Monday, July 27, 2015

Unemployment and Television

Nielsen data seems to show that “TV is toast,” to quote Dennis K. Berman writing on Twitter. The graph is from the Wall Street Journal. You can see that younger viewers are abandoning television faster than the over-50 segment.

But wait. The 18-34 segments also show the biggest gains in employment over the same period, with unprecedented levels of long-term unemployment and partial employment gradually fading, year by year. So are people watching less television just because they are working more hours? If so, then maybe television viewing can stabilize with an improving job market.

Unfortunately for television, the employment trends could not explain away more than perhaps a third of the television viewing trends. Unemployment rates were never as high as 23 and 32 percent respectively, and they remain elevated as of 2015, so the decline in unemployment was not as large as the decline in television.

There is another reason why the unemployment idea doesn’t help much in explaining the TV data. In recent years when money is tight, as in the case of unemployment for example, people cancel cable and stop watching television. Money is not as tight as it was five years ago, so based on that, there ought to be more viewers, but Nielsen says there are fewer. It is hard to escape the conclusion that television is losing its appeal among working-age viewers.