Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Maybe It's Not Cord-Cutting, But Cord-Nevers: TV Ownership Drops

Americans watch more TV than ever. Except for the Americans who don’t have TVs at all any more: Nielsen says the percentage of American homes with TV sets has declined to 96.7 percent, from 98.9 percent last year.

The numbers will kick off another round of debate about cord-cutting, cord-shaving, and cord-nevers–young ‘uns who grew up watching Google’s YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, etc., and have never found a reason to get a TV.

This last group is getting particular scrutiny from the TV executives I talk to, who generally remain convinced that only a very vocal minority of people have ditched TV for the Internet. But many of those same executives fret that a new generation of video watchers may never embrace TV, period.

Here’s Nielsen’s description for the drop, which includes rationales that will please both the “cord-cutting’s a myth”/”no it’s not” camps:

1) Digital Transition: The summer of 2009 marked a significant milestone with a shift from analog to digital broadcasting. Following the transition, consumers were only able to view digital broadcasts via a set with a built-in digital tuner (i.e., a newer TV set) or an analog TV set connected to a digital-to-analog converter box, cable or satellite. TV penetration first dipped after this transition; the permanence of this trend was acknowledged in 2010 after the number of TV households did not rebound over time.
2) Economics: As with previous periods of belt-tightening, the cost of owning a TV is a factor in this UE decline; TV penetration first saw sustained decreases in second quarter 2009. Lower-income, rural homes were particularly affected.
3) Multiple Platforms: Nielsen data demonstrates that consumers are viewing more video content across all platforms—rather than replacing one medium with another. However, a small subset of younger, urban consumers are going without paid TV subscriptions. Long-term effects of this are unclear, as it’s undetermined if this is also an economic issue, with these individuals entering the TV marketplace once they have the means, or the beginning of a larger shift to viewing online and on mobile devices.

To sum up: This is either a temporary blip–like the last drop, back in 1992–or it’s not. Commence the debate, again!

Shameless self-promotion time: I’ll be discussing this very issue next week at the Streaming Media East conference when I moderate a cord-cutting panel with some excellent participants from MTV, Starz, Roku and NBA Digital. Please stop by if you’re there.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik