwealth Games opening ceremony: It’s going to blow up the city’s tallest buildings live on television. For the Games opener on July 23, Scotland’s largest city will demolish five towers (most over 290-foot high) in just 15 seconds, screening the explosions at the nearby Celtic Stadium.

This combination of celebration and mass destruction, announced Thursday, would be unusual in any circumstances. What makes Glasgow’s plans even stranger is that the towers being dynamited – part of a huge housing project called the Red Road Flats – were once the city’s pride. By uniting a cheering stadium crowd and TV cameras with explosives, the ceremony might come off as a sort of latter-day Disco Sucks, but for social housing…

Still, the city has been moving on. From the ’80s onwards, Glasgow started an ultimately successful re-branding of itself as a cultural and business center. The Red Road and its ilk became emblems of the run-down Glasgow that the city’s promoters wanted to forget. Demolition of the first few towers started back in 2012. Now the games will dramatize its final transformation in the most eye-catching way possible.

But is it really in good taste? This video, shared by the games organizers themselves, proves that many former residents still remember the place with affection. What’s more, the project isn’t totally uninhabited, as one tower, currently occupied by asylum seekers, will remain. For these people, witnessing a ceremony that enacts their neighborhood’s destruction as unfit for human habitation while leaving them on site, should feel uncomfortable at the least. A petition is going round against the plans, and there’s a sense among locals that they, rather than just the buildings, are the targets of a ritual purge to do away with a side of Glasgow officialdom would rather forget.

The whole process sounds similar to the demolition of public housing high-rises in American cities, starting with the Pruitt-Igoe complex in St. Louis in the mid-1970s (a good documentary about it here) and accelerating with the HOPE VI program that began in the mid-1990s. Of course, the buildings tended to get blamed for the problems at the complexes when there was a whole host of other issues involved including deindustrialization and residential segregation.

But, it does seem a bit odd to make this such a spectacle. It is relatively rare to demolish large buildings so I could understand how that might be interesting. In contrast, while the demolition of Chicago’s public housing buildings drew attention (particularly the last high-rises at Cabrini-Green), it seemed like the general public wanted to move on rather than celebrate the demolition. Instead of publicizing the demolition, why not devote some air-time to showing how the city is trying to tackle the larger underlying issues (unless, of course, they are not and the demolition is meant to be a distraction from the true issues)? As the residents at Cabrini-Green who fought the city’s plans argued, what is the point of demolition if there many other options planned down the road?

Tiny houses may be missing TVs, other modern technologies

Tiny houses differ from McMansions in their size but perhaps also in another feature: a lack of TVs and other modern media technologies.

As I browsed the pages of both company’s full color, Robb Report-quality catalogs, one thing really stood out: In no picture of a fully furnished room did I see a single television. That can’t be a coincidence.

These are not the “Jewel Box” new homes filled with automation and electronics Gordon Gekko and his minions are supposedly building as all Baby Boomers are forced to downsize. Jewel Boxes? More like thumb drives if we are making an accurate size comparison.

There are clearly challenges to designing relevant A/V, home theater, whole house entertainment/convenience and security for a tiny home. Multi-purpose structures and thoughtful use of hydraulics just begin the scratch the surface. An exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York has a full size working model of a mini apartment that shows all sorts of folding and sliding stuff including a television. It almost looks like two different apartments, literally day and night.

This could suggest tiny houses are not just about having smaller houses: it is part of a larger lifestyle package away from consumerism that includes restricting television consumption. However, these two things don’t necessarily have to go together: tiny house or micro-apartment dwellers may have strong interests in different media including streaming TV and video games. I would suspect many tiny house owners have a laptop, tablet, and/or smartphone but I would also guess they don’t want their small homes to be dominated by things like large TVs that are often the focal points of social spaces in McMansions.

Dunphy’s home from Modern Family isn’t exactly a middle-class home

The home used as the Phil and Claire Dunphy household on Modern Family is up for sale:

[G]et ready for a blast of memories from “Modern Family,” the Golden Globe & Emmy-winning ABC prime-time comedy that was filmed at 10336 Dunleer Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90064.

