The Decline and Fall of Traditional Television

New data suggest that for young adults, Netflix shows are now more popular than network shows.


But couldn't they watch something more wholesome, like The Cosby Show?

The decline of traditional television—by which I mean shows transmitted over "channels" to viewers who experience them simultaneously on "TV sets"—is proceeding at a remarkable rate. Symphony Advanced Media, an audience measurement company that tries to cover all the platforms people use to consume programming, claims that among young adults, Netflix shows are now more popular than network shows.

Variety reports:

The top four series of the fall TV season among U.S. viewers aged 18-24 were from Netflix, according to data from audience measurement firm Symphony Advanced Media, beating out premiering and returning series from the broadcast networks.

"Making a Murderer," "Master of None," "F Is for Family" and "Marvel's Jessica Jones" were the top viewing choices for this coveted demographic, with Fox animated comedies "Bob Burgers" and "Family Guy" next on the list.

Netflix, which tries to hold its data close to the chest, has disputed Symphony's statistics in the past; back in January, the streaming company's chief content officer called an earlier set of Symphony stats "remarkably inaccurate." While I'm in no position to judge who's right about the precise numbers, it's notable that no one seems to be disputing the general trend here. The networks know they need to be worried, even if they aren't entirely sure just how bad their situation is this very month. They know this because it isn't hard to see what direction we're headed in.

When my parents first got cable TV, way back in the early '80s, the technology itself seemed novel. My brother and I found it fun just to station one of us at the set-top box, turning the channel dial by hand—we had cable, but we had yet to acquire a remote—and checking out all the choices one by one. We weren't even looking for a show to watch; we were soaking in the fact that we had several dozen options to choose from, not just CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, and one or two UHF channels that aired preachers and old movies.

And then we got used to it. There are probably people born since then who are barely aware of the difference between a network show and a cable show, except to the extent that the latter is more likely to contain swearing.

Now the country is getting used to a world where you don't actually need a television set to "watch television," where the number of viewing options available makes even cable look limited, where you have nearly as much freedom to choose when and where you'll watch a program as you do to choose when and where you'll read a book, and where it's increasingly easy to set up an online "channel" of your own. And the youngest viewers don't even need to get used to this, because they grew up as this world was emerging. (My children—one of whom is now old enough to make fake movie trailers with her friends—were born into an America that already contained YouTube.)

If Symphony's numbers are right, we've now passed a minor milestone: The youngest adults in America have planted their feet in the Streaming Era. But even if the numbers are wrong, that's the era we're moving toward today. It would take a rather cataclysmic event to avert it.

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  1. I’ve been amazed at how quickly and effectively Netflix morphed from a streaming service into a production company. They’ve got a bunch of new shows and full length movies spanning multiple genres. That’s no small feat.

    1. Very true. They might have some misses, but they really do have a show for everyone.

      1. And many of them are good.

      2. They are missing a huge opportunity for a show aimed at the new demographic they are creating – kids with Type 2 diabetes. Just think of the drugs and food (and drugs that can be sprinkled on food) and couches that fit right into a basement you can sell – for the next fifty years (or maybe 30 years until they can sell life insurance and reverse mortgages on those couches).

        Yes indeedy. It is a wonder to behold

        1. GET OFF MY LAWN!

          Content on demand doesn’t mean people are necessarily sitting down and watching it all day every day.

          1. This person sounds like one of those “I don’t own a teevee” douchebags.

            1. There is always one of those in threads like these.

          2. Well that sure is the objective – and they are at least partially succeeding if you believe the article. And I’m hardly the first to bring up the obvious connection here



              1. You’re welcome!

                But I’m not actually interested in saving anybody from anything. Just in trying to figure out how fucking fat Americans will have to become before they realize that their ‘libertarian moments’ are nothing more than mass ads successfully screwing with their amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex. And it looks to me like Reason commenters will have to approach the size of a cow before that happens

    2. I gave the two-episode-chance to Netflix’s Flaked with Will Arnett as an alcoholic faking it through Al-Anon in Venice, CA with a bunch of characters you want to punch and/or run down with a tractor mower.

