A Mass Medium Without Mass Media: Live TV Losing Default Status

DVRs and OTT services have been eroding the primacy of live TV for years, but in just the last two, prime-time viewing has hit a clear tipping point. According to the latest tracking study of TV habits from Hub Entertainment Research, the share of viewers who default to live broadcasts when turning on the TV has plummeted since 2013, from 50% of the total to 34%.

To be sure, live TV remains the top source when first tuning in. But at least according to these self-reported metrics, the amount of time viewers spend with live TV has dropped from 41% of total time to 32%, while time spent with online platforms has grown to 46%, up from 34%. DVRs have taken some of the hit from streaming services, down to a 16% share from 21%.

If Gen-Z and younger Millennials are the trendsetters marketers like to think they are, then Netflix is the new TV. The shift is dramatic for 16- to 24-year-olds – 40% of whom report that Netflix is the default when they turn on a TV. For the 18-34 segment, Netflix is the default for 31% and live TV for 33%.



Perhaps the most interesting part of the survey relates to how TV sources are chosen by use case and attention. When viewers are tuning in without any specific program in mind, 40% start by browsing live TV, vs. 27% who browse Netflix. And when viewers are using the TV as background for another activity, 50% go live vs. 15% turning to Netflix. But Netflix is the go-to source now when viewers have specific programming in mind to watch (28% vs. 15% for live). But Netflix is also getting our closest attention. When viewers are intent on watching a specific program without distraction, 26% of the time they are going to Netflix. They go live only 20% of the time.

TV is not TV anymore. The technology has evolved from being perceived as a narrowly defined experience to a tool, a monitor to be configured by context in countless ways. Or, another way to say it is that the great mass medium of the previous century no longer has mass media to fill it.

12 comments about "A Mass Medium Without Mass Media: Live TV Losing Default Status".
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  1. Claudio Marcus from FreeWheel, July 27, 2015 at 2:35 p.m.

    As is the case with many of these self reported surveys, the issue is that the reported behavior does not always align with the actual behavior. What we say we do, and we actually do are not always in synch. According to Nielsen's Cross-Platform Video Viewing report, even Gen-Z and Millennials who are the poster generations for the redefinition of TV still consume far more live TV than any other type of viewing. Indeed, how we consume TV is evolving, but a clear understanding requires that we focus on actual viewing consumption data and reliable measures of time spent viewing.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, July 27, 2015 at 3:26 p.m.

    There seems to be a veritable deluge of these studies---all  suggesting or claiming to show that "live" or "traditional" TV is either "dead" or about to be surpassed, by digital platforms. Yet the far more credible Nielsen meter findings, which often contradict what the pollsters are claiming, are rarely or never cited by the reporters in their pieces. I think that when a study of this nature is covered and it shows what is reported, above, the reporters might ask the sponsors of the poll in question how they explain the differences between their picture of viewing and what the TV/media industry uses ( Nielsen ) to evaluate the medium.

  3. Leonard Zachary from T___n__, July 28, 2015 at 1:27 p.m.

    Claudio and Ed do you really watch the 6 o'clock news? or the 7am news? or any live news on a daily basis? This would be a good start.

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, July 28, 2015 at 2:45 p.m.

    Leonard, could you explain what watching the 6AM or 7AM news, or any live news has to do with the study in question?Just curious.

  5. John Grono from GAP Research, July 28, 2015 at 7:47 p.m.

    Steve, can you please advise which planet this 'research' was conducted on.

  6. Steve Smith from Mediapost, July 28, 2015 at 8:06 p.m.

    Hi all. I agree with your reticence over trusting self-reported data, which is why I mentioned that caveat. The research is a tracking study of 1200 US TV viewers with broadband access, so there is a skew built into the sample. But what I found most interesting in this research was the attitudinal implications - the ways in which users admitted to watching TV with different levels of engagement and attention according to situation and source. This part of the research I find very recognizable in my and my household's own behavior has to do wil how and why we choose different sources. OTT video is chosen much more deliberately I think and is my default source for content I am ready to pay attention to. On the other hand, most live TV is on because I have made a choice not to pay close attention while I peruse books or a second screen. 

