It became obvious by 2009 that television was starting to lose its grip on popular culture, but it took five years for the industry to acknowledge the change. U.S. television subscriptions continued to creep upward, not hitting a peak until the 2014 Super Bowl. With subscriptions down a solid 1 percent since then, television has started on its long-term decline. A one percent decline may not sound like much, but there are other measures that tell us television will be hard pressed to make a comeback.
- People are spending less time watching television. Adult prime time viewing hours are down 10 percent from their peak.
- Cable customers are watching fewer channels. To slow the loss of subscribers, cable providers are offering reduced bundles that would have been unthinkable just last year. With this effect, though total subscriptions may be down just 1 percent, the potential audience for any individual channel is down more sharply, with most major channels seeing a one-year decline of 4 to 5 percent.
- Television is becoming an activity of old age. Television viewing is falling away more rapidly among viewers born since 1975. Viewers born since 1995 are not finding much time for television.
- The number of people working in the content side of television is declining, with mass layoffs at networks and cable channels. From the history of print media, we know that a decline in content leads to a decline in audience interest with a lag of five to ten years.
My own television viewing probably peaked in 1997, with the novelty of the medium wearing off at the same time that the quality of programming was starting to decline. I canceled my cable subscription in 2006, and since then my television viewing hours (including television segments shown on the Internet) have declined to the point where they can no longer be measured in hours per week, but perhaps hours per year. With no television at home and my friends dropping their cable subscriptions one by one, there aren’t many occasions to watch television programs. Ten years ago it was a novelty to go without television, but attitudes have changed in the last two or three years. These days, no one is surprised to hear that I don’t watch television. It seems that is considered the norm for a busy person who leads an interesting life.