Traditional TV — Not Dead Yet

5/09/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Digital-media developments last
week seemed to support those industry observers
predicting the eventual demise of traditional
television. But a closer look shows a
more mixed picture.

First, the bad news: There are now fewer
television sets in U.S. households than at any
time since 1992, according to a recent Nielsen
survey. Much of the 1.2 million-unit drop in
TV-set ownership in 2011, to 115.9 million
units, is attributed to younger, urban consumers
watching more videos on PCs than TVs, according
to Nielsen.

Then, HBO — cable’s leading pay TV service
— became the latest and arguably highest-profile network to
offer its valuable content through new media platforms such
as iPads, iPhones and Android-based smartphones. Through
“HBO Go,” the network’s expanded distribution-platform
strategy, fans of The Sopranos, The Wire and Sex and the City
can enjoy those shows while at the laundromat or at the
library, without the benefit of a television.

Finally, distributors of last Saturday’s Manny Pacquiao-
Shane Mosley pay-per-view boxing match decided to bring
the fight to the Web, streaming the event live online for the
same $54.95 price as the traditional TV PPV telecast. Fight
promoter Top Rank believes that the Web offering
— a first for a marquee PPV-boxing match —
will pull in coveted young consumers hanging out
in college dorm rooms, who are already watching
most of their favorite shows on their computers.

For pay TV services, the news is brighter. Subscriptions
grew in the first quarter, the second
straight such quarter, after an overall decline
in 2010.

Nielsen attributes the drop in household TV
sets to the poor economy and the digital broadcast
transition as much as it does to young viewers
watching Conan on their laptops.

True Blood
fans must still subscribe to the linear
HBO cable service, and their pay TV provider must have a
multiplatform distribution deal in place with the programmer
— to be able to watch the vampire thriller on their iPad 2s.

And a majority of the 1 million viewers predicted to buy the
Pacquiao-Mosley fi ght likely chose to watch every punch on
their 45-inch, big-screen HDTV sets, rather than on their 15-
inch computer screens.

There is a continual and gradual shifting of video content
viewing habits among a segment of the population. But for
now, anyway, the shift represents more of a rumble than a
cataclysmic earthquake.