Television Is No Longer The Electronic Pied Piper

That scoundrel Piper leads the children of Hamlin away from hearth and home.

That scoundrel Piper leads the children of Hamlin away from hearth and home.

I had the occasion, recently, to relate the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamlin to a young audience who had never heard it before. It’s actually one of my favorite childhood tales; I was always amazed by the Piper’s power over the children, that they would follow him unquestioningly, and scornful of townsfolks’ blatant disregard for the deal they’d made with the magical Piper. The telling reminded me of the powerful hold which television once had on my time, as a youth, and on the leisure time of most Americans. Hours per week only seemed to rise and I, like many, spent many an hour entranced by entertainment of questionable value — binge viewing before it was fashionable, shall we say. (It’s where I amassed my deep knowledge of John Wayne westerns and Japanes monster movies, just as every educated person should.) Flash forward several decades, however, and due to the introduction of reliable streaming technology and broadband capabilities to support it, the opposite is the problem. The younger generation(s) aren’t watching linear TV as I and my mid-life peers once did. In a stunning reversal, the number of viewer hours per day and per week are dropping!

According to the latest quarterly TV viewing figures from Nielsen, reported by Marketing Charts, youth as a whole are watching less TV, and the decline appears to be accelerating, says the report. As the data in the Q1 2015 total audience report from Nielsen shows, the drop-off in viewing by the 18-24 demographic isn’t showing any signs of reversing.

Chart courtesy of the Center for Media Research

Chart courtesy of the Center for Media Research

Nielsen’s most recent study indicates that Americans aged 18-24 watched a weekly average of about 18 hours of traditional TV during Q1 2015, a year-over-year decline of 3 hours and 45 minutes per week. I18-24-year-olds as a group have gone from watching about 3-and-a-quarter-hours per day, during the first quarter of 2014, to a little more than 2-and-half hours per day this year. Probably, says the report, explained by streaming. (Source: July 9, 2015 Research Brief)

Critical last sentence: “Probably, says the report, explained by streaming.” So while linear TV is showing a decline, Americans are increasingly turning to the flexibility and choice that streaming offers, and relishing entertainment unfettered by the scheduling whims of the media overlords. Not only that, but the youngest generation is also eschewing the big screen for their smaller, personal devices. Noted AdAge,

According to a research report from Miner & Co. Studio, televisions are no longer the screen of choice for kids who have ready access to tablets and smartphones. More than half (57%) of parents surveyed said their children now prefer to watch video on a handheld device rather than on TV. Mobile devices are so popular with kids that nearly half of the 800 parents quizzed by Miner & Co. reported that they confiscate their kids’ tablets when they act up and make them watch TV instead, thereby fostering a sort of Pavlovian response that equates TV with punishment.

Such a siesmic change from, say 25, years ago, or even as recently as 2009, when the average number of hours of TV consumed per week was still on the increase. Will television continue to captivate audiences? Undoubtedly — we’re said to be in a second golden age of television right now. But now, rather than millions gathering around that electronic hearth for a communal event, we’re each separated, enjoying individual experiences with our individual niche shows, as our Ask a Millennial writer Reyna Flores notes. We shall still be spending hours with video entertainment, but it will be time spent on our terms.piper Has the Pied Piper of Monolithic Broadcasting lost his power over contemporary audiences? Yes, yes, it has. I believe we’ll be better off for it. More choice, far superior time flexibility, lower cost — all benefits of the new age of streaming entertainment. And, also, in its place, we have THIS Piper.