Cable Can Regain the Youth Vote


“The reports of my
death have been greatly exaggerated.”
Mark Twain made
this statement 100 years ago.
It’s one that also perfectly captures
the equally misinformed
banter about the state of cable
and its appeal to the young influencers who are one key to its

As a member of Generation
Internet and an entrepreneur
who built his fortunes in the
online world, I am extremely
enthusiastic about television
and its ability to connect with
young people.

Why? Because I am led by
the facts and the input from
millions of young consumers,
not the naysayers. The press
and venture capitalists alike
love to throw their respective
weight behind a good, bleeding
edge tech story — the
new way of doing things that
makes the old obsolete. That’s
just not the case, as I see it,
with cable.

Cable is an evolving industry
and technology,
one that’s perhaps even
more relevant and well-positioned
than it has ever been.
Over 100 million American
households have set-top boxes
which stand at the epicenter
of their entertainment and
information universe, their
gateway to the multiplatform
world and all that interactivity
has to offer. According to
Nielsen, 2008 saw the highest
TV viewing levels in history,
a trend that has continued for
men, women, children and
teens alike.

Mercury Media’s “The Power
of Television” adds more
perspective: “Considering
that TV viewership remains at
hundreds of hours per month
while viewership of broadband
and mobile video remains in
low single digits, it is reckless
to proclaim that any great revolution
is taking place.”

One reason the revolution
is running late is the viewing
experience itself. Today, and
for the near future, the wide
screen, HDTV and coming 3D
experiences powered by cable
will continue to trump the
computer and its still glitchy
connect ivit y to our new
screens and home theater systems.
The other reason, which
I’ll return to later, is quality.

While cable never threw
in the towel as it relates to its
core business, it seems to have
succumbed to the headlines
about its ability to reclaim
and grow the loyalty of young
people, especially the key influencer demo. One thing I’ve
heard repeatedly from cable
executives is the lament that
we’re losing the young people
and can’t get them back; that
they “just want to watch You-

For all the YouTube and online
video watching, I can assure
you that the millions of
young people we hear from
each month don’t just want
to consume their video in
three-minute online or mobile

More than ever, they crave
wel l thought out telev ision
programs that speak to
their interests, ones which are
ever wider and sophisticated,
thanks to the global influences
they are exposed to daily via
the Web. When it’s done well,
with something like Adult
Swim for instance, they can be
won over, especially the young
cultural creative male demographic.

A cable name, a cable brand,
still means quality that rises
above — even to this curiously
attired, tech-savvy group that
you keep at arm’s length.

For a channel to gain
entry on the cable dial
demonstrates that it is
of superior quality, even to hip
young consumers. It says that
there’s real gravitas to the production,
that it’s several cuts
above what can be snared on
the Web.

To reclaim this audience, you
need to provide the right kind
of stories and content, ones
that embrace their interests today,
which range from perennial
youth staples like music,
movies, fashion and sports to
new passions that may seem a
bit alien, such as graphic novels
and street art.

At present, there is no MTV
for this generation, the MTV of
the Eighties, which was edgy,
cool, unique and artsy — a
daily must-see that defined a
generation. I think part of this
reason is that the cable industry
convinced itself that it was
going to lose this young key
infl uencer group to the computer,
so why bother?

In my own work, I see both
hard data and strong anecdotal
evidence that these young
influencers want a place on
cable and in the hearts and
minds of its programming architects.

With this in mind, I think
time once again for the cable
industry to reclaim its “lost” —
but not really lost at all — generation
of young people.

Greg Selkoe is CEO of e-commmerce
and cable network Karmaloop