Fast Break with Glenn Enoch

Glenn Enoch is VP, Integrated Media Research, in ESPN’s Research & Analytics department.

What’s that mean? He’s a numbers guy. He probably did better in high school math than you or I. He’s been crunching numbers at ESPN since 1998 and for more than 30 years overall.

As the industry evolves, these days he leads the company’s efforts at understanding and quantifying fan consumption across platforms — tv, radio, Internet, print and mobile.

Today’s New York Times has a story which at first glance might cause concern in the television industry. For the first time in 20 years, The Nielsen Company reports the number of homes in the United States with television sets has dropped.

Is the sky falling? Even just a little bit? Enoch explains why that’s not the case.

FR: Is this unusual, Nielsen reporting a decline in U.S. TV homes?

Enoch: No, it’s happened before. Nielsen corrects its estimates to the U.S. Census every 10 years, and in 1992, with 1990 Census data, there was a loss of 1.1 percent, due to a smaller-than-expected increase in population in the 1990 Census. The loss reported today is one percent, from 115.9 million homes to 114.7.

FR: Does this mean Americans are tuning out, exchanging traditional TV for online streaming?

Enoch: We’ve studied the so-called phenomenon of “cord cutting” and have found the popular theory that young, tech-savvy people are choosing broadband over a cable wire to be grossly overstated. The increase in non-TV households is more about the economy and the transition to digital delivery in 2008-09.
The kind of household that had no TV before then — lower education, downscale, renters in urban geographies or smaller cities/rural areas, a high percent of lower-income couples and singles and low-income seniors — is the same kind of home that does not have a TV now.
Post-recession, post-digital transition, there are simply more of them. Over the past five years, Nielsen has estimated that 1.1 to 1.8 percent of US homes did not have a working TV set. They are now estimating that 3.3 percent of US households are without a working TV set.

FR: Will this decline continue?

Enoch: While this was a big “correction” in Nielsen’s TV household estimate, we don’t look for a similar drop in future years. The increase in homes without TV sets has slowed, so as long as the total number of US households continues to grow — the pace was about one percent per year for the past 10 years — I would expect growth next year.

FR: So the concept of people relying to their computer for entertainment instead of the TV is a myth?

Enoch: No, it’s not a myth, but it’s no wave either. People are also watching more video on digital devices than ever, but they’re also watching more TV, because the “video pie” is getting bigger. At the same time, there are some upscale urban singles and couples who are more likely to do without a TV set than they were before 2009.
Perhaps they have decided to rely on their digital devices for video rather than a TV set. But this group accounted for only about 1/12 of the increase in non-TV homes.
Moreover, the data also show that suburban homes, and those with families, are the least likely to go without a TV set. Therefore, these people without TV now, it may be a temporary decision, based on their current life stage, and likely to change with the next.

FR: So what is the current state of television in America?

Enoch: The television is still firmly at the center of the average American’s media life. Every year studies show the amount of viewing per person on the rise, particularly in sports. The ESPN networks set a new record in 2010 for combined audience.
Even as we, as a company, put more and more emphasis on providing content — news, highlights and even live action — on what we call “the best available screen,” wherever that may be — we have to remember the overwhelming first choice is that familiar one we grew up with.
The rabbit ears are gone, the screen’s gotten bigger and may be flat, and the picture may be in HD or even 3D, but it’s still Americans’ screen of choice.

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