      What would you recommend from Netflix?

      1. Peaky blinders. Bojack horseman.

        1. Will Arnett did Bojack Horseman too. Damnit that fucker’s everywhere.

          1. That’s because he’s CANADIAN.

          2. Yeah, but he’s great in Bojack. Well, from the third episode on…it starts a little slow, but once it hits its stride it’s great.

            “Daredevil” is also excellent. Avoid “Jessica Jones”, though, and don’t be suckered by the hype around it. It’s possibly the worst superhero show ever written.

      2. Daredevil is excellent.

        1. It is, as well as Jessica Jones.

          1. Warming up to this one. It was a bit too dark at the start for me, but I’m really starting to enjoy it.

          2. Ugggh…I watched half of the first season and quit when I realized that Jessica Jones was probably the most self-absorbed and uninteresting superhero of all time. They strung out a plotline over 12 episodes that could have been resolved in three and most of her time was spent whining and feeling sorry for herself.

            She’s the participation ribbon superhero.

      3. Every character I’ve seen Will Arnett play is punchable.

        1. Gob isn’t that bad.

          1. Right, like somebody’s gonna punch the guy in the $3,000 suit!

        2. Then he’s a good actor, because he always plays douchebags

      4. House of Cards is excellent, and of course Orange is the New Black is on Netflix.

        Lots of PBS stuff, including Foyle’s War is excellent. Sherlock is very good but only a couple of seasons thus far.

  2. Anyone else watching “Alone” on the history channel? Check it out of you like Survivalist stuff.

    1. I’ve been watching The Last Alaskans on Discovery. Great show for the libertarian-minded and misanthropic.

      1. I’ll add it to the DVR list

        1. I’ll check out Alone, especially if it’s better than the other survival shows like Naked & Afraid (I don’t give a crap about interpersonal drama – the setting and circumstances should be more than enough without purposefully casting people they know won’t get along). And I’m sick of Les Stroud’s venture into cryptozoology.

          1. Its great. No forced drama. The contestants have to film themselves so there is no crew to shit stir. Nobody can sabatage you but yourself. The human interest part is that when people are isolated and have no one to talk to, they spill their guts to the camera. I like it just to take bets on who is going to crack next.

          2. Ya, if you want something from this genre, it’s the current best IMO.

  3. Figure out how to break live sports free of network television and there really won’t be any reason for it to exist anymore. I have to believe the NFL and NCAA could already do this and be profitable.

    1. All I want is to pay directly for access to the cameras that are already in these stadiums. If I could pay something in the Netflix price range for NFL, college football, and nhl I would be very happy.

      1. The NCAA (at the conference level) and NFL are already doing this to some degree, but not for marquee games. In the case of the NCAA that’s largely because the networks still offer more coverage for games with national interest. If BTN or SECN had the penetration of ABC/ESPN, you’d see the conferences broadcasting their own marquee games.

      2. It will happen soon enough. The technology exists. This article is a year old, but it shows how major league baseball are streaming giants.

        1. MLB runs now as well. They suck. They don’t excise commercial breaks from archives (NFL does) and they don’t have 30sec forward/backward buttons. Pathetic.

          1. and they don’t have 30sec forward/backward buttons.

            Depends on your device.

    2. It is happening. The NCAA tournament was entirely on channels Sling TV provides, and I have unfortunately been watching the Yankees (the YES network) on Sling TV as well.

      1. Never heard of Sling..

        1. It is okay. Some of the channels they provide are TBS, TNT, and Tru TV, so I was able to watch the NCAA tournament for $20 per month. They have a package with ESPN, and a package with Fox Sports affiliates, which is how I have access to the YES network.

          1. It is a step in the right direction. Sling is owned by dish.

        2. Sling’s big for Roku owners. It’s $20/month for ESPN, HGTV, a bunch more.

      2. I’m moving from renting to owning a house this summer, and in the process I’m planning to finally cut the cable and make Sling my primary entertainment source. I’m not exactly a typical young adult because I already went TV-free for all of grad school, but I still would agree with the demo quoted in this article that the more on-demand and a la carte entertainment is available, the more I’ll gravitate to that.

