Why Zero-TV Households Matter

In a recent survey, Nielsen included “Zero-TV” households in its categories of viewers surveyed. This category is made up of households that do not watch television via a traditional means like a cable provider. Instead, they find alternative ways to view their favorite television shows and movies online.

The accessibility of the Internet and Internet-ready devices has led to this shift in the manner that people are consuming content made for the screen, silver or otherwise. So when someone tells you they don’t have a TV, it’s no longer safe to assume that they’re out of touch with current entertainment. But this makes viewers a moving target for marketers who rely on commercials to reach potential consumers.

What’s the difference?

Nielsen defines a television household as “a home with at least one operable TV/monitor with the ability to deliver video via traditional means of an antenna, cable STB or Satellite receiver and/or with a broadband connection.” Obvious as it may seem, a Zero-TV household is one that doesn’t match the above definition. These households may still have one or more televisions, but they don’t use the cable to watch their favorite content; instead, they use the Internet. They’re also using computers, laptops, gaming devices, tablets, and smartphones to stream video. While the five million Zero-TV households represent only five percent of U.S. viewers, that number has grown quickly over the past six years. In 2007, only two million homes fit into the Zero-TV category.

Changing where we watch

Approximately 48 percent of Zero-TV viewers watch TV content through a subscription service like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. In response to this shift, on-demand services are beginning to test the waters with their own original content. Shows like Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards are holding their own amongst popular cable TV shows. These offerings are enticing to consumers, as they are often released a season at a time and can be marathoned without commercials. Not every online TV outlet is commercial-free–Hulu has commercials, as do many networks who host their own content online–but it’s still easy for viewers to tune out the ads they see, just like any other interruptive marketing.

That’s just one of the reasons why quality content without commercials is becoming so appealing. Netflix nabbed some Emmy nominations this year and established itself as a serious contender in the TV entertainment space. If this trend continues, on-demand services could rise above cable TV. Cable is the primary means of watching television, however, 95 percent of the market still watches “traditional TV”. It’s hard to tell where the industry could move next, but it’s safe to say that Internet services are beginning to change the entertainment landscape.

The future of television

One detail is clear: this is a trend among younger people, as the Nielsen study shows that nearly half of those five million households are young, with members under 35 years of age. Often, they are also viewers who live alone and don’t have children. So, what does this mean for the future of television—for the children who might grow up in Zero-TV households? And how will marketers win the battle against traditional commercials? Only time will tell.

We may see more original content from on-demand services, and even more accessibility to regular cable network shows online. It’s also important to consider what this means for the television industry: will companies work to develop in-program advertising? Or will they begin to sponsor content for brand recognition? While all of these questions are up in the air, rest assured that people still love their television shows and movies; that’s not changing anytime soon.

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