09/03/2017 11:33 GMT | Updated 10/03/2018 05:12 GMT

TV Is Not Dying, Millennials Aren't Switching Off

Sometimes a myth moves too fast to stop. Like the size of Donald Trump's inauguration crowd, falsehoods, when perpetuated often enough, can take on the appearance of truth.

The latest such myth is the death of television. If you have read the tech press even a little over the last decade, you could be forgiven for thinking that the box in the corner of the living room is about to blow up - that booming use of the internet, mobile apps and social services are causing viewers to turn away from TV.

The latest example of this claim may turn out to be the most notorious. In the Wall Street filings for its circa-$20bn stock market listing, Snapchat owner Snap partly justifies its valuation using the same narrative.

"People between the ages of 18 and 24 spent 35 percent less time watching traditional (live and time-shifted) television in an average month during the second quarter of 2016 compared to the second quarter of 2010," the company said, the social network citing television's outlook for its opposite prospects some 21 times.


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There is just one problem with this logic - it's not true.

Claims that "TV is dying" are allowed to perpetuate thanks to an ongoing blind spot in TV measurement. Nielsen and BARB, the de facto audience-measuring agencies in the US and UK, are each making in-roads to augmenting their traditional analogue viewing data with data from over-the-top TV services, but they are yet to finally combine viewing data for the two different media.

That means the industry-standard metrics for measuring TV are showing a misleading picture of collapse - and failing to illuminate the real trend.

So what is really going on? Put simply, consumption of traditional TV over new devices is booming, in the shadows.

A study by LEK Consulting found that US consumers aged 18 to 34 spend only 13% of their media time watching traditionally-broadcast TV. That is far behind the 32% of media time which non-millennials spending doing the same.

But, when you add in the far greater proportion of time which millennials spend watching TV through over-the-top services (20%, versus just 9% for non-millennials), the total TV viewing time across the age groups is not so different - a combined 33% of millennials' media time versus 41% of non-millennials'. That is a reduction, for sure - but it is far from the cliff-edge horror show depicted in many write-ups, and only to be expected if you consider that young people's media time is all additive rather than substitutional.

In the UK, adoption of TV-viewing devices is at a historic high of 95.4% of homes, according to BARB's Establishment Survey, driven upward by use of IPTV platforms that is now rivaling even free-to-view satellite systems.

TNS viewer data from Scandinavia, one of the world's most advanced digital markets, shows that daily viewing of TV shows has significantly increased, not decreased, thanks to new mobile, tablet and TV-connected devices.

Traditional TV - or rather, the high-quality content it gives everyone, including millennials - is enduring, no matter what platform it is delivered on.

For all the bluster of about new internet services, even video services, they actually occupy a tiny fragment of total media consumption. Data shows that, when consumers have connected TV sets, it is main broadcaster content - over and above either YouTube clips or Netflix shows - that they consume most of all. Short-form video accounts for just 3% of the total UK viewing time, according to number-crunching by Enders Analysis in 2015.

Even when you take account of some of the very biggest of internet video sensations, it is clear that their popularity pales in comparison to TV hits. For instance, the season-opener episode alone of Downton Abbey got almost 20 times the viewer base that Zoella, a British YouTube sensation, clocked in a whole three months.

For sure, TV viewing is changing a lot. But all the data I have seen suggests TV total viewing remains stable at an average of around five hours a day per viewer - it is just overlooked by today's TV measurement standards.

So, don't believe the tech giants when they tell you TV is dead. Each of them has a vested interest in beating down TV a notch or two - whilst nevertheless launching video and TV products to compete for TV advertiser spending.

Later this year, the truth is likely to be known. In the US, Nielsen will launch is delayed Total Audience Ratings system, giving everyone accurate data about the new cross-platform TV reality - and soothing ad buyers worried by freefalling (and misleading) analogue-only numbers. And the UK's BARB will also combine analogue and online data into a single metric, offering a holistic and more nuanced view into actual consumption.

TV's bubble isn't bursting - but the myth of its digital demise soon will be.