What do you see in your head when you hear the word “TV”? The visual that comes to my mind is the big screen in my living room sitting on a cute West Elm console. But for teenagers, nearly half of them see anything but the tube—a phone, laptop or tablet pops into their head. If that’s the case, then what is TV really? And more importantly, what does that mean for the future of TV?
We’ve been using the word TV to describe both a device and content for a long time, but with today’s fragmented media landscape, it’s time to make some changes.
As you can see from the chart below, the perception of what “watching TV” means shifts gradually by generation and is drastically different on the bookends.
Outside of perception, what is the reality? Over half of 13-39 year-olds watch TV on their phone, and it’s the most used device to watch TV for GenZ. As we all know, the smartphone obsession runs deep with GenZ, but to what extent?
Google and Ipsos released a study uncovering that 71% of GenZ spends more than three hours a day watching online video on their phones, which is more time than they spend using social media (!!!), chatting with friends and playing games. I'm shook.
Ok, so, important point #1—"TV" means something very different depending on who you're talking to because of the devices they are using to watch it. I humbly submit using the word "screen" as a catch all term, since "TV" is now too narrow.
Now that we have gotten the TV-is-not-the-same-device conversation out of the way, we are going to chat about what TV means in the context of content.
The definition of TV content is in the eye of the beholder. When I think of what I'm watching right now, it's mostly something on Netflix or HBO. And my definition of what TV means has shifted slightly over time—from Laguna Beach in high school to Gossip Girl in college to Revenge post-grad (shout out to all my W+K ABC homies) and now something like The Crown on Netflix. Clearly, I've become much classier in my later years.
Breaking this down a bit means that my definition of TV content essentially shifted from cable shows to broadcast shows to streaming shows. But, these shows all were 30 minutes to 1 hour in length with some sort of plot and story arch.
What about older groups? They are ALL IN on broadcast TV—their favorite content providers are NBC, ABC and CBS. So then what about younger groups? Netflix, Hulu and YouTube are their top three favorites. If you look closely, YouTube and Netflix are nearly tied for GenZ.
Netflix and Hulu make sense, but YouTube? Is YouTube TV?? Yasssss.
Some of you might be thinking—"those trick shot videos are TV?" Or, "little kids unboxing gifts is TV?" Or, "watching a how-to contour makeup is TV?"
When I was helping launch 13 Reasons Why S2 I interviewed a bunch of teenagers and it was incredibly eye-opening to hear how they describe TV. They didn't talk about a typical TV show. They talked about getting lost in a YouTube rabbit hole watching everything from movie trailers to beauty YouTubers to conspiracy theories to dramatic clips from American Idol in just one sitting.
What's funny is they went so far as to say they don't like "TV", but when it encompasses YouTube videos things change—clearly the definition of that word needs to be updated, stat!
Although YouTube is not typically lumped into a TV consideration set, it is arguably the biggest TV network that exists, even before YouTube TV and YouTube Premium. 1.9 BILLION people visit YouTube each month which equates to 3.25 billion hours watched of video. For reference, there are 7.5B people in the world's population.
Important point #2 then is this—although YouTube videos don't neatly fit into a 30-minute episode or have a well thought out story arch, they are still accomplishing the same thing TV has always been there for—entertainment on a screen. So we need to expand our definition of TV content to include all types, lengths and sources.
What does this all mean? If you are planning media or making a video ad, please consider your audience first. If you create a commercial that runs on TV (device) and TV (content), that would be a MAJOR miss if you're trying to reach teens. All in all, the future of TV looks exactly like you picture it, but what "TV" means to you isn't necessarily what "TV" means to your audience. The time is now to redefine how we think, talk about, consume and create for TV through the lens of each and every audience.