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Gen Y Unplugs Cable TV

Posted by: Michael Arndt on July 1, 2010

Generation Y has already upset plenty of media businesses with its unconventional consuming habits. Another sector may be about to get smacked—cable and satellite television. Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at USC, made that call in his dinner speech for a group of chief marketing officers last night. The dinner was part of a conference in Chicago sponsored by Bloomberg Businessweek.

People in their 20s and younger no longer buy print newspapers, music CDs, land-line phones or watches, Cole noted. (I don’t think they listen to over-the-air radio, either.) Now, Cole said his research has detected that they’re not signing up for cable or satellite TV like prior generations. Instead, they’re watching video on laptops or even their cell phones.

Cole also predicted that most newspapers have just five more years before they’re killed by the Internet. (Cue up Ziggy Stardust.) A handful will survive: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Washington Post. Women’s magazines will live on, too, since readers buy them as much for the ads as the editorial content. He didn’t give odds for us.

Reader Comments


July 2, 2010 10:32 AM

As a member of Generation Y, I am a prime example of this. I have no permanency in terms of physical ties to infrastructure. Our generation is transient. Most are taking advantage of our age to gain experiences through travel more than past generations because we are more globally focused and technology allows us flexibility to explore as we simultaneously stay connected. In a globalized economy, our Gen Y way of life will become the new reality.


July 3, 2010 9:04 AM

Cable companies need to seriously consider to what degree their pricing structure is based on lock-in to sports. Out of their offerings, ESPN is the only thing that isn't offered online for free (legally). The younger generation that I've seen isn't as addicted to sports. It just isn't possible, my gen x friends came to age in the Sportscenter/Jordan/Nike era, so this is absolutely the high point.

There's a reason all the leagues are trying to expand internationally.

It isn't possible for it to remain that popular. So charging $60 for cable packages just isn't going to continue. I'm into sports, and I know I'm not normal but I'm content to watch OTA baseball, football, basketball and follow along on blogs otherwise.

It's obnoxious to me the amount of money I have to pay to watch sports played in publicly-funded sports arenas. The sports leagues and cable/satellite providers need to adjust their pricing soon, because their market is declining and the younger gen is also more likely to use the gov't to adjust this type of oligopoly pricing.


July 3, 2010 6:27 PM

IPAD to the rescue!!

hopefully Apple will rescue the age old media biz that the internet helped destroy.

Of course physical media will die off, record stores are closing left and right. This is the digital age, media businesses must invest more into researching ways to week up with technology and leverage this.


July 4, 2010 9:27 PM

Not only because we don't need it, but also because we can't afford it, on top of everything else. Gen Y can't buy homes, cars (or car insurance), health insurance (which is why Congress extended the dependency age to 26 in the arena of health insurance), or cars because we can't afford it, especially when most of us....

1. saddled with exorbitant student loans
2. the economy's so bad that either overqualified grads work at part-time jobs they used to work at as high school teens or start off with far lower starting salaries

I wish businesses would remember these two key facts before moaning about how we're not buying things. When you don't have that much money (at least than with what our parents started off with at our age), you have prioritize what you need and what you don't need. And that's what we did, partly out of choice but mostly out of necessity.

I think these businesses -- that are losing profits because of Gen Y -- would've fared better if we were at a good position to afford the standard middle-class suburbanity as our parents were at our age, IMHO.


July 4, 2010 9:37 PM

I also recommend reading this article, which does a far better job at explaining than I could (essentially, why we had to "recalibrate our goals" to adapt to the environment we found ourselves in) :

It also touches upon Chelsea's point about Gen Y traveling, but frames it in a differing context (=how the recession has turned us from the typical choices from today's job market to something else, initially out of necessity and then perhaps out of choice).


July 4, 2010 9:57 PM

im 25+. all these are quite true. i do read online newspapers and articles, download music, and use my phone as a watch. once i get an iphone (one of the last Gen Ys to get it) it'll be easier to read books and papers from there.

Saket Gokhale

July 5, 2010 12:55 PM

Well, for starters, the issue is that Gen Y is among the first that doesn't fit into the realm of any 'trend' or 'prediction'. The idea of the Long Tail exemplifies this perfectly. Moreover,

(1) Print pundits have now become accustomed to pundits predicting their demise a million times. However, the truth remains that the print media (newspapers/books/magazines) arent gonna disappear anywhere soon. In case of books, for instance, a Kindle would never be able to replace the sentimental/brag value a collector gets by making a mahogany bookcase to show off his personal library. And as far as magazines are concerned, anyone that has published a Rolling Stone magazine Collector's Issue wouldn't replace the print version for anything in the world. As long as we remain fascinated with collectibles (and more so, as long as the market for these thrives), print media would always be around. The difference is they'd need to bring in the novelty factor for every issue as opposed to an annual anniversary issue.

(2) Music CDs: A few weeks ago I was flying down from Hong Kong to Mumbai and a 23-year-old friend of me asked me to bring him a King Diamond CD from HMV that isnt available in India. Of course, he's downloaded their entire discography online. However, he still doesnt mind paying 30 pounds for the original CD and the album art that accompanies it. This holds true for all those Gen Y music enthusiasts that'd still save up to buy LPs of their favourite artists which by the above logic should've disappeared a couple of decades ago.

(3) Gen Y has a much greater access to disposable income and a lesser obsession with 'saving money' compared to Gen X. This makes items such as watches, writing instruments etc. even more precious as they serve as a link to a past generation with all its romanticized history. I'd agree though that watches might be less of a utility instrument and more of an accessory (they already are). But every time I wear a suit for a formal meeting/dinner, I still prefer putting on my 1980 Seiko rather than keep looking at the time on my phone.

(4) Again my issue with the observations in the article are that they're pretty US-centric. For instance, the past 2 years have spawned a slew of 3-D and 4-D movies. Sorry but downloading an Avatar onto your handheld wont provide you the same experience as a good 3D television with a half decent home theatre would. Moreover, the issue with these predictions is they completely tend to eliminate the 'human factor' and make Gen Y seem like machine-operated zombies. Sometimes, at 2am after having 5 pints of beer, I really do not wish to actively make a choice and then watch a movie. The pleasure of randomly tuning in to cable TV and watching the rerun of some silly old TV series or an obscure B-movie is something that focus groups just wont be able to tell you. You need to experience it mate. This generation is as human as any other that existed before it.

(5) Is Gen Y really more globally focussed/aware??? Sorry but my father's generation that got their info from the morning newspaper was way better informed and aware.
Sure Gen-Y has better and a much greater access to real-time information. However, does that make them more well-read? No. In fact Gen-Y's twitter-level attention spans are appalling as it leads to individuals forming opinions even before understanding an issue.

The issue is not the access of information. Sadly, Gen-Y is a generation that forms opinions and changes them as fast as the speed of information they are being fed.

In summation, my issue with such predictions is that they tend to portray Gen Y as being a generation that probably has a much lesser degree of emotional attachment to objects and things. However, that is absolutely not true. In fact, a generation that has grown in 2 decades of overwhelming change would be more likely to stick to things that remain consistent.

I would probably be too amused at my old grandpa who believes that 'using your iPod too much will damage it' or who still barely understands how touch-screens work. However, I still secretly cherish his 1940 Remington and Parker 51---things that have a romantic and emotional value that can never be replaced by the fanciest wearable atomic clock around.


July 6, 2010 6:34 AM

They can only afford what the money their parents give them will buy.

Yes, I do include young adults(boomerangers).

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