‘The death of TV’ as viewers move online

The way we were: TVs did not become common consumer items until the 1960s.

This week the BBC revealed that their average TV viewers are now in their 60s. Young people are watching Netflix instead. Are we witnessing the death of the old “telly”? And should we care?

13 Reasons Why is the story of Hannah Baker, a confident 17-year-old who suddenly commits suicide. She sends a series of “old-school” cassette tapes to her friends and enemies in high school, explaining why they are to blame for her decision to end her own life.

The new TV show is a “suspenseful and ultimately heartbreaking tale,” says Variety. It is adapted from a bestselling young adult novel by Jay Asher and directed by the Oscar-winning Tom McCarthy. It is clearly aimed at teenagers. The channel? Netflix.

This is hardly a surprise. A survey in January 2016 found that the streaming service is now more popular than traditional broadcasters like BBC and ITV among young people in Britain. Less than a quarter of 15 to 16-year-olds watch TV live. And this week the BBC Trust released new statistics showing that the age of the average BBC One viewer has climbed to 61. The BBC has always tried to appeal to young people, it said, but the rise of streaming was “working against” it.

Clearly, our viewing habits are changing. Since the 1960s, families have commonly gathered around TVs in living rooms. In 2013, 91% of adults in the UK watched TV in their main room each week, but the number of homes with a television fell for the first time. In 2015 figures suggested the proportion of homes with a set was lower than at any time since 1972.

British viewers spent less time in front of the TV in 2013 and 2014 as more forms of media competed for their attention. Short video clips are particularly popular. Twice as many British people now watch clips from services such as YouTube than films or TV programmes on their phones.

Meanwhile, since Netflix expanded into 130 new countries in January last year, its global audience has boomed; it gained seven million new subscribers in the last three months of 2016 alone. Its rival Amazon Prime has been investing significant sums in productions such as The Man in the High Castle and The Grand Tour, which features the former presenters of Top Gear.

A House of Cards

Technophiles are excited by the change. Viewers are gaining the power to watch what they want, when they want, where they want. The range of shows on offer has created healthy competition, forcing providers to make better shows and bring in high-class imports at reasonable prices. The convenience and choice are wonderful.

Luddites are apprehensive. Gathering around the TV as a family encouraged people to spend time with those they cared about. Fixed schedules lent structure to our lives. When choice was limited, there were fewer awful shows. And people had to try watching programmes they would not choose to — giving them a more rounded perspective on the world.

You Decide

  1. Do you prefer streaming services to older TV channels?
  2. Should we celebrate the death of traditional TV viewing habits?


  1. Work in teams of four. Write, act out (and, if possible, film) a one-minute advert for your own TV series. Briefly explain where viewers can watch it (eg, on BBC1) and why you chose that medium.
  2. You are in charge of your country’s only surviving TV channel. You are allowed to show any programmes you like for one day only. Devise a schedule and explain why you chose each show.

Some People Say...

“Life would be better if TV had never been invented.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The average age of BBC TV viewers has risen since 2014. Meanwhile, although the BBC reaches 91% of 16–34-year-olds in the UK, only 66% are watching its TV services. In other words, when it comes to television, the gap between old and young is widening.
What do we not know?
Exactly how much this is related to Netflix. The site is certainly getting more popular, but it does not release its viewing statistics in the way that traditional broadcasters do, so it is difficult to compare the numbers.
What do people believe?
That streaming services are killing TV. And not just that — they are harming the film industry too, by attracting big-budget stars and directors, while audiences choose to stay at home rather than go to the cinema.

Word Watch

Tom McCarthy
Writer and director of Spotlight in 2015, which won best film at the 2016 Academy Awards (aka the Oscars).
By the research agency Childwise.
The BBC launched the world’s first regular TV service in 1936. When data was first collected in 1956, one in three British households owned a TV. By the 1970s the proportion had risen to 93%.
Based on the number of households declaring they did not need a TV licence.
Less time
Source: Ofcom’s 2015 Communications Market Report. On average, British people spent 3 hours and 40 minutes a day watching on a TV set in 2014 — 11 minutes less than in 2013.
Seven million
According to Netflix. It also said it will increase new original content from 600 to 1,000 hours in 2017, requiring a $1 billion budget increase.
People who are keen on new technology.
Followers of Ned Ludd in northern England and the Midlands during the 1810s. They smashed machines being used in the wool and cotton industries because they were replacing their jobs. Luddite is now used to describe those who fear new technology.

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