    3. MLB already does a pretty good job of streaming pretty much any game any time. You can watch gaves live or archived. The only problem is blackout rules for local games. But if you’re following your favorite team from out of market, it’s a great solution (when it works)

      1. I’m actually getting used to watching the local games after they end. I can skip the breaks, and I can watch later in the evening instead of watching the game when I have other things to do.

    4. What’s to figure out? It’s just a matter of the will. See the NFHS “network” for instance, for HS varsity football, live & archive.

  4. WRT regular television, how many people actually watch shows when they air? Most of what I watch is recorded on the DVR so I can watch at my leisure and skip the commercials.

  5. Who has time to get a chance at watching all these shows?

    I barely can watch a handful of shows I like.

  6. My parents didn’t get cable until after I moved out. I’ve never found the idea of paying $90/mo for 700 networks I’ll never watch and four that I will all that appealing, even when I could afford it. So it’s possible that the phenomenon of cable TV will pass me by entirely.

    Meanwhile, I have had Netflix for more than a decade, long before they started streaming. And it’s even more of a bargain now than it was then.

  7. Netflix would be nothing without chill.

  8. The old broadcast networks are cripplingly risk-averse and they will die because if that. There are a crapload of amazing shows on cable & streaming that were originally turned down by the networks. Plus cable & streaming can show all the blood, gore, sex and salty language they want. Can you imagine Vikings or The Walking Dead on ABC?

    1. Vikings does not show nudity and very little gore. That’s one show that could be shown on regular tv with very little, if any, editing. Did somebody turn it down? Score for History!

      1. I don’t know about Vikings being turned down specifically, but it is really quite bloody. You see lots of spray & spatter and lots of open wounds. Did you watch the blood eagle episode???? No way a network would show that. It would be sanitized to within an inch of its life.

        1. The lungs were out of focus when he placed them on Borg’s shoulders. It was all very fuzzy like the camera was on mescalin.

          1. It’s gotten less bloody as it’s gone on, though. That’s coincided with the storylines going off the rails and the characters having no direction or purpose in season four.

        2. Did any of you see Hannibal on NBC? Gore galore.

      2. Vikings has nudity in the international version, but History Channel cuts it out.

        1. Hmmm….where might one find the international version to watch, I wonder?

          1. Torrenting is your only recourse. I think the Region 1 DVDs are expurgated. Full frontal of Floki’s wife, topless from Ragnar’s 2nd wife and Bjorn’s wife, if iirc.

            1. Is torrenting easy to do?

              1. and a download program like Transmission.

                1. I don’t know what any of that means but i’ll look into it.

            2. So no male junk, then? What the hell do I care about Helga’s tatas? What about Clive Standen’s….sword?

              1. I haven’t paid attention. There’s some dudity in the Uppsala episode, but I’m not sure the main actors are seen.

  9. With the cost of Netflix going up again before the end of the year, it will most likely be replaced by Amazon Prime. Anything the wife and I don’t need immediately gets ordered through Amazon anyway, so getting faster free shipping will be a plus.

  10. I’m seriously thinking about swapping out Netflix for Hulu. Mostly (its kind of roundabout) because Amazon Prime dropped The Shield, which I want to watch and is on Hulu, and I can’t see having Hulu and Netflix.

    Any thoughts?

    1. I go from month to month with all of them, with the exception of Amazon. I see no reason to simultaneously have both Hulu and Netflix. Hulu has an inferior lineup, and the commercials can be annoying (you can upgrade to commercial free), and it is not as user friendly, but why waste the $10 on Netflix if you are going to spend time watching Vic Mackey play by his own rules?

      I re-watched the show last year, and it holds up well. It was so well done.

      1. The Shield showed that Forest Whitaker is one of the best actors of our time.

      2. I subscribe to Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix all at once and it’s a better bargain than having a cable package. Netflix has the most content, Prime has the higher-quality content (the HBO library), Hulu allows you pick and choose shows that are currently on TV and has some good international shows. I primarily got Prime for the free shipping, though…I use it all the time.

