Can TV and cinema survive millennial apathy?

Disruption in TV and Media

It’s difficult to imagine a modern home without a television set. Watching TV is, paradoxically, a social activity. Families gather round the screen at the end of the day to scoff companionably at awful reality TV and garish gameshows, participating in a cultural norm that has characterised our society since the 1950s. In the face of competition from viewing experiences via personal devices, this image has largely been relegated to the past. This is nothing new – over the decades, technological advancements have released a torrent of unprecedented disruption on traditional media. VHS was displaced by DVD, which in turn was challenged by Blu-ray discs. . . not to mention the infamous destruction of Blockbuster at the hands of Netflix. Now, it’s happening again – but this time, it’s affecting all media companies, and it’s bringing the law into question too.

Changing media habits
The challenge to established media patterns can be summed up in one hotly debated word – millennials. Millennials don’t care about TV, at least not to the extent that young children, middle-aged and elderly people do. They don’t want to wait for a week to watch another episode of a series, and they definitely don’t want to pay for the privilege. Unfortunately for cable companies, millennials are digitally literate enough to stream every programme under the sun via the Internet using streaming sites. A 2016 survey carried out by UK research body Childwise found that children aged between seven and 16 spent, on average, an hour more online than watching TV per day. Even when they did watch TV programmes, most preferred to use sites like YouTube and Netflix over their television sets. With so much online viewing taking place, there are legal issues to consider. The availability of online media content is blurring the lines between what’s legal and what’s illegal – so much so that some people (especially children) probably don’t realise that using certain streaming sites is breaking the law. But it’s not exactly easy to shut down these sites, as they continually change their URLs to avoid detection. When it comes to YouTube and Netflix, the problem for cable companies, TV networks and cinema chains is clear. These are easy-to-use, completely legal platforms for seamless viewing. No wonder they are capturing the millennial market and holding it successfully.

How is this disrupting media?
The online availability of streaming sites teamed with quality on-demand entertainment from the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime is disrupting media in a huge way. However, this is very different to the situation faced by VHS firms when DVD took over. With such a huge chunk of the population choosing online sites and subscription-based entertainment, DVD manufacturers, media companies, cinema chains and TV networks are all under threat. Just like watching TV, seeing a film at the cinema is a passive social activity – it’s something you’d probably do with other people. Now, asking someone to go and watch a film probably refers to ‘Netflix and chill’ instead of trekking over to the Odeon. Who would spend money on a cinema ticket (or even a TV license) when they could access hundreds of films at home, whenever they like, for less? Well, apparently quite a lot of people, considering the fact that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story made $323.5 million in its first week in cinemas. Even despite this, the mass adoption of on-demand services is still a serious problem for media providers and broadcasters. They have responded by extending what power they have left over catch-up TV – you need a TV licence to watch on-demand television shows on iPlayer, for instance. Big corporations like Amazon, Sony and Apple are all navigating the changing media market by giving customers alternative viewing options. Sony’s Crackle distributes films, TV shows and original programmes, whilst Apple TV integrates television screens with the user’s other devices. But as influential as these companies are, it’s still very much a two-horse race – Amazon Prime has an estimated 69 million subscribers  whilst Netflix now has over 80 million users worldwide.

There’s no doubt about it – the dominance of on-demand entertainment is a massive disruptor for media as a whole – but the biggest casualty seems to be traditional broadcast television. The days of ubiquitous TV sets are clearly dwindling. Now that so many people have access to the Internet via personal devices, we don’t even need TV to tell us the news. The reluctance of millennials and adolescents to watch TV (as well as visit the cinema) is forcing media companies to adapt their business strategies in an attempt to survive the changing media habits of society.  Sony and Apple have done this by offering their own Netflix-like services, because that’s clearly what works. Media companies across the board are threatened by the disruption to media, but there will be some continuity. At the end of the day, people are still going to want to go to the cinema for a better quality viewing experience. . . not to mention the popcorn. The same simply can’t be said for television, and cable companies are right to be worried.

Has the growth of online streaming and on-demand services affected your business? How do you view shows and films? Can anyone catch up with Netflix in the disruption of traditional media? Comment below with your thoughts and opinions.