Why more Americans are turning off the TV

These homes still watch programs but mostly on laptops, tablets and phones.

By Jonathan Berr Apr 8, 2013 1:22PM
Image: Couple with laptop (Corbis)There are 5 million "zero-TV" households in the U.S., more than double from 2 million in 2007. It's a small but growing trend that has the media establishment plenty worried.

These people, who make up fewer than 5% of U.S. households, haven't stopped watching television shows. They just do it on their own terms over laptops, tablets and cellphones.

As Nielsen notes, about 75% of these homes still have TVs, but people use them mostly to play video games and watch DVDs.

This creates a huge problem for the industry, one that will likely be a key topic at this week's National Association of Broadcasters' annual trade show. Content creators and broadcast networks make money from these viewers through arrangements with streaming sites such as Netflix (NFLX) and Hulu and through advertising on their websites and apps, according to The Associated Press. Television stations, however, get shut out.

"Unless broadcasters can adapt to modern platforms, their revenue from zero-TV viewers will be zero," the AP says.

The New York Times on Monday noted the trend of people sharing passwords for video-streaming sites such as HBO Go, which is owned by Time Warner (TWX), making it even easier for cable users to cut the cord.

Though more than 130 TV stations in the U.S. broadcast live signals to mobile devices, most users don't have the tools to receive them. The dongles that catch those signals are just starting to be sold, according to the AP.

A handful of video-streaming sites have become hot properties. Hulu, for example, has reportedly received a $500 million bid from former News Corp. (NWS) president Peter Chernin. The site is jointly controlled by News Corp. and Walt Disney (DIS).

Luckily for broadcasters, most people are still transfixed by the boob tube. According to Nielsen, Americans spend an average of nearly 41 hours a week, or about 5.5 hours a day, watching content across all screens. People spend more than 34 of those hours in front of a TV.

Even so, given the technological changes in the works, the television industry 10 years from now may not look much like it does today.

Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks.  Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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Apr 8, 2013 1:39PM
TOO many commercials, stupid commercials, medical commercials that drive you crazy with all the caveats and a too high volume during commercials that drown out normal conversation, I get more info and entertainment from my computer and watching movies on DVD's.
Apr 8, 2013 2:09PM

Should be no doubts as to why people are dropping TV. There many reason  from Honey BooBoo to Dancing with the Has Been Stars.


Apr 8, 2013 2:24PM

People are leaving because there are too many commercials, the shows suck (so damn tired of all the reality based BS that is on every channel and has replaced good programming, especially on History and Discovery) and prices keep going up for no additional content. Tired of paying for packages where the bulk of the channels are nothing I watch nor care about, more channels doesn't make up for lack of content and quality. Lets also add stupid programming rules and restrictions. People are tired of the crap and going elsewhere to get what they need or want. The TV industry made its own bed (sheets washed in greed) and now it will have to sleep in it unless it changes and drops the act. Just like cell phone and internet providers, charging fees and increasing prices while not updating the service or content. Start making the business better again and they will see a change. Greedy and lazy are the problems here.

I think its time

Apr 8, 2013 2:06PM
The cable companies are charging people WAYYYYYYY too much money--That is why people are dropping the T.V--Ill tell ya what, I am REALLY close to doing it myself.  I don't really watch that much T.V anyway so the 130$ I spend on Internet/Cable access can just be chopped to 28$ a month for Internet and Ill be fine with it.  Really the 130$ plus 130$ for my phone is exorbitant.  260$ a month for Phones, Internet, and Cable...its gotta stop somewhere cause I aint rich..My kids daycare costs...brace yourselves...18 THOUSAND dollars a year...It's UNREAL..

So yeah, getting rid of Cable might be the best thing I could possibly do..

Apr 8, 2013 2:31PM
We watch much less TV for the following reasons:
1. Tired of having various depictions of gay men/women "doing their thing" force fed to us, even during early prime time when kids are watching. Any depiction of sexually laden situations, regardless of orientation, used to be taboo during prime time or more importantly early evening,  now it's a free for all.
2. Tired of having programs shrunk to fit in between endless commercials which are twice as loud as the regular programming. The new trend is to cut back into commericals after returning for less then 2 minutes to whatever program you forgot you were watching by then.Talk about killing the flow of a storyline.
3. Way too much graphic violence - waaaay toooo much!! Is every other person in America really a serial killer ?
4. Reality TV - have we really become so stupid people actually enjoy such c@ap ? Endless, mindless reality shows suck. Period. Seems like too much programming is now aimed at the 25 + % of Americans that can't tie their own shoelaces. Bad enough the schools are dumbing down all the kids, now it's the adults turn in case they were educated in a time period when failure was not tolerated or condoned and parents actually cared.

Apr 8, 2013 1:49PM

TV has a news media that want to tell you how to think. I don't need them.

