Television is still, by far, the dominant mass medium in the U.S. But it's light years away from what it was 30 – 40 years ago, before cable took hold and before everyone was hooked up online.
It’s a different world, for sure. With literally hundreds of channels to choose from, plus on-demand and streaming programming, there's a dizzying array of program content. Some programming on cable and, lately, streaming services like Netflix and Amazon rivals feature films in terms on content quality and production value. In response, the broadcast networks have finally stepped up their game with some quality shows. Yes, broadcast still has plenty of lowest-common-denominator drivel led by mindless comedies and "reality" shows, but many are now calling this the new Golden Age for TV, based on content quality.
Nielsen says the hard-to-reach Millennials (18-34), highly coveted by advertisers, are spending 17 percent less time watching TV than a year ago, but it still averages nearly 22 hours a week. Across all age groups, adults spend an average of 36 hours a week in front of the tube. Boomers (ages 50+) watch much more TV -- 47 and a half hours weekly.
Probably the biggest change – and the biggest challenge for advertisers -- is how we watch TV. Even Boomers are now frequent DVR users, watching programs at their own convenience. But Millennials in particular are getting their TV across a spectrum of platforms, and traditional TV is quickly losing out as the primary way they watch TV. Increasingly, they watch TV on laptops, tablets and smartphones, usually with an absolute minimum of ads.
Radio, which doesn't get much attention in media circles, comes in a strong second. Across all age groups, we spend just under 13 hours a week listening to radio. Millennials listen less at 11 hours.
Smartphones account for 7-1/4 hours a week across all age groups. Millennials use their smartphones a lot more -- nearly 10 hours/week. Tablets account for 3-1/2 hours across all age groups and 3-3/4 hours for Millennials.
Yet another challenge for advertisers, of course, is how much their ads, regardless of the medium, are actually viewed.