  7. Jon Giegengack from Hub Entertainment Research, July 28, 2015 at 9:22 p.m.

    Hello all - I'm Jon Giegengack at Hub, one of the authors of this study (which is part of a series of 6 studies on the TV industry we do each year).   I'm glad to explain more about this study, how it fits with other trends we've observed, and what we think it means for the industry as a whole

    First, all of this behavior is self-reported.  Self-reported data rarely matches exactly with actual behavior (which is why we took care to mention it in our press release). One example: the many studies that report huge proportions of pay TV customers ready to cut the cord, while actual cord cutting behavior remains very low.  

    Second, our sample population was TV consumers with broadband and some of the comparisons are among people who use at least one online TV source.  So they're not representative of all TV consumers.  Although I can confirm it was conducted on this planet :)

    Third:  since 2013, in this and our other studies, we've seen a dramatic slide in the number of people who say that live TV is their *default* source:  the first thing that they turn on when they want to watch. And we've also seen a reversal in where people say they do their most engaged, purposeful TV viewing (from live TV to online).  These are measures of attitude, but they align with shifts in behavior that have been widely observed (e.g. cord shaving, lower live ratings.)  And we think they're a strong predictor of where TV behavior will continue to shift in the future.

    None of this signals that TV is "dying" - on the contrary, there's overwhelming evidence that TV is more compelling and competitive with other entertainment choices than it's ever been.   But the definition of "watching TV" is changing, and providers need to adapt to these changes to continue to get the maximum value for their product.

    Thank you for the interest and healthy debate.  I'm glad to discuss further--if you'd like to know more about the findings from this study or our other work on this topic, please feel free to contact me at  Thanks!

  8. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, July 29, 2015 at 8:36 a.m.

    Steve and Jon, thanks for the additional comments. I surprised you didn't take note that Nielsen meters are not without their drawbacks. They may be the coin of the realm to the advertisers, but it's pretty clear that TV is slipping badly with regard to engagement. Not being dead is not the same as being healthy. When I was visiting family this summer, I noticed that Netflix was a big topic. Yes, they still watch America's Got Talent, but their eyes really light up when discussing Netflix.

  9. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, July 29, 2015 at 11:29 a.m.

    @Doug, good points, but once the novelty of Netflix wears off will it still be more engaging? "Linear TV" has been with us since 1949 and there is little doubt that the excitement generated by Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason and many other variety stars, to say nothing of shows like "I Love Lucy" , "Dragnet" and "Gunsmoke" was much higher than anything we see now---or almost anything. It's a given the we take TV for granted and find much we dislike about it. As the odl saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt, but we still keep watching.

  10. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, July 29, 2015 at 11:36 a.m.

    Typo Alert: Of course, I meant "old saying" in the last sentance, above, not "odl saying". And, in the previous sentance, it should be "It's a given that we---", not It's a given the we take---". Drat and double drat.

  11. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, July 29, 2015 at 5:40 p.m.

    MediaPost Publications exposes another tragedy of Shakespearean proportions:

    "A Mass Medium Without Mass Media: Live TV Losing Default Status" by Steve Smith

    Comment inspired by the Bard:

    "Men at some time are masters of their fates.

    De fault, dear Steve, is not in our TV's

    But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

    Sort of  Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 2

  12. Patty Ardis from Ardis Media, LLC, August 11, 2015 at 4:25 p.m.

    I think what is relevant is that TV is still here and we are still talking about it. It's just that along with any other "mass media" today, it is evolving and changing and audiences are adapting and requiring that the medium in question adapt. TV is not going anywhere but with all the options available to us as consumers today, it is being prodded along in terms of entertainment offerings. Self reporting in this instance allows usage behaviors to be learned and studied by us on the media end. All information, as long as we know the source and they "why" should be helpful as we on the media end are being pushed/compelled to offer increasingly more fine-tuned audience targeting avenues and to eliminate waste. As we all go along on this journay I am curious to see how Netflix conitinues to influence "live TV".

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