The TV Revolution May Not Be Televised: America’s TV Watching is Going Online and Mobile

By Jonathan Hurd, Director, Altman Vilandrie & Company

Many experts feel that we have reached the point of “Peak TV.”  While this is mostly a reference to the television content available (the quality and variety of programming has never been better), it also applies to the various ways people are consuming TV.  The online TV migration is now undeniable: seven out of ten younger viewers report watching TV shows and movies online on a weekly basis.

Over the past decade, TV has undergone a revolution and, ironically, with the advent of streaming video, tablets, and mobile viewing, the TV revolution will not be televised – at least not entirely on a traditional TV set.  Since 2010, Altman Vilandrie & Company has conducted an annual survey of thousands of American viewers to determine how we consume video, and the results paint an interesting picture of how TV viewing has changed and how it will progress from here.

Last year, we teamed up with SSI to conduct the survey and worked with them to develop a cool infographic that highlights some of the most interesting survey findings.  Check out the full infographic here and read below for more details.  Stay tuned for the latest survey results, which will be released in the fall.

TV on your timetable – The expanded use of DVRs and “Over-the-Top” (OTT) or digital streaming options has allowed consumers to watch programs on their own schedule.  Our survey showed that this phenomenon has only accelerated over the past five years: viewership of TV shows and movies at the “normal broadcast time” has declined since 2012 among viewers 35 and older.  The survey shows that less than half of older viewers (55+) and only about one in five younger viewers (18-24) watch programs at the time of broadcast.

Tablets down, smartphones up – When tablets were invented 15 years ago, they became a great medium for personal video.  With the advent of iTunes and Netflix, tablets thrived as smaller, more portable options to laptops and desktop computers.  As consumers become more comfortable watching video on smaller screens, smartphones are becoming a more popular option for watching OTT videos.  Our survey showed that tablet viewing among tablet owners has dropped among all age demographics since 2013, while smartphone viewing for younger smartphone viewers is on the rise.

Cord-hopefuls? – Cord cutting (cable customers dropping their subscriptions), at least to this point, has been a bit overblown. We also looked at so-called “cord-nevers,” who have stayed to this point away from Pay-TV. Our research has shown that cost matters and often younger consumers, who can’t afford to pay a monthly TV bill, still aspire to subscribe in the future. Our survey showed that thirty-three percent of non-pay TV subscribers under 35 years old want to become cable subscribers someday, opposed to twelve-percent of those 55 and older.  Part of this dynamic is because older consumers subscribe at higher rates than younger consumers, but it provides promise for Pay-TV providers if they can develop more affordable options for these young “cord-hopefuls.”

Controlling interestsMillennials are the first true “digital natives,” growing up with email, the Internet, smartphones, Netflix, etc.  It makes sense that they would gravitate toward using an alternative device to control the TV: more than half of viewers under 35 prefer using a non-traditional remote control like a smartphone or tablet.  Older viewers are still clutching the traditional TV remote at an eighty-four percent rate.

App overload – There is near-universal animus for the huge menu of channel and provider apps that consumers need to watch their favorite programs online.  More than 80% of consumers say they’d prefer one app from their Pay-TV provider as opposed to an app for each channel.  Despite this, our research finds that consumer awareness of TV Everywhere, which allows viewers to access (typically for free) TV programs online through an app from their provider, remains stubbornly low.

What’s next for TV? Over the past year, many providers – both in Pay-TV and online – have introduced “skinny bundles,” cheaper, slimmed-down channel packages designed to attract younger viewers and retain potential cord cutters. While this seems like a reasonable approach, MoffetNathanson, using Altman Vilandrie & Company’s research, showed the difficulty providers face when threading the needle to design skinny bundles that include channels viewers want while also making money.  You can check out some reports on our work on “skinny bundles” here and here.

Thanks to SSI for providing this forum and for working with us on the infographic.  If you want to learn more about the survey results, please reach out to

Jonathan Hurd is a Director with Altman Vilandrie & Company in Boston and has directed a survey of Americans’ video viewing habits since 2010.