The price is $2.35 million, but listing agent Mitch Hagerman of Coldwell Banker Previews International said there’s decent income potential given the fact that TV producers have forked over generous fees for the right to film exterior shots of the property. He said it would be up to the new owners to negotiate with ABC Studios…

The home is a traditional, two-story style and has been impeccably remodeled, complete with crown molding, wood floors and upgraded appliances. It sits on a prime street in the coveted Cheviot Hills neighborhood. Hagerman says the home should sell pretty easily on its own merits.

“It’s a charming, gorgeous, cozy, family-oriented and classic-style home in a fantastic neighborhood where there’s very little inventory,” he said.

The home offers 4 bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, plus a powder room. The home last sold for $1.97 million in 2006.

A nice and expensive home. This is interesting because the Dunphy family is portrayed as being fairly middle-class. Phil is a realtor who is not the most successful or smart (these are running points throughout the shows). Claire recently returned to work, working for her father’s closet business, after not working. Where do they get all of their money? How do they afford such a nice house?

Sociologist Juliet Schor argued in The Overspent American that one problem of post-World War II television is that it showed an increasingly lavish middle-class lifestyle. The evolving image of the middle-class on television showed families with more money and possessions and not much discussion about how they could afford it all. The Dunphys are supposed to look like normal Americans yet their lifestyle is pretty wealthy with little concern about money and pretty nice possessions. Schor suggests portrayals like this pushed more Americans to consume more.

In other words, the show plays off the idea the extended family depicted is a “typical” American family yet its class status is far from what many American families experience.

How TV presentations of the Olympics differ around the world

Cultural differences and nationalistic pride are on display when watching the Olympics in different countries:

In Sweden, commentators have fun with Norway’s misfortunes. The Dutch can’t get enough of their speedskaters. Japan is so crazy about figure skating they show warmups. Canada is hockey crazy, Russia struggles to stay positive even when things look down and the U.S. salutes its stars with the national anthem as it’s time to go to bed.

There’s only one Winter Olympics. But in reality, for television viewers around the world, the Sochi games are a different experience depending on where you tune in.

Some 464 channels are broadcasting more than 42,000 hours of Sochi competition worldwide, easily outdistancing previous Olympics, according to the International Olympic Commission. Digital platforms push that number past 100,000 hours. Worldwide viewership statistics aren’t available, but the IOC says more than three-quarters of Russians have watched some coverage, two-thirds of South Koreans and 90 percent of Canadians.

Read on for some more details of presentations in six different countries.

While we make much of the idea of globalization these days, it strikes me that we are still far away from being able to watch how other countries present the Olympics. TV deals for the Olympics are locked in country by country. In the United States, NBC paid roughly $775 million for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, about 61.5% of all TV broadcast revenues for this Olympics. That means we are generally stuck with their coverage, either on TV or through their website. What if we could watch any international feed? What if all of these feeds were available online for free? We are probably far from this because there is too much money involved for TV broadcasters who still often follow national boundaries.

You could get a taste of these differences in Olympics coverage through non-TV sources, like websites or newspapers. However, that is still different in watching it in “real-time” and seeing how commentators react in the moment. Plus, it takes extra work (though maybe not much) to track down these different sources and compare.

The dystopias right in front of us: “Sochi is Pure Dystopian Reality”

Much has been written about Sochi and its varying degrees of glitz and cover-up. This piece considers the dystopian aspects of Sochi and how it compares to recent fictional dystopias.

But here’s the best-worst part: no matter how many articles use the word “dystopia,” Sochi doesn’t just look like a hellish future straight off the NYT bestseller list. It’s a complete and active masterpiece—because despite all the plot markers, despite all the freaky realities that scream something is really wrong here, we still tune in. Just like the Hunger Games‘ Capitol citizens, Western audiences eat up happy-faced Olympic broadcasts as readily as we have since the games were first televised on a closed circuit in Berlin in 1936. We’ll read all the coverage as entertainment, make Twitter jokes about stray dogs, and laugh about it over drinks (even if it’s to keep from crying). Six thousand athletes will compete just as they did in London in 2012, even if tourists don’t quite make it out. The Olympics are the Olympics, after all. Sochi is the Dystopian Singularity because we accept it as reality—and thus are complicit in its success…

