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Cable Technology Feature Article

August 21, 2009

Unprecedented and Shocking Change in Video Demand?

By Gary Kim, Contributing Editor

Is linear video about to take an unprecedented hit? A stunning new poll suggests it is possible, even if the results are shockingly different from any others taken so far.
Nobody ever seems surprised by surveys or polls suggesting younger users consume media differently than older users. But a new survey of 1,660 ChangeWave members suggests the changes in media consumption--though not a substitution of online video for linear video--are spreading to users between the ages of 45 and 63 as well.
And the results are anything but subtle. In fact, the results are unprecedented, shocking and of huge magnitude.
Among this group, 62 percent say they’re not as interested in what's on TV these days, and another 26 percent say they’re spending more time surfing the Web. The worrisome change there is the suggestion that the product itself is wearing thin among a demographic that has not reported such attitudes, at that magnitude, ever before.
The big question is whether the linear video business model will face pressure as a result, not because users are watching online, but because TV itself is not as interesting. That might be the case.
Among traditional TV viewers, 20 percent say they’re likely to downgrade or cancel their current TV service package in the next six months. That is a bombshell. No other survey I am aware of has suggested anything like this level of dissatisfaction with linear video subscriptions.
The likelihood of canceling is highest among cable and satellite subscribers, 22 percent of whom say they are likely to do so, while just seven percent of fiber-optic TV subscribers say they are likely to do so.
Respondents delivered bombshell results on another question as well. When asked which one paid subscription they’d be most willing to give up, 44 percent said their video subscriptions. In virtually all other surveys I am aware of, TV has been least likely to be dropped.
So radically do these findings differ that one suspects there is sampling bias. But if there is something changing out there among the "Boomer" demographic, we ought to know soon enough. Though I cannot imagine shifts of this magnitude, we ought to see softening of cable and satellite video subscriptions within a year or so.
This bears watching. Because the results are so divergent from all others, there is risk of sampling error: the self-selected respondents might not be typical of the wider population. But it also is possible the survey is detecting a radical shift of sentiment that has not occurred before.
The Baby Boomers surveyed now spend more free time online than they do watching traditional TV. Where they use the Internet 12.9 hours a week, they use TV 11.8 hours a week.
So what about substitution of online video for linear video? The results do not suggest users are switching video viewing to online mechanisms: they simply are watching less TV. By a five-to-one margin, respondents say they are watching less traditional television than they did a year ago.
The results are unprecedented, and shocking. If they are accurate, multi-channel video subscriptions are in trouble, big trouble. The issue is whether subsequent surveys produce similar results.

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Gary Kim (News - Alert) is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Tim Gray