        1. Combined it’s like $30 a month. Pair that with a great high-speed Internet connection and it’s still a better deal than cable. You can even throw in HBO now for another $15 and it’s still a great deal.

    2. A couple years ago I got a free tryout of Hulu and canceled after a week. It didn’t have anything I was interested in. But that’s just me, and who knows how much it has changed since then. As far as Netflix goes, I spend more time looking for something to watch than actually watching anything.

      1. That’s the problem I have with Netflix also. My wife is willing to take a chance with a shitty show/movie, I’d rather find something I actually want to watch.

        1. I’m mixed. Depends on my mood. But some of those really shitty shows/movies are so terrible they’re actually quite good. Though I can’t think of any examples at the moment.

          1. Pound of Flesh? Hobo with a Shotgun?

            1. “Hobo With A Shotgun”…Rutger Hauer’s finest late career film. 🙂

    3. I find Hulu’s website puzzling. What is the one thing someone who is considering a streaming service wants to know?

      The line-up. The inventory. But Hulu doesn’t let you look at that, as far as I can tell, without signing up for a “free month.”

      I didn’t just fall off the turnip wagon. Its probably either (a) good luck getting off their billing after your free month and/or (b) their line-up is really thin.

      1. It is incredibly to cancel your subscription. Sign up for the free week or month, and then cancel it two minutes later; that is what I do.

    4. I only get a Netflix account when there’s something I want to watch right away. Like House of Cards. I sign up for the free trial, watch my shizz, then cancel. Don’t se a reason to pay anything for Netflix or Hulu.

      1. It’s like eight bucks a month, cheapskate.

        1. Amazon Prime is the only way to go in my house! I more than make up the cost in free shipping alone. The free music and videos are just gravy.

          1. I looked at Prime until I saw they had removed BSG. That is not OK. Plus I order in batches to get free shipping anyway.

            1. They’re always adding & removing shit from the Prime lineup. They took Parks & Rec off Prime. I wasn’t all that upset about it. I just don’t get paying $8/month for something that only offers streaming media, when I can pay ~$10/month and get free shipping on a 150lb. sofa AND streaming media.

              1. Agree that’s annoying but I think that kind of ‘windowing’ is common?

          2. Same here. Prime is pretty great.

        2. It’s going up to $10/mo for everyone by the end of the year. Kristen’s comment is why I’ll be switching to Prime too.

    5. You can probably buy all the DVD’s for $20 at a used shop.

  11. Streaming is still shitty and you still have problem of “oversubscribing” to crap you don’t watch. Oh, and on top of that I get to subsidize the bandwidth habits of all these millenials doing their netflixing.

    This is the world of tomorrow?

    1. So… those Netflixing millennials are hereby cordially invited to get off your lawn?

      1. You’re darn tootin’.

        1. Connect right to a router to solve the bandwidth issues. Gosh.

    2. This is the world of tomorrow?


      Streaming video is a “solved” problem at this point. If the upstream links for an area are oversaturated, then put a data center there and mirror the upstream content. Set up some routing rules, and BAM problem solved.

      * = Unless the “net neutrality” morons get their way

  12. Cut the cable a year ago and haven’t looked back once. When I am at someone’s house with the TV on I suddenly realize how nice is to not be barraged with vile commercials attempting to either lure or scare into spending money on something you do not need. That and the rest of the negativity that permeates your world through the vast wasteland.

    Pharma adds are reason enough to kill it.

    1. When I am at someone’s house with the TV on I suddenly realize how nice is to not be barraged with vile commercials attempting to either lure or scare into spending money on something you do not need.

      DVR dude.

  13. I’d like to see a big network try to do a made-for-tv version of Blood Meridian. That would be so awful it would be hilarious.. like Springtime for Hitler.

    1. Starring Tom Cruise as “Judge Holden.”

      1. with his terrible and immense flesh.

