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Cable Technology Feature Article

August 14, 2014

The Future of TV? Ask a Teen (the Right Questions)

By Bob Wallace, Founder, Fast Forward Thinking LLC

Not a week passes without a report/survey/market forecast on TV viewing behavior of millennials and older demographics. Some focus on what’s happening now, some peer into the future and some just plain miss the mark.

Millennials, which the Pew (News - Alert) Research Center classifies as being 18-33 years of age, provide important data as they are watching video – and paying the monthly tab for it – whether it’s traditional TV services and/or OTT services such as Netflix et al, or something completely different.

Pew’s Publications page lets you take a 14-question test to determine how millennial you are and contains fascinating reports on millennials.  

Seeing Farther Forward

But if we really want a deeper view into the potential TV landscape, wouldn’t asking teens provide a more complete picture? Of course, you’d have to ask them somewhat different questions than are being asked of older demographics to maximize the value of the return.

Asking under 18s what they watch and why could prove valuable and augment research on millennials such as that released by nScreen Media this week that claims 19 percent of millennials are living without pay TV and 98 percent of those saying they have no intention of getting it, creating a tall task for operators looking to convince them otherwise.

Ask the Right Question

By asking one un-posed question to the under-18 crowd, we could broaden the light cast on millennials and get a broader view of the true future of TV.

The question is: what would you watch if you were footing the bill? It’s that simple. The question often asked but not qualified of late teens and early twenty somethings is what do you watch/not watch? That’s helpful but misses the mark given that what teens and a few years beyond watch is essentially free for now (see parents) and would likely change with financial responsibility.

Consumers will watch/use/enjoy most anything that they don’t have to pay for, especially if there are no strings attached. How many teens do you know who are even contributing to the cable bill? And when might they, if at all?

Honestly, with more of this age group living with their parents instead of moving out/moving on after high school, what they say they watch and will watch doesn’t mean much until they at least have to contribute to the bill. The same goes for over-18s living at home.

The Big Challenge

Beyond asking the question, what would you watch if you had to pay the monthly bill? the biggest challenge is how to survey these minors. Pew Research doesn’t survey the under 18 demographic, according to a spokesman for the research organization. No other names come to mind.

Getting to these TV/video watchers is of paramount importance not just because their viewing habits are directly influenced by what they get for “free”. But, also because they are high volume broadband Internet users whose habits are more likely influenced by web access than cable TV access – and more than older demographics.

The Broadening Broadband Economy

Given the Internet proclivity of this age group, asking the under 18s what they watch online would also prove useful. Based on continuing but non-scientific questioning of actual males and females in this age range, Netflix, Youtube, anything that makes them laugh, and playing games are quite common responses.

Some are pressing their parents to become “Youtubers” who are individuals who shoot their own self-focused videos for access on the monster video site. Sometimes they seem like Seinfeld’s TV show pitch about nothing, but they can be funny and have a loyal following.

I’m venturing an educated guess that the amount of hours a day/night they spend online would open some eyes –and fuel some serious strategic planning by forward-thinking subscription TV service providers.

An Interesting Note

After I wrote in April about today’s teenagers veering toward online over cable TV, a colleague at a respected research firm told me these teens will want access to the live events and sports they get from their parents’ TV subscriptions and someone to bundle that all for them (such as a cable company). To his credit he noted that much of this programming is already available online.

I couldn’t disagree more on teens of today and tomorrow wanting and willing to pay for everything they viewed free from their parents’ subscriptions. I contend they aren’t watching a ton of “cable TV” now. Related real life research has broadband subscriptions adds far outpacing TV subscriptions adds (from AT&T (News - Alert) U-verse and Verizon FiOS, etc.) while cable companies are still playing defense by battling cord cutting. And the pay TV provider consolidation beat goes on.

The draw of live sports is undeniable, to those who follow sports.  But with sports the single most expensive programming category, those who aren’t sports fans are tired of cable or are already gone. Those who are fans but are tired of endless sports driven price increases, fees and not basic cable accessible sports packages are at or around the breaking point. Today’s bundles won’t hold/stand a test of time and changing consumer viewing behavior.

The Bottom Line

That discussion aside, the best way to learn from what under 18s really want is to survey the as-yet “invisible age group” and ask them the right questions, like what would you watch if you had to pay for it?

So, in the spirit of the ALS ice bucket challenge, I’d like to challenge any organization, research or otherwise to get the job done so we can all see farther into the future of TV today.

Edited by Adam Brandt

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