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Two Decades of Media Tumult

June 30, 2014

The release this month of the 2014 edition of the annual Ownership and Trend Report from The Home Technology Monitor™ (HTM) marks my 20th year directing this service. It has certainly given me a unique vantage point to watch the ebb and flow of the ever-changing media world. We’re going to take a quick look at the world of 1995 versus 2014 , if for no other reason than to let us sit back and contemplate just how much change there has been.

Television and TV reception were the genesis of HTM when it first started in 1981, so let’s start there. In 1995, the average TV home had 2.3 sets; in 2014, we see 2.7 sets, an increase of 17 percent. Of course, consumer HD or Internet-connected sets were all but unheard of back in 1995; we all unknowingly suffered through SD broadcasts. Today, I won’t even watch a channel that’s not in HD format.

In 1995, we reported that 31 percent of TV homes had broadcast-only reception. Using the consistent “historical” measure, we saw broadcast-only homes decline to as few as 14 percent in 2010, then grow through a small renaissance to 19 percent in 2014. (please note that this historical measure classifies all non-pay TV homes as broadcast, under the assumption that all TVs are sold with the capability of over-the-air reception – an assumption that allows long term comparisons.)

A more detailed breakdown of reception, reflecting today’s technology and separate of our historical trend measure, shows that 14 percent of TV homes confirm broadcast-only reception, with five percent not reporting any “regular” reception – two percent have Internet-only reception and three percent report no reception at all.

Back in 1995, 69 percent of TV homes had cable service, but aside from a few C-band satellite homes, there was no digital cable, no digital satellite, or digital telco. Today, among the 85 percent of homes with pay TV service, 45 percent have cable, 26 percent have digital satellite, and nine percent have digital telco service. The average home likely has gone from two dozen to two hundred channels to choose from.

Two decades ago, there were no DVRs, DVD players, Blu-ray players, modern videogame systems, and so on – a very different world than today. The big device in 1995 was the VCR, which was in 85 percent of homes, and over half (53%) of TV homes rented videotapes in the past month. In 2014, 87 percent of TV homes have a DVD player, but only 29 percent still say they have rented physical DVDs in the past month; many more (37%) TV homes are watching streaming video through their TV set using “over-the-top” services.

The plethora of computer and mobile devices of today was also still to arrive. In 1995, one fifth (20%) of homes reported a cell phone. However, back then, because of the high subscription and per-call costs, these were often company phones. Or, people carried them only for emergencies and rarely used them for a regular call – certainly a big change compared to today, when almost all homes report a cell phone and most have a smartphone. Ironically, today’s cell phones still aren’t used as much for voice calls as for messaging via IM or through social media sites!

We saw in 1995 that a fair proportion of all homes (30%) reported a computer, but still a level less than half of that seen today (77%). Just eight percent of homes reported being online in 1995, and of course all those were dial-up service (anyone miss those tones as your modem connected?). Today, 73 percent of homes have a computer connected to the Internet, almost all using broadband service; if you include people with mobile Internet only (i.e., on a smartphone), the proportion of online homes increases to 82 percent. With these radical changes, it’s no wonder the Internet has had such an effect on our lives and on the media industry.

That wraps up my quick nostalgia tour across the media world of 1995 compared with today. There is much more to consider aside from pure ownership, as the personal use of media has changed so much in reaction to the new capabilities. In particular, expectations shaped by our use of the Internet have filtered down to many of the “traditional” media, such as TV – most importantly, the expectation to search, find, and consume content whenever and wherever we want (and for free!).

David Tice is Senior Vice President on the Brand and Customer Experience team at GfK. He can be reached at david.tice@gfk.com.

1 – SMART Home Technology Study, 1995 and SMART TV Ownership Study, 1995; Statistical Research, Inc.
2 – The Home Technology Monitor™ Ownership and Trend Report, 2014; GfK

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