Is TV viewing on a declining trend?

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Very few have missed the dispute between Disney-owned ESPN and the Nielsen rating agency. Lately, Nielsen announced its subscriber numbers for November 2016 and those numbers showed that ESPN lost 621,000 cable subscribers.

Disney claims that the data does not take into account new DMVPD, or digital multi-channel video programming distributors, that include users who might watch ESPN via other devices. Disney also argues that Nielsen doesn’t take in consumption through OTT and viewer using WatchESPN.

In an interview in the Wall Street Journal, Reed Hastings, CEO Netflix said: “The competition we worry about is the substitution—when people are spending time on Snapchat or Facebook video or YouTube, or some new app that isn’t yet invented. In the long term, you have to believe that movies and TV shows will be like the opera and the novel, pretty nichey businesses. Human entertainment will have moved on to something new. Then the ultimate challenge for us is, can we figure out what that new form of entertainment is?”

So is Hasting right in his statements that TV viewing will become like the opera, and are the figures for ESPN as bad as Nielsen claims? Is TV viewing on a declining trend?

According to the latest Ericsson TV & Media Consumer Report, total TV, and video viewing time increases through massive growth in mobile viewing. While the average TV and video viewing time on fixed screens has dropped some 2.5 hours per week in the past 4 years, the average viewing time on mobile devices is up by 4 hours a week, equaling a total net increase of 1.5 hours per week.

Reading the Nielsen Total Audience Report (Q2 2016) the time spent on internet and apps are increasing overall, but the TV viewing (Live and time-shifted) stays the same. We see trends that gaming and user-generated content have a huge uptake within the younger generations.

Regardless of who is wrong and who is right between Disney and Nielsen, it shows how hard it is to measure consumer behavior in the exploding market of choices. So it might be that there is a bit of truth in the Nielsen report and that ESPN is declining in cable subscribers. And Hastings correctly state that other form of entertainment will take parts of the consumer’s time.

But I’m very sure that the decline in cable subscriber will have an uptake in other streaming video channels, and that the new form of entertainment that Hastings talk about will involve video. Streaming video will still have a bright future and people will continue to watch TV, more than ever.

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