If this is really happening, though, at least we have a few protagonists. Members of the radical-feminist punk performance art collective Pussy Riot have been active, powerful critics of President Putin’s regime—which is exactly how they came to the West’s attention at all. After several members’ arrest and political imprisonment for hooliganism (after they performed a radical protest song in Moscow’s biggest cathedral), Maria “Masha” Alyokhina and Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova were released in December just months before their two-year sentence was up. (They maintain that their release was a Putin PR stunt.) While the pair have since split from Pussy Riot proper to pursue their own activism for prisoners’ rights, their association with the group and the media tour they’ve taken in the past few months has made many aware of the dire sociopolitical circumstances in Russia. Last week they appeared on The Colbert Report and at an Amnesty International benefit concert, where they urged people to boycott or protest the Games and the leaders overseeing them. There’s no quantitative way to measure Nadya and Masha’s success—and it’s likely that some might miss the point—but it’s a good bet that their story (and Pussy Riot’s message) has resonated with audiences even if it doesn’t affect their willingness to add to the ratings.

There are quieter acts of solidarity, as well, scripted straight from Katniss’s victory tour: Russian snowboarder Alexey Sobolev appeared to display a Pussy Riot member on the bottom of his board when he took to the slopes on Thursday; the same day, Google unleashed a pro-LGBT Doodle. One could even argue that Jonny Weir’s fashion statements are marks of resistance. But these won’t change the fact that things will probably worsen in Russia after the Games end and the world stops watching; the Olympics are notorious for draining economies dry and Sochi is the most expensive Games ever assembled.

Certainly, Sochi isn’t single-handedly decimating the dystopia YA marketplace, but it’s nonetheless a perfect example of why the genre is failing. It’s not because a shallow fad has run its course; it’s because the fantasies and the facts have become nearly identical. And that’s the problem — Entertainment is meant to be an escape, fantasy and science-fiction in particular; movies about poverty don’t do well during a recession because no one in the midst of turmoil likes seeing their suffering splashed onto the silver screen. And it’s not just in Sochi, either; from Snowden, to the American wealth gap, to the (thankfully canceled) prospect of DMX cage-fighting George Zimmerman on pay-per-view, to the world’s premier newspaper printing an accused pedophile’s “response” to his child victim’s account, there are countless examples of our satirical imagination matching the real world right at our front door. (And we wonder why people still get fooled by Onion articles.) The fact is, when the allegory starts looking like the reality, it’s time for the allegory to evolve.

Perhaps we should then ask what the average viewer/consumer is supposed to do in this situation. Ignore the Olympics? Engage in a more real world right in front of them? Insist the Olympics avoid countries with lots of inequality (Russia might seem like an obvious choice but others might argue this could rule out the United States)?

This also hints that the really important dystopias are not ones we imagine but rather ones that are right in front of us that we don’t notice. This might be like the tourist experience: we are often like visitors who hope to see the popular sights and are distracted by what is new and exciting. How closely do we look behind the scenes? (This is starting to sound like a pitch I would make in an Introduction to Sociology course.) A number of sociologists have voiced their concerns about “fake” places, often invoking Disney World or Las Vegas or Times Square, that tend to hide the real world behind consumerism and private spaces.

Claim: all media companies have a resident sociologist

This is all tongue-in-cheek but MTV suggests sociologists are in demand:

While falling in love can seem complicated at times, behavior experts can break down the science behind attraction in the simplest terms, so we called upon MTV’s resident sociologist (what media company doesn’t have one?) to deconstruct last night’s “Are You The One?” premiere using her Five Factors of Love thesis.

If there are not real sociologists on TV much, perhaps we could argue many networks and stations have people who play sociologists. Aren’t many of the talking heads pontificating about social forces?

On one hand, if these sociologists were primarily tasked with analyzing the latest reality dating shows, the job may not be that exciting. On the other hand, if there was a sociologist who was able to talk about important issues on TV, areas that consistently match with their research, and was afforded the ability to interact with other experts as well as TV personalities, it could be a very interesting gig. All together, this may mean MTV would not be the best place for a TV sociologist…