    2. What’s a Hitler?

    3. Why? Why have you put this concept in my head? 🙁

  14. My wife and I are cutting cable this week. Going with netflix+sling.

  15. For all you people who are paying too much for cable, they will discount it for you if you ask. Two years ago I called and asked if they could lower my bill by putting me on some promotions, and they did. Lowered the bill by like $60/mo. When the year was over they gave me a loyal customer discount or something, without my asking, permanently lowering my bill by like $40/mo. That’s for internet, digital cable, and a DVR. Time Warner.

    1. We have twc and they are refusing to lower ours.

      They have in the past but it pops back up.

      Screw em.

      1. Will you still be using them for Internet, or will you switch that too?

  16. Let’s say an event or performance is streamed on video live (or with a delay of less than a minute). What percentage of its audience has to watch it on archive (podcast) before it no longer counts as “traditional television”?

  17. I haven’t plugged in my TV for almost 3 yrs. Friends tell me I’m missing a lot, but it doesn’t seem that way to me at all. I’m watching fewer hours of video than I did years ago (and I never did subscribe to cable), but I’m enjoying it much more. And I haven’t even subscribed to Netflix or Hulu. There’s just so much out there. And it’s much more convenient and relevant when I can follow Web links to it than if I had to get it by broadcast, cablecast, or narrowcast.

    I still listen to a lot of audio?radio & otherwise?on schedule, though. Some of it is broadcast, a little of it is streamed live independently, more of it is simultaneously aired & streamed. I listen to a lot of archived/podcast audio too, though, but not as much as scheduled stuff.

    1. So you’re saying you live in a pop-culture vacuum?

      1. Sometimes people do discuss stuff like that online (maybe even in person) that I miss the allusions to.

        The sort of allusions I’m more interested in, though, may be from pop culture, but not recent pop culture. See for instance my analysis of Lost (the next-to-last TV show I watched regularly; last was reruns of Monk on channel 9) at . Its makers snuck in a lot of stuff from sources like Shakespeare & A.C. Doyle (both popular but not recent), but what was really hilarious was the prominent use of the British TV detective series Department S, which I’d told Damon Lindelof about because it was contemporary to me but before his time. They do also allude, however, to the more recent series Jonathan Creek.

        So I might LOL about stuff that other people don’t get, & vice versa.

        1. Which reminds me: Andy Breckman has another crime-oriented TV series coming out, but I forgot its name, which I think was only a working title anyway.

    2. Heck, some friends thought I was odd years ago when I told them I hadn’t bought a newspaper in yrs. There was an occasional interruption in my newspaper drought when I’d pick up one of those advertising-supported papers to accompany a subway ride, but I wouldn’t buy one. Last time I was solicited for a free trial subscription (and that was years ago), I told the Times (I think it was) that they’d have to pay me for the job of picking it up & throwing it (a recyclable) away. But I did have occasional use for newspaper, preferably the large-page size w/o staples, to mix powders on and line the table to catch spills when working with chems for fireworks or other uses.

  18. What I’d like to know is the effect this is having on live, being-there entertainment. First they made records, then broadcasting, now every other way to see it “live” or recorded w/o being there. Must be like the effect writing had on bards.

    What I’m most interested in is the effect on number of originators. On the one hand, there’s the winner-take-all effect: Why go to crappy local live music, drama, or sports, when you can partake in the best? OTOH, there’s no acc’ting for taste, and when origination is so cheap it encourages everyone to produce, no matter how crappy, viz. YouTube.

  19. 6?Once I saw the draft of 6258 bucks,,, I admit that my friend’s brother was like really generating cash in his free time with his PC. His uncle’s neighbor has done this for only 8 months and by now repaid the loan on their home and bought a new Car ..HY2…


  20. Love watching old series on download. For the last couple of months, I’ve been going through House. No commercials, no waiting, zillions of hours.

    For years, I’ve watched maybe one show real time – it’s been the Walking Dead for a while now. Everything else, it’s Netflix/Amazon.

  21. Just wish Jeopardy would get with the (streaming) program *ahem* before the bulk of their audience dies off.

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