The Changing Definition of TV

This was the year that the definition of “TV” became a cloudy mess. For decades, “watching TV” referred to the programmed content available on a device known as a TV. But that’s no longer the case.

For several years now, programmed content we used to take for granted as available on TV is now available on devices other than a TV, such as mobile phones, tablets, computers, and so on. Even more confusing is the way some of this programming still viewed “on TV” gets to that device in a non-traditional way, such as over-the-top video distribution via connected media bridges, game consoles, and smart TV app platforms.

In short, this is the year that “TV” no longer means just TV. Here are some of the more interesting trends we’ve seen contributing to this phenomenon…

The Rise of Mobile

Since Q3 2012, Nielsen’s Total Audience Report found a gradual decline in live TV viewing…nearly 20 minutes less a day now versus two years ago. Nearly every other video viewing format increased in this same time, but none more dramatically than mobile phones, which increased 40 minutes a day to an hour and 33 minutes on average among U.S. adults.


Looking strictly at year-over-year figures, U.S. adults increased their “time-shifted” content viewing (think saved DVR programs) by more than an hour, while watching video on the Internet jumped by four hours.

Simply put, tradition TV usage is falling, while Internet viewing (across all connected devices) is increasing.

The “Appification” of TV

TV is no longer a thing you watch. It’s an app you use. And increasingly, video publishers are going directly to viewers outside the traditional broadcaster model. Think HBO GO, or Netflix. The entity providing the program has always been an important detail for discerning viewers looking for the source of the best programming. Traditional broadcasters have typically gotten in the way (think cable bundles).

Now that these providers are flexing their brand muscle with direct-to-viewer apps, a fragmented viewing experience is emerging, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing so long as a few important points are met. First, great content doesn’t trump a bad user experience. They have to work together to succeed. Second, people need to get paid. A business model that works for both viewers and producers is the only way a long-term format shift will take place.

But it’s not just about the content. Behind the content are the creative people making the video and the makeup of the viewers consuming it.

Millennials in particular are driving this redefinition of TV. They connect to their phones and their tablets more than their TV. U.S. adults aged 18 to 34 watch more original TV programming on devices other than a TV than any other demographic, according to a recent ComScore report:

  • 44 percent of Millennials watch TV on their computers
  • 49 percent watch on tablets
  • 31 percent watch on smartphones


This is in no small part why we saw the massive acquisitions and investment in multi-channel networks and new media outfits this year, such as Disney acquiring Maker Studios, DreamWorks’ acquisition of AwesomenessTV, and Warner Brothers leading an $18 million financing round for Machinima.

And finally, this is a big reason why many so-called “YouTube stars” are interested in launching their own brands and apps outside of (or in addition to) their YouTube channel. Apps are slowly replacing channels on YouTube. The app download count is becoming more important than the number of YouTube subscribers. Just as TV programs are creating their own direct-to-viewer apps, so are the bigger YouTube stars.

In 2015, we expect more content publishers and YouTube personalities to establish their own apps across mobile, tablet, and connected TVs, engaging their fans, and creating new avenues of monetization.

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