Apr 8, 2013 1:56PM
Paying for TV is essentially paying someone to waste your time for you.  I'm a recovering TV addict, and my family just pulled the plug a year ago.  Kids still watch shows and cartoons on Netflix and Youtube, and my wife and I watch the occasional network TV show from over-the-air antenna.  Public library is also a great resource to borrow books and videos for free.  Too many people complain of not enough time and/or money to do this or that, but will pay $80/month and spend hours every day in front of the television when they could spend that time and money doing something a lot more productive.
Apr 8, 2013 2:32PM
It is simple, just too many commercials. If you are watching a movie that is less than two hours long, by the time all the commercials it ends up being 3 hours long. Seems for every 10 minutes of movie there is 8 minutes of commercials.
Apr 8, 2013 2:31PM
Agree 110% with everyone here about too many, too stupid, too loud commercials! I go out of my way to boycott products that are especially obnoxious in their advertising.

Also, the quality of programming on tv has been SERIOUSLY in decline for many years now.  "Reality TV", unamusing sitcoms that insult our intelligence; inaccurate, over-hyped news--I've already reduced my channel lineup and am nearly ready to turn it off all together.  The only things saving TV for me right now are the NFL this fall, AMC, NatGeo, and Animal Planet...Networks can take American Idol, The Voice, Two and a Half Men and suck it!

Apr 8, 2013 2:31PM

First cable costs an arm and a leg and then you still have to watch commercials. Instead of paying $100/month and waste my time on commercials, I just wait until the shows I like come out on DVD. I can also go online and watch an episode or two to find new shows to watch.


I love how the article makes it sound like an epidemic or bad thing that these broadcast companies won't make any money off of us. It seems like such a better system to go straight to the content providers and pay them for what I want to see. Why pay the middle man?

Apr 8, 2013 2:14PM
Oh, No!  Dont tell the gooberment this that more America's are turning off its garbage how are they suppose to manipulate you now?
Apr 8, 2013 2:35PM

It is also very difficult to find a TV show that doesnt shove the gay lifestyle down our throats. Many of us do not agree with the lifestyle and resent the brainwashing being done by Hollyweird and the government. The best way we have to protect our families is to shut off the idiot box and refuse to watch the TV shows etc that glamorize wrong lifestyles


Apr 8, 2013 2:15PM

I am really tired of networks just dumping shows with no warning. I get hooked on new shows, then poof, they just disappear. Others are run for 3 or 4 weeks, then take a 2 week hiatus, then move to a different day or time. Now the trend is to run 5 minutes over the hour.


Up yours networks. I don't need you.

Apr 8, 2013 2:33PM
Too much in your face about gay rights and anti-American down to earth values,  The left is running Hollywoo full of crap TV!!!!!
Apr 8, 2013 2:23PM

This is only the beginning... this trend will increase even more as time passes by due to various factors such as the rising cost of cable TV,  increasingly more options becoming available in future due to technological advancements ( I use netflix and hulu at 16$ / mo combined to get almost all of my tv needs fulfilled) with occasional redbox rentals, free local channels and other online free tv options.


Not to mention the tons of commercials and lack of quality of the content plays a huge rule in people cutting the cord.


Add on top of this the obesity epidemic in our country where more and more people will realize it is a waste of time and money to sit in front of TV for hours. I myself have started walking and running with my dog in my neighborhood with occasional strolls in the outdoors just soaking in the sun, oh..... and by the way, the recent economic issues have made a lot of people smart about saving their hard earned money so i'm not sure how many people will be willing to shed out $100 / mo on it. I know i'm not ,, and never planning to again....

Apr 8, 2013 2:14PM
Apr 8, 2013 2:20PM

I quit watching all TV except the news and only watch it sometimes. There isn't anything of any interest to me on TV anymore including satellite TV and Cable.

Apr 8, 2013 2:22PM
We are currently up grading all the technology in our home....new computer system, ipads, and live streaming.  We are tired of paying our cable bill for channels we don't watch, tired of paying $10 to $20 a book, (we read a lot)  when with a low cost ap we can load for free.
Apr 8, 2013 2:18PM
weather i watch tv or not, i still have to buy stuff. without all the lame advertising, and jingles not screaming in my head, i feel i can make a more informed decision about the purchases i make. either way people are going to spend money on stuff. people who worry about such things always seem to forget that. the future of advertising remains in placing the products in the hands of actors on the big screen. that is what we are looking at. the only thing a commercial signals is a trip to either the kitchen, or bathroom. never ever did i run out and buy stuff based on a commercial.
Apr 8, 2013 2:11PM
Maybe if more companies broadcasted (as in an antenna receives the signal for free) this wouldn't be happening.  The digital conversion certainly didn't help any: now i get less channels which (if its windy, hot, cold, humid) display a message "no signal;" when with analog the picture might be a little fuzzy or the color would be less than great...
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