Media pundits love to discuss whether cord cutting – that is forgoing a traditional cable TV subscription in favor of going streaming-only – is a real trend or not. Chances are, that discussion will stay with us for a while, but the latest data from Nielsen now shows that there can be little doubt that traditional TV is now coming under real pressure from the plenitude of video streaming options available today. Americans now watch more video content than ever before, but more and more, this video is coming from the Internet and not through a traditional cable subscription.
That's not to say that traditional TV is dead, though. The average American still watches an astonishing four hours and 39 minutes of TV every day. Over 90% of U.S. households currently pay for a cable subscription.
Unsurprisingly, those households that don't subscribe to cable and just use over-the-air TV and/or online streaming watch just about half of that. Overall, these households only make up about 4.5% of all U.S. households, though their number has grown 22% since last year. The stronger trend here actually seems to be towards using the right means to access video at the right time. Sometimes that's traditional TV (sports events, award shows, news etc.), and sometimes that's watching a show on Hulu on a laptop.
It's also worth noting that this doesn't mean these households that don't subscribe to cable or satellite TV don't necessarily just represent those who cut the cord by choice. Instead, this group is probably split between more affluent Internet users who have the know-how to go Internet-only and poorer households that had to make a choice between having Internet or cable at home.
What will definitely matter in the long run, though, is that younger Americans (12-34) now watch less TV per day than before. Teenagers in 2011 watched nine minutes fewer day than in 2010, for example, and young adults between 18 and 24 watch six fewer minutes per day. The only reason overall TV watching is up, according to the NYTimes' Brian Stelter, is because those over 65 are watching more TV "than ever before."
As these younger viewers grow up, traditional TV will likely never quite play the same role for today's teenagers and young adults as for their parents. Video content, after all, is video content, no matter whether you stream it to a tablet, a Boxee box or your phone. Indeed, watching live TV probably feels rather antiquated to many younger Internet users.
That's something the TV networks and traditional TV providers are still coming to grips with but that their customers now understand pretty clearly as the age of appointment TV is quickly drawing to an end.