An Observation on Video Content Consumption
Growing up in a Chicago suburb during the 1980’s, I can recall being insanely jealous of my friends who had cable. Cable was awesome; a wealth of content at your fingertips, the coolest stuff everyone was talking about, the essence of pop culture. Cartoons almost any time you wanted them (rather than for a couple of hours after school and during the heavenly bliss then known as Saturday mornings)! Oh, and there was this crazy new channel that purported to be all about music! For a young person, this was truly the stuff of which dreams were made. At our house? Well, we were still rural enough that cable wasn’t a part of our reality. We were reliant on an old-timey antenna for our viewing pleasure… UHF FTW?
In my early teen years, we subscribed to a brilliantly simple service called OnTV (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ONTV_(pay_TV)) which was a step closer to cable...but not quite the same. This system was basically a binary control box that sat atop the TV which was either “off,” (and you were watching boring old broadcast tv), or it was “OnTV,” (thereby filled with awesomeness). At least it gave my brother and I access to R-Rated movies we could sneakily watch when our parents were out. Finally, at long last, during my middle-teen years, we got cable… and it was almost exactly as amazing as I had always dreamed.
Flash forward a couple of decades… okay, maybe a few decades - I am still very much a cable subscriber. We now have something like 2,000 channels with ready access to just about anything you could ever want to watch at any particular time. Personally, I pretty much just DVR a few series. I will still watch a handful of channels (I am unabashedly addicted to Bar Rescue - don’t judge), but have mostly adopted Netflix, Plex and Prime Video for the majority of my video content viewing. Nothing particularly insightful there, other than the fact that Spectrum must be thrilled to have customers who pay hundreds each month for a mostly unused service. What strikes me, though, are the content consumption habits of my sons - ages 13 and 17 - who have grown up without ever knowing the absence of cable… and have virtually nothing to do with it. Unless the TV is on in the family room and they happen to amble through, their exposure to cable programming is essentially nil. They still consume a metric ton of video content, but that consumption is entirely through connected devices (both have TVs in their rooms, which neither one has turned on in months). Their preferred channels are YouTube, Netflix and Prime Video - in that order. The older one primarily consumes his content through a souped-up, desktop gaming PC. The younger almost exclusively watches on his iPhone.
This behavioral shift is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, mostly of academic interest to me, is just observing the rapid rise and “fall” of traditional cable. I fully recognize that cable is still big and relevant, but it’s interesting to take note of this arc within two generations of my own, non-representative population. Second, while I know that much has been made of traditional TV and cable’s ongoing importance in the media landscape, I think it’s worth noting a more subtle shift in market forces that accompanies this arc. My wife and I certainly represent the decision making authority around our spending - discretionary and otherwise - so our continuing consumption of cable bears out that importance. If you’re a brand, you can still reach and influence us, the “in-market” holders of the purse strings, through mass media stimulus. However, the initial awareness of and subsequent demand for many of the products, brands and services which we buy frequently originates with our heaviest influencers - our children, “hey dad, can we buy X at the store next week?” Or, more commonly, “hey mom, can you get me this from Amazon?”
Our children... who